Tumbling Pillars Recall Region’s History  
Thursday, October 29, 2009

One of the big columns to the front of the Sturbridge Town Hall came tumbling down on a winter Saturday years ago, and I was the weekend reporter on duty.

Onlookers diagnosed the problem: dry rot at its base, but no one seemed to know anything about the building’s general condition or history.

Robert J. Briere would be the man to see, I learned from the assembly. Yes, he was at home, but a delay might be necessary, said the person who answered his telephone. “It’s his birthday, and we’re having a party for him.”

The guest of honor overheard enough to place the ice cream and cake on hold, going out of his way to provide a bit of information. This was my introduction to the man from Fiskdale (a section of Sturbridge), and I’ve since learned a great deal about the town and its history, thanks to visits with Mr. Briere. For example, a good-size pond near a wooded area out beyond the Publick House was a drill field for citizen soldiers through World War II. Generations of beavers subsequently kept it flooded.

Now, reacting to my recent piece on Indian names for Webster Lake, Mr. Briere offers his take from another “Indian Names” book, this one by Lincoln N. Kinnicutt, published in 1905. The volume is about places in Worcester County, and offers “Chaubunakongkomuk” with credit to John Eliot, and “Chabanakongmun,” by Daniel Gookin.

Another author says the name as written by Eliot means “a boundry place,” and the name of the pond meant “fishing place at the boundry.”

John Eliot and Daniel Gookin established a series of Indian Praying Towns, including one in 1674 at what is now Webster. A marker on Thompson Road at Birch Island Road says the praying town was known as “Chaubunagangamaug.” It seems that Mr. Briere’s history lessons aren’t limited to Sturbridge and the columns in front of its Town Hall, but to the region in general.



When Payne Henries died Oct. 2, 1936, he was said to be the last of the Nipmuck Indians in this area. This became lore of sorts, even featured in a Bartlett High School “Chronicle,” the school yearbook.

The story line was subsequently corrected by others, but the “last Nipmuck” claim has persisted. In truth, Mr. Henries was probably the last Nipmuck in this area to follow an Indian lifestyle. He had apparently been married, and the people of his nation, organized to promote a common good, researched his lineage, naming families with ties to Payne Henries. Beverly McDonald of Quinebaug is one of them. Her grandfather, Walter Henries, was Payne’s brother.

Webster’s Thomas W. Gorski Sr., the retired state Department of Revenue officer, wondered about “the last Nipmuck” last week, remembering stories of his visits about town. The Jarmolowicz family on Eastern Avenue; Victor Stefaniak, who died just recently; the late Leonard Beatty; and Louis J. Blanchart, deceased, a longtime circulation manager for the Telegram & Gazette, were among his Webster friends. Their stories were honest, sometimes humorous, and now seem lost in time.



Author Paul J. Macek and illustrator James R. Morrison will unveil their latest Webster, Dudley, Oxford book at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in the Chester C. Corbin Public Library.

“Webster, Dudley and Oxford during the Nineteenth Century,” covers the history of the three towns. Mr. Macek and Mr. Morrison will be guests of the Webster-Dudley Historical Society and the library, says John Mrazik, program director for the historical group.

“The book has more than 500 pages and more than 100 illustrations,” according to Mr. Mrazik.



Nicola Tortis, in charge of Southbridge inspection services, is conducting a one-man campaign to rid that town of expired yard sale signs, according to a Telegram & Gazette report on Columbus Day.

Inspector Tortis doesn’t have a problem with the signs themselves, but thinks they ought to be removed from utility poles and public property before they become litter, said the news account. This makes sense, at least from 11 miles away.

Yard sale signs are also a problem in Webster and Dudley, especially on main roadways. Some of them give directions to sales in other parts of the town, and even elsewhere. Political ardor has been bridled a bit, but candidates for state and county offices once left signs on telephone poles after elections were history. A Webster police officer, the late John B. McCausland, was the Nicola Tortis of his time. Officer McCausland removed posters left on telephone poles and elsewhere in Webster, but only when off duty. No one took offense because the signs that were removed were outdated, but few residents seemed to appreciate the effort.

A similar effort aimed at yard sale polluters in Webster and Dudley should be encouraged.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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