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Michael Kline: 00:00:02 My name is Michael Kline, and today is November 4. We're in the Trustee's Room of the Concord Free Public Library. It's a heavenly day outside. It looks like it may go into the low seventies today. And we're thrilled to be back here in town. We have a very special guest with us here. Would you introduce yourself, please, and say "my name is"?
Barbara Wheeler: My name is Barbara Crowell Wheeler.
MK: And we never ask people their ages, but maybe you'd tell us your date of birth.
BW: Well, it's 8/10/31, and I'm just about eighty—four now. And I've lived here since 1954, when my family moved here from Winchester, Mass.—not far away, but they came here.
BW: So I've been here a long time.
MK: Tell us about your people and the details of where you were raised.
BW: Well, I was raised in Winchester, Mass., and my family came here because my father's side had a grandmother who was a Wheeler, so he had some distant relatives that lived here. So I have Wheelers on both sides, because when I came, there was a nice gentleman who was building a house with his family across the street. So in a sense, I married the boy next door. (laughs) So everybody loves that story.
MK: How does the story go again?
BW: Well, I moved here with my family when I was about twenty—one or two, and the Wheeler's were building a house across the street. And they had a son who I married later—almost about a year and a half later—so I married literally the boy next door, Harvey Wheeler. And Harvey Wheeler is a famous name in this town because his grandfather Harvey Wheeler has a school named after him. It's called the Harvey Wheeler School, which is in West Concord. And it's become quite a landmark. It is now the center for—a senior center—it's called the Council on Aging. And the other half of it is a daycare center. And it still goes on under his name, the Harvey Wheeler Center. And I married the second Harvey Wheeler
MK: The grandson?
BW: Yes. Um—hm. They skip a generation. They don't believe in juniors, so it went Harvey Wheeler, Berkeley Wheeler, who was his father, and then my husband, Harvey Wheeler. So I've lived here ever since we moved in the fifties.
MK: 00:02:59 Would you be willing to talk a little bit about your courtship and getting started together in a new place?
BW: Well, this is a story that everybody loves. My family, as I said, were moving here, and they were purchasing this home. And the Wheelers were building a house across the street and had rented this home that my family were buying. My mother knew Mrs. Wheeler a little bit from a summer arrangement once upon a time, and I had just returned from the great trip through Europe after college, which one takes with your friends. And so mother had moved there—had purchased there and said, "Barbara, come on out. We've got to go see this house. Mrs. Wheeler will be there. And you come along with me, and we'll see the house that we're buying. They will be moving out shortly." So off I go with my mother. As I said, I had just turned twenty—one, I believe. And I was wandering around the house while Mrs. Wheeler and my mother were having tea in the living room. And I went into the dining room, and I was looking around. It was a lovely old house with authentic paneling and all that. And the door opened into the dining room, and this tall, handsome man walked in and said, "Oh, what are you doing here?" And that was my reaction, "Oh, yes, what are you doing here?" So that's how we met, in the dining room of a house we were about to purchase. And so then later, they moved across the street. And that's the boy next door that I later married, about a year later. So that was the beginning of the great courtship.
MK: And that place is located—?
BW: That place is located on Musketaquid Road in Concord. That's the road where the two houses were.
MK: Can you spell that, please?
BW: Spell that please—?
BW: M—U-S—K—E—T—A—Q—U—I—D, Musketaquid. It's an Indian name. It means meeting of the waters, where the Concord River meets the Assabet River, which is—if you drive out of town, you can locate it. And actually you can see where the waters meet if you drive right out here by the Colonial Inn and take the bridge over onto Lowell Road. And look to your left, and there's the meeting of the rivers, which was called Musketaquid by the Indians who were previously settled in Concord—way back, before we were here of course.
MK: And the Wheeler family must have been one of the very, very early families to Concord.
BW: Yes, they are. They were the earliest settlers. Um—hm.
MK: Are you descended from those same Wheelers.
BW: 00:06:01 Yes. Um—hm. Um—hm. I have to be very careful looking over any documents that are left by the family because Leslie Wilson, and the collections of course, covets anything that I come up with that is pertinent to the past and their legacy. Um—hm. We've brought them many papers here.
One thing I do like to mention is that one of the relatives—the Harvey Wheeler grandfather that I mentioned—had a brother named William Wheeler. And he became very famous in Japan. He went to Japan in 1876 to help establish the northern island of Hokkaido, which had just opened up after Japan was opened up. In the 1870s, Japan had been an unknown, closed nation until it was opened up by—what's his name?—I can't think of it. So just to continue, a bunch of us formed a committee to resurrect all the information and history about William Wheeler because he was more famous in Japan than he was in Concord, Mass., and he would—he was the founder of this huge University of Hokkaido in Japan. And so we made a forum. I just picked up the other day an article about—we called ourselves the Hokkaido—he called himself a Hokkaido pioneer because he was an American pioneer who was sent to Japan because they had exactly the same climate, on the same latitude as Concord. So he, being an agriculturalist and a graduate of Mass. Agricultural School, was able to easily figure out their needs in agriculture in Japan. And so we brought a lot of attention to him—this was about four years ago—and we now have a sister city in Japan called Nanae.
