By Bill Stedman
Our Town Historian, Jack Authelet, has spent much of his life trying to define what makes up the “sense of community” he has seen first-hand here in Foxboro — as a citizen, public servant, local newspaper editor and author of many historical books.
And he put much of his insight and hours of research of town documents into a townwide presentation on June 8, marking the 250th anniversary of the first Meeting House in Foxboro.
This was a labor of love that, unfortunately, only the packed house in the Universalist Church heard on that rainy eve of Founders Day. And his full remarks are too long to reprint here.
But his message is one that should be heard, and one that will resonate among many in a a typical small town where political issues and personalities often overshadow what is being done right.
For even while he was working hard researching the history of the meeting house and subsequent founding of the town of Foxborough, Authelet saw the meaning of “community” come to life quite unexpectedly after he asked that The Reporter publish his photos of trash he had seen, with some outrage, during his walks around town.
And he used the resulting effort from Clean Up Foxboro Day to bring home the many events linking 1763 to 2013:
“Tonight, you have heard a lot about the Sense of Community that I have been writing about for the past 50 years,” he told the audience June 8. “If you want to appreciate its full impact and what it means in the lives of others, just reflect for a moment on the past couple of weeks here in Foxborough.
“A photo of litter in the newspaper. The Sense of Community kicks in, a businessman steps forward, and more than 220 people show up eager to do something about it. And they did: 1,100 bags of it weighing over 3 tons.”
How did we get to where we are today?
Authelet starts his history with the long-ago tale of families looking for land and a living as populations grew in 18th Century America as they started to move away from the worship centers of Wrentham, Walpole, Stoughton and Stoughtonham (now Sharon). They came to gather here, before it was the Town of Foxborough, and create the original community.
“Over time, they came to realize they had much more in common as friends and neighbors than they did as residents of distant places who had to travel a long distance to the seat of their government and place of worship,” Authelet writes. “That bond that drew them together, that Sense of Community as we call it today, became so strong that in 1763 they found the courage to say they wanted to petition the government to allow them to become a town of their own.”
To incorporate as a town at that time, you needed a Meeting House and a minister. So prominent residents went about creating what was needed for this community to become Foxborough, which would be incorporated in 1778.
From there, Authelet weaves a story of a community’s struggles and triumphs that is truly inspiring when viewed as a whole and not just individual pieces of history.
From that Meeting House, which would be eventually torn down, came the wide variety of religious denominations and houses of worship that we have in town today — themselves forms of community. Authelet knows the history of each.
He talks of the creation of our centerpiece, the Common, which has been carefully restored and kept up over the years, adding memorials for those who gave their lives for Foxboro and our country in war and peace.
Authelet tells of the town coming together during the Civil War, which took a mighty toll (see part 25 of his series on page 1) on our community.
“Three years following the close of the Civil War, the people of Foxborough wanted to honor those who served and died in their nation’s service. But they didn’t want just a tablet with names on it: they wanted ‘a more suitable monument’ and in 1868 committed $13,000 for the erection of Memorial Hall.”
The town’s first war memorial would honor those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and it has become a centerpiece of our downtown — for a century as the library and now as a museum and repository for town history, as well as a fitting memorial.
All these efforts, including the fundraising and messages of support for our Civil War troops from the women who worked in Foxborough’s famous straw hat factories are included in Authelet’s continuing evolution of our “sense of community.”
The town has a history of some social justice as well, Authelet tells us. “Our Sense of Community came to be measured by our outreach to those in the community who could not provide for themselves. There was a Poor Farm and a special section in Rockhill Cemetery as a burial place for indigents, including hobos riding the train through Foxborough when they fell off and were killed. Nobody knew who they were, where they came from or where they were going. But they were afforded a proper burial by the town.”
He tells us of the town’s commitment to education, and the building of schools over the years. And we are reminded by the many school activities over the past few weeks, culminating with graduations and awards and many ceremonies honoring our young people.
Of course, the history is not all upbeat. But even through the worst, Authelet says, the town shown brightly.
“1900 brought our Darkest Hour and greatest surge in our Sense of Community” after business failures and fires that destroyed the main industry in town, the hat factory, as well as the Town House.
But … “even as smoke still rose from the wreckage, the call went out to come together to help determine the type of community we would like to become moving forward into the 20th Century.”
New buildings were quickly erected, the Foxborough State Hospital would be erected and our economic force would become Standard Gauge, brought to town by E. H. and B. B. Bristol and reorganized as The Foxboro Company.
“They came not as industrialists but as community builders and were a contributor to our Sense of Community from day one,” Authelet writes, “A commitment that would pass to their sons, Ben and Rex as well as all of management and most employees.”
Townspeople would fight in World War I and the Legion Post would be named for the first soldier killed, Lawrence W. Foster. Foxborough would survive the Great Depression. And, of course, the town rallied during World War II.
“As dreadful as it was, it was everybody’s war,” Authelet recalls. “We all had a role to play; believing our contribution would affect the outcome and our Sense of Community embraced everyone. The town exceeded its quota in every bond drive. Schools got special flags to fly once all students participated in purchasing war bonds and stamps. We all played a role from air raid wardens and paper drives to planting Victory Gardens and enduring rationing in the national interest.”
Then it was the Korean War and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Foxborough was doubling in size during the 1950s and ’60s. And with it the building of more schools and playing field and recreation facilities — all part of any good community.
And there was the concern for those who are struggling. The Senior Center, Food Pantry and Discretionary Fund were created. The New England Patriots Charitable Trust has helped many causes since Robert Kraft bought the local National Football League team.
The Foxboro Company and major gifts from Invensys, the Kraft and Spier families, helped build a major YMCA facility in town that is open to all.
Authelet’s presentation contained many, many more examples of how this town has become a community.
And we will always be grateful for the way he has chronicled this history for us and future generations to understand.
“This is who we are and how we care,” he writes. “People: doing for others. People: caring about others. People: proud of their home town and those who call it home, embraced by that Sense of Community that has made Foxborough so unique through all these years.
“As we celebrate the Sense of Community that has made this place what it is, let us nourish it and pass it on to future generations, that it might continue forever.”
Bill Stedman is managing editor of The Foxboro Reporter.