Shep’s Place # 48: Say Cheese!

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Headmaster Arthur Ferguson dedicates the new Sheedy Hall, 1962…

 

For my second Project Only a Retiree Could Love (the first being cleaning out and digitizing alumni records and transcripts, last year), I got the OK to attack Hellie Swartwood’s closet in the Alumni Development House. I figured that Hellie, who works with LA’s parents, would like to have the space back, and I was dying to get my hands on the contents: about 40 huge three-ring binders of Kodachrome slides and prints of school life from the 1970s to the 1990s. Fortunately for us, Karen Serach, a previous occupant of Hellie’s office, had been a meticulous collector and organizer of just about every photograph taken at LA, by every photographer the school had employed at the time.

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LA’s Bicentennial

The albums were organized by year or by topic (major events, teams, graduation, etc.); some were general in focus, some more specific. The problem was, what to do with them once I’d emptied Hellie’s closet? Conversations with folks in the development and communications offices generated the idea of an online archive, kind of a complement to the Whipple Archive in the Ansin Building on campus. A bonus came with a search of the third floor in Alumni Development House, which produced another gold mine: hundreds of black and white photographs dating back as far as the late 1950s! Some had been taken for the yearbook, while others were just stored up there because no one knew what to do with them.

The school kindly set me up with a slide viewing table and a digitizing device, and I went to work about a year ago in a spare office on the first floor. First, the thousands of pictures had to  be culled, and then sorted by year, subject, team, event, or whatever seemed appropriate. I knew that photographers took a number of pictures of a subject  — say, a senior speaker at graduation —  to get just the right shot, but I had  no idea just how many! I counted something like 73 slides of one late-1970s thirds lacrosse team; one made the cut. The prints were easier to deal with, as the photographer had presumably printed only the best shots.

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Building the Student Center 1980

When the selection and sorting operation was done, I took the pictures over to the communications office to digitize the slides and scan the prints, and put everything into folders on the computer. From there they were uploaded to the new Online Archive on LA’s Smugmug page.

The result of this work is a wonderful visual record of the last 50 or 60 years of LA’s history. You’ll see pictures of major events, like the Academy’s 175th and 200th birthdays, the dedication of Sheedy Hall (and its demise some 40 year later), or the construction of the Madigan Student Center in 1980. There’s also a separate folder containing pictures of about 125 faculty and staff between about 1960 and the 1990s.

Not everyone is there, but we’re working on it.

When you visit the site, which will be up and running soon, be sure to read “Welcome to the Online Archive.” Besides providing easy navigation instructions, it also contains an appeal for contributions: photos, documents, videos, etc. There’s an email address where you can send contributions, which will be duly credited. Enjoy!

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…and Sheedy meets its end to make room for Ansin in 2003.

Shep’s Place #47: Lunch at Bruce’s

Back in the fall of 2013 we made a video Shep’s Place, a tour of downtown Groton. Those few minutes weren’t enough to delve into the recent history of the town, so in this column I’m following up on an idea from Curt Leroy ’72,  who suggested a piece about “all the stores we used to go to.” When you live in a place for a long time, you don’t notice changes to the area as much as you might upon returning after a 20– or 30-year absence, so Curt’s idea struck a chord; I sat down at the computer and came up with a list of over a dozen places that LA folks used to frequent, but that are no more, or at least are changed beyond recognition. Herewith a few reminiscences.

Moison Ace Hardware stands on a lot once occupied by Bruce Pharmacy (an old house) and the Union National Bank of Lowell. LA still had Saturday morning classes when I first came

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Memorial Day, 1968: LA passes by Bruce Pharmacy.

 to Groton, and we used to go down to Bruce’s lunch counter for a doughnut and coffee after the last period. Sadly for us, Hank Brown, the proprietor (father of Randy Brown ’72), tore out the lunch counter and replaced it with merchandise shelves, for the perfectly good reason that it was losing money. So we’d walk all the way down to Dickson’s Drugstore (later the Groton Drug Company, now the Murphy Insurance Agency) and eat at their lunch counter. They had great ham salad sandwiches. That, too, went the way of Bruce’s, for similar reasons.

