Charles H. Way of Candy Hill Road was an architect of some renown. A specialist in colonial architecture and design, he had designed and supervised the building of the new Town Hall and many other important structures. But his concern on the morning of Tuesday, July 4, 1939, had nothing to do with architecture.
Way was the chairman of the Tercentenary Committee, charged with the supervision of the celebration of Sudbury’s 300th birthday, and the last thing he needed was rain. Down on King Philip Road in South Sudbury, Chief of Police Seneca W. Hall and Chief Marshall Arthur Howe were organizing more than 2,000 marchers, including six drum and bugle corps and more than a dozen floats depicting the history of the town. More than $1,000 of depression-era town money, not to mention hundreds of hours of volunteer work, had been plowed into this birthday party and Way wasn’t about to let it be dampened by the weather.
There turned out to be no need for concern. Bright, sunny weather welcomed the celebrants to the culmination of two years of work by Way and his committee, which included Lawrence B. Tighe, John C. Hall, Mary G. Cutler, Jane M. Tufts and Hilda A. Whitney. They had decided upon a three-day celebration spread over the Fourth of July weekend instead of the official anniversary date in September in the hopes that more people would participate.
Way needn’t have worried about participation. Just about everyone in town had turned out in home-made grey and white Puritan costumes designed by Mrs. Alan Flynn and Mrs. William Wood for the special church services at the First Parish on Sunday. In keeping with ancient Puritan tradition, a drummer called the faithful–so numerous that an overflow crowd of 500 had to listen to the service from the front lawn of the First Parish Church.
Leading the procession was Selectman Harvey Fairbank, chairman of the newly-formed Board of Appeals, and his wife, followed by a group of direct descendants of original Sudbury settlers including: Ralph Barton, Royal Haynes, Mrs. Carlton Ellms, Robert Hall, William Stone, Caroline Richardson, Miss Josephine Brown, Lucretia Richardson, Mrs. Herbert Newton, Albert Bent, Alvin Noyes, Rev. Channing Brown, Miss Emily Willis, Miss Harriet Goodnow, Miss Emily Thompson, Roland Eaton, Miss Marguerite Fisher, Charles Grout, Ann Bradshaw, Harry Rice, Warren Hunt, Abel Cutting, Chester Perry, Miss Alice Parmenter, Miss Lottie Smith, Everett Bowker, Nancy Fairbank, Roland Cutler Jr. and Marjorie Walker. Chief Eagle Claw and his son Billy, a pair of Sioux Indians, stalked the party of worshipers from a distance.
The old-time, two-part service was capped by a modern sermon preached by the Rev. Frederick Elliot, President of the American Unitarian Association, whose topic was “Faith of Our Fathers.” Earlier, Rev. John Madison Foglesong read excerpts from a two-hour diatribe delivered by Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards in 1639.
The men sat on one side of the church and the women across the aisle on the other as in olden times. All were kept in a state of wakefulness by a deacon with a tithing rod, the famed implement with a squirrel tail on one end for the women and a brass knob for wicked boys and sleepy men. Strains of the old colonial hymns such as “Old Hundredth,“ “The Lord’s My Shepherd” and “Rise, God, Judge the Earth in Might,” drifted through the open church windows to the crowd outside.
Elliot and Fogleson were assisted by Rev. Leslie H. Barrett of the Memorial Congregational Church and Methodist minister Elmore Brown as well as Rev. William Channing Browne, a direct descendant of Rev. Edmund Browne who headed the First Parish Church of Sudbury Township from 1640 to 1670.
At the close of the service, families and friends gathered on the church lawn for a picnic just as their ancestors did between sermons at lengthy church services long ago. Many said later that this opportunity to greet old friends from far away was one of the highlights of the weekend.
That afternoon was capped by a visit and short address by Governor Leverett Saltonstall, who called for a revival of the Puritan ideals of good government, before commending the town on its fine community spirit. He said that the Commonwealth was “proud of a town like Sudbury with its background of historic achievements and its present status as a town of homes which are the backbone of the country.”
Governor Saltonstall noted that when Sudbury was the center of King Philip’s War, his ancestor and namesake, Governor Leverett, was the civil executive of the Colonial Government. His address was followed by the presentation of a stand of silk flags to the Town, a birthday gift from Paul and Clara Ecke, then owners of the Svenks Kaffestuga (now the Lotus Blossom Restaurant) on Route 20.
