Placemaking graphics at the new Casey Arborway connection

Reconnecting the Emerald Necklace

The original design of the Emerald Necklace was missing a link.

Busy commuters making their connections at Forest Hills Station may not realize a vital connection has been created as well right outside the station. Our new placemaking graphic panels show how the most significant single entity of the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park, has reclaimed its place as the pendant. The Necklace, a series of inter-connected urban greenspaces, was designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890s. 

Community groups have been requesting the removal of the Monsignor William J. Casey Overpass since 2000. Opened around 1953, it was named for a popular local pastor who was in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury from 1917 to 1949. The structure was declared structurally deficient in 2010; planning began in 2012, and the construction started in 2015. Even then, the project was not without its detractors who feared poor traffic flow through the area.

Olmsted Arborway Plan
The original Olmsted Arborway plan linking the Arboretum to Franklin Park
Aerial of Casey overpass
Aerial of Casey overpass shortly after completion in 1953-54.

Designed and the implemented by HNTB’s Boston office, the new Casey Arborway Connector his a milestone in Boston’s urban traffic plan. This design is the result of numerous public meetings and a clear vision by the planning team. New public amenities; a new head house allowing commuters to pass under the Casey Arborway to the station; 500 new trees, wider sidewalks, new parking and interpretive kiosks for both history and wayfinding.

This location was a pathway for Massachusett, Nipmuck, and tribes long before English settlers colonized the area. The Stony Brook corridor connected the Shawmut Peninsula to destinations south, such as Narragansett Bay. The European colonists established a turnpike and then a railway from Boston to Providence, and Washington Street goes through here to the heart of Boston.

Content•Design was required to make two connections with our placemaking graphics program. First, the significance of reconnecting the Emerald Necklace and where you, the busy MBTA Orange-line commuter, are located on the Necklace. Second, describe the Southwest Corridor Park, a unique, five-mile-long park that took the place of the homes and businesses cleared for the Interstate 695 project. This project was halted through public protests leading to its cancellation in 1971 by Governor Sargent.

Olmsted panel
Frederick Law Olmsted and his Emerald Necklace, once again whole, from Back Bay to Jamaica Plain.

Panel 1: Olmsted and the Emerald Necklace

Not only does this panel depict the complete Necklace, but it also shows two other major greenspaces not part of the Necklace, hence three shades of green. This location is an incredible nexus with trains, trolleys, cars, and buses.

Can I get to Copley Square from here? The start of the Southwest Corridor Park pathway.

Panel 2: Southwest Corridor Park

This multi-use corridor will take you al the way to Copley Square. Along the way visit your friends in the South End, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. It is a multi-modal freeway for pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, strollers, and runners. This is the first comprehensive map of the Park ever created.

Creating the Southwest Corridor Park required our entire arsenal of pictographs to illustrate all of the activities available along the Park. The design of the panel shows the Park in relation to the Olmsted parks that surround it. Who is Pierre Lallement? The bike path is named after him, the inventor of the pedal bicycle.

Shea Square interpretive panel
Considering the options at Shea Square.

Panel 3: Shea Square

The third placemaking graphic is about Franklin Park and Forest Hills Cemetery. The Franklin Park Coalition provided a photo of the annual kite festival, illustrating how this “Country Park” was designed for city people by Olmsted. There are many fabled places in the Park, such as the Playstead and Schoolmasters Hill. The Cemetery is a different experience, full of winding paths and striking sculpture. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. Both destinations are but a short walk from Shea Square.

The project team consisted of MassDOT who provided much of the primary research, the Department of Conservation and Recreation who acted as the visitor advocate, as well as the Boston office of HNTB who not only provided excellent management but ice cream on Thursday meetings.

Interpreting Roxbury, the Untold History

Roxbury is one of Boston's founding communities

Roxbury, Massachusetts is 389 years old, and as a town, city, and now a neighborhood of Boston, has experienced all the significant upheavals and events of those last four (almost) centuries. Colonialism, war, slavery, immigration, the industrial revolution, civil rights, etc. all occurred after the Massachusett, Nipmuc, and other nations used this site long before William Pynchon and company established their church on a hill, the First Church in Roxbury in July 1632.

