By Gus Widmayer
One of my favorite pastimes is to search for old photographs and postcards on eBay. This hobby started when I was researching online archives for a book I wrote in 2006 about a village in Falmouth. The habit has since spread to my interest in Groton since I moved here in 2008.
For those of you not familiar with the online auction site eBay, I can explain a thing or two. It is possible to list the searches that interest you. Ebay will then notify you by email when an item is coming up for sale that matches your criteria. I have a standing search entered for anything with the word "Groton" contained within the item's heading or description.
In October 2011, a large series of old glass-plate negatives came up for bid. The provenance of the actual plates is not known, but the photographer is. He was local photographer William A. Wright. About him: "In the first decades of the 20th century, there were several serious amateur photographers in Ayer, among them William A. Wright (1852-1931) ... Wright operated a furniture and undertaking business in Ayer from 1867 to 1917 and was said to be "the most prominent undertaker in this section." The views he preserved are breathtaking.
His complete works, amassed over his lifetime, of 700 to 750 images were originally sold at a live auction as a complete set, which the winning bidder, a gentleman from Baldwinville in Templeton, then sold on eBay one glass image at a time. I was able to buy about a
The online auctions at eBay have enormous benefit in this, the Age of Information. How else could one amass important collections of items that were previously located in the attics of hundreds of separate homes?
But the sword cuts both ways. There is a dark side to eBay, too. If your great-aunt had dinner service for twelve in Haviland Limoges, upon her death her son might unwittingly sell it off on eBay one plate at a time. Great collections are being broken up. And so it was for William Wright's glass-plate negatives. I hope to share one or two of them with you in the months to come.
In another purchase (I cannot recall the date), a booklet came up for auction of "Picturesque New England" that was printed by the Boston and Maine Railroad. The pamphlet is not dated, but I would put its year of publication after 1876 and before 1925. It contains this image of, and is entitled, "Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts."
Clues to the exact location from which this photograph was taken include the house and barn at left as well as the curvature in the road. Are you able to identify this scene? Notice the dark rings on the trunks of the many trees. Isn't it interesting to note that tent caterpillars were a nuisance 100 years ago just as they are today? I imagine these were the magnificent old elm trees that once lined Main Street. I had hoped that shadows would help to provide a clue as to the direction in which the road is heading but I was not able to discern anything using that approach. I would encourage readers to submit a photograph of the same scene taken today. Please email your picture to: email@example.com.
And now, I have an update for you on a story I wrote several issues ago concerning Hillcrest House, the grand home of Marion Campbell's mother, Mrs. Danielson, at the end of Joy Lane in Groton. Just after the Civil War, this farm was owned by a Mr. Nathaniel Davis, who sold to Alfred and Jane E. Pollard on Dec. 5, 1865. The parcel consisted of 59 acres. The Pollards in turn deeded the property to Solomon Achorn, when it became known as the Achorn and Rynn Farm, running from the end of Joy Lane all the way down to the right bank of the Nashua River. I would anticipate that Mr. Achorn built the original mansion in the picture that accompanied my column because it appears on the plan of his land drawn in 1884. Another clue would be the death of its architect, John Hubbard Sturgis, in 1888. In 1884, ownership passed to the next family to pick up this parcel, Charles H. and Marie Louise Joy. They were the ones to give their name to Joy Lane, the drive that parallels the "road to Page's bridge leading from Shirley Village to Groton Center past Groton School." The Joys sold their farm to William Amory Gardner (unmarried), on Sept. 11, 1911. By 1916, Richard E. and Barbara D. Danielson came upon the farm. They would eventually add several more smaller parcels to the 59-acre estate; lands received from Jo Elliot, Albert B. Downing, Mary E. Taylor and George P. Whitney.