Local historian collects memories of growing up in Southborough

by susan on September 30, 2011

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Above: Donna McDaniel speaking at the Senior Center last week

Some of you remember a time when Southborough was dotted with family farms and orchards. A time when Blueberry Lane was actually a hill covered with blueberry bushes. When a trolley ran down Route 9, and when there was so little traffic, neighbors could stand in the middle of Main Street and talk.

Most of you probably don’t remember those days, but thanks to the work of Southborough historian Donna McDaniel, a record of that time will remain.

McDaniel has spent the past couple of years talking with Southborough’s oldest residents and recording their stories of life in town decades ago. The stories will be published in the upcoming book Southborough Memories, which McDaniel says she hopes will be ready by Heritage Day. The work was funded through the Southborough Historical Society with the help of a Community Preservation Act grant.

McDaniel shared some of the old Southborough stories from her book at a well-attended luncheon at the Senior Center last week.

In the early part of the 20th century, Southborough was a town of villages – Fayville, Southville, Cordaville, and Southborough – and McDaniel said village identity ran strong.

“If you lived in Fayville, the Fayville Village Hall was your town hall. If you left and went to Southborough, that was a different town,” McDaniel told a crowd of several dozen seniors, many of whom nodded their heads in agreement.

In the late 1800’s, Southborough saw an influx of Italian immigrants who came to work on the Fayville Dam. Many stayed on, becoming groundskeepers, nannies, and chauffeurs for some of Southborough’s wealthiest families.

“You had gentleman farmers who worked in Boston but who had estates in Southborough, and you had first and second generation immigrants,” McDaniel said. “They managed to create a community where each side felt valued and at home with each other.”

Farm life placed many demands on Southborough youth at the time, but when not doing chores, kids could be found playing pick-up baseball games or playing basketball on the upper floor of the town hall. They rode horses to Westborough or took the trolley to Marlborough to see a movie or to go to dances.

“Kids had free reign,” McDaniel said. “You could get on your bike and go anywhere. You didn’t have to worry about it and your parents didn’t have to worry about it.”

Sledding was a popular activity in the wintertime, and with few cars to contend with, town roads were the sledding hills of choice for many. McDaniel said children would sled down Oak Hill Road toward Route 9, posting someone at the bottom to watch for cars and trolleys.

There was no television. Instead families would gather around the radio or at the dining room table to play card games like Go Fish and Old Maid. Teachers like Margaret Neary and Mary Finn were “beloved.”

McDaniel said some seniors were nervous about talking with her for the project, telling her they didn’t have any interesting stories to tell. But McDaniel said what she wanted to capture were the everyday tales of life in Southborough, to paint a picture of the town through the stories of its residents.

Look for her book Southborough Memories on sale at Heritage Day.

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