Content•Design Collaborative, along with Martha Lyons Landscape Architecture, Leonardi Aray Architects, Daphne Politis (Community Circle), Isabel Kaubisch (Clarendon Hill Consulting), and Karylin Crockett, were contracted in 2014 by the Department of Conservation and Recreation to create and implement a new Roxbury Heritage State Park. Located atop a puddingstone outcrop, the one-acre Park provides views to the city to the north, and South Boston and Dorchester to the east. The House, the oldest in Roxbury, offered 2,200 sf of exhibit space, that works out to a mere 600 square-feet per century.

Meetinghouse Hill, Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1799, John Ritto Penniman, Art Institute of Chicago

Art Inspiration
At our first workshop with the Roxbury Historical Society, the Department of Conservation and Recreation project manager Patrice Kish unveiled a color print of this painting. It served as a touchstone for the course of the project. Research shows that Penniman created this painting as a welcome distraction from his day job; painting clock faces for his boss, Aaron Willard, of Roxbury Willard-clockmaking fame. His more-famous brother Simon’s clocks still tick in the United States Capitol and White House. The story goes that this painting was requested by Aaron to so his wife would not feel homesick after their move back to Grafton. When painted from Washington Street in Roxbury, clockmaking was the high-tech manufacturing of its day. The Willard shops relied on a network of 20 different businesses in a quarter mile radius. Their work presaged the industrial powerhouse Roxbury would become within the next 60 years.

RHSP recommendations workshop
A member of the Roxbury community takes note at the recommendations workshop.

Let the people speak
Since the Department is responsible for the “health and happiness of people across Massachusetts,” our civics lesson began with a formidable series of public workshops and presentations. Event organizers Daphne Politis and Isabel Kaubisch expertly managed to set up three public review events during the winter and early spring of 2014. The public workshops made sure everyone was heard, for instance; one thorny issue was to have a fence or not around the site, a request was made for wifi on site, and the idea sounded that the site would act as a portal to other cultural sites in Roxbury.

The concept plan
The scope of work included a formal interpretive report, facilitated and produced by Faye Goolrick with significant input from the Roxbury Historical Society and other local stakeholders. We completed a SWOT analysis and concept design and rolled it into a report in three months. Our interpretive criteria: It’s all about Roxbury, not Boston history, if it did not happen here in Roxbury it is not included in the exhibit, plus; focus on African American history. Our overarching theme; The hill on which stands the Dillaway-Thomas House was once the highest point at the nexus of a land bridge where once the people of the woodland passed on their way to the rich waters of the harbor. This house and site has survived intact for the entire course of US history and continues to thrive today as a vibrant, living, symbol of the enduring spirit of Roxbury.

With so much history to interpret and so little space, the development team proposed an epoch per room at the Dillaway-Thomas House. Visitors enter the House from the accessible annex, the first thing you encounter is a cavernous ten-foot wide cooking hearth, so we deemed this space the Parsons Kitchen, and it covered the pre-revolutionary war era. This gallery was followed by the Revolutionary War gallery, or the Thomas Gallery, for General Thomas who took residence there during the Siege of Boston. Next comes the Dillaway Room, named after Charles K. Dillaway, a scholar and early headmaster of Boston Latin. The next exhibit area is the Historic Hallway and the 20th Century Roxbury Room. Upstairs the House featured a gallery loosely dedicated to 21st Century Roxbury accompanied the multi-purpose changeable art gallery and community meeting space.

The initial content plans for the House and annex.

This Old House
Considered a historic site because of its role in the Revolutionary War, the House had a cast plaque fastened to it after the Dillaway family’s 67-year residence. After a decade of neglect, it was restored by local historic house pioneer, Frank Chouteau Brown. He added some fanciful colonial restoration elements along with the current mix of federal and latent Georgian details. It was completed in time for a grand dedication for the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932, because he visited, (though did not sleep) the House during the Siege. Looking healthy in the 1940s, the House again fell into neglect and was almost burned down in an arson attempt in 1979 when Boston was known as the arson capital of the world.

A beautiful postcard created shortly after the Dillaway family was gone, 80 years later after an arson attack.