BW: N—A—N—A—E, I believe. N—A—N—A—E, yes, that's correct.
MK: Good for you.
MK: So you said they sent William. Who were you referring to exactly?
BW: The Nanae government—the government that was in—I shouldn't say power. They were looking for help to help resettle —- and colonize—this northern island. And, like I say, they knew that they had been missing out in all the many years that they were a closed nation. They were missing out on science and medicine and education of all kinds. And they were paying to get people on staff to come to the island to help them out. And he was selected from Massachusetts Agricultural School of which he was a graduate and a young man, not married, and full of energy and optimism to do this great huge trip to go out there. It was a big deal then of course to get to Japan, which was a newly opened up nation. I'm digressing from Concord, but—
MK: No, no.
BW: He was a—this was a big project of mine and others a few years ago, and it brought this article to mind. I saw it the other day.
MK: Was this for Leslie to look at as well?
BW: Oh, no, she knows all about it.
MK: 00:10:12 Oh, she knows.
BW: She has all the information.
MK: She has that article.
BW: Oh, she has piles—
MK: Piles of stuff, okay.
BW: Of stuff and documents, and I gave her all the pictures that he took—he didn't take—but he had taken a lot of photographs by a professional photographer who came along and was hired. And so we had 1870s, very, very early photography that he was keen on establishing. I found this little tiny album up in the attic of the Wheelers, and we blew them up and made an exhibit of them. And the originals are now with her in the special collections along with a lot of information on him.
MK: Well, it's great, though, to hear you talk—sort of tell his story anyway, because we're always looking for the audio option as well as what's on paper.
BW: Yeah, well, this is—
MK: But how long was—talk about his extent of service there. How long was he there?
BW: He was there four years. It took a couple of months almost to get there. You'd take the train across to the west coast, and then in San Francisco you'd get on a boat. And we have his diaries on the boat. That took another couple of weeks. And he got caught in a hurricane the first time he went out. And then you'd go to Tokyo, and then you'd have to get another boat to go up to Hokkaido, which is—if you look on a map, it's the northernmost island in the grouping of Japan's islands. So when he got there, he formed this school, and the Japanese had to speak English to come to it. So it was a small class, the first class. And they had to learn English. He hardly spoke Japanese apparently in his career there. But the island was nothing. It was like the Wild West. And so he established this school, which later has become Sapporo College there. It's like our BU, you know, with thousands of students. When I went there finally, they have kept his original corner of the campus, which is established sort of like our Sturbridge Village that we have, like a colonial restored area. And it shows—his barn is there and his buildings and his things that he initially was teaching people, agricultural—prowess, I should say—and how to establish agriculture in this wasteland up there. And he began farming there, and apparently he established a cement factory so they could build buildings and established a brewery. He established all kinds of things besides just this college. And so he's considered a great hero there, and he's been rather unknown here. I think since our farm has stopped, people have already forgotten about him. But I haven't (laughs)—because it's fun to talk about him. I'm sure all the other people you interview talk a lot about Concord, but here's another side of the town—
MK: Oh, it's fascinating.
BW: 00:13:41 This man who was brought up here and worked on a farm here and took his knowledge to greater heights—it's wonderful.
MK: That's fascinating.
BW: It is. It is.
MK: Did he write or leave stories about the nature of the people or anything there?
BW: Yes. Um—hm. We have his letters that he wrote home to mom that are all—a person over in Concord Academy here has transcribed them on a typewriter—early typewriting. And—oh gosh—it's about fifty or sixty pages of her letters—his letters to her, his mother. And he would document all that he was doing through that—through the letters.
MK: And her name was?
BW: Annie Wheeler.
MK: So he would write in some detail about the indigenous population?
BW: Yes. Yes, that's right. Um—hm. Yes, because they were his friends. They were—they were like our Indians, what they called Ainu. Ever heard of the Ainus in Sapporo? They were like our Indians, and they're still bitter and kind of angry about the way they were treated, because they were hunter/gatherers. And this new civilization didn't accommodate that very well, just like our pushing out into the west and putting aside our own American Indians. Same story exactly, but he—
MK: That had been going on before he was there?
BW: Oh, yes. And they were his friends and guides. And they told him all about the countryside, and of course he befriended them and learned their culture. There's many pictures that he took of the Ainus in their costumes and in their daily life. And it's a fascinating document of this ancient group of people that had lived there—it was their country up there in the northern island for generations—for hundreds and hundreds of years. And they were pushed aside by the Japanese who came in. It's a similar story to our Wild West. It's the Wild West in Japan, you might say, that he was conquering. And he took these people with him—befriended especially a couple of them who went with him on his expeditions when he went around the—into the wilderness it was then to explore the region. He needed their help.
MK: Now, did his brother, Harvey, also go to Japan?
BW: No, he didn't.
MK: But he established a school here.
