History

New England is rich in history and historical stories. Some have changed over the years; but many are very factual. Daniel Shays was a western Massachusetts farmer who led a rebellion after the Revolutionary War. Why is this important to me? Read on and see.

Shays' Rebellion was an uprising in Massachusetts in 1786-87 caused mainly by excessive land taxation, high legal costs, and economic depression following the American Revolution. The insurgents, who were mainly poor farmers threatened with loss of their property and imprisonment for debt, were headed by Daniel Shays, a former captain in the American Revolution army.

They demanded protective legislation, the abolition of the court of common pleas, and a radical reduction of taxes. In 1786, armed mobs prevented the sitting of the courts at Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, and Concord; and Shays, with his followers, broke up a session of the state supreme court in Springfield. On January 25, 1787,

Shays and his men marched into Springfield to seize the federal arsenal, but they were repulsed by a force of militia under the American general William Shepard. The rebels fled toward Petersham, where they were finally defeated. Most of the men were pardoned later in the year; Shays, condemned to death, escaped to Vermont and was pardoned a year later.

Revolutionary War Home Page

Photographs of the U.S. Civil War from the Library of Congress.

Now the small North-east community of Petersham, Massachusetts wasn't a "player" in the Civil War; but it did send many of it's boys to fight. Prior to the war, Petersham was beginning to grow into an industrial community boasting several thousand people. After the Civil War it never again reached the popultion, nor the "industrial" strength it had prior to the 1860's.

The reason I reference the Civil War is because I am interested in that era of American History and find the pictures very intriguing.


Remembering the Rabbit Run

The following is an excerpt from the book "Hometown Chronicles" written by Richard Chaisson of Athol, MA. Mr. Chaisson is a town Historian by hobby and has written different books on historic events of the North Quabbin Region, of which Petersham is a member.

The Rabbit Line was a nick name for a long past rail line that passed through the area communities. The line was disbanded when the lost valley towns were swallowed up by the Quabbin Reservoir. Abandoned right-of-ways can still be found in the woods of the communities where the railroad once ran.

The nostalgic mind of Harold Baxter still rides a ghost train out of the Quabbin Valley.

He remembers having a fun time riding with other youngsters on a passenger train heading out of his beloved North Dana, now under about 40 feet of Quabbin Reservoir water, and transporting them on shiny rails northward.

It was their only means of getting to daily classes at Athol High School -- the legendary "Rabbit Run."

"Athol, next stop. You children get off here and have a good day at school." The memory of the cheerful bid and wave from the conductor still lives like it happened yesterday.

It makes him homesick for what he says were definitely "the good old days." Was it really more than 60 years ago? That long?

Like many hundreds of other residents evicted in the late 1930's from old Greenwich, Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and North Dana, and who now live all over Central Massachusetts and far beyond, Baxter has his special memories of life in the valley.

Baxter 73, [at the book's publishing in 1985], of Carpenter Road, cherishes those days.

Every morning he'd hasten from his home in North Dana, with lunch pail and school books in his hands, skirt around the high fence, and race to the little depot. He made it in two minutes. That was in 1917 and 1918, and Baxter was about 13. He remembers it more of a daily adventure than a chore.

"We caught the train coming up from Springfield (Mass.) and Enfield about 9:15. There were about 28 of us, from all the towns and villages around: North Dana, Dana Center, Greenwich, Greenwich Plains,, and Enfield. Some would get on further North, a Millington girl got on at New Salem Depot, and the Meuse boys and others hopped aboard at South Athol Depot," he said.

Athol Depot was the northern terminus of the Boston and Albany's Rabbit Run. The old roundhouse here, off South Athol Road, is one of the few standing relics from this little railroad system. An original Rabbit Sidetrack still nudges the roundhouse for a few hundred yards, with identifying bolts indicating where the rails and ties were set in 1915.