The House was practically empty at the start of the project; it served as much as a meeting place for the community as a place of interpretation. Glass panel labels overlaid exposed sheathing and joists to provide a remodeling history of the House. Otherwise, a rare framed handbill or photo propped on the mantle referred to Roxbury’s history. The Roxbury Historical Society, incorporated in 1901, used the House as its headquarters.

The Colonial Kitchen
Amos Adams, the Harvard-educated pastor, preached at the First Church in Roxbury across the street. He went through two wives, Elizabeth, and Abigail, and was survived by his third, Sarah, with a total of eight-plus children between them. We interpret the lives of these hard-working colonial ladies with a fully-featured hearth, hearth table with inlaid graphics, and interactive cupboards. On the doors of the cupboards, which may be original to the 1755 house, are prompts, Who lived here with Amos Adams? And What did they own? Open the door, and the cupboard is stocked with the answers.

Hearth at Dillaway-Thomas House in Roxbury
Home is where the hearth is, on the right the cupboards are full of surprises.

On the hearth table, a cookbook contains everyone’s favorite colonial recipes such as Bird’s nest Pudding or Dressed Macaroni.

Slavery and Dissent in Roxbury
There is no evidence of slaves at the House, but plenty on the existence of slavery in Roxbury. Several major streets, such as Ruggles Street, are named after slaveholders. The Roxbury Historical Society identified a 1771 tax inventory of Roxbury, it showed that there were 362 citizens and 21 “servants for life.” The exhibit features a bill of sale of a negro man by the name of Boston and a broadside lamenting the lack of oversight of negro servants,

Slavery graphic panel, top
A portion of the graphic panel about slavery in Roxbury.

Amos Adams, the pastor who lived in the House before the Revolutionary War was a patriot. He urged the citizens of Roxbury to produce goods of their own rather than import them from England. To set an example, in 1768, Elizabeth Adams, the pastor’s wife, organized a spinning bee in which 60 women gathered at the House and spun “one hundred score of linen yard.” Apparently, there were many approving onlookers.

Boston Besieged and the General
With all hell breaking loose in the spring of 1775, the leaders of the colonial rebels appointed veteran John Thomas as a leader of the militia tasked with keeping the British troops in Boston. Roxbury stood on one side of the only ground route called Boston Neck. Our exhibit features a letter from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society where General Benjamin Lincoln informs Amos Adams that “It would be quite agreeable for General Thomas to remove into your house…”. Other experiences are a recreation of General Thomas’s field desk where you can hear a dramatic reading of one of his many letters to his wife and an interactive map placing the House in context of the siege of 1775-76.

The Dillaway-Thomas House was at the center of action during the 1775 Siege of Boston, map courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
General Thomas's desk exhibit
While General John Thomas looks on, an audio program plays back a reading of a letter he wrote to his wife during the seige of Dorchester.

Roxbury Transformed, the Dillaway Room
The map of 1832 Roxbury shows long country roads lined with occasional dwellings, with a dense cluster around the First Church in Roxbury. There are rolling hills on the unoccupied spaces, most likely used for farmland. Just 58 years later little of this open space remained, Roxbury was a dense as any other neighborhood in Boston, though West Roxbury remained suburban. In our small gallery, we focused on the lively domestic environment that was the Dillaway family, with over ten family members and domestic staff living there at any one time it is a wonder that Charles Dillaway had room to run his school for girls. Mr. Dillaway was former headmaster at Boston Latin, an author, and participated in the first Japanese student exchange program. Fragments of a 19th century Satsuma vase were found on the site, perhaps a gift from the students?

The advanced organizer, aka introductory graphic panel, to the Victorian era, at the right, evidence of industry and workers in Roxbury; a child’s shoe, stove part, and horse blinder.

In an excerpt from Roxbury Magazine in 1899, found by our team writer and researcher Carrie Brown, a former student described Dillaway’s classroom atmosphere as being “sunny and loving.” It went on to say “At recess we walked in the garden at the back of the house or were allowed to go into the parlor and play the piano,” hence the reproduction Chickering piano in our exhibit. The Victorian-style center table is where an interactive foosball exhibit challenges visitors to assemble various maps of Roxbury correctly.

