The newest addition to Arcadia Publishing's popular Images of America series is from Ayer and local author Barry E. Schwarzel of the Ayer Historical Commission.
The book boasts more than 200 vintage images and memories of days gone by. Schwarzel will be signing copies of the new book on Saturday, July 7, at the Pirone Park Fourth of July Celebration at 17 School St.
Had it not been for the building of the railroads in the 1840s, Ayer may not have been established. Originally called South Groton, the town thrived as tanneries, vinegar factories, sawmills and other industries settled in the area. The rapid economic development and population growth led to the formation of the Ayer in 1871, named for Dr. James Cook Ayer, a producer of hair tonic and patent medicines who had donated money to the town.
Ayer thrived, becoming a rail hub for transporting goods and passengers. In 1917, the War Department leased local land to build a new Army training area, Camp Devens, and its opening greatly boosted both Ayer's population and economy. The name changed from Camp Devens to Fort Devens in 1931.
Since the closing of Fort Devens in 1996 and the loss of the local support- and service-oriented economy, Ayer has relied on its manufacturing economy to grow and thrive with help from the new commercial and industrial complex at the former Fort Devens site. In addition to Pan Am Southern railroad facilities, Ayer is home to Cain's food products, the Pepsi Bottling
Schwarzel, 62, is a native of Ayer. He was born at the former Ayer Memorial Hospital on Winthrop Street in 1950. His great-great grandfather moved to Ayer from Prince Edward Island around the late 1880s to early 1890s. His grandfather, Earl R. Pillman, was born in Ayer in 1900. He owned a car-repair business and later became a police officer and eventually one of Ayer's chiefs of police.
As an active volunteer for the Ayer Historical Commission, Schwarzel had a deep interest in putting together a new book illustrating Ayer's photographic history. Researching material and images for this book was a way for him to reconnect with his family's roots. It is also important to note that this book could not have been completed without the help and assistance of all the Ayer Historical Commission members.
While researching images for the book, Schwarzel was pleasantly surprised when he came across two photos of his great grandparents from 1911. This project has taken more than one and a half years to complete. Although one of his interests in doing this book was to reconnect with family roots, it also gave him a deeper appreciation for the history of Ayer and its townspeople.
When not researching for this new book, Schwarzel enjoys spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He is also an active member of the Ayer Gun and Sportsmen's Club where he enjoys fishing and participating in various community events sponsored by the club.
Schwarzel hopes that this glimpse into Ayer's past will entertain and also inspire others to learn more about their place in history. He and the Ayer Historical Commission have been delighted to compose this photographic history of Ayer.
The book is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing.