Monday, April 28, 2008

Leominster, Massachusetts

Leominster, Massachusetts is a city in Worcester County, west of Boston, north of Worcester and just south of Fitchburg. Wikipedia has a decent description of the history, industry, culture and demographics here. Sue Gardner has several pages about Leominster History and Genealogy here and here. By the way, "Leominster" is pronounced "leh-man-stah" by almost everybody who came from there.

Here is a Yahoo map of the city in the present times.

I noted two home locations on the map - A= 290 Central Street and B = 149 Lancaster Street.

My Seaver family lived in Leominster for four generations:

1) Isaac and Lucretia (Smith) Seaver resided at 7 Cedar Street (across the street from 149 Lancaster Street) from before 1870 to his death in 1901.

2) Frank and Hattie (Hildreth) Seaver resided at 149 Lancaster Street from the time of their marriage in 1874 to their deaths in 1922 and 1920, respectively. They lived with Hattie's parents, Edward and Sophia (Newton) Hildreth.

3) Frederick and Alma Bessie (Richmond) Seaver resided at 149 Lancaster Street early in their marriage, and then at 290 Central Street after about 1912 until about 1927. They lived at 20 Hall Street after 1927 until about 1935, when they moved to a rental on West Street.

4) Frederick W. Seaver (my father) grew up at 290 Central Street, and then lived at 20 Hall Street before coming west in 1940.

Pictures were taken in 2007 of the houses at 7 Cedar Street, 149 Lancaster Street, 290 Central Street and 20 Hall Street, and are in my post "Seaver Family Homes in Massachusetts."

In addition, these two ancestral families resided in Leominster:

5) Edward and Sophia (Newton) Hildreth resided at 149 Lancaster Street from before 1870 to their deaths in 1899 and 1923, respectively.

6) Thomas and Julia (White) Richmond resided at 12 Summer Street between about 1890 and 1905. Summer Street is located just below the number (11) on the map. I don't have a picture of this house, which may not be standing now.

Many of the Seaver and Hildreth family members are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, which is on Main Street northeast of downtown Leominster (just southwest of Highway 2 on the map).

From census and family records, I know that Frank Seaver worked in the Horn Supply company in Leominster making combs and pins from animal horns and celluloid. Fred Seaver worked in and was the plant manager of the Paton Manufacturing Company from about 1912 until 1927. The company was located next door to 290 Central Street.

The Wikipedia entry for Leominster describes the horn and plastics industry as:

"The city of Leominster has played a more significant role in the establishment and progress of plastics than any other city in the United States. The Plastics Industry started with the comb industry in 1770s which has flourished in Leominster ever since. Early combs were made of animal shell, horn, and hooves; by the mid 1800s, these supplies were dwindling rapidly. Everything changed when in 1868 John Wesley Hyatt invented a material made from cellulose acetate, to which he gave the name "celluloid". [2] Celluloid was hard, durable, and easy to shape and mold when heated to a certain temperature. Leominster's facilities for horn fabrication rapidly become the center for plastic fabrication in the United States. Leominster used celluloid not only for combs but also for toys, cutlery handles, optical frames, buttons, and novelties of all shapes and sizes. Most celluloid manufacturing was later changed to cellulose acetate which did not burn as quickly. The peak of the plastics industry in Leominster was between 1900 and 1920. The plastics industry was Leominster's largest employer. Unfortunately, in the late 1920s women's styles were changing rapidly; hair was worn shorter with no need for elaborate combs. With the advent of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 and did not end until the end of World War II, Leominster's plastics industry went into a decline."

and the specific company they worked for --

"The Viscoloid Company was incorporated in 1901. Founded by Alexander Paton, the president of the company. He was accompanied by Ludwig Stross and his Secretary and Treasurer Bernard Doyle. In 1902, the partners started the Sterling Comb company which made dress combs and other hair ornaments. The men owned the Viscoloid Company, Harvard Novelty Company, and the Paton Company, but in 1912 the companies were consolidated under the name Viscoloid Company and later the Viscoloid Company Inc. By 1923, the company's capital reached three million dollars and had become the largest employer in Leominster. That same year, Alexander Paton resigned and Bernard Doyle became Chief Executive. He remained Chief until 1925 when the company merged with The Dupont company. The name was then changed The Dupont Viscoloid Company. The company was the largest in the city making dress combs, brushes, mirrors, toilet articles, hair ornaments, and other novelties."

I have visited Leominster a number of times, including:

1) in 1966 while on a convention trip to Boston, my Aunt Gerry drove me out to Leominster to meet the family. My Uncle Ed and Aunt Ruth still lived there. We visited 290 Central Street, but didn't go in the house.

2) In 1968 while on a business trip to Boston, my Aunt Gerry drove me to Leominster to see the family and enjoy a family party to celebrate my cousin's return from Viet Nam.

3) In 1982, my family visited Leominster on vacation and stayed with Uncle Ed who lived on Helena Street. We had a great time, and I did my first audio tape interview with Uncle Ed. This really whet my interest in family history and spurred me to think about doing genealogy research.

4) In 1990, my brother Scott and I went to Sterling MA to celebrate Uncle Ed and Aunt Janet's 50th wedding anniversary. By this time, they lived in Arizona, but returned to St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Leominster to renew their vows and we had a great reception at a place in Sterling where they had their wedding reception. Afterwards, Ed and Gerry led us on a tour of Evergreen Cemetery where the family members are buried.

5) In 1991, Linda and I went to New England on vacation, and stayed with my cousins in Salem NH and Aunt Gerry up in Maine. We visited Leominster and I did quite a bit of research there and in Westminster.

6) In 1994, Linda and I visited the Salem cousins again and visited Leominster, including the cemetery.

7) In 2003, Linda and I visited Leominster again to mourn the passing of and to celebrate the lives of Ed and Janet Seaver, who were buried together at Evergreen Cemetery.

8) In 2006, Linda and I visited the Salem cousins and Aunt Gerry in Maine and we visited Leominster again - and I took house and tombstone pictures in the rain.

9) In 2007, Linda and I visited Leominster to mourn the passing of and to celebrate the life of Aunt Geraldine (Seaver) Remley. I took the opportunity to visit the tombstones in Evergreen again and the Seaver family homes in Leominster.

Even though I never lived in Leominster, I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It is where my father lived during his early years and three earlier generations called it home. It is a working class town, with many multi-family buildings close-in and more modern homes in the outlying areas. The downtown area and the close-in residential areas still look much like they did in the 1920's, I think. I would love to spend a fall and winter there just to experience the weather and the atmosphere. I could also do more extensive genealogy research too!


wendy said...

Thanks for sharing the story of Leominster. I've never been to New England but look forward to the time I can get to the Boston area!

Janice said...


I enjoyed your story on Leominster. I pronounce it Lem-IN-Stah, but then that's my New Hampshire accent showing! :D


Professor Dru said...

Randy, the maps and info from Wikipedia are a nice touch to your story.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Never knew you were from here. It's exactly halfway between my house and my moms, and I pass through it a lot. I always think of pink flamingos and Johnny Appleseed when I drive down past Whalom Park!

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that someone finds my hometown Leominster to be interesting. I was thinking about the house on Blossom st. that I grew up in. My family and I moved there when I was three and, for almost fifteen years, I was watched over by an extremely unobtrusive, female spirit. After researching that house, I came to the conclusion that she was Jenny Savage, who may have been the very first owner. I only ever saw her once and she only interacted with me a few times, but I miss her (and the house) as if she were a person when I knew her.