Sudbury’s Bicentennial Through English Eyes
Author’s Note: Anthony Moore, ex-Mayor and Town Councillor of Sudbury, Suffolk, England, filed this report to the Sudbury, England Town Council after attending Sudbury’s Bicentennial activities in 1976.
It was a great privilege for my wife Valarie and me to represent the people of Sudbury, Suffolk, in Sudbury, Massachusetts, USA, for the Bicentennial celebrations.
Sudbury, Massachusetts, is in that part of America called New England, close to Boston and the eastern seaboard. The community was named after our Sudbury, in honour of John Wilson, a preacher, one of the first settlers.
From the moment of our arrival at Logan Airport, Boston, where we were met, we knew we were amongst friends. We had left behind us the brashness of New York, and, at Sudbury, Massachusetts, found ourselves in a rural community not unlike our own.
Sudbury, Massachusetts, covers about 25 square miles and is set midst a forest. It is very green and at this time of year (early July) everywhere are great sweeps of orange day lily. There are a number of lakes and ponds and a large river.
The trees are mainly American oak and ash–distinguished from ours by the size. The oak leaves are the size of tea saucers and the ash in similar proportion. We were charmed by the wildlife–huge yellow butterflies, blue jays, hummingbirds and especially the chipmunks which seemed to be straight out of Bambi with a liking for salted peanuts! We saw heron and crane as well as river turtle sunning themselves on the rocks and even some snakes (non-poisonous, we were assured). But the famous all-red cardinal bird eluded us.
The houses and public buildings are all colonial or colonial-style–mainly white painted (sometimes red ocher painted) clapboard buildings with shingle roofs set in trees with no formal gardens or fences. It is a planning necessity for each house to have at least an acre of land, and most have more.
The community is obviously a prosperous one with most people working in Boston some 20 miles distant.
We found the community very conscious of the need to improve the quality of life. For instance, no advertising signs or billboards are allowed, and there is not the usual clutter of “street furniture” and even the road directional signs are chipped out of granite to please the eye (incidentally, one of the signs in Sudbury points to Acton, Newton and Ipswich!)
Our home for the stay was the Wayside Inn, one of America’s historic show-places, preserved and restored and filled with antiques by the late Henry Ford and visited by such people as George Washington and the late President Kennedy, and, more recently by Paul Newman. It was the place that Longfellow stayed and wrote Tales of a Wayside Inn, including the famous Landlord’s Tale of Paul Revere’s Ride.
Throughout we were guests of the three selectmen, that is the elected executive team who carry out the wishes of the community and oversee the day-to-day running of the town’s affairs. “Town” is a misnomer for in fact the area is so vast the population of 16,000 are spread out lightly, more like Little Cornard than our own Sudbury.
The town government derives from the early settlers’ determination to be ultra democratic, based upon laws of this country (England). There is an annual town meeting at which the whole community may be present–and very nearly are. School halls have to be taken to accommodate the crowd, sometimes 1,000 strong.
The Selectmen’s proposals for the year form the agenda items and open discussion and voting take place point by point. Such meetings can go on for days, but it does mean the man in the street (or the man in the woods) is master of his own destiny and, it seems to us, makes for a more responsible community.
The town is somewhat autocratic, being responsible for such things as its schools, fire and police services, water supplies and the like, and, I believe, is a good example of how a community should be run. Many of the executive officers are elected and unpaid, save for expenses.
The programme arranged for us totally filled our time. On the business side we toured the town’s administrative offices and met and talked with members of the departments and were given a very frank and full insight into the workings of a small American town–and ideas which might well apply to the advantage of our own community.
For instance, the Sudbury, Massachusetts town hall is almost fully used by local groups and organizations who are not charged for use. A town committee runs it and looks after the town hall and users clean up after themselves (or are otherwise prevented from free future use). The community takes care of the property because of the responsibility placed upon them. Our own town hall in Sudbury (England) is charged for (as well as being heavily subsidized) but is little used and is not always left by users in good order. Perhaps here is a germ of an idea for us.
The Sudbury library has a paperback book exchange section. People simply take a paperback book out and replace it with another–a simple and effective idea which ensures plenty of reading matter without cost to the authority. This library also has a picture borrowing scheme so that people could borrow paintings and prints to adorn their homes on a monthly exchange scheme.
We attended many receptions and dinners organized by different groups and during our stay must have met and spoken with several hundred people. On the final day at an open-air luncheon, I addressed collectively the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club and Business and Professional Women’s Club, talking about our own community, and so we had the opportunity to promote our Sudbury and did so whenever the opportunity occurred as I did at the press conferences arranged and at various radio and television interviews. The New Englanders are greatly interested in England and Sudbury and our way of life and I fully expect that many people will now make an effort to visit our community when in England.