"The kids from Prescott didn't take the train with us. They lived just over the hill from New Salem Academy so they went there instead, some by horse and buggy. A few on the train got off at New Salem to go to the Academy too.

"We were between 20 or 25 minutes in getting there. It was 10 miles to the Athol Depot, and from there it was few minutes walk or run to the Athol High School (now the Athol Middle School) at the top of School Street hill." It's still a gasping dash up that long hill in winter for today's school children.

The Quabbin gang got to classes about 10:35. "The kids from Athol went to school at 8 o'clock and got out at 1:30. We came in later in the day, so we had to make it up by staying until 2:45. Then we had to run down the hill to catch the train for a ride home. We didn't want to walk home." He never failed to catch it.

"We had a grand time riding the train to school. It wasn't the fastest moving thing, you know. So we had time for socializing, and we could do our homework on the way. The seniors and juniors would help us sophomores and freshmen. Yep. We did our homework right on the train."

The state paid for the students' ride. "To come from North Dana to Athol it cost a regular passenger 28 cents. But the state would get a bundle of tickets for students at a lower rate. They'd give us a ticket book with 56 one-way tickets in it. We had to give the conductor one each time we came on."

There were exciting times on the old "Rabbit" (so nicknamed because in its earlier days the trainmen would make unscheduled stops between South Athol and New Salem to conveniently let off rabbit hunters).

"A week before one Christmas we had an awful snow storm. We got as far as Hager's Crossing, going out of South Athol towards New Salem on a flat level. We just stayed there stuck in snow from half-passed three to six or seven at night. We stayed in the cold until the railroad plow came up from Springfield to clear the way."

The school train to Athol was the youngsters' own choice. Baxter recalls with a grin: "we could go wither to New Salem Academy (half way up the line) or to Athol High School. Most of us chose Athol because everyone enjoyed the longer train ride. It was about four miles to the academy but 10 to Athol. We thought that was a great treat. I really enjoyed it. It was the spice of my life."

There were other joys in riding the northbound Rabbit -- taking girl friends to Brookside Park at the Athol-Orange line and dancing there until midnight, to the Athol Opera House shows and vaudeville, and to the wonderful Athol Fair every Labor Day weekend. Once or twice they overstayed and had to walk the long distance home in thunderstorms. Now Baxter can laugh about it.

Baker never did graduate from Athol High. After completing his second year, the family moved to Lowell and he eventually graduated from Lowell Trade School. He moved back to North Dana after a few years and remained until 1935, when he came to Athol to stay.

"The Swift River Box Company where I worked was moving to Athol, and we had six children to feed so we moved to Athol with it. My grandfather owned half of the factory."

Once stark memory stands among the many happy and sorrowful ones of valley times. While helping the factory move out, he also took a brief job with the Metropolitan District Commission in exhuming bodies from one of the many valley cemeteries before the valley was flooded.

"We'd dig up the bones from the North Dana Cemetery and put them in boxes and label them. Where they moved them to, I don't remember...different places out of the valley. I have a great- grandfather and a great-uncle down there. When you're young you can do almost anything. I'd hate to do it today."

Baxter thinks about home a lot; and it hurts inside. "The Main Street of North Dana wsa lined with maple trees. It was the most beautiful town in the state."

"A few years ago the Swift River Hostorial Society sponsored a hike into the Quabbin and I went with them. As soon as we sighted through the trees old Mount L and my old home area under water, I turned back. I couldn't go any furtehr."

"They asked me later why I didn't go on with them. I told them, 'That used to be my home. Those of you who didn't live there don't know how it affects us.' I still won't venture down there. I get so homesick."


In the mid 1950's a devestating tornado ripped through the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. This ninety minutes of destruction tore through Central Massachusetts on a June afternoon in 1953. The tornado started in a field several hundred yards south-west of where my home sits today. An afternoon of thunder storms led up the the event that started in Petersham and did damges in communities including Barre, Holden, Worcester, and Milbury.

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Petersham, MA

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