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Thursday, August 14, 2008


By Ed Patenaude

Peter A. Strzelewicz, owner of an arts and signs business in Dudley and a well-known wildlife artist, came into a local food place last Thursday, noticed my presence and moved to a doorway. Mr. Strzelewicz returned within seconds and handed over an illustrated booklet, "Leading Business Men of Webster, Southbridge, Putnam, and vicinity; embracing also Danielsonville, East Douglas and Oxford." The book was distributed by Mercantile Publishing Co. of Boston and has an 1890 timeline.

"It's one of the things I found cleaning out the house," said Mr. Strzelewicz. "I think it belonged to my father-in-law (the late Albert Hockenson). There were a lot of books. I gave most of them away but I saved this one because it's the kind of thing you seem to like."

A historical sketch says Webster had four villages, North, South, East and Depot. The first three were the settlements about the S. Slater & Sons Co. mills, "with the town's population being principally massed within a radius of a mile."

Depot Village, that area around the freight and passenger railway terminals downtown, included several hotels, boarding places, restaurants and a vaudeville house. Forty-six Webster stores are listed in the 128-year-old booklet, probably an advertising piece that covered the region to make its production profitable. The Webster part has but one business that still exists, Webster Five Cents Savings Bank. Cyrus Spalding was its president, F.A. Stockwell treasurer, and L.E. Pattison secretary.

Slater Co. didn't buy listings for any of its company stores, but a competitor, Sovereign Cooperative Association, is mentioned. It sold provisions, staples, and home goods at bargain rates to workers in the factories and non-Slater mills in the town.

The Southbridge section offers 56 profiles and, again, a bank, Southbridge Savings Bank, appears as the only 1890s business still in existence. Its plea all those many years ago was "systematic savings."

Putnam businesses bought 60 write-ups, or advertisements. Putnam Carriage Corp. had a disdain for cheap materials and poor workmanship, offering top-quality vehicles, new and used, at reasonable prices. The company also sold harnesses.

Danielsonville was said to be a prominent section of Killingly. Thirty-nine businesses were profiled, including a couple of factories, Aspinock Knitting Mill and Monohansett Manufacturing Co.

Douglas had 13 listings, including the E.N. Jackes Store, now a town historical site, and Young's Patent Steam Starcher and Boston Steam Laundry.

The booklet offered profiles for seven Oxford stores and Edwin Bartlett, manufacturer of cotton warps and yarns. Wood block engravings, probably from line drawings, were used throughout the booklet. There weren't any automobile agencies or gasoline stations all those years ago so nobody was concerned with the price of gasoline.

It'll be another 18 months or more before old friend John Guy LaPlante visits Webster, but he'd better have a couple of gold stars on his person when he does.

We're talking about the kinds of stars that teachers used to place on test papers when a pupil turned in a superior score. My wife, Jeanne, is expecting a star, and so am I. John Guy promised "a nice gold star" to people who read his recent e-mail: "My First 6 Months as a Volunteer." It's all about John Guy's service in the Peace Corps. We both qualified.

It was transmitted from the Ukraine, where Mr. LaPlante is stationed, and in 14,628 words or 282 paragraphs, it is probably the longest e-mail we've ever received. The message arrived last week, and it's filled with all kinds of English and French references, the subjects taught in the Ukraine by John Guy, once a Webster reporter for the Telegram & Gazette, editor of the Sunday Telegram Feature Parade magazine, and later a public relations officer for Assumption College. He lived in both Webster and Dudley for periods of time and in Auburn much longer.

That was years ago, but the point of his Peace Corps service is that he volunteered at 78 years of age, made it through a tough training period, getting immersed in Russian language courses, and has emerged from his first six months as probably the second oldest Peace Corps volunteer in the world. He's now 79.

So I've Heard readers might remember that Mr. LaPlante authored travel reports, and especially a solo trip around the world that became a book.

Without getting into most of the paragraphs in his e-mail, let it suffice to say that Mr. LaPlante has a couple of concurrent assignments. Teaching English and French classes at the First Kiev Courses for Foreign Languages, and as the founder and moderator of an English Club at a "big public library right on the main boulevard." I liked his fashion comment; the young women in Ukraine dress to the nines, while the young men favor leisure attire. Inflation is such that reclaimed clothing is popular.

His French assignments follow because he was raised in a French-speaking family in nearby Rhode Island, and attended a parochial school where the day was half English and half French, like the routine years ago at St. Anne's School in Webster. Or, the Day Street School, when I took classes there.

John Guy chronicled his six-month anniversary by entering six exclamation marks - !!!!!! - in his diary. "They said it all." he writes. "These six exclamation marks were my easiest way to say how happy and proud that I've made it this far."

Make this Take 4 on the story about Thomas W. Gorski's World War II recollections.

Mr. Gorski was home on leave from the Marine Corps, took a walk about his Lake Street neighborhood, and got into a conversation with a couple of ladies in the Szymczak family. Two of their brothers, a sailor and a soldier, were missing in action.

We subsequently learned that things turned out pretty well. The sailor was rescued at sea when his ship went down, and the soldier endured as a prisoner of war.

Then, Robert Walkowiak said he met the sailor when the carrier he served on picked him up at Pearl Harbor and brought him Stateside. Mr. Walkowiak also remembered that the Sczymczak men had unusual nicknames. The soldier, Anthony E. Szymczak, now of Ash Street in Webster, was known as "Carney."

So, now comes Arthur "Archie" Henault of Dudley, the retired business manager for the Dudley-Charlton Regional School District. Mr. Henault's late father, Oliver Henault, coached the Lakeside A.C., when Archie was a kid, so he went to the games. Their home field at Beacon Park was once an entertainment venue and is now a condominiums complex.

"Your article on `Carney' Szymczak brought back a lot of memories," says Mr. Henault. "He was a good semi-pro baseball catcher on some of the teams my Dad coached. Funny, but I still remember (Mr. Szymczak's) favorite expression behind the plate. Whenever his pitcher made a good pitch, he'd say, `Peaches and cream.'"

Mr. Sczymczak was at breakfast in a town restaurant last Saturday, so I inquired about his "peaches and cream" calls. He laughed, admitting the term became a part of his behind-the-plate language. He appreciated a good baseball pitch, and liked peaches and cream. Mr. Sczymczak said he caught for different teams, but mostly for Lakeside A.C. and the old Mohegan A.C.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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