Old Days and Customs Brought to Mind

by Laurel | February 13th, 2014

12 Feb 1933

The Prescott Church

The Prescott Church brought down by Mr. Skinner to South Hadley to house his museum treasures.

By Relics in Skinner Museum, Once a Church

If there is anything in the belief that among memories as with writings on the margins of old books, there are to be found many quaint and pleasant resurrections of the ghosts of the pass then surely the Joseph Allen Skinner museum at South Hadley is an oft-frequented refuge for many long-since forgotten residents of New England and the Connecticut Valley.

Here, away from the vulgar bustle of strident locomotive and speeding automobile, objects among which our fathers and grandfathers lives are housed and collected. In no particular order, rather in much the same manner of disarray as a man keeps his private study, these relics o a day that has passed from the Connecticut Valley repose in what was once a New England church. And, since the community church was the center of life of those whose existence depended on many of the things in the museum, such a building is a fitting home for all these things which carry with them the flavor of bygone days.

Genesis of Collection

Mr. Skinner, who has brought the collection together, traces its genesis back to the days when he was a little boy attending the grammar school run by H. B. Lawrence at Holyoke. Mr. Lawrence started a few boys who were interested in minerals on collecting rocks and stones wherever they went about the countryside.On the shelves of the museum, now, may be seen a sizable collection of stones and ores, covering a wide sweep of territory and from many countries, for this habit begun when he was a boy Mr. Skinner kept up so that it became his custom, wherever he went anywhere, to keep his eyes open for any interesting minerals he might chance to come across.

The Glasgow Mills Bell

The Glasgow Mills Bell, originally a church bell in an early South Hadley Falls church, later used by the Glasgow Mills for many years to call the hands to work.

The little church, standing back from the road that leads out of South Hadley on to Amherst, has not always been the home of his collection. After he started collecting Mr. Skinner soon found that he would have to have some place to put his acquisitions. For a time he used the parsonage of the first minister who ever came to South Hadley, a small place built in 1733. It was when this old parsonage became filled to overflowing that the use of the church was decided on.

At one time this church stood in Prescott but when the little village was condemned to make room for the metropolitan water supply of Boston Mr. Skinner bought the church and re-erected it almost opposite his own home in South Hadley.

Putting Out the Minister

Apparently the first minister, the one whose parsonage formed the first home for Mr. Skinner’s collection was a cantankerous preacher of the word; for there is a story told that the deacons wanted to put him out but he refused to fo. The deacons got together about this ans mapped out a plan of action and the following Sunday they let their minister get well under way before introducing a new feature into the program. When he came to the long prayer they all got up and marching on the pulpit, the pulled the minister down, carried him to the door of the church and he was out.

The old bell which announced the hour of worship still hangs in the belfry and visitors for the museum is open to such of the public as care to go, may, if they so desire, satisfy one of boyhood’s ambitions to ring a church bell. Downstairs the basement has been covered with flags from Mr. Skinner’s own place in South Hadley. In one corner may be seen a New England well that is to say, that part of it which was above ground. The old oaken bucket and windlass hang as they used to hand years ago on some New England farm. There is also a stone sink, while in another corner is an old New England woodshed housing its wood, chopping blocks and farmer’s tools. Downstairs, too, is the old Glasgow Mills bell which used to call the hands of the now torn=down factory to work.

“It’s note is unmistakably the note of a mill bell,” Mr. Skinner will tell you if you ask him.

Upstairs on the main floor stands the secretary desk of Joseph Warren. A superb piece of furniture dating from 1670 which, with but little attention, would grace a room in any cultured home.

The Franklin Stove

The Franklin stove used in the first Mount Holyoke College building.

In the Gallery

In what was once the gallery of the church there now stands an old hand loom. On the walls hang documents relating to business long since irrelevant. One interesting document bears the signature of George Washington as witnessing the signing of four men, none of whom could write his name but had, instead, to “make his mark.”

There is no great claim made for the Joseph Allen Skinner museum. It is a hobby; something where anything that may be peculiar to New England can be added to an ever-growing collection.

“There are some things in it that couldn’t be replaced,” Mr. Skinner will say, “but what it’s going to come to I don’t know. There are other things I want to put in but until I have a curator all the time it is unwise to put in anything of great value.”

It is a quiet place, this museum standing in the shadow of the Mount Holyoke range. It is a good place at which to linger some afternoon when passing by its doors. The building speaks of that New England into which the roots of the present are so firmly fastened.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.
The Skinner Museum website.
More on Joseph A. Skinner.

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