Ancestral Bridges Exhibit of Historical Photographs and Artifacts
This exhibit will be up through Saturday, Nov 5.
Pictured: Charles Thompson, “Professor Charley” employed by Amherst College and the Stearns Family.
This special exhibit, curated by Ancestral Bridges, is in our first floor galleries and opened during the Amherst History Museums stop on the Ancestral Bridges Juneteenth Heritage Walking Tour. The exhibit features historic photographs of the first Black and Afro-Indigenous families who lived and worked in Amherst through the centuries. Some of whom served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War; including Christopher Thompson, one of the brave who traveled to Texas and carried out the military acts that ended slavery in America on June 19, 1865, the day we now celebrate as Juneteenth. Christopher and his brothers, Charles, Henry, James, and John are laid to rest in Amherst’s West Cemetery.
Debora Bridges, a descendant of these families and 3x great-daughter of Christopher Thompson, will be present on most Saturdays throughout the season. Debora is the curator and docent of the Civil War Tablet exhibit at the Bangs Community Center.
The exhibits finale features artwork by Dr. Shirley Jackson that weaves the exhibit to present day and highlights her new project Tote2Vote.com.
Pictured above: The Chesley Pettijohn family gathered at their home on Paige Street.
Ancestral Bridges supports and builds programs that celebrate BIPOC arts, history, and culture in western Massachusetts. We also partner with local communities to create educational and economic opportunities so that BIPOC and disadvantaged youth can thrive. Learn more at ancestral-bridges.org.
Amherst’s logo, ‘The Book and Plow’, may not do justice to the town’s history of dairy farming. According to Carpenter and Morehouse’s History of the Town of Amherst (p 285), “The dairy industry in Amherst attained prominence at an early date. In the early 1840s it was the fourth town in the state in the amount of butter produced… The Amherst Cooperative Creamery association was organized June 1, 1882,” and in 1887 it moved into its new building, which still stands in a modified form at 150 Fearing Street.
The Amherst History Museum has a large collection of glass milk bottles from Amherst dairies, and a fuller account of contemporary dairy farms in our town may be found in the book, Harvesting History, (2010) by Sheila Rainford and Ruth Owen Jones.
Introducing our most recent addition to the collection: the official cabinet of weights and measures used by the Town of Amherst beginning about 1900.
Today, we are assured that a gallon is exactly that when we purchase gasoline–the pump bears the official seal of the State of Massachusetts. But in the past? How did you know a pound was a pound when purchasing produce or other goods? We are the pleased recipient of the official Weights & Measures used by the Town of Amherst beginning about 1900. The cabinet is approximately 6 feet across x 6 feet high x 2 feet deep–filled with scales, weights and liquid measures. Come visit this new treasure!
You can learn more from this story by Scott Merzbach in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
For the majority of those who know her name, she is primarily associated with Amherst as the editor of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters and her long-term relationship with Emily’s brother Austin. While true to fact, these details miss the spirit of a woman intensely involved in this community from her arrival in 1881 until the Todds moved to Florida in 1917. Those who knew her remembered “her vividness, her love of beauty, her ceaseless activity and her joy in the things she did, what she was is undoubtedly more than anything she did,” recalled her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, in Mabel Loomis Todd: Her Contributions to the Town of Amherst, our guide for this exhibition.
“Love of beauty certainly was a dominant trait. But there was another that had in it perhaps more drive, one which everyone who knew her felt and realized, and that was her joy in living. It fused every experience, however spectacular, however obscure, into vitality…an abounding joie de vivre which no slings and arrows of outrageous fortune could quench or dim…She had as much fresh enthusiasm for chaperoning each promenade, each cotillion, as for a new expedition to an unknown country. She loved to use her powers and to see results, of course. But she had besides a tireless zest for just living, and enjoying.“
With this exhibit, we are taking the opportunity to present a wider view of Mabel Loomis Todd’s role in Amherst life, one that showcases her as an independent woman and extremely driven individual. We intend to tell her story on her own terms. She had a complex relationship with this town. Her role in Amherst is defined today predominantly by her interactions with the Dickinson family. Those events occurred during the first half of the time she lived here from 1881 to 1898 and served as the springboard for, but did not dominate, her Observatory House time from 1898-1917. From the 1890s on, she worked to construct her Amherst legacy, a legacy that includes her writings, lectures, and activity within social clubs.