Chickering pianos were popular around the time the quote from the Roxbury Magazine was written. The picture on the right features Mr. Dillaway with the Japanese students he was hosting. The fragments of a 19th century Satstuma vase found on site are featured in the case on the piano.
The Victorian gallery at the Dillaway-Thomas House
Our Victorian center table features a foosball game approach to understanding the changing maps of Roxbury. Over the mantle is a reproduction of a chromolithographic print the nearby Louis Prang factory was famous for.

Historic Hallway
The entry and center staircase is the one portion of the House least affected by Chouteaus imaginative restoration or 1979 fire. The elegantly spaced stairway rises much more relaxed than your typical short tread, steep-pitched New England farmhouse stair. We feature a Willard-style longcase clock, and the framed Penniman painting, a reproduction, of course, a permanent loan from the Art Institute of Chicago could not be arranged.

The central stairway stayed intact through renovations and fire, the Penniman painting is featured here. At the landing the view to Eliot Square and the First Church in Roxbury are interpreted.

New Voices, the 20th Century
The population changed in size and shape in Roxbury in significant ways. Brahmins like Mr. Dillaway gave way to Irishmen, who in turn rubbed shoulders with Italian, Latvian, Jewish, and German immigrants. After the Second World War, the great migration enlarged the existing African American population to a near majority, filling in when the last significant subgroup, the Jewish community, departed for the suburbs in the 1970s. Today Roxbury is the nexus not only to African American culture but Caribbean and African people. An audio station, paired with a flip book, has the voices and stories of prominent community leaders such as Michael Haynes and Melnea Cass, graphic panels feature the art of John Wilson and a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. leading his first march outside of the south from Roxbury. The featured painting over the mantle is a work by Alan Crite, an artist who featured Roxbury and South-end neighborhoods in his work.

Introductory graphic panel for the 20th cnetury gallery
The sunlight creates a glow on the arts and crafts style pattern on the glass panel.
Audio program and artifact case in the 20th Century gallery at the Dillaway-Thomas House
An audio program features civic leaders interviewed for the exhibit. On the right, artifacts from the LIttle-Collins House, the Roxbury home where Malcom X spent his teenage years.

Roxbury Today
The most popular exhibit concept presented during the community meetings was the gestural touch-exhibit that would show the changes to the Roxbury area through the ages, from Nipmuc settlement to metropolis. With the talents of Northern Light Production, this digital pipe-dream became a reality. Over 62 feature locations across eight moments in history makes this exhibit the star of the show for all ages.

Interactive exhibit Evolving Roxbury
This gestural touch table shows the changing landscape of Roxbury from mudflats to metropolis. It was a highly anticipated exhibit that was proposed for the last public forum and was heartily endorsed by the community.

There was one other requirement from the Roxbury Historical Society—all maps of Roxbury must show the 1868 borders when Roxbury was annexed to Boston. The boundaries you see on your smartphone reflect the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s idea on what constitutes the neighborhood of Roxbury. My mother grew up on Mission Hill and considered her Irish immigrant community to be part of Roxbury, now considered a separate area altogether by the city of Boston. When the historic boundaries of Roxbury are overlaid on the map of the city today cultural institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University as well as the entirety of the Longwood Medical District are all part of what Roxbury offers the city.

Map graphic
many institutions would be surprised to learn they are part of historic Roxbury, the Longwood Medical area for one, the Museum of Fine Arts for another.

The Park
The landscape designer had two elements on site to build on. First, a puddingstone wall, a local conglomerate from which many Boston edifices are constructed. There was an active Roxbury quarry on Parker’s Hill for decades. Plus, the existing apple trees from the historic orchard that produced the Roxbury Russet cultivar, not so popular today because it isn’t unnaturally red, but it is reputed to be a keeper, that is, it has a long shelf life. Just like the exhibits, we hope. Visit if you are in the neighborhood, Roxbury’s history and significance are now revealed!

Site orientation panel
Looking north from the Park entrance where a map of Roxbury with cultural, educational and historical destinations are featured.
Wayside exhibit panel about indigenous people in Roxbury
What the view from meetinghouse hill once looked like. a place to harvest and smoke the fish and shellfish found in the mudflats that are now Boston’s South Bay.