One of the great joys of the visit, especially for my wife, was to have the opportunity to go into so many American homes–some still filled with original colonial furniture, some modern, but mostly all beautiful and well cared for, and she was particularly taken by all the hand work in evidence.
On the 3rd July was a Great Ball in the centre of Sudbury, taking place at seven different venues–the town hall, church halls, school halls, etc. with a different type of dance going on in each–waltzing, jazz, the forties, Dixieland, rock and, of course, square dancing.
Some 3,500 people attended! At the opening of the ball we were escorted in procession from Heritage Park led by a local company of minutemen and a Scottish pipe band and, once the ball was underway, people promenaded from place to place under the trees on a beautiful night. That night I received my commission into the Sudbury Company of Minutemen and have a parchment certificate and a felt tricorn hat to prove it!
On July 4th 1976–the great day–we attended services at the Methodist Church, a large white boarded building with steeple and bell that had been constructed by the townspeople themselves in the early days. Everyone, congregation, ministers and choir, were in colonial dress and the church was overflowing.
The service, a spirited rededication to Independent America, was moving and patriotic and we shall never forget the choir’s rendering, accompanied by organ, fifes and drums, of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I think there was not a dry eye in the church.
Following the service, the town met in a newly-formed bicentennial park–Heritage Park–in the town centre by a lake and there we planted a tree commemorating our visit. The Declaration of Independence was read and at 2 p.m. precisely, the Stars and Stripes was unfurled to the ringing of bells–at that moment in time being rung in noisy celebration throughout America.
There followed a presentation ceremony under the portico of the whiteboard town hall. The chairman of the Selectmen was clearly touched by the message on Mr. Louis Prince’s illuminated address from our town to theirs and referred to our common heritage.
The bronze Gainsborough horse also presented was appreciated and will find a prominent place in Sudbury, Massachusetts to stand as a permanent advertisement for Sudbury and for Gainsborough’s House. We received on behalf of our town a specially leather bound and illuminated book on The History of Sudbury, Massachusetts.
July 5th was taken up by the crowning of the bicentennial queen (who we had helped select earlier in the week) and then the grand parade. Some 100 floats stretched for three miles and many were enormous. It seems that people living in a particular neighborhood or street worked together to make their float as well as entries from civic organizations and sports groups. Various departments of the town administration each had an entry.
The vast parade attracted thousands of people from great distances. The parade was led by the scouts carrying a banner with the two Sudburys’ coats of arms followed by the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes side by side. This was followed in turn by the three Selectmen and myself with Valarie and the three Selectmen’s wives driven in an open car behind. Then followed the parade.
Several thousand people lined the roadway which made us feel very happy. At the Town Hall we watched the parade go past and could not help but marvel at all the work it represented.
One of the items in the parade carried by children was a large woven banner showing the bicentennial flag. After the parade and speeches, this was given to me by the children who made it for the children of Sudbury, Suffolk. The children expressed the hope that they might find pen friends. I feel sure that now contact has been made, especially by the children, it must be maintained. I hope that the schools will be proud to cooperate to this end. I am sure there is much to be learned from one another and the advantage of a common language is obvious. There was some talk of school exchange visits being arranged.
These are just a few of the events. There was so much more. A river cruise from Sudbury to Concord through Indian village sites, a childrens’ dog show, the Miss Bicentennial Year competition, picnics, barbecues, swimming parties, receptions at the British and Canadian consulates and, to our particular delight, Colonial Night at the Pops conducted by the aged Arthur Fiedler.
We saw the Red Sox play baseball, had lunch at the top of a skyscraper, visited the coast at Cape Cod (the Moby Dick and Kennedy family home), went to the island of Martha’s Vineyard where “Jaws” was filmed (must go back and tell the children we had a dip in shark-infested waters!) and even on the way home managed the top of the Empire State Building in New York.
One memorial day was a trip to the State House in Boston and a meeting with the Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis and it was wonderful to tell him that the first Governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop from Groton, trod the earth in our town.
All these things impressed us, but the most lasting impression is the kindness of the people and their pride in having English connections and in these days when we watch and read so much about this country’s (Britain) lack of prestige, it was good to find Great Britain held in such high esteem, at least in the part of the world we visited.
We did what we could to maintain that esteem–mainly by avoiding the powerful American cocktails–and we learned what we were able to learn and experience on this visit which may have some practical application to benefit our town.
One positive result is the formation of the Sudbury (Massachusetts) branch of the Friends of St. Peter. On the final night of our stay we hosted a “thank you” dinner for our hosts.–Anthony Moore.
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.