THE LOST VILLAGE OF EAST BRIMFIELD

 

A limited number of glice'e prints of Anna's work are on sale now for $15.00.
Proceeds to support the work of Opacum Land Trust.

Call 508-347-9144 or info@opacumlt.org

"When I first viewed the history of East Brimfield, there was a sadness about the loss of this quaint village. Children playing, women doing their many tasks and men working long hours in the factory. The sight of stunning rolling hills that sat in the background. How could all of this been taken away from these residents? Were they given a better future?

As I am committed to my home village of Brimfield and its needs on Lake Sherman. I offered to paint this memory and bring back to those who remember their families and friends, their window of times that have passed."

Anna M. Ozolins, Artist

The Little Gallery in the Woods

Brimfield, Mass.

www.annaozolins.com

Artist Anna Ozolins’ portrait of East Brimfield infuses life into a black-and-white photo by F. Edgar Brown, probably taken in 1907. In this scene, only the distant church remains in its original location. Everything else is gone, and even the river has been altered. It is the Quinebaug River that formed East Brimfield. In the early 19th Century, hundreds of water-powered textile mills sprang up on New England’s multitude of streams. One was the Brimfield Cotton & Woolen Manufacturing Co., which in 1815 constructed the first factory at East Brimfield. Their timing was poor, as the end of the War of 1812 meant that English textiles could pour into the country once again. The original company soon failed, but the factory building remained and was used for a variety of other industrial purposes, among them Varney’s shoe-pegging machines. East Brimfield, sometimes called East Corner, thus gained a separate identity as a mill village within the largely rural town of Brimfield.

East Brimfield’s peak period began when the Snell Company took over the factory in 1883 and ran it as a satellite of its plant in Sturbridge, manufacturing bits and augers for various uses. The company owned many of the houses near the factory, giving East Brimfield something of the air of a company town. Around 1910 the village was thriving. Somewhere between 150 and 200 people lived there, depending on how one defines its limits. It had a public school, a church, and a store. Speakers and performers stopped there, or the residents generated their own community social life. After 1907 an electric railway (trolley) linked the village to Worcester and Springfield, with service every hour. Its track is prominent in the foreground of the painting, and East Brimfield had a small passenger shelter. If the Southern New England Railroad (Grand Trunk), started in 1912, had been completed, East Brimfield would have been on a transcontinental rail line.

Even after the Snell plant shut down in the 1920s, East Brimfield continued to flourish, with residents driving to jobs in Southbridge and other towns. All this came to an end as a result of the flood of August 1955. Although East Brimfield suffered considerable damage, no homes were destroyed or lives lost. However, more severe damage downstream led Congress to appropriate funds for the Thames River Basin flood control project, in which upstream villages such as East Brimfield and Westville were sacrificed to a larger interest. Since most of East Brimfield lay within the potential flood zone, every structure but the church was demolished or relocated, and the roads were straightened and elevated. However, while the former village is uninhabitable, the site is not usually beneath the waters of the reservoir formed by the East Brimfield Dam in 1960. By poking around in the underbrush, or in the memories of former residents, we can find traces of the Lost Village.

Larry Lowenthal
March 24, 2011