PEPPERELL — Thousands of years ago, Roman author and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero declared: “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.”
On Dec. 1, 1862, one month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Congress: “We cannot escape history… We will be remembered in spite of ourselves.”
More recently, American novelist Pearl S. Buck said: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
History can mean different things to different people. Often times it is used as an example, sometimes it acts as a reflection of what has become and other times it is used as a learning tool.
On Nov. 15, Pepperell’s Historical Society President Susan Smith said that history tells the story of the town.
Friends of Pepperell are determined to preserve the times of its past, and the town’s Historical Society is just one of the many groups working year-round to ensure that this happens. Their goal is to preserve and create an awareness of the legacy left by the citizens of Pepperell over the last 300 years.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Smith.
For the last six years, the society has been working to restore an old schoolhouse located on the corner of Shattuck and Harbor streets. Known as the District No. 3 Schoolhouse, the building is actually the first in Pepperell dedicated entirely to historic use and restoration.
According to Smith, Pepperell first erected the school there in 1817. Back then, Massachusetts state laws required district schools within each town. The communities were divided into quadrants, or districts, and each district was responsible for the maintenance and construction of their schoolhouse. So the people were in charge of the building, not the town.
“When we got the building, it was a shell,” recalled Smith. “It was just the brick exterior and the interior had been stripped out. We kind of started at a low level.”
The society gained the title to the building back in August 2006 and they have been working on its restoration ever since. The process has gone a bit slower than anticipated due to the amount of work and the costs that go into it.
“It takes patience, but we do it bit-by-bit because it’s important.”
Smith acknowledged the fact that there is not much money available for historical restoration since it is needed in so many other areas. She and the society understand that, and so have found ways to economically manage the project through donations and volunteerism.
“There have been so many people that have worked on this with us. We’ve been able to do it very inexpensively because of the volunteers and good souls around here,” she said.
Last spring, an agreement was made between the historical society and Nashoba Valley Technical High School that students would fulfill work-study requirements by helping to build a wood-shingle roof for the schoolhouse. It’s a win-win situation. Not only will this alleviate some of the construction expenses, but it will also provide kids with a meaningful project to work on.
The group hopes that the roof will be completed by spring, at which point the insulation and plastering will begin to take place.
Aside from the restoration of the schoolhouse, the society devotes much of their time to retrieving lost artifacts of Pepperell.
“We want to get the Pepperell stuff back here,” said Smith. “Even though we don’t hold exhibits and open houses every month, we’re doing a lot of stuff that you might not notice.”
Society members are constantly inquiring about and researching different items that may have once belonged to the beloved town of Pepperell. In fact, one of the key reasons for restoring the schoolhouse in the first place was so that there would be a location to hold all of these relics of the past. And not just any place, but a place bearing it’s own historical significance.
“It’s one of our goals…a goal of many goals,” said Smith.