For more on the art used in the exhibit read more http://contentdesign.me/it-takes-a-village-of-institutions-to-make-an-exhibit/

Many thanks to all who persevered and collaborated on this exhibit: Patrice Kish, Jessica Rowcroft, and Ellen Berkland (DCR); Marcia Butman and Byron Rushing (Roxbury Historical Society), and Barry Gaither (National Center of African  American Artists)

The exhibit team: Development: Faye Goolrick, Edward Malouf, Carrie Brown, Carol Lieb; Design: Edward Malouf, Neal Mayer; Writing & Research: Carrie Brown, Carol Lieb, Edward Malouf; Historic furnishings: Janice Hobson; Graphic Design: Helen Riegle (HER Design), Edward Malouf, Carol Lieb; Media: Lenny Rotman (Northern Light Productions); Media installation: Steve Gregory (New England Technology Group; Exhibit Construction: Allan McNab (Mystic Scenic Studios), photography by George Malouf www.georgemalouf.com

What does it take to make history?

A Revolutionary Woman – Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson, History at Play
Deborah Sampson, History at Play

During Women’s History Month we think back to an inspired performance at History Camp Boston 2017 featuring Deborah Sampson, a Contiental Army soldier from 1782 to 1783. This powerful performance created an emotional connection to the past and helped us to understand what it takes to make history.

Interpretive performance at History Camp 

This performance by History at Play helped us to see Deborah Sampson as a person who was courageous enough to serve in battle and at the same time lived in fear of being being discovered for assuming another person’s identity. Her secret was discovered when she was wounded in 1782, but her superior General John Paterson was so impressed with her bravery that she received an honorable discharge at West Point. Between 1792 and 1806, with the help of neighbor Paul Revere, she was able to obtain back pay, which had been denied her because of gender, and a pension.

See History at Play at History Camp Boston 2019 this Saturday featuring The House of Hancock.

Deborah receives her pension letter, photo by Dick McCreight/bluestemlight.com.
Deborah receives her pension letter, photo by Dick McCreight/bluestemlight.com.

A Women’s Champion

Boston Latin headmaster, author, and a beacon of learning, Charles K. Dillaway provided education to his daughters and their friends in the mid-1800s before women were given the legal right to education. His home, now the Dillaway-Thomas House in Roxbury, was a genteel center for the education of the young women friends of his daughter Emma, who were denied higher education by the culture of the time. We developed the interpretive program at the Dillaway-Thomas House at the Roxbury Heritage State Park and used the beautifully pensive painting Girl Reading, by Edmund Tarbell, to illustrate this moment in history.

“The school was kept in his study, a small, pleasant room at the back of his house completely lined with shelves crowded with [books] … The whole mental atmosphere of the school was sunny and loving. Great stress was laid upon English composition and upon Latin …. At recess we walked in the garden back of the house or were allowed to go into the parlor and use the piano.”

“Reminiscences” by P.R.H. from Roxbury Magazine, 1899
Girl Reading, Edmund Tarbell, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Above is a sample of the graphic interpretation at the Dillaway-House exhibits, come on Patriots Day when it is open to the public and experience the full experiences of the history of Roxbury.

It takes a village of institutions to make an exhibit

John Eliot, Jesus College Cambridge, artist unknown;  Malcolm X, c1950, Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL, photographer unknown
John Eliot, Jesus College Cambridge, artist unknown;  Malcolm X, c1950, Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL, photographer unknown


Telling the history of Roxbury, Massachusetts in SO many pictures

Let us imagine a time warp where the 17th-century preacher and evangelist John Eliot is saying “good day” to 20th-century activist Malcolm Little, aka Malcolm X, while on his way to the First Church in Roxbury meetinghouse in the center of town. They each formed their identity in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Eliot as an evangelist to the Nipmuc and other tribes and pastor at First Church, Little as a future activist while living in the house of his half-sister, Ella Little-Collins, on Dale Street. Each man would make his mark in history inspired by religion to change society in markedly different ways.

This juxtaposition demonstrates the challenge of interpreting 388 years of history in Roxbury, one of the six founding towns of the Bay Colony. For the first 138 years of its existence, Roxbury grew from a village to a city, before the citizens voted to be it absorbed by its wealthy neighbor, the “Athens of the East,” Boston.

