Moving days in North Quabbin

  • Seen here is one-third of the Methodist Episcopal Church on a flatbed heading toward Orange. It was moved again in 1985 to New Salem, this time in one piece, and placed on land of the Swift River Valley Historical Society. Photo courtesty of the SRVHS collection

  • The Prescott Church in its present location at 40 Elm St., New Salem, home of Swift River Valley Historical Society. Photo courtesty of the SRVHS collection

  • A second picture of a portion of the church being moved to Orange. Photo courtesty of the SRVHS collection

  • This church, built in 1837, located at the very edge of the Quabbin Reservoir, was moved to Orange and then later to New Salem. Originally a Methodist Episcopal church, it is now the Prescott Museum, part of Swift River Valley Historical Society. The steeple is receiving paint and repairs in this picture. Photo courtesty of the SRVHS collection

Published: 8/9/2020 8:41:58 PM

Many of us have moved at some point in our lives. However, in North Quabbin there are buildings that have moved over the years which can still be seen today. Among them is the Prescott Methodist Episcopal Church, now at the Swift River Valley Historical Society grounds.

The church, according to Elizabeth Peirce of the Swift River Historical Society, was originally located 20 feet inside the boundary of what would become the Quabbin Reservoir. “The Prescott people were looking for a place to preserve Prescott artifacts and made an offer on the building. The offer was accepted with the understanding the building would be removed by a certain time.”

The building first was moved onto a piece of donated land on South Main Street in Orange and became known as the Prescott Historical Society. “It was taken down and the pieces were moved and reassembled, which took a better part of a year,” Peirce said.

A few years later, the building was picked up again in one piece and moved to the grounds of the Swift River Valley Historical Society. “It was moved on a platform; it took two days to get it from where it was to where it is now, Peirce continued.

The Prescott Museum at the Swift River Valley Historical Society is still used to house items from the Prescott collection, which displays a variety of items including furniture, dishes and household items from Prescott. The museum which is closed to the public for the 2020 season, also holds items from the other lost Quabbin towns, as well as photos of the towns in archival storage.

Not all of the moves in North Quabbin consisted of buildings moved from one place to another. In some cases, the buildings stayed in the same spots but were moved to face in a different direction. Such was the fate of the home of Forester Goddard, now owned by Robert Ames of Petersham. In 1886, according to Ames, Forester Goddard, a mason, had done some work for the town, including the stone wall on the west side of the Village Cemetery.

“Legend has it that when his work was completed, a dispute arose with the town as Ames thought he should be paid more for the work than the town gave him. As a snub to the town, he jacked up his house, placing croquet balls under it and he, his wife and son turned the house so that the front door rather than facing the town instead faced away from the town, Ames said. Several oxen may have also been used in the turning of the house. Goddard’s work can still be seen in the stone wall in front of Ames home at the intersection Routes 32 and 122.

The church in Phillipston, too, was once moved, according to the “The Congregational Church of Phillipston, Massachusetts United Church of Christ 1785-1985.” It was decided in 1837 to renovate the church building, then described as a simple structure. “The plan was to move and fit up the Meeting House in a manner similar to the houses in Shrewsbury and Paxton, with a vestry under the house.” The question was how to do it.

According to the history, “A small boy living on Queen Lake Road came home and told his parents that Deacon Powers was turning the church around with his horse. The father then went to town to see if his son’s story was true. Indeed, Powers had jacked up the church, put a cannonball in the exact center and was turning the church to face south.

“Some people might question the veracity of the horse’s strength, but we welcome the proof of the cannonball serving as pivot to turn the church around… Whether the story is true or legend, the simple meeting house was turned into a building with a high steeple topped by a golden weathervane and supported by beautiful pillars and fine granite stones gathered from the quarry in the hills of Phillipston (then Gerry). Complete with a bell to call the congregation to service,” the history states.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin area. 

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