The revival of 1639 period costumes attracted the attention of three of New York’s top fashion designers, who came to Sudbury to observe firsthand the effect of white bonnets and the simple lines of the women’s dresses. According to the Boston Herald “They made copious notes for which patterns are to be fashioned for use in 1940.“
The fact that these 300-year-old styles could be produced so cheaply (one seamstress said that a dress could be made for under $5), and that they were so comfortable in hot weather, roused the interest of the fashion designers. Among the fashion scouts on hand were Miss Hildegard Farrell and Mrs. Gurrell Thomas, both full-time designers for New York fashion houses.
The celebration officially got underway on Saturday when the new Town House was packed to capacity for the performance of two original plays written for the occasion. The Vokes Players of Wayland performed Thomas Cakebread’s Mill and the Memorial Players of Sudbury followed with In the Days of 1650 with a cast made up entirely of descendants of original Sudbury settlers.
“Staid Sudbury Flips her Skirts in Lively Tercentenary Dance,” announced The Boston Herald, reporting on Sudbury’s Grand Ball in its July 4th issue. As an incentive to make colonial costumes, the Tercentenary Committee decreed that attendance for the first hour and a half of the Ball would be restricted to those in period costume. More than 300 showed up to dance the old fashioned dances and quadrilles to the call of Albert “Hollywood” Haynes, Henry Ford’s dancing master at the Wayside Inn. Haynes was resplendent in purple satin breeches and a pearl-gray coat with 14 purple buttons.
At precisely 11 a.m. on July 4, Chief Hall and his police escort stepped off from the staging area on King Philip Heights (today’s Massasoit, Pokonoket and Wilbert Avenues) followed by Chief Marshall Howe and aides Dick Piper and Major Edward Davison, mounted on spirited horses. The colors of Sudbury American Legion Post #191 snapped briskly in the breeze.
Then followed a dozen historic floats chronologically representing important events in the early years of the town. The Sudbury Grange portrayed the first survey of Sudbury meadows in 1633; the Goodman Society presented the purchase of land from Karte, the Indian whom the settlers called “Goodman,” with Harry Rice and his money bags stealing the show.
Troop One, Sudbury of the Boy Scouts of America’s float depicted the building of the first homes; The Wayside Inn presented the incorporation of the town on September 4, 1639; The Women’s Club portrayed the first church in 1642; and the Men’s Club recreated the Battle of Green Hill with King Philip’s Indians.
Other floats included the first school in 1692, sponsored by the Wayside Inn Boys School; the Sudbury men on the way to Concord on April 19, 1775 by the Kiwanis Club; Peace and Prosperity, sponsored by the Wayland Women’s Club and the Wayside Inn stagecoach containing descendants of early settlers Elmer Smith, Frank Goodnow, Harry Cutter, Miss Sarah Pratt, Miss Field and Miss Hiram Haynes.
Following the coach was Dr. George E. Currier in a one-horse chaise and a yoke of oxen with men on foot carrying period farm implements. Also in the line of march were members of the Selectmen, Legion Auxiliary, Red Cross, Public Health Nursing Association, the Sudbury Fire Department with apparatus and fire trucks from the Wayside Inn and the old “Assabet” hand tub.
“There were enough genuine antiques on the float displays to furnish a museum,” noted The Boston Post. “Then slowly, the history of the progress of the town developed as the floats moved on, like the pages of a book being turned.”
A second parade featuring the six drum and bugle corps that would be competing in the afternoon stepped off from South Sudbury at 12:30. Following the competition, the First Corps Cadets Band gave a concert under the leadership of Crawford Anderson. A fireworks display, climaxed by an American Flag set piece, brought the celebration to a close.
Through it all, the town managed to maintain some kind of decorum. Chief Hall and his men had to deal with more than 5,000 automobiles as well as open houses at the Wayside Inn and other old homes in the town, but reported that the celebration was one of the most orderly and law-abiding they had known.
One of the permanent values of the celebration was the Brief History of the Town of Sudbury, a booklet written and researched by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project. The booklet was updated for Sudbury’s 350th anniversary in 1989.
The effects of the Great Depression were still being felt in Sudbury as 1939 came to a close. Henry Ford had renewed his interest in the Parmenter Mill and started work on the Martha-Mary Chapel on the grounds of the Wayside Inn, but the mill deal, known by Ford interests as the Wash Brook Project, never materialized and the chapel construction was limited to Ford’s employees and the students at the Wayside Inn Boys School.
But the end to the hard times was in sight, although the price would be high. On September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Sudbury men would soon be fighting for their country once more, but this time, the battlefields would be halfway round the world.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.