The image research task was daunting, 87 individual images encompassing the entire range of western image making; manuscripts, engravings, oil painting, watercolors, pastels, as well as that standby, photography. The sources were equally diverse, 16 different collections, from art museums to postcard collections, plus commissioned illustrations and photography. And this is just the gallery graphics, there are another 80 or more images in the time-traveling media programs and interviews.

Our first featured image hails all the way from the Chicago Institute of Art, “Meetinghouse Hill” by John Ritto Penniman. Why had this painting, created by the man who designed the City of Boston seal in 1822, ended up in the Windy City? The unfortunate geographic dislocation is now corrected, a reproduction will now hang in the Dillaway-Thomas House. You can see the House, it is visible in the painting on the right.

“Meetinghouse Hill, Roxbury, Massachusetts”, by John Ritto Penniman 1799, oil on canvas

You may heard about the Reverend John Eliot, “Apostle to the Indians”—but how about the venerable General John Thomas who directed the southern wing of militia blocking the British troops from marching out of the besieged city of Boston? He appears kindly, if not strikingly handsome, in this portrait. A devoted husband, it is through letters to his wife Hannah we know much about the events of March 1776, when he oversaw the occupation of the nearby Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to evacuate Boston.

Major General John Thomas Benjamin Blyth, ca. 1775, pastel on paper, Massachusetts Historical Society

Our next topic was more difficult to illustrate, it is the typical interpretive conundrum of finding first-hand non-pejorative illustrations of the disenfranchised. Where will we locate first-hand images of African American revolutionary war soldiers, even just one? Never mind that on the spot illustrations of anything from the Revolutionary War is rare. This was very important, Roxbury is the center of African American culture in Boston. It turns out that the most requested item, according to Peter Harrington of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University, is this watercolor of soldiers and militia, possibly at the surrender of the British at Yorktown. The Rhode Island Militia had a contingent of African Americans, one of who posed for this picture by a French artist.

“Soldiers in Uniform” by Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

Moving into the 1830s, the namesake of our noble House, Charles K. Dillawa,y and wife Martha presided over a busy household that included three children, two sisters-in-law, a cousin Mary who gave music lessons, and a domestic staff. Mr. Dillaway was an enlightened man, publishing books on Roman Antiquities, helping found the Boston Society of Natural History, and teaching young women at his home who we barred from seeking higher education. Oh, and of course, his day job was headmaster of Boston Latin.

It is no wonder he would play host to the first ever Japanese exchange student program. Don’t let the swords distract you, the samurai class was one of the most progressive in mid-19th century Japan. The fellow on the left, with the distinct profile, Hanabusa Yoshimoto, went on to direct the Japanese Red Cross. The other men would also go on to leadership positions in Japan.

Dillaway with students, Antoine Sonrel, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

By 1868 the industrial revolution caught up with Roxbury and to cope with the services needed to care for its growing immigrant population Roxbury merged with Boston. To represent this pivotal moment we selected this birds-eye view of the July 4th, 1870 celebration in Boston. See the re-enactors on Boston Common? No hatch shell and duck boats yet. This is from the versatile collection at the Boston Public Library, maps and drawings from their collection make up a quarter of the images used in the exhibit.

View of Boston July 4th 1870,” Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library 

This takes us up to the 20th century, and our work just got harder, the number of people and nationalities filling up Roxbury was tremendous, for instance, why is there a Pompeii Street no one goes to Roxbury for Italian food! But in the early 20th century there was once a thriving community living and serving marinara sauce in the neighborhood of Roxbury near today’s Newmarket District. The Latvians too, yes, really, appeared as trouble makers in Roxbury, see Dennis Lehane’s “The Given Day,” The Irish, (think Mayor Curley) Germans, and Eastern European Jews are all part of Roxbury’s heritage.

Now we are in the mid-twentieth century and African Americans finding opportunities in our segregated society non-existed before because of the manpower shortages caused by World War II. This theme was eloquently illustrated by famous hometown artist John Wilson. His drawing was explicitly made to address this issue. Images like “Streetcar Scene” demonstrate the power of fine art to communicate interpretive messages in a manner more poignant than commissioned illustration.

