TOWNSEND — After living on Main Street for all of his 85 years, retired teacher Don Keefe knows quite a bit about Townsend.
The Townsend Historical Society has long relied on Keefe to identify pictures of people, events and places in their collection. On Nov. 4, he was the featured speaker at the annual meeting, presenting “Snapshots of the 1930s.”
His recollections were accompanied by images from his private collection and the society’s collection.
The Spaulding School took place of honor in the program. Built by the Spaulding brothers in 1931 and 1932, “that was Townsend’s birthday present on the 200th anniversary,” Keefe said.
It only took four months to erect the facade of the school west of Memorial Hall.
No trees were supposed to be planted in the park in front of the main entrance because it was intended to be visible from the town hall, he said.
The plan was not in force long; today, mature trees in the park block the view.
Keefe talked about the good and the bad in the 1930s.
A Tom Thumb wedding, held at the Congregational Church around 1932, featured a young Keefe as the groom. The bride did become a Keefe in real life, after she married Don’s cousin.
The 200th anniversary parade in 1932 and a parade for the 100th anniversary of the Townsend Military Band, one of the oldest bands in existence, were high points.
Storms, fire and the economy hit Townsend hard.
The September hurricane of 1938 was devastating, worse than any pictures of Sandy, the 2012 superstorm, Keefe said.
Trees fell in roads, on houses and buildings. The river flooded just two years before and flooded again.
“Trees were everywhere. The local people came out with their axes and saws and started working. There were no chain saws, there were no power tools at all,” he said.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was on-hand in 1938 to lend assistance. The organization had a camp in West Townsend between between the current day Fox Run and Bridle Path.
Three hundred men took part in the federal employment program, only about 18 or 20 from Townsend, he said.
They helped with storm cleanup, built Willard Brook and blasted a road through the hillside to get there, creating Route 119.
They also helped with cleaning up from a massive forest fire started by a train in 1927. The fire burned for two weeks and spread into Brookline and Hollis, N.H., Keefe said.
Economically, the 1930s were tough in Townsend. Peddlers made their rounds through town, bringing goods and food.
Young boys went from door to door, selling bouquets of bluettes picked from yards for a nickel or a dime.
That five or ten cents might have meant food on the table for the flower sellers’ families.
“My mother always tried to buy one. We had a lot of families that weren’t well-off,” Keefe said.
Many townsfolk worked at Fessenden’s barrel company. Keefe showed pictures of their first motorized trucks.
Stores, the barbershop, and even a restaurant flourished on Main Street. The Townsend Times offices, damaged in the 1938 hurricane, were right downtown.
Keefe even shared a few naughty bits of history.
Boys made trouble, irritating peddlers and steamroller operators. The youths ran a scam at the barbershop by showing up on Saturday. Men who worked all week would pay the boys to give up their places in line.
On a good Saturday, an enterprising young boy could accumulate enough money to buy a bag of candy, at least until the owners got wise and put the shop off-limits for boys on Saturdays.
Even adults could get a bit wild and crazy. The Park Hotel was also downtown, on the corner of Main and Brookline Streets.
A fire originated in a section of the establishment in 1937 and caused enough damage to close the hotel. “I think most of us would call (the area where the fire began) a house of ill-repute,” Keefe said.
“They say the fire was started by an arsonist, but I don’t know. … You never know,” he said.
By sharing his pictures and anecdotes, Keefe fulfilled the mission of the society; to collect, preserve and share Townsend history.