Handbook depicts life in a friendly small town

Three authors of the “Tricentennial Handbook”: Audrey Ritter , Grace Hoag, and Priscilla Howker.
George Rizer for The Boston Globe
Three authors of the “Tricentennial Handbook”: Audrey Ritter , Grace Hoag, and Priscilla Howker.

Who would have thought that little old Medway has such an interesting past.

A new “Tricentennial Handbook of Medway History,” produced locally in honor of the town’s 300th birthday and updating a book that was prepared in 1913 for the 200th birthday, offers more than a few amusing tidbits gleaned from records and other sources covering the last 100 years.

George Rizer for the Globe
The new history handbook celebrates Medway’s 300th birthday with anecdotes, facts, and vignettes.

For instance, the tango “and other such dances” were banned at the high school dance in January 1914, the handbook recorded. In 1923, the handbook advised that “golf and tennis may be played on Sundays, but not checkers or cards in Massachusetts.”


In 1924, the town’s tax collector got a radio, and the handbook said. “Listening long distance is the current fad.”

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A new bowling alley was opened in the “old Batting Mill” in 1928, “to the great satisfaction of the young people.”

And in 1930, after being “at large for about a week,” a monkey was captured by two Medway boys after it had escaped from Capron Park in ­Attleboro.

A group of amateur historians spent the past couple of years hunting through reels of microfilm and piles of annual town reports and tracking down stories relayed from friends to produce the book chronicling the last 100 years in Medway. The new history handbook celebrates the town’s 300th birthday with short anecdotes, facts, and vignettes modeled after a book by Orion T. Mason which condensed the town’s first 200 years.

That work, “Handbook of Medway History 1713-1913,” is also reprinted in the updated history, which was published locally by Via Appia Press in Franklin and will be available at the Medway Historical Society on Main Street and at local book stores.


The nine authors and the ­editor of the book divided up the years and worked independently, using local ­libraries as resources, meeting regularly to go through their work.

They found a lot of themes connecting the generations, with weather being one thing that seems to have ­always been on people’s minds. Temperature changes, droughts, floods, and snow were chronicled throughout the years. January 1919 was recorded as being unusually warm, with gypsy moths continuing to be a nuisance.

Crime and petty vandalism has ­also been a constant.

“There were a lot of hoodlums,’’ said Grace Hoag, one of the authors. “The police were always being called,”

One notation from 1924 observes: “Police have been busy chasing moonshiners and cars that race through town.”


Audrey Ritter, a former librarian who moved to Medway six years ago, served as editor of the project after getting involved through her volunteer work at the Historical Society.

One of the facts that sticks in her mind is from 1914: “Charles Hood died while voting at the polls. His vote was put in the box and counted.”

She said that as the years went by, more and more news tended to be about government and the schools and less about everyday life and individual people.

“Earlier, every single person’s birth and death would be reported,” she said. “It was such a small town and tight-knit community that when you lost someone, it was news.”

Hoag, who researched the section from 1913 to 1922 and the 1960s and 1970s for the book, also ­noticed a change through the years in the way people entertained themselves.

“There was always something going on in town — dances, minstrel shows, all kinds of community activ­ities,” she said. “There was a lot of ­camaraderie.”

In 1914, “the young ladies living at the Village Inn held a Valentine’s Day masquerade ball,” and the following year, 400 tickets were sold to a carnival held at West Medway Park.

The authors also made note of how world and national events were felt ­locally through the years.

In 1915, several hundred people attended a rally of the Equal Suffrage League, and in 1920, 120 Medway women registered to vote as soon as they were legally able to do so.

When World War I ended, on Nov. 11, 1918, “selectmen appointed a committee to welcome servicemen home,” and there were celebrations with “parades, bells and whistles, speeches, and music.”

During that year, the flu pandemic was felt in Medway, with the notation of several deaths from the infection, which kept Kate Sanborn, the town’s only doctor, extremely busy.

“Dr. Kate Sanborn has been visiting as many as 75 patients daily,” the book notes.

The federal Works Progress ­Administration, known as WPA, which was aimed at employing people and boosting the economy, brought $50,000 to Medway in 1939 for the “new High Street school building,” but the outbreak of war in Europe later that year drove up the cost of construction and delayed the project.

A couple of years later, more WPA funds were used to employ five women to serve lunches at the high school, while students performed air raid drills and residents attended “defense meetings” to learn techniques for surviving air raids

In 1945, when the war ended, it is noted that 420 Medway men and women served, and 14 died in World War II.

Nov. 25, 1963, was a day of mourning for President Kennedy, who had been assassinated two days earlier. “Schools and town offices were closed, and Sanford Hall was draped in black. Stores and businesses were closed,” the book notes.

In 1970, “there was a groundbreaking for a memorial for Lawrence Leigh who died in Vietnam.” He was 21.

And in 2001, with the nation jittery after 9/11, “a suspicious package left at the library draws the bomb squad.” It was a bag full of books.

“The town managed through the years; the people looked out for each other,” said Priscilla Howker, another of the book’s authors. “Now, people ­also look out for each other to a certain extent, but things are different.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.