BW: 00:16:53 Well, he was—he didn't establish it. The town was building it. And I found in some records that he was then on the school committee. And his brother, Harvey Wheeler, helped established West Concord, which was not particularly built up. Harvey Wheeler established a harness factory in the very late eighteen hundreds—harnesses for horses and wagons and work horses and that kind of thing, because it was—those were the days before the automobiles. So he built his factory on the river in West Concord because he needed the water—to get the water into the factory to clean and dress down the leather. And so he established this business in West Concord, and as time progressed, he wanted his workers to live nearby because it was hard for them getting to work. So he built homes right across the street in West Concord. We have Cottage Lane, Cottage Street—up there on the hill. And I think he built maybe thirty—some—twenty, thirty houses—I never numbered them. And he didn't exploit his workers. He let them buy them on time and—you know, let them buy them and have them—
MK: The houses?
BW: The houses, yeah. So he established in a sense the original living homes in West Concord. And then there was a huge mill. Maybe other people, if you've interviewed them, speak of the Damon Dale Mill that was built later on. But that was a huge mill regarding fabrics and clothing and such. So this harness factory went on up until—oh, I don't know—maybe in the twenties, they still continued. But of course there wasn't the demand for leather harnesses and things of that sort. So it finally ceased to be—around 1918—closed down. And Harvey Wheeler—let's see—well, his son took over after World War I when he came back—Berkeley Wheeler—Berkeley being my husband's father.
So he had a lot to do with—oh, this all started when we were talking about the school—so I found out that he was on the school committee around 1917. And somehow they named the school after him. He must have had a lot to do with having the school built because he had a lot to do with his factory and the houses he built in West Concord. Today they do not name any school after a living person. (laughs) That's a firm policy in town. But this one somehow snuck by before that.
MK: Well, he sounds like a real visionary, a real social and educational planner—
BW: Um—hm. I think the two of them—I think the two of them had a little competition there going. We all kind of think that, because Harvey Wheeler—oh, yes, we discovered when we were having the William Wheeler forums that one of the famous landmarks in Hokkaido, Japan—Sapporo, excuse me, that's the capital city of the island of Hokkaido—one of the main things that's on the tourist attraction is this clock tower, which is in the building that Wheeler—he was also an architect of sorts—this is the William in Japan—he built this armory that had a clock tower in it. And when you go to Sapporo, the clock tower is the symbol of the city. It's all over everything. It's on the buses. It's on the brochures. It's everywhere.
MK: An iconic tower.
BW: Yes. Yes. When I was lucky enough to get there, the first thing that greeted me at the airport was a bus going into the city. And there was this symbol of the clock tower. And I knew what I was looking at. Nobody else did. So I had to go over and hug it. I hope nobody was looking, but I did. (laughs)
MK: Oh! (laughs)
BW: 00:22:08 So we were looking at that, and then you look up at the Harvey Wheeler—there's a clock tower there, too, just about the same kind of structure. And I think that his brother, Harvey, who stayed home in Concord—his nose was a little out of joint. And he built this clock tower in the new Harvey Wheeler School. Oh, that's probably why they named it after him. He knew that there was no clock. Every New England town needed a clock, you know? It's traditional. The clock would chime the hour, and you knew what time it was. This is going back to colonial times. Like Concord has the clock in the First Parish Church tower. So he thought that West Concord ought to have a clock and a tower, too. So he built it inside the school, this clock tower, and he got the works from Waltham Clock Works. And I think that's really why they named the school after him, because he supported this whole project within the school for the town of West Concord. When they finally put up a school, they put up a clock tower because there was no church that had one there. So that's a little rivalry, I think, between the two of them. You never know, but it is interesting in a sense.
MK: So then your husband's father, he took up the business after 1918 when the harness began to—to go out of style.
BW: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. Um—hm. Um—hm. Harvey had one brother, David—Harvey, my husband, had one brother, David, who he called—I found a piece of paper among their things after they passed away regarding a letter from the government just before World War II—somewhere in there—asking them to make some special harnesses out of buffalo hide. And I never heard this story before. So that was one of the last things they did. They made harnesses out of buffalo hide because it could be used under water for underwater surveillance, like divers and such. So they made these special things around the time of—oh, early—in the forties sometime. And then it closed down, the harness factory. But that was an interesting thing to find out about, because the government solicited them to do these—this special work on some—with leather from buffalo hide, which they'd never done before. And somehow they got found out and selected to do these special harnesses.
MK: People and their leather.
BW: Um—hm. Harvey Wheeler employed prisoners from Boston. This is in the early nineteen hundreds. So his early workers were prisoners from Boston—ex-prisoners—because they knew the trade. And he found these people, and they helped him establish the business.
MK: They had taken up leather working?
BW: In the prisons, yes. Yeah.
MK: Can you say that? I said it for you. The prisoners had—
BW: Oh, the prisoners knew the trade of leather work. Yeah. And somehow he found that out, and I think they were his early employees that set up—helped set up the business.
MK: 00:26:32 So your husband then—Harvey must have been just a boy when all that was going on.
BW: Yes. Um—hm.
MK: He was born in—?
BW: He was born in '26.
Carrie Kline: Who's this?
