Opinion

Jourgensen: History in the blink of an eye

I was humbled to hear U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jason Kimball’s reference to Daniel Townsend during a discussion about plans for a new town war memorial.

Townsend was a Minuteman from Lynnfield who historians say was a combat casualty in April 1775 during the military engagements marked by the battles of Concord and Lexington.

For veterans like Kimball, history passes in the blink of an eye because they share a legacy no matter the war they fought or in which century they served. 

The Lynnfield resident, who served in the Global War Against Terror, draws a direct line to the one who carried a musket to defeat a well-armed and organized army. 

Kimball is part of a campaign to organize Lynnfield residents who served their country. His efforts and work of the War Memorial Committee is one more example of Lynnfield appreciating and saluting its history. 

It’s fitting that committee members planned a discussion on a prospective new memorial Wednesday night in the shadow of the Meeting House. It came one week after painters finished work on the historic building. The 305-year-old landmark is the focal point for outdoor social activities and ceremonies, including Wednesday’s salute to first responders. 

A 1964 history note said the land for the Meeting House, now called Lynnfield Common, was the King of Great Britain’s domain. Some of the trees felled to make room for the building were milled and provided beams and planks for the structure.

Described by the Lynnfield Historical Society as the “third oldest Puritan meeting house in continuous use,” the building’s entrance doors once had large stones called “horse blocks”in front of them to ease a rider’s dismount.

The history also describes how a vote had to be taken in 1824 to install a stove in the Meeting House. The transition from worship house to town government building came in 1836 when the First Congregational Society provided part of the facility for the town’s use. 

“The town voted to accept providing the cost would not exceed $600,” said the history.

Two hundred years after its construction and 100 years after Lynnfield became a town, the building became the centerpiece for the town seal designed by George E. Lambert, a town resident and commercial artist. He designed the seal for the town’s 1914 centennial celebration.

The seal references Lynnfield’s status as “a district 1782.” Lynnfield was part of Lynn. But the Massachusetts General Court in 1782 recognized it as a district “with more formal territorial bounds.”

Count the old Lynnfield Hotel among other town historic buildings. Destroyed in 1894 when a lamp flame ignited a mantle, the hotel served the Newburyport Turnpike in the 18th century when stagecoaches traveled the highway we know as Route 1. 

Like modern blazes, the hotel fire sent fire departments from neighboring communities to Lynnfield. The Lynnfield Hotel was one of 78 buildings, including 42 houses, destroyed over a 14-year period by fire, according to the Daily Evening Item. The burnt homes accounted for one-fifth of the homes in Lynnfield. 

Those stunning statistics reflect the danger fire posed at a time when rapid communications, advancing anti-fire retardant construction, alarm systems and fast fire responses were nonexistent. 

To put the firefighting challenge in perspective, Lynnfield’s approach to putting out fires in 1900 evolved. The Item story said when the town bought two dozen hand-operated chemical fire extinguishers and 24 watering pumps for $384, neighborhoods received the equipment.

Two years later, the town spent another $1,500 to acquire a horse-drawn wagon outfitted with two 30-gallon tanks filled with a fire suppressing chemical. The history of the Meeting House includes a stint as a fire station complete with the 1,968-pound bell now located in front of the Meeting House. 

Circling back to war memorials, the Item reported 101 years ago on the ceremony dedicating the “honor tablet” memorializing “sons of Lynnfield” who served in wars up through World War I. The fight to liberate Europe the first time was still fresh in the minds of the town audience and master of ceremonies Rutherford E. Smith. In the decorative language of 100 years ago, he reminded the crowd “Never can we forget or forgive the acts of those villainous barbarians, whom we had assumed were civilized … There is no place upon the face of the earth where such unprincipled, such human vandals, have a right to live.”

Returning to Kimball’s reference to Townsend, 82 Lynnfield residents fought in the Revolutionary War with many, according to the Item, “… never returning alive to the homes in the little country village.”

 

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