Belmont Second Graders Visit The Claflin Room

The Claflin Room houses the Belmont Historical Society's collection of documents, images, and artifacts

The Claflin Room houses the Society’s collection of documents, images, and artifacts

The mission of the Belmont Historical Society (BHS) is to promote greater understanding and appreciation of the history of the Town of Belmont, Massachusetts. An important part of doing this is to reach out to the young children who are growing up in the town. Each year the Society welcomes second grade classes from the Roger Wellington School to the Society’s Claflin Room at the Belmont Public Library. This year on the morning of October 30th, 2014, Board Member and former BHS President Phil Hughes and current President Emilio E. Mauro, Jr. welcomed two groups of students, faculty, and adult chaperones from the five second grades at the Wellington School to an interactive presentation on local history. The event was divided into two parts: Belmont history, and historic household items. The students were asked questions during the presentation and were invited to participate and ask their own questions.

Belmont-related historical items shown to, or discussed with, the Wellington School students included:

  1. A Native American ax head found in the Cushing Square area was shown to the students. The Pequosette were the indigenous people who resided in what is now the town of Belmont prior to the arrival of European settlers.
  2. A discussion on the early European settlers followed, which focused on Roger Wellington, the first European settler in modern day Belmont in 1636.
  3. Two platters were shown to the children. The first depicts an early Belmont landscape and the other shows the “Bellmont”, which was the large mansion (now razed) that was originally owned by John P. Cushing (built circa 1840). The Town of Belmont is named for this former estate.
  4. A photo and painting of the “Bellmont” mansion was also seen by the students. The photo also showed the nearby chapel that is now the privately run Everett C. Benton Library.
  5. Two Nelson Chase murals of early Belmont that show artistic views of the town center area circa 1859 were discussed along with several notable buildings shown in the murals.
  6. The Town Seal of Belmont was discussed, including Pomona (Roman goddess of fruits and gardening) and the trefoil that represents the three towns from which Belmont was created: Waltham, Watertown, and West Cambridge (modern day Arlington).
  7. Two strawberry baskets that demonstrate Belmont’s agrarian past and the long history of Strawberry Festivals in town were exhibited for the students.
  8. A dairy bottle was shown to the groups. This demonstrated to all in attendance that Belmont was once the home to a dairy industry.
  9. A can of Underwood Deviled Ham (the product that made the Underwood family famous), a 1914 photo of the now demolished original Underwood Pool, and a portrait of Mr. Henry O. Underwood were viewed by the students. Mr. Underwood donated the Underwood Library building (now the School Administration Building) to the town of Belmont. He also provided the land and led the original development of the public Underwood Pool and Playground.
  10. Two copied photos of Bruno the Bear were passed around for students to see. Bruno was the Underwood family’s exotic pet from many years ago.
  11. The classes were shown a photo of the original 1892 Wellington School building with 1908 additions and a photo of their peers from that period. The students attending the event at the Claflin Room are from the current Roger Wellington School (the third public school building in the town’s history to bear that name).
  12. A hand bell from the Brighton Street School was rung for the students. The bell is from the last public wooden schoolhouse used in Belmont, which was open from 1842 (before Belmont became a separate town) until 1921.
  13. The former Belmont-Waverley Football Trophy was exhibited for the children. High school students from Belmont used to play their peers from the Waverley neighborhood on Thanksgiving Day for that trophy.
  14. A water bucket that was used to fight fires in the days before modern fire equipment was passed around for the students to see. These types of buckets were also used in early fire engines such as the historic Cushing No. 4 engine.
  15. A brick produced by the New England Brick Company that used the clay pit formerly located at the current site of Clay Pit Pond was seen by the students. The New England Brick Company operated the pit from 1900 to 1926.
  16. A circa 1926 photo of a steam shovel that was left in the New England Brick Company’s clay pit at the time that the pit was abandoned was discussed. The steam shovel was left at the bottom of the pit when the redirected Wellington Brook flooded it in 1933 to form Clay Pit Pond.
  17. A photo of the Bible that belonged to Private Charles Marsh of the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was viewed by the students. The Bible stopped a bullet from hitting him during a battle he was in during the Civil War (1861-1865). Sadly, Private Marsh later died in a Confederate prison camp before the war ended. The students were later able to see the actual bible in its display case.
  18. A cannon ball from the U.S.S. Constitution was pointed out to the children. The U.S.S. Constitution, said by the United States Navy to be the “oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world”, was launched in 1797.
  19. The Belmont Springs Water Company (incorporated in 1876) was also mentioned to the group as being widely considered the oldest business in Belmont that is still operating.

Historic household items shown included:

  1. A rotary phone was demonstrated to the students and two students from each of the two groups participated in a dialing competition using the old phone to see who could dial faster.
  2. A rug beater that demonstrated an old method of cleaning rugs was seen and the students were asked to guess at what it might be before being told.
  3. Forty-eight, forty-nine, and fifty star United States national flags were shown to the groups. Students were selected from the classes to hold the flags while the similarities and differences of each flag were described.
  4. Students were shown how clothes were washed by past generations. An old washboard and manual agitator were used to demonstrate the hand washing of clothes before modern washing machines were invented.

Students were then given time to explore the many displays around the Claflin Room for themselves before returning to the Wellington School.