BW: My husband, Harvey. So he was older than I am. I had three children, and we're still here. Did you want to—what kinds of things—about the history of Concord kind of thing from days gone by?
MK: You've been great on that already. So we're interested in all those things, but we're also interested in what it was like to raise three children here.
BW: Well, it's a lovely town to raise three children. It couldn't be easier, because it was—it's—it's, as you know, a lovely community. And it's safe. And the school system is excellent. And you can pretty much walk everywhere and bike everywhere when the children are young. But the traffic has not improved. I don't think today it would be as safe as it used to be to let your kid out on a bike. I know it isn't. The town's become a throughway for an awful lot of traffic, which is distressing to see. It was hard to find a place to park to come in here today, for instance. Yeah. But we lived up on the hill, behind the Alcott house. And it was nice being that close to the town and close to the school. And it was just very convenient. And both our grandparents lived here, so they were handy, across town, to get to.
MK: Your Wheeler grandparents?
BW: The Wheeler grandparents, yes.
MK: You have Wheelers on both sides.
BW: I have—yes. Well, the one on my other side was back quite a ways. I won't go into that genealogy. It takes—it takes a genealogy wheel to show it to you accurately. But it's there. It's there. Um—hm.
MK: And you came here at the age of twenty—one from Winchester?
BW: Yes. Yes, I did.
MK: How would you compare Winchester with Concord? You had a chance to get to know Winchester pretty well, didn't you?
BW: 00:29:39 Yes, I grew up there. Um—hm. I grew up, and I went to the school—well, through freshman year in high school. And then I went away to a boarding school. So I missed those big years there because I was away from town. But growing up there was—I guess it was sort of like what I experienced here in Concord. But that big—that town was getting bigger and bigger, and that's one of the reasons my father wanted to leave, because it wasn't what he knew when he grew up there. It got crowded, and all the surroundings that he knew as a boy were—fields were all filled with houses—rows and rows of houses—and that sort of thing. So he moved west to Concord. Yeah.
He also moved out here because he had a factory in Somerville. And the Somerville factory he gave up and found a place in Lexington. So he didn't have to commute anymore. He could be in Concord and just go over to Lexington. He just thought that was wonderful, which, if you've ever had a big commute, you'd agree with that.
MK: But he built a factory, you say, in Lexington?
BW: Well, he moved—he moved the factory from Somerville, Mass., out to Lexington. Yes. Um—hm. It was—Crowell Tube Company it was called.
BW: Crowell. That was my maiden name. C—R—O—W—E—L—L, Crowell. Um—hm.
MK: Tube, T—U—B—E?
BW: T—U—B—E, um—hm.
BW: Tubes. They made tubes, big tubes and little tubes. They extracted them on these long benches out to tiny little tubes that are almost—they'd be good enough for hypodermic needle tubes, so to speak.
MK: Glass tubes?
BW: No, all metal. No, he worked in metal only. Um—hm. But that's not very Concord related. So he came here from Winchester—what'd I say?—1954. Um—hm.
MK: Mr. Crowell.
BW: Mr. Donald Crowell.
MK: Donald, okay.
BW: My parents were Donald and Doris Crowell.
MK: And how many of—younger Crowells?
BW: 00:32:39 Oh, I just had one sister—one sister, Anne. Um—hm. And she's—she just recently passed away. But it was only the two of us growing up together, two girls. So I had somebody to giggle with, so to speak.
MK: Was she younger or older?
BW: She was older, yeah, considerably older. Um—hm.
MK: So, as a mother, were you devoted entirely to your children, or did you develop any interests outside of home or working with different committees or arts or—?
BW: Yeah, all of that. I tend to be always active in other things besides the children. I would be active in community affairs. I've always been active in my church—always—and continually active with the women's groups and with the worship groups and community education kind of things and—
MK: Community education?
BW: Well, it was a group in Boston that—I won't go into that—let me see. I think as the years moved on, women had more place in the community. And then they got into working, and I felt—you know, what am I—I want to have some place in this world that I can say I've done, and what would that be? I didn't care for stenography kind of a thing, which my sister was very good at. She was a graduate of Katharine Gibbs School. That's a secretarial school. But I was more keen on the arts. I've been a water color painter all my life. And I've been on art committees of all sorts in the church and in the community. And I began to arrange flowers for church because nobody was doing it, and what was up there looked terrible. And one thing led to another. And I became very good at it because I was in the garden club here, and we had some training in that. And a friend of mine asked me, "Oh, I like what you've done. Would you do my daughter's wedding?" Oh, golly, I thought about that, and I said, "Well, sure. Why not?" So one thing led to another, and by golly I had a flower business, arranging flowers. And I—it just suited me perfectly, you know? All that—the composition and the color and putting all your arts and training and your visual things together. So I began to do weddings and events with flower arranging, and it was—I found my niche. It was delightful. And then you got paid for it, too, a little bit. I never made a lot of money, but, as I say, it paid for itself. And I did it mostly in my own church because there's a lot of events there.
MK: Your art—you mentioned artistic training?
