Looking Back at the Hollis Times

By special arrangement with the Hollis Times we provide re-prints of the series “Looking Back”. The series, edited by Jody Phillips, ran in thelate 1990s. It highlighted articles dating back to the 1880’s.

Looking Back in the “Times”

By Jody Phillips

Once again, in perusing the Hollis Times from five, ten, fifteen and 98 years ago, I find that the oldest issues of the newspaper appear far more interesting than more recent editions. I don’t necessarily think that what was going on in Hollis then was of itself more interesting, but the stories that were considered newsworthy and therefore worth printing in August of 1900 definitely seem more colorful than those featured in the Hollis Times of August 1983, 1988 and 1993.

  Very seldom in the 1900 newspapers does one find a report on a selectmen’s, planning board or school board meeting. Perhaps because the town was so much smaller and life simpler at the turn of the century, there may have been fewer meetings and less important issues to discuss at these meetings. Instead, the Hollis and Vicinity section of the late nineteenth century Hollis Times announced comings and goings of Hollis residents, reported in detail on accidents and illnesses that befell Hollis townspeople and described their various social gatherings, both those held in private homes and those sponsored by town organizations. These old newspapers paint a rich picture of what life in Hollis was like 100 years ago. This month I would like to focus mainly on the August 1900 issues of the Hollis Times. Compare the front-page stories from these issues to those printed more recently. The differences document how different life was in Hollis at the turn of the century.

 Looking back in the “Times” can be a lot of fun or very frustrating, depending on what I find in the old issues of the newspapers. Unfortunately, I found “nothing” in the January 1983, 1988 and 1993 Hollis Times, those from fifteen, ten and five years ago, which I read and reread several times over the holidays. Yes, there was news printed in these issues, but I found nothing which I felt was interesting enough to reprint. Budgets are only marginally interesting when they imminently affect people’s pocketbooks – not years later. And the various options being considered by the School’s Joint Facilities Committee, which seemed rather confusing to me in January of 1988, appear no less so ten years later. So when I visited Hilda Hildreth on December 29 to pick up a packet of the really old Hollis Times, I was hoping that these treasures would provide me with some unusual material to share with you. I was not disappointed. After considering the 1889 issues, I instead chose to cover the year 1900, as these papers are in better condition and are far less fragile. Also, a headline, actually a group of headlines, in the January 12, 1900 issue caught my eye. After reading the article, I knew it would be the focus of this month’s Looking Back column.

  The big story in the January 12, 1900 Hollis Times was the horrific accident  which occurred on Monday, January 8 at C. W. Herrick’s steam saw mill. The editor printed four headlines to introduce his leading story. “Wheel Burst” (in half-inch high bold letters) was followed by “Herrick’s Steam Mill Badly Wrecked” (bold, 12-point type), “Slipping Of Belts Caused The Accident” (all caps, 12-point type), and “Owner Had Verry Narrow Escape” (upper and lower case, 12-point type, extra “r” in very appearing to be intentional).

  I cannot begin to describe the accident with the intensity (or quaintness of language and sentence structure) of the original writer, so I am quoting the article in its entirety. Remember, this really happened in Hollis only 98 years ago.

  “The slipping of a belt at C. W. Herrick’s steam saw mill, located on Worcester Brothers’ J. E. Wheeler lot, about 2 o’clock Monday afternoon, caused a wreck which it will be some time before it is repaired.

  Mr. Herrick was sawing an oak log, the saw stuck and threw the main belt off the pulleys, this gave extra spin to the engine and made the belt that controlled the governor come off. The engine then ran at an awful speed as there was a 105 pound steam pressure on at the time. Mr. Herrick ran and shut off the steam, but he was not in season to prevent the accident. Mr. J. Milton Wheeler, who was working with Mr. Herrick . . .  promptly gave the alarm to the rest of the men and all escaped to safety.

  “The big fly-wheel, which weighed several thousand pounds, burst, parts of it cut big timbers and broke the four inch side posts to the doorway, through which Mr. Herrick had just passed. The ends of the engine room were wrecked and many of the boards split into kindling wood, the smoke stack knocked down, and other damage done which makes it look like a wreck in general. One piece of the fly-wheel 4 feet 2 inches by 16 1/2 inches was found four rods from where it started, another was driven into the ground nearly out of sight, smaller pieces were found hundreds of feet away.