So where could you go to get something to eat? Back in the day, the pickin’s were kind of slim. If you needed lunch and it wasn’t wintertime, you walked down to Johnson’s, but you were out of luck in the cold weather — they closed up shop and went to Florida. Luckily for the fried-food  and ice cream fans among us, they’ve been open year-round for some time now.

For dinner, you could trek to the Bridle and Spur, down beyond the railroad bridge on the right. It was a favorite hangout of LA faculty and a lot of townspeople for years, and it was a sad day when they closed, back in 1998. Across the street you had the Country Kitchen, later Tinker’s Tavern. It was situated on a piece of land that seemed destined to doom to failure any business that last there; the place went through several owners and finally gave up the ghost. Behind the Country Kitchen, on Mill Street, was Kelly’s — “the Bah,” as my kids and their friends still fondly recall it. When I was first in town, they had a kitchen that served up the finest greasy burgers I’ve ever eaten. Then, suddenly, there was no food at Kelly’s; the Board of Health had taken one look into the kitchen and said, “Nevermore!” Alas, the Bah was torn down when the property was developed several years ago.

To return to downtown: Across from Bruce Pharmacy was the post office, which has been the Natural Shop for years now. The handsome gray house between the post office and the Groton Inn was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Light. When they moved away is became Kilbridge’s Antiques for quite a while; it now houses several offices. For a short, delicious time a couple of years ago, the Bliss Bakery occupied half of the first floor.

If you walked down Main Street from Bruce’s, you’d pass the original Moison Hardware, now the Salt and Light Café;  then there was a private home which is now the Citizens Bank. On the corner of Station Avenue, just before the town hall, was a scary, falling-down old structure that housed a dry-cleaning establishment. Given the explosive nature of that particular business, I used to hurry past. When it finally went the way of all scary old houses it was replaced by what is now the Bank of America

Just before Groton Drug was a funny little store, sort of an old-fashioned 5 and 10; I never saw anyone go in. Bruno’s Pizza now makes excellent thin-crust pies there.  If you kept walking, just before the Groton Market you’d come to two gas stations facing each other on opposite sides of Main Street. Filho’s restaurant was once Johnny’s Texaco, and the dry cleaner on the other side was a Mobil station. Next to the Mobil, of course, 

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Same Parade. No GroHo’s yet.

was the Groton Super Duper market, which changed hands and names two or three times until it finally became Donelan’s several years ago. Sadly, by the time you read this they will have closed for good, leaving Groton with only one supermarket, a Shaw’s three or four miles down the road toward Littleton.

You didn’t have to walk all the way to the Super Duper to buy your groceries. If you were in that neck of the woods, though, you could stop in at the Groton Market, which, until sometime in the early 1960s, was a liquor store on the right and a small market on the left, both owned by LA’s then-business manager, Joe Madigan. Joe’s son John, LA ’75, runs the store now.  If you didn’t want to schlep that far, you could visit the First National, where GroHo’s and Cumby’s are now located. One of a long-gone chain of New England supermarkets, it closed not long after I got to town, and the space was divided in two.

At the left end of that strip mall was an insurance agency, as you can see in the picture; to the right of the First National were three businesses that have survived until today: the laundry, the florist and the barbershop. The latter was owned by one Bravel Goulart, and you had to make an appointment for a haircut. I was too lazy to do that, so I’d walk down Hollis Street to Dominic, the other barber. Dominic was a nice guy and his haircuts were cheap, but I never managed to leave his shop without at least one little razor nick on my neck. (“Whenever you get a cut, always squeeze!”) Apparently he kept his prices low by not having his razors sharpened. Thankfully, he didn’t give shaves. But if you needed one, he’d hand you an old Sunbeam electric razor and let you shave yourself, right there in front of everyone.

Many other things have changed in the downtown, of course: the firehouse is a restaurant; a new Groton Inn has risen from the ashes; the trains that ran past the end of Station Avenue are long gone. But if you come back to town for the first time in years, you’ll still feel at home. Groton is still Groton, with a thriving downtown and lovely old homes. And now there are lots more places to eat.

Thanks for the idea, Curt.