BW: Oh, yes, I forgot about that. Well, it wasn't—I did go to an art school in Boston, Vesper George School of Art, after I graduated from college. Um—hm. I went to the Vesper George School of Art, and we had particularly training in water color painting in perspective for clients and training for painting—for sketching—things for newspapers, the early newspapers before photography took over. There was a lot of black and white sketches in there of rooms and fashion design and all kinds of things. But of course as soon as I got out of school, photography took over, and that was not used.
MK: 00:37:01 Not an option—
BW: No. No. But it was all there. I had it all. It was all there in my brain. And that was in the—when was that?—well, that was in the early fifties. But it was good training. It stays with you throughout life, that kind of training.
MK: This was a couple of years you spent at the art school?
BW: Yes. It was called Vesper George School of Art on St. Botolph Street in Boston, Mass. So it was a great opportunity to be in Boston and learn the ins and outs of the city and marketing and so forth. It was a great window on the world after college. It was fun. Um—hm. Great fun—being in the city.
MK: So interest in gardening, flowers, and flower art—does this have roots in your upbringing at all? Was this something that was your mother's or grandmother's or—?
BW: Yes, you might say that. Yes, my mother was a tremendous gardener, and I could—
MK: Her name was—?
BW: Doris Crowell. I was always out there gardening with her and raking and weeding and—since I can remember—as a child. And during the war we had a huge victory garden.
MK: Victory garden?
BW: Victory garden. Well, that's what it was called in the war—victory garden. Gardening was patriotic, to grow your own vegetables, because transporting them and growing them—things were in short supply. It was a war. Things went out to the troops first, not to the home front. And this was in Winchester. We had an enormous garden. And so I learned to vegetable garden. I always had one myself with the family, put things up, can things. And then of course freezing came along. That was much easier. And that's been a part of family life, is having a garden out back where you grow your own supplies.
MK: And flowers.
BW: And flowers. Um—hm. But I noticed that when my children were looking for property to buy, they also looked at a place for the garden—to grow vegetables, that is, in particular, as well as flowers.
MK: So this is something they picked up on as well.
BW: Oh, yes. It's sort of been a nice legacy, I guess, to grow—being as a family together, gardening. There were a couple of years there—we had a house on Cape Cod. And I know for at least two falls, we had our own little harvest dinner and were very proud of—everything at the table we grew or caught except for the milk in the glass, because we caught fish and brought it home and grew potatoes and vegetables and all the rest.
MK: That's a tradition.
BW: 00:40:23 It was, yeah. I hadn't thought about it. Thank you for bringing it up. It was just one of those things that was always there with the family. And then when we moved to Concord, you find out—of course there's a great tradition of Wheelers in farming. Wheelers farming is what built up this community from the early settlers' days in the sixteen hundreds. The Wheeler family is known for their farming.
MK: And that's reflected in your own art work.
BW: Art work—?
MK: Your water color painting—?
BW: Well, I do paint—I do some farming paints.
BW: Yes, landscape to paint. Yes. I go down to Verrill Farm, which is the old Wheeler farm. And it's called Verrill Farm, and they have a tent out there that looks over the farmland where people sit and buy food and eat it. And some of us sit there and paint, looking out over the farmlands. And come to think of it, I'm painting old Wheeler farmland. And I didn't realize that. But if you go to Nine Acre Corner, that's where the Wheeler farms were principally, in Concord. Well, that's—there wasn't industry out here in the sixteen, seventeen hundreds. Everybody had a farm. That's how you survived really. It wasn't a city. It was farmland.
MK: Well, you are a very lovely and modest person, I am figuring out, so I want to ask you more about your artwork because I have a feeling that it's not something you readily come forward with. I wonder where you painted, where you've exhibited, how I could see some of your art.
BW: Okay, well, after art school, we started—in college too—we did things with water color, mostly architectural things and renderings of interiors or room perspective, and learned how to mix the colors. We were doing things—in interiors you had to tell the difference between an oak table and a mahogany table or a cherry table with little—the increments of color. And so this color mixing you kind of learned that way and by rote. So this kind of thing has stayed with me. I do water colors with a workshop group once a week. I don't get there every week, but we still keep up with it. And it's a group that I met with for many years. We do instructions—go to an instructor in the Concord Museum or other places. But we meet just to do our thing together without an instructor. So all of us say, "Oh, at home you never get around to it. You're always at home, and the phone rings or you're cooking something." So this gets you out of the house with your water colors and keeps you going. It keeps your hand in it. And it's been a nice custom to have. So I continue that.
MK: And this is a weekly—?
BW: 00:44:13 A weekly undertaking.
MK: Is this your women's group you were referring to?
BW: It's a women's group. Um—hm. Well, the women's group is something in church. That's another thing. But this is just—it is all ladies that meet to do water colors. And we now gather at the Concord Museum, so we have an opportunity to see the exhibits, which of course keep you inspired. And lately I have moved to a condominium, and I have an entryway. And it's funny you brought this up because just a couple of months ago, I decided I'm going to hang my own things out in the entryway, as you enter. So I'm getting my own exhibition out there in the hall because I have all these framed things I don't know what to do with. There's just stuck in a closet. So I've begun to go over some of my things, the best are out there right now. And I do more realistic kind of painting. I'd like to be freer and do things with greater speed, but I seem to still stick to the realism of getting a little more specific with my water colors. I do landscapes and some interiors, and I don't seem to do too many still lifes.
