From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

It’s not surprising that I find myself involved in the Historical Society. My favorite subject in school was history,  historical fiction was my genre of choice, and I married a history major. However, for me like many others, Rochester history is not just interesting, it can also be family history. 

            When I was a child  I found my grandfather, Jim Hartley was a bigger than life personality. It wasn’t because of what he said, but because of what he did or the stories about him. I knew that when my mother was about 10, Grandpa was driving a tractor with a load of logs. The tractor tipped, the logs rolled over his ankle breaking every bone. As the story goes, the 1st doctor said amputation would be the only course of action and Grandpa said, ” Get me another doctor.” Finally, one was willing to set all the bones but, he didn’t predict a good outcome.

            After recovering from the procedure, Grandpa designed his own rehab. He would row over to Rose Point from Rte.6 ( often with my mother along) and walk in the sand around the peninsular and then soak his ankle in the water and bake it in the sun. He went on to walk without a limp. Then there was the story explaining his false teeth. Hit by a log train in the woods in a blizzard, he was thrown off the tracks, but because he was wearing a sheepskin jacket and there was snow on the ground, his only injuries were broken ribs and knocked out teeth.

            Besides these stories, he started the annual boat race, ran the sawmill, could find lady slippers in the woods, and open a bottle of soda with a piece of wood and an axe when there was no bottle opener. Because of him, I knew what to do when my car got stuck in the sand.

            He taught us grandchildren how to fish using handlines on the old bridge by the Narrows in Wareham and when he deemed us proficient, he gave us our own fishing poles and took us fishing in his boat.

            Given all this, I wasn’t surprised to find a short account in L.C. Humphrey’s papers that featured James Hartley, Jr.  Humphrey wrote,

“Bad fire in woods of Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester. No roads to take provisions to the boys fighting fire day and night for a week. James Hartley, Jr. with a democrat wagon and horses drove the railroad tracks– a little jumpy over the tracks but served as road in woodlands.”

            It must have been quite a ride, especially, heading into the fire area. The picture with this article is of Jim Hartley, his wife, Marion, and their two children in the early 1920’s. In pictures of the sawmill, the boat race or almost anywhere outside, it’s easy to find him because he’s almost always wearing a hat much like the one in this picture.

By Connie Eshbach

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