  “Work will be pushed as fast as possible to get a new wheel and make other repairs, yet it may take a month’s time to get everything in running order.”

  Surprisingly, the January 26, 1900 Hollis Times reported that “C. W. Herrick’s steam sawmill which was so badly wrecked Jan. 8 by the fly-wheels bursting has been repaired and they commenced to saw logs Wednesday afternoon.”

     Milling lumber was a major industry in Hollis at the turn of the century and mill owners could not afford to let their machinery sit idle for long. The mills provided work for many local men. However, as is evident by the January 8, 1900 accident, the work was not without hazards. According to Where the Past Has Been Preserved, there was another bad accident at the Worcester Brothers’ sawmill on March 2, 1916, when the boiler in the mill exploded. Once again the Hollis Times reported the mishap in great detail. Again the devastation was great, and although there were numerous injuries, miraculously again no one was killed.

  Several references to lumber milling which all appeared in the January 19, 1900 Hollis Times indicate just how widespread this industry was in the area at the turn of the century. Specifically, “Pierce Brothers have three teams hauling timber to Swallow’s mill, Dunstable, Mass., prepatory to building a barn.” Also, “The engine for the portable sawmill to be located on the William Howe lot arrived yesterday. This is another branch of the Worcester Brothers’ lumbering industry.” Finally, “Worcester Brothers complete filling, today, an order for 2700 kegs. This lot is made up of half barrels, quarters and ten gallon kegs and has kept the coopers on the rush since it was received. There has been an unusually large business in this line for several months, making this one of the most important of our local industries.”

  Wood from the lumber mills was not only milled into barrel staves, it was also used to make furniture, especially chairs. The January 26, 1900 Hollis Times contains an announcement that  “W. G. Burbee, the Chair Stock manufacturer, having built up such an extensive business line, has decided to give up his grinding business and has sold his grist mill to H. G. Cameron & Co.” Where the Past Has Been Preserved quotes a Hollis Times article which states, “On November 10, 1899, W. C. Burbee shipped 5,000 pieces of chair stock to Ashburnham, Massachusetts. . . This is the first shipment he has made and he has a large number of orders from this size to lots of 500,000 pieces each. This will make a large addition to the industry of the town.”

  The milling business is much safer now than it was 98 years ago, but it is also a much smaller part of the industry of the town. Fewer people build their homes, sheds or barns from lumber harvested and milled in Hollis. In 1982 my barn was built of rough-cut pine milled at a sawmill located on Twiss Lane owned by Bob Cudworth and Dick Marvell. Bob had to drive by my house on his way from the mill, which was on Dick’s property, to his own home on French Mill Road, so he dropped off the lumber he thought I would need for the next week’s barn construction every Saturday. We hired Ross Jensen, a carpenter from Brookline, to build the barn. On the weekends his two teen-age sons and my husband George worked right along with him. My barn is sturdy, strong and built to last at least 100 years. Protected by a solid stain, the wood has only rotted at ground level, where the snow banks against it during the winter months.

  There are a couple of other mills in town. Arthur Woods still mills lumber and also cuts firewood; his stacks of wood which extend out almost to Depot Road probably contain the most photographed cordwood in all of New England. Several other mills operate as well. I hesitate to name any of them for fear I will leave one out. The industry is still alive in Hollis today, but it is not the backbone of the community as it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  Speaking of old businesses, I found a short article in the January 12, 1900 Hollis Times concerning the somewhat new enterprise of “homestead dating.” The article stated, “Mr. Ralph E. Tenney set the fashion last summer of homestead dating. The black antique figures 1747 stand out very distinctly across the base of the chimney and can be easily read from Mr. Jefferson Farley’s. The Timothy Flagg place has since been dated 1732, and it is said that Artist M. J. Powers has several orders to paint dates when the spring opens. There are many fine old residences in Hollis, and it is always interesting to know the date of their construction. In many New England towns it is an almost universal custom to date the ancient residences.”

  I imagine that the families living in relatively “new” homes in 1900 would never have expected that their homes would also be considered “ancient residences” to us nearly 100 years later. But I’m glad that they had the foresight to preserve the records of not only the construction dates of their homes but also details of their jobs and lifestyles. We are indeed fortunate that many of these records have been preserved in the old Hollis Times so that we may all look back and learn about the history of our town.