BW: No—I did only one portrait, of my cat, who just died. So I have a portrait of my cat. It came out very well, I have to say. I ought to do more of them. (laughs) Yeah. No, I don't do portraits otherwise. That's a whole other difficulty. I could train in it, but I have not.
MK: But Concord's a great place for painting landscapes.
BW: Oh, indeed it is. Yes. So this has been something I've been doing off and on—all my life, as a matter of fact. Um—hm. Thank you for bringing it up. It's just been something that's always—undercurrent that's there that I take to now and then. And when the children were little, it was hard to get to it, but I've always gotten back to it again. And I'd like to do it with my grandchild, Katie, see if she takes to it. And my other grandchild is Adam.
MK: How old are they?
BW: Katie is a freshman in high school and is fourteen, and Adam is twenty—one, I believe, in college at UNH.
MK: So have you had them painting?
BW: Well, I did. Now of course they're of the age where they don't pay much attention to grandma or painting. But maybe it'll come around again. We'll see.
MK: The seeds you've sewn.
BW: I hope so. Um—hm. I hope so.
MK: Well, this is just super fascinating. How are you doing?
BW: 00:47:19 I'm okay. I'm holding up. (laughs) I don't know what other things you'd like to touch upon.
CK: You had mentioned Nine Acre Farm. Can you talk more about your experiences there, some of the women who were around there or older people?
BW: Oh, well, Nine Acre Corner is where the Wheeler's in the eighteen hundreds farmed, and I don't have any connection with it. What I was talking about is painting down there. And the family—the Verrill family—that now owns the area has a farm stand there and a bakery, a complete store. And that's where a lot of us go to buy beautiful produce; ordered my turkey there shortly for Thanksgiving. And they will have the pies and sides for your dinner. But they have huge fields around surrounding this store that they built. And it has pick—your—own items—pick—your—own strawberries particularly, pick—your—own raspberries, pick—your—own pumpkins—other than beautiful vegetables right—directly taken out of the fields. And up on the hillside there is a Wheeler home, because the Wheelers originally started the land there and the farm. But they are more distantly related to my side of the family. And yes, there's a Wheeler Road there, named after the area.
CK: It might be fun to hear more generally about some of the women we've heard about—the grandfather Harvey and William—what were the women doing? Did they have wives? And what were their lives like?
BW: Well, I've been able to find out very little about the women, frankly. They were not—they didn't have careers. They were wives that were domesticated—you know, domestic wives, living in the homes and supporting their husbands. Back to William Wheeler who went to Japan, we learned that just before he left, he became engaged. And he continued to correspond to his fiancÃ©e when he was in Japan. And they let him take leave from his duties there to come all the way home in the middle of his contract to get married. And their arrangement was that she'd be willing to go back to Japan with him, which she did. So the last two years that he lived in Japan, he had Fannie, his wife, with him. And together they had many adventures that have been written up in correspondences. So she was always by his side. And together, when they returned, he purchased a huge farm that was being sold, which was Nashawtuc Hill Farm, which is now quite a millionaire's community, I might say, of huge homes, because he kept the lots very large and built a big house there himself in 1879—ish, somewhere in there. So that's his story. What did I say her name was? Oh, Fannie, yes. Harvey Wheeler married Annie Bent from Needham. And we know very little about her. She had—
BW: Yes. Um—hm. I guess she was very quiet, unassuming. And she was supporting Harvey and all his community endeavors. Yes, it's unfortunate that we know so little about the women. I found a—for instance, my grandfather went on a trip to Europe on a boat, and we found the listing of the passengers, but not the mother's. They were not named, just that Donald was there with his mother. Poor girls—poor women—they were left out. Yeah.
CK: But your church work was certainly involving women. Can you talk a little bit about your church and your work there?
BW: 00:53:22 Yes. I'm a member of the Women's Parish Association.
BW: At the First Parish in Concord, Unitarian Universalist Church. Oh, golly, it was formed here in—it's a church that has—it was the first church in Concord, First Parish. And in those days, life revolved all around that church, and the Wheelers with it as well. And we're still there in force. The Women's Parish Association was formed in 1876 or so, I think. And agin that same year, the Emerson—Ellen Emerson was one of the founders of this group. And we continue today as a women's group in the church. Of course men are now very welcome, and there are a few. But we meet monthly and supply the needs of the church, the kitchen, the parlor. We redo the furniture. We raise money through fairs and events in order to provide for specifics within the church—curtains for the stage, you know, that sort of thing. And we meet together and have a lot of camaraderie with our luncheons and events. And they've become sort of a second family to me because I've been with them for—all the time I've been here—these really wonderful women. And they're all very strong activists in the outer world as well—the outer community—with the environment, politically, for school committees. Some of them have been on the standing committee. There's a standing committeewoman now. It's a woman in the parish—and on and on. It's a very strong, community—minded group. The Women's Parish Association—back when I first came to town in the fifties, if you were a member of the church, you were automatically part of the Women's Parish group. That's where all the action was. (laughs)
MK: Did we interview the minister from—?
