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‘Duxbury Ancient and Modern’ updates popular local history book

In 1924, Henry A. Fish penned a booklet that became one of the most important local references on early Duxbury residents.

Critical though it was, the work was cumbersome to use. While it detailed the locations of Duxbury’s earliest European home sites and roads, and was packed with well-known family names such as Alden, Bradford, Brewster, and Delano, it had no alphabetical index. The numerical key to its map was nothing less than bizarre, according to Bill McArdle, chairman of the publications committee for the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society.  

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Looking to make the booklet easier to use, and as a way to commemorate Duxbury’s 375th anniversary in 2012, the group redesigned and expanded it to a 44-page book, which went on sale in December.

“It is one of the best sources on where some of the oldest houses in Duxbury were,” said Patrick Browne, executive director of the group.

The book, “Duxbury Ancient and Modern,” (a recasting of the original title, “Duxbury, Massachusetts, Ancient and Modern: A Sketch, with Map and Key”), features an updated map with additional home sites, more dates attached to those sites, information about which homes are still standing, color photographs, and a forward by Carolyn Ravenscroft, archivist at the society’s Drew Archival Library.  

Today, much of the land depicted in the book has been redeveloped, but in the 1920s, when Fish self-published his booklet, some of the cellar holes and home sites of early European settlers were still visible, Ravenscroft said. Descendants of Pilgrim families and other residents visit the archives in search of their family history. They are thrilled, she said, to see the locations of their ancestors’ homes depicted on the map.

“It’s one of the most-used things for people doing their family genealogy,” she said.

Norman R. Forgit, a Rural and Historical Society member for more than 40 years and a graphic designer by trade, designed the new book and took many of the photographs. One improvement, he said, is that the map, held in a glued-in sleeve, can be removed from the book for easy viewing and handling. The old map was glued directly into the booklet and was prone to ripping when handled and folded.

Two hundred of the 300 copies have already been sold, McArdle said, but the society can easily get reprints because the book was produced digitally.

Now, rather than photocopy pages from the original booklet, visitors to the archives can take home a copy for $18, or order it from the society online or by phone, at 781-934-6106.  

Founded in 1883, the society owns a number of parcels and historical homes, including the Gershom Bradford House and King Caesar House, both open as museums in the summer, and its Washington Street headquarters, the Nathaniel Winsor Jr. House. It gives tours for school groups, hosts public lectures, and occasionally conducts archeological digs that attract hundreds of volunteers, Browne said.

The archives, which he called the “pride and joy” of the organization, are housed in the former Duxbury Free Library, and holds a large collection of documents in a fully climate-controlled environment with a stately reading room.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.
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