“Streetcar Scene” by John Wilson, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Finally, this photo from the Associated Press captures a historic moment when Roxbury is recognized as a hub for African American political leadership. Martin Luther King Jr. held his first rally outside of the south in Roxbury, leading thousands on a march to the Boston Common where he led a rally seeking fair wages and workers rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., accompanied by Ralph Abernathy, right, and Rev. Virgil Wood, head of the Boston branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference , AP Photo

Members of the Roxbury Historical Society identified several other people in the photograph whom they knew personally; Roxbury has activism in its DNA!

When the exhibit opens later this spring, Roxbury residents might not realize the host of institutions that have been marshaled to tell their neighborhood’s story. They provide the first-ever comprehensive permanent exhibit of the city that was, and the vibrant neighborhood that is, Roxbury, Massachusetts.

20 Years Along the Blackstone River

The falls that made Woonsocket famous

Creating a the Anniversary Exhibit

With the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Museum of Work and Culture, part of the Rhode Island Historical Society, director Anne Conway knew what was needed to complement the existing exhibits. Well-represented in the Museum is the story of French-Canadian immigration, life on the mill floor, and the religious and cultural impact on Woonsocket created by  Christopher Chadbourne’s firm in the environmental exhibits style for which they were well-known. But the story of the mills themselves that brought the workers from Quebec province in Canada and all around the world did not have a place in the Museum. It was time to tell the complicated story of how the mills along the Blackstone Valley changed the landscape of Woonsocket using the new technologies now available.

In the beginning: Museum staff, Foundation members, and development team discuss goals and opportunities

The project start-up meeting included a tour around Woonsocket by NPS Blackstone Valley ranger Kevin Klyberg to view the mills some producing woolen goods for the US military others repurposed as living and maker spaces. As the project team absorbed the geography of the city and observed the 30-foot drop of the falls in front of the Museum, they pondered the task set out by the President of the Museum Foundation, Paul Bourget. Develop an exhibit that time travels over the topography of Woonsocket, and create a database of the people who worked there. Our 600sf exhibit now had two major components! 

Fortunately, the museum had professional video interviews made possible by a grant from the Blackstone Heritage Corridor for the team to draw on. Our team capped off this phase of work with an animated conceptual design, including a user interface for a gestural touchtable, along with a series of edited interviews by Northern Light Productions. This promotional animation created an effective fundraising and project awareness tool and was first featured by Anne Conway and Ed Malouf at the fall 2015 meeting of the Woonsocket Rotary Club.

Next up was a late night presentation at the Museum during the Murder in the Mill gala event which included actors from a local theater troupe. Is there a better time to present a new project than to a lively audience shortly after a murder mystery is solved? Spirits were indeed high, and after Anne and Ed finished their presentation a textile mill owner in the audience pledged $ 10,000 to the exhibit. This mixture of community, pleasure, and commitment proved to be a hallmark of Anne Conway and the Historical Society for raising awareness and funds for the project.

Mill Memory Alpha testing at Trivium Interactive in Boston

Utilizing the video interview collection, the Museum decided to implement a beta version of the database portion of the exhibit, called the Mill Memory Bank for the annual labor day event on September 26, 2016. Now known as the Mill Memory Bank exhibit, Trivium Interactive of Boston was engaged in developing more than a stand-alone kiosk exhibit, but a website for anyone to enter the information about a friend or relative who worked at a mill along the Blackstone Valley in return for a small donation to the Museum. We may find online forms tedious at times, but a great deal of work goes into them!

Final exhibit content plan overlaid on the former Woonsocket Works gallery

Exhibit development continued with the new location on the second floor. The gallery had five content areas, The Falls, The Mills of Woonsocket, Mill Memory Bank, and Woonsocket Works. Together they provided a variety of experiences; The Falls was a projection of the waterfall on a translucent screen with roaring water soundscape and an introduction banner that showed the original five Woonsocket Villages. The Mills Ideum touchtable had a docent mode which depicted Woonsocket one era at a time as well as the four-use mode where each visitor could time travel as they wished. The Mill Memory Bank was a list of the who’s who in the community and Woonsocket Works told the workers and products story and their artifacts.  An arch representing the famous Alice Mill keeps with the scenic approach to the exhibits at the museum. Would it be built of brick or scenically painted? During a community-wide presentation the Mayor of Woonsocket, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, suggested we use actual