BW: Perhaps you did. Was it Jenny Rankin?
BW: Oh, yes. She's been our minister.
MK: She was terrific.
BW: Oh, yeah. She's a tremendous educator, and in the transcendental movement, she's taken a great deal of leadership in that. Yeah.
CK: She's no longer—?
BW: No. The minister of twenty—seven years, Gary Smith, retired, and we now have a new minister. And she was part of the time with Gary Smith, and she's moved on as well. But she still—she's teaching some transcendentalist class in the adult education center and—
MK: At the church?
BW: 00:57:09 No, no. At Concord Adult Ed.
BW: She did of course at church when she was there. And I'm trying to think of the church she's moved to. Well, it's—it's not too far away. And I'm going to say—I don't want to guess. I can't grab it right now.
CK: It would probably be good hear more about the changes in the church and in the area in general, but starting with the church, so that's a big change.
BW: Yes, it is a big change, and it took a couple of years to find a suitable minister. Um—hm.
MK: They'd all been men previously in your lifetime?
BW: Well, we've always had an assistant minister that's generally a woman. And of course we've had—the religious education director's a woman. We now have Howard Dana. And Marion Visel is the assistant, and she's a woman. What was the premise of your question—it was—?
CK: What are some of the major changes you're experiencing?
BW: Well, growth, I think, is the biggest change, an enormous growth in the church. And we've had a very excellent religious education program, which has been grabbed by many parents. And it's grown to the point where they've had to—we've got a lot of new staff to take care of all the children that are coming into the program. I think there are some 440 there now, and all ages take part. And it's become a great spiritual community for the children's education. And Jenny Rankin had a lot to do with that, I believe. So the growth has been something to adjust to. We went over to two services. We weren't able to accommodate all the growth.
MK: Two Sunday morning?
BW: Two Sunday mornings. Um—hm.
CK: Does it divide up in interesting ways?
BW: Yes, it does. Yes, it does. It's curious that you mention that, because we've just gone back to one, so that we're all one service. It got to be, "Oh, I haven't seen you for a while. Do you come to the 10:30? You must come to the early one"—that sort of thing. There were sort of two rubies, the early service and the little later ones where the moms and dads would come with their children because it was hard to get them to Sunday school early. But now we're one great big happy family. We all squish in together, and we love it, because it's uni—, uni—, Universalist, all together. And it's working out. We don't mind being a little more crowded, except Easter was a little tough. But that was all right. We worked it out. We'll have to work it out at Christmas, but we'll probably have more services then to accommodate everybody, all those people who only come then. They want to sing carols. (laughs)
MK: So are the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson still kind of central to the theology or—?
BW: 01:01:00 Well, he is quoted often. He is quoted often. And I think I hear—
MK: What was that?
BW: Emerson is quoted often, um—hm, in sermons and in readings and so is Henry David Thoreau. The Thoreau Society meets there annually, and we have a lot of parallels to his ideas on nature.
MK: Well, is there anything else that you came desiring to talk about?
BW: Well, I covered William Wheeler. That was sort of something that I didn't think too many people knew much about. So I like to mention him. I had this article that I just pulled out of this box. I have a lot of articles and books and his—the photographs and such that I mentioned. I think they—there's a group that are coming right now from Japan. And they come every fall and every spring. A group comes from our sister city, Nanae, a group of students and teachers and the mayor. And they come and visit in Concord. And they have a lot of funding to bring their students here. But we don't have any at all in Concord, and it's too bad. We all have to scrounge around and have fundraisers and so forth to support some people to get there. So we don't have as big an exchange as we'd hope for. So I'm digressing again into William, but I'm trying to think of what other things I wanted to talk about. And I don't know. I think we've covered an awful lot.
MK: It's fantastic.
CK: I wonder if you had the two scenes side by side, 1950s and today, in Concord, how would you compare and contrast them?
BW: Well, the town has—the central part of the town has been preserved. I think that Historic Districts has had a lot to do with that. So as you drive around, you think, oh, this is just lovely, and aesthetically it's remained beautiful. There's not much more room for growth, and you see it when you go into the perimeters—out in the countryside, the farmland that has been built up. I was up Laws Brook Road the other day, and I couldn't believe the growth there. "Oh," says I, "that's where all the smaller homes are, where all the kids come from." But you don't see that unless you explore in the back roads. The traffic of course is a horrendous problem. Getting through town—just to get here sometimes can take me ten or fifteen minutes longer with the delays just getting through the central area. And that never used to be. Everybody must have two or three cars. It depends really. The middle of the morning, when rush hour is over, you do a little better.
And I think the teardowns is—brings a lot of distress. The house teardowns everywhere—big neighborhoods, little neighborhoods. A month ago, a friend of mine on Musketaquid Road, the house that I told you that the Wheelers purchased—built in the fifties—was just torn down. Oh, it makes my heart beat, and I begin to shake just driving by looking at it. There it was gone. It was built in fifty—four. It's gone. Several houses—there's one two doors over that was a lovely home. That was demolished two years ago, and they built a lovely huge place instead of it. And across the street, Jim Crockett—you've heard of the famous Mr. Jim Crockett, who was the victory garden man. He wrote a series of books on the victory garden. He was starred in the series in WGBH. After Julia Childs did her series in cooking, Jim Crockett, who lived across the street from us on Musketaquid Road, did one in gardening. He built a house there in—oh, around 1960. That was just demolished and rebuilt. I mean, what's going on?
MK: 01:06:12 And look what they're putting up in the place of those—
BW: Oh, yes. Yeah. These older structures were just fine—of course not up to code, I guess, anymore. But people want something else, something fancier, and so down it comes. So those are two changes, the traffic and the teardowns. But fortunately the middle of the town is still lovely. And I miss the elm trees. They've come down—the elm trees—the elm trees that were—
MK: The blight.
BW: The elm tree blight. Um—hm. They were everywhere.
MK: Well, I'm glad you're exposing your grandchildren to your aesthetic generally and to your art specifically. That's encouraging to know that—as we said, those seeds have been sewn.
BW: Oh, well, I hope so. We don't know yet. When they get in high school, they pick up different interests, as you can imagine.
MK: I guess we're through. Thank you so much.
BW: All right. You're welcome. It's been better than I expected I guess, when you say that. (laughter) Yeah.
CK: Okay, we're back on and picking up an important piece of activity here.
BW: This is Barbara Wheeler, and I discovered that I've been singing all my life and somehow left that out of this—the repertoire, we'll call it—because repertoire is what music is. I started—in boarding school, I realized that I had a good voice that stayed on tune. And I had my first a cappella experience in the nativity play when the three of us—four of us—had to sing "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming." And we were wonderful. And I had the bass, and I had a very low voice. And I've discovered that I held the bottom of all those wonderful chords. My mother had a very low voice. They called her "Tallulah" on the telephone. They said, "Yes, sir" to her. They thought she was a man. She had a very low voice. My speaking voice isn't low like that, but my singing voice is. So I was in—always got in the choir in school and college. And then when I was at home, I was in the church choir. And I've always been in the church choir until recently and decided that it was time to retire. And then there was the Concord Chorus, which does big programs annually. And that was a nice—that was my night out always when the children were young, and Harvey would stay home with the kids.
But somewhere in the fifties, the Sweet Adelines came into town. A group was formed called the Wayside Chapter locally, and they were looking for people. And I just thought that was right on for me. So I joined this—it was called the Sweet Adelines, a women's barbershop choir. And then we had quartets and double quartets. We sang all over the place, in nursing homes and malls and hospitals and so forth. But we went on the stage, and we were trained to be entertainers. And we had flashy costumes. And after a couple of years, we won in the region of New England out of twenty—eight choruses. And we went on to the national stage down in San Diego, and we did pretty well. We weren't first. We were eighteenth. But we thought that was pretty good out of a new group, out of the first time coming to internationals. So I've enjoyed singing bass all my life. Amen. (laughs)
CK: I just have to hear about the flashy costumes.
BW: Oh, well, in the Sweet Adelines, the showmanship is a lot to do with being on stage. The choruses are ninety, thirty, fifty—we got up to about sixty—five of us. We were—we thought we were awfully good, and we were. And of course we all had to have a costume, and you'd dress alike in some manner. So you had a costume with a lot of sequins on it. That was the flashy part. And you had choreography, so you'd flash your skirt so the sequins would show at a certain point in the song that you had—for competition, you had a very upbeat song, which had a lot of choreography. And then you had a more serious song. So you showed off all types of music, from soft to loud to flashy—energetic, I should say.
CK: So somewhere there were some serious numbers and some—
BW: Um—hm. You had two. You had a choice—you didn't have a choice—you had to do two, an upbeat and a—I wouldn't say downbeat, but a more serious song. Um—hm.
CK: And did somebody locally make the costumes or—?
BW: Yes. Yes. Yes. And then we had to—we—some of us made our own. I sewed together some pieces, but somebody did the pattern—did the majority of it. But you had to sew on all the trim and the sequins yourself, because that was time consuming (laughs)—but still had to get out of that, because it was—it really got a little too too, you know?—to wear the costumes that were done compeditively—
CK: You did it for several years?
BW: Um—hm. Um—hm.
CK: When your kids were young?
BW: Um—hm—no, no. No, this was after they'd gone on to college.
CK: Good for you. I bet they were impressed.
BW: Well, it was good for me, because I never was a stage person. I could never get up on a stage and do acting. I was always a backstage helper, the person doing the scenery and painting the scenery and being on the props. So that was a big deal for me, to get me up on a stage. But I had a lot of support. When there are sixty of you, it's fine.
CK: What a wonderful image.
BW: Well, it brought singing to new heights. And I had this very low voice. I can sing bass with a man without any problem. So they needed a few really deep voices to carry the chords in harmony for barbershop. So I was there for that.
CK: Well, thank you very much.
BW: You're welcome.
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