Stagecoach Poster is a Window to History  
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stagecoach service from Dudley to Boston was available three times a week in 1825, says Robert R. Ducharme, a retired Oxford High School teacher who is now with the management team at the Black Tavern on Dudley Hill.

Mr. Ducharme, a Civil War re-enactor and historian, and his wife, Christine M. Ducharme, took life-altering challenges some time ago, assuming oversight of Dudley’s historic tavern.

Joseph S. Antos, also of Dudley, has similar interests as Mr. Ducharme, and is a definitive source for historical specials, such as the Top of the Hill, a picnic, refreshments, dance, produce and gatherings place run decades ago by Jesse and Bertha Downey at the apex to their Dresser Hill Road farm. Mr. Antos has an original 1825 “stages” poster, and Mr. Ducharme has recreated it.

He’s shared a lot of Civil War-era materials with this corner over the years, and once again Mr. Ducharme has been most generous. The poster says “from Boston to Dudley by the way of Worcester, Ward (now Auburn), Millbury, Sutton, and Oxford.” Trips from Boston left at 2 a.m. (yes, in the wee hours of the morning), arriving in Worcester at 10 a.m. and at Dudley “the same day” at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Return trips from Dudley (with a Sunday layover) were on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m., arriving in Worcester at noon and in Boston at 8 p.m. “Just imagine, riding in a stagecoach for 13 hours,” offers Mr. Ducharme. And most of the roads left something to be desired.

The poster says: “For seats in Boston, apply at Wild & Hosmer’s, Elm St.; in Worcester, C. Stockwell; in Ward at R. Cary’s; in Oxford at Major Lambs (Joseph Lambs celebrated Mineral Spring); in Slatersville, at the factory store; in Dudley, at the factory, or at L. Healy’s; in Millbury, at Doctor Benedict’s; in Sutton at Whiting’s or at Major Earles.’ ”

Healy’s on Dudley Hill was an inn at Tanyard and Dudley Hill Roads, says Mr. Ducharme. This placed it across Tanyard, next to the Black Tavern, approximately where Ray Stockley now lives. The location was once the Whiting family property, and Bertha Whiting was the Dudley reporter for the Worcester Evening Gazette. Tales of “Cubby,” as Miss Whiting was known, hitching horse to wagon to cover the news were fairly common in the years before World War II.

The stage made stops in what is now Webster, but in 1825 that town was still in Dudley and Oxford. It was identified as Slatersville by a Providence newspaper, so tabbed because of the early efforts of Samuel Slater interests, who made their intent of forming an independent town known. This happened in 1832. Mr. Slater rejected the Slatersville designation to honor Daniel Webster. Industrialist Samuel Slater admired Daniel Webster because he favored high tariffs on textile imports. Besides, there already was a Slatersville in Rhode Island.

Mr. Ducharme believes the company store mentioned on the poster was at South Village because Slater had a large company store at what is now a parking area for the Webster First Federal Credit Union branch at North and South Main streets. He remembers the block from his childhood on Webster’s North Main Street. The company store was long gone in his recall, but small, independent outlets occupied the space, including the offices of lawyer Alfred S. Erlich and insurance agent Joseph F. Gibney, both deceased. Mr. Gibney was a longtime state senator. The poster claims: “Accommodations good, fare reasonable, but all baggage at the risk of the owner.”

Nichols Academy, forerunner to Nichols College, was established in 1815, according to “Nichols Academy: The Spring on the Hill 1815-1931,” by Dr. James Lawson Conrad Jr., published in 2008 by Nichols College.

“When Amasa Nichols and his Universalist supporters began the academy on Dudley Hill, they were hardly alone as academy builders. There were 36 incorporated academies in Massachusetts by 1820,” read a few lines in Chapter 1 of Dr. Conrad’s book.

Nichols Academy enrolled students from a “fairly large geographical area” from its inception, the author says, making this a likely reason for stagecoach runs from Boston to Dudley, with return trips and stations along the way.

Thirty-nine guests gathered Jan. 9 to honor Jessie A. Hughes of Webster on her 85th birthday, including nine children, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, says a family member employed at Price Chopper in Webster. “We’d have had 40 people there, but one relative ran into a last-minute problem,” said the unofficial Hughes spokesperson.

Reference was to the Vito Block during the Webster selectmen’s meeting Jan. 17, but the schematics unveiled for a new police station suggest Vito Block plus.

The concept has a long way to go, but a $6 million grant from the Gerald and Marilyn Fels Foundation gives the idea something close to certification. Besides the Vito Block, built with eight boutique-style storefronts and second-floor offices and apartments, the architectural overlay covers the adjacent block at Main and Frederick streets, remembered by many as home to Vels Jewelers and Kerri’s, a men’s fashion store run by the late Joseph Sterczala; and a back alley apartment house, first a Chandler Motor Cars garage and once the Webster Times printing plant. Condemned more than two years ago, the vacant properties will be torn down if things work out as proposed. Followed, quite wonderfully, by a police station with all of the service required. A plan to make the Fire-Police Station on Thompson Road an all-fire facility is part of the package.

The Nellie Twardzik baseball legend — the only girl to ever play varsity baseball at Webster’s Bartlett High School — stretches back 75 years, but it is always new to younger generations, as it is right now in Dudley’s Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library.

Reminders of Ms. Twardzik-Thompson’s diamond career, and its hold on the New England sports scene from the mid-1930s dominates in the main entrance to the Schofield Avenue facility. Photographs, mostly on a field of play; samples of the clippings that began to pile up when the late George H. Finnegan, Bartlett’s legendary coach, penciled “N. Twardzik” into a Bartlett High scorebook in 1935; and Hall of Fame citations, BHS and the big one at Cooperstown, are under glass.

There’s also a large drawing, “Oh Boy, What A Girl,” published when a school committee barred Miss Twardzik from the boys’ baseball team. “This was the cause of whirlpool,” the drawing says. “They reconsidered and now Nellie is back on the job.” The display is drawing attention, says Kathryn Parent, a library assistant. It will remain through February, says Matthew Hall, library director.

And, yes, Ms. Twardzik-Thompson is still about town. Now 91 and in good health, Nellie remains at home, says daughter Patricia A. Biron, a schoolteacher.

If you haven’t visited yet, take time to inspect the Nellie Twardzik baseball display at the Crawford Library. It’s of real interest for every baseball fan, and maybe inspiration for young ladies set on breaking barriers.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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