To begin with, all history is local. If we accept history as the record of all that man has thought and said and done, we recognize that most historical events began in a small area and expanded until larger areas, and countries, and continents were involved.
The real record of history began when people lived closely together and formed communities. Much of what we know of history is available because towns kept accounts of activities and records that we may now read and interpret and find the consensus that makes history. The accounts provided by these microcosms help to give us a better picture of the whole. A few men and women dominate the stage of history, but the masses in small towns and villages live out their lives growing crops, caring for animals, weaving cloth, making shoes, in short, keeping the country and the world moving and growing.
In New England, especially, we are grateful that our earlier settlers realized the importance of records and record-keeping and provided us with the whole picture that we have needed to understand our past. About 150 years or so ago, particularly in Massachusetts, local historians and anti- quarians began writing accounts of town histories while many of the founders or early descendants were still alive.
In recent years, many of these histories have been revised and new editions have appeared. Many are excellent sources and well-written, but unfortunately devote the bulk of their attention to the early years of the town. This book is a happy exception to that pattern. Cities and towns in Massachusetts have witnessed more change since World War I than they did 'in the first two or more centuries of their existence. The Avon of today, a little more than a century after its separation from Stoughton, is an outstanding example of the great cultural, ethnic, social, and economic changes that are too often neglected in contemporary town histories. Dr. Hanna is to be congratulated for recognizing this fact and enriching this
The Centennial Committee has chosen Avon's historian carefully and well. He is recognized as an outstanding local historian, well-established in his field, a successful writer who has produced a number of excellent articles and lectures that have won unusual acclaim. I have known him for twenty-five years as an unusual and creative student in history, a successful teacher on the high school and college levels, and a meticulous researcher, who shows outstanding judgment, has a strong sense of history, and a proper conception of the role of the local historian. In the field of local history, he is well-known as Secretary of the Old Colony Historical Society and the Lincoln Group of Boston. He has been called upon to lecture on a number of occasions to both groups. His book Abraham Amnna t.ho Yankees about IJncoln'a viait to Massachusetts in 1848, has been established as the standard work in that period of Lincoln's life. It is an unusual example of the pragmatic use of local history, for he followed Lincoln's footsteps visiting every town in which Lincoln spoke and checking newspapers, reminiscences, and diaries of the period. The town of Avon is fortunate to have obtained the services of such a distinguished scholar.
Your town history will not need to be written again for many years, but you should be able to retell the story often, thanks to Dr. William F. Hanna, and he has proved that the story is well worth the telling. The town of Avon and Dr. Hanna well deserve the congratulations of the historical profession and of the generations to come.
Jordan D. Fiore
If, as has been written, all politics is local, then so too is all history. This volume presents an overview of the town's past, first as the village of East Stoughton, and after 1888 as the town of Avon. It will be seen that almost everything which troubled the people in far-off Washington or New York or Berlin, eventually found its way down to this little crossroads as well. While Presidents, industrialists or madmen may have made their plans miles away, their effects were soon enough felt by the men and women who walked the same streets which we now walk.
This book is not presented as nostalgia, though I am sure that readers will find some of that in its pages. History is really the study of change and how people have adapted to it, and in this book I try to describe, and hopefully explain, why Avon has undergone such a dramatic transformation throughout its history.
I have also tried to emphasize throughout these pages that ours is a story about human beings, many of them lovely, others less so. As I finish this project I find that two incidents will remain in my memory for a long time, and both illustrate my point. The first happened at the very beginning of the project, the other at the very end.
In June 1987 I was invited to go to Avon to discuss the possibility of writing the history of the town for its upcoming centennial celebration. My only previous visit, except as a traveler on Route 24, had come just two years earlier when a local teachers group asked me to give a talk at Blanchard's Tavern about Abraham Lincoln. However that turned out to be a cold, dark February night and I saw almost nothing of the village.
As I drove into town on that beautiful June evening two years later I couldn't help but notice the statue of the Civil War soldier that stands in Goeres Square. Almost identical in design to hundreds of others around the country, this was different in two very noticeable ways: First, unlike many of these monuments, the Avon soldier is not facing south toward the old Confederacy. Instead, he faces north, guarding the town against some undisclosed enemy, perhaps in Boston. Second, I noticed that this soldier was wearing a black cap and gown, similar to the type worn by high school seniors at graduation. He looked comfortable enough in it, as indeed he should have, for I was told that this was an old custom that the recently graduated seniors at Avon High had kept alive.
I found both of these things interesting, and as a social historian who is intrigued by small towns I began to wonder about who Goeres was, about what part Avon people played in the Civil War, and about what unseen changes this little place had undergone throughout its life. I met with some of the members of the Centennial Committee that night, a bargain was struck, and this book is the result.
The second incident occurred in the late afternoon of December 31, 1988. The manuscript was finished and I had gone to Avon to double check the dates of birth and death for a couple of my subjects. One I found pretty easily on his headstone over in the Avon Cemetery on East Main Street. The other man is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery, not far away, and I quickly drove over to East Spring Street. Because it was New Year's Eve, most of the stores and factories had let out early, so it was relatively quiet there, only the sound of the Christmas wreaths scratching against the granite headstones broke the silence. I had to walk over most of the cemetery before I found the stone that I was looking for. I wrote the information down in the fading light and started back for the car when I noticed H. Carroll Gilgan's grave. I stopped for a minute and then began walking again, past the graves of families that until then had existed only on paper for me: the Goerses, Ganleys, Dohertys, Gearys and many, many others.
The same thought came to me there in St. Michael's that had come earlier over in the Avon Cemetery among the Littlefields, Blanchards, and Wheelers: I knew these people; I never met them, but I knew them all. As a person who had scoured every town report available for Stoughton and then Avon, I have seen them born, seen them married, counted their children. I have read the brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings which followed them through their lives; I have seen them at work, at play, at war. I have read their death certificates at the Town Clerk's office, and I have spoken with some of their friends and families.
What follows is their story, told as well as an outsider can tell it. I am privileged to pass it along.
William F, Hanna
This work could not have been completed without the valuable assistance of many individuals. I owe a debt of gratitude to John J. DeMareo, chairman of the Avon Board of Selectmen, whose idea it was to commission a scholarly history of the town. His steady help and encouragement are gratefully acknowledged. So too is the assistance of Verne Cannon, who not only read the manuscript and offered good advice, but also agreed to be in terviewed about his memories of Avon. Also extremely helpful in this regard were Madolyn and Everett Graham. Virginia Buckley, Helen Kuehn, Pearl Keamey, Erma Ballum, Roger Tracy and Bill Clark.
Thanks also go to Margaret Babbin, for making available records of the Avon Baptist Church, and to Flora Zablocki and her son Joseph, who generously loaned the Goeres family material. Barbara Beck-Ramsay offered good professional advice, and Dr. Richard Weiss of the Blanchard Trust was very helpful. My good friend Dr. Jordan Fiore, professor of history at Bridgewater State College, was helpful throughout the work. Also to be thanked are Carl Lundgren and the members of his Avon Centennial Committee.
No one successfully writes local history without the help of town clerks, and I was extremely fortunate in this regard. Lorraine E. Meninno, Avon Town Clerk, spared no effort to pleasantly answer every request, and she has my gratitude. So too does Jeanne M, Fleming, Stoughton Town Clerk.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Louis Tucker of the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as to the staffs of the Massachusetts State Archives and the State Library. Both the Avon Public Library and the Stoughton Public Library offered excellent service, indeed I never encountered an unfriendly face in either of these fine institutions. Closer to home, Lisa Compton and June Strojny, of the Old Colony Historical Society, helped follow-up leads and find material. Elizabeth Bernier, also on the staff at the Old Colony, typed the manuscript.
There are two friends whose assistance proved invaluable. Howard Hansen, of the Stoughton Historical Society, took both a personal and professional interest in this work. Little did he know that he would become its unofficial editor, and this experience will probably cause him to rethink his friendly approach toward strangers. His advice was always good and I relied on his judgment a great deal. Likewise, Rev. Arvid Anderson of the Blanchard House Museum not only opened his records to me, but also more important he gave liberally of his time and good counsel. His encyclopedic knowledge of Avon and its history was a critical factor in the writing of this volume.
Finally, like all writers, I owe a large debt of gratitude to my family. My wife Carol, and our sons Bill and Andrew, offered patience, encouragement and good humor throughout this project.