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Win Sherwin: Part one

I rarely commit errors of social etiquette during my interviews, but I made a humdinger of a faux pas while sitting with Mr. Win Sherwin at his sister’s home on Townsend Road in West Groton.

I unwittingly asked him when he had first met his wife. He smiled and joked, “I am still waiting to meet her!” I quickly knew that I was in the company of a jovial and kind-hearted man.

I visited with Win and his sister, Helen, on June 13 at their home built by Helen’s late husband, Theodore A. Swieca (rhymes with pizza), who was once postmaster at West Groton and a mortician. Mr. Swieca’s mother owned and lived in the house now occupied by the West Groton Water Co., along with all the land northwest on Townsend Road to the little shack where Helen and Theodore lived — with outside plumbing — for a time when they were first married.

Mr. Swieca worked for a time at the Badger Funeral Home. Helen knew the Bowmar girls well, one of whom went on to marry Mr. Badger. Win and Helen have one other sibling still living, Mr. Wilbur G. Sherwin of Shirley. Their grandfather, Fred Sherwin, owned a farm with a red house on Common Street where it meets Hollis Street near the start of Martins Pond Road. Today, the home — now painted white — is first on the right as one drives down Common and is lived in and owned by Ms. Norma Garvin.

I will recount for you a bit of early history. On Nov. 23, 1918, the ninth child, a boy, was born to Daniel Alton Sherwin and his wife, Elizabeth M. (née Bywater) in Groton. The boy’s name was Winthrop, “Win” or “Winnie” Sherwin. Six years later, after seven boys and three girls, a fourth girl was born. In 1924, Helen Gertrude (Sherwin) Swieca became the youngest of the brood.

Daniel Sherwin was a very quiet man, himself born in Groton to Frederick Sherwin, formerly of Vermont. Frederick was in the grain and hay business with his storefront on Station Avenue in Groton Center in a house that he had built that is still standing today. Win’s father, Daniel, was a baker on Main Street in town.

The Bywater clan, of Irish descent, lived in the house that stands today just southeast of Donelan’s on the other side of Groton Cleaners. Mr. Bywater was a blacksmith who worked where the drycleaner is now situated. He was working on shoeing a horse one day when a fragment of metal flew up and blinded him in both eyes. This is how Win Sherwin remembers his maternal grandfather. The family on the other side of the Bywaters was named Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter was Groton’s town clerk for many years.

Win Sherwin attended grades one through six at the Tarbell School. His was the first class to transfer after the sixth grade to the high school. Before that, students at Tarbell remained there from grades one through eight. In about 1932, his seventh-grade teacher was Miss Helen Wilson (later McCarthy and then Sawyer), a woman well known to many in town. My readers will recall from the column I submitted last year on Mrs. Katherine (Rust) Hurd. Katherine was best of friends with Miss Josephine Webber.

Win Sherwin graduated from high school in 1936 and went to work for Webber’s Red & White, a grocery store. The proprietor, Mr. George Webber, was a Republican. One of Win’s coworkers, Rita Hill, was a Democrat. As each party swept to power in Washington, D.C., George and Rita would switch off in their roles as postmasters of the West Groton Post Office. Win worked at Webber’s doing deliveries and stocking produce. When Mr. Webber sold the store to Mr. Bissell, Win and his brother Lawrence stayed on for a while before leaving to buy Bunn’s grocery store down the road on Main Street.

They named their new grocery store the Clover Farm Market. It stayed in that location until the Red & White store, which had since been sold again by Mr. Bissell, went out of business. Win and Lawrence bought the building, where they relocated their Clover Farm Market. It is still operating in that location today.

In the early days, the store shared space with the West Groton Post Office. Though Win was never a government employee, he would give out the mail from time to time when the postmaster was in absence. The other store where Bunn’s had been was converted back into a house and sold to a family. The house is still there, one door down from Town Hall.

The Sherwins never sold dry goods. In 1991, filming for the movie “School Ties,” starring Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, took place at the store. At times, one of the sons of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would come and sit on the steps of the store. Win’s mother shook hands with the former president during one of his several visits to Groton.

Win enrolled in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a tech sergeant, stationed at Fort Sumter, S.C. He remained in the service for three to four years, working in administration. His brother Lawrence also enrolled and worked as a fireman, a job he held back in Groton.

After the war ended, the brothers returned home to start their market. In his twenties and thirties, Win, along with his best buddies, Dick Cleary and Barney Blood, rode sulky horses at the fairgrounds in town. Win had his license for harness racing and drove at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire, as well as racetracks in Boston and New York. The last horse he raced was named “Groton Miss.”

Mr. Sherwin worked for 71 years at the grocery business. By the time he retired, his store was a fixture in West Groton and a household name in Groton proper. At times, he recalled, there were half a dozen grocery stores in West Groton alone! That was one for every two or three homes, he joked, exaggerating. He sold the store in 2005. He knew every family in West Groton. He never lived further from his store than the one mile he does today. I asked Mr. Sherwin about his travels. He was utterly content staying close to home all of his life, he assured me.

“I think I was to Littleton once,” he teased.

I asked if he remembered any old-timers in town from the time of his youth. Win couldn’t recall any off-hand. I threw out names of the banker, Mr. Hays, and the lawyer, Mr. Wharton, and Mr. Sherwin whistled, “Oh! Mr. Wharton was way ahead of me, and by that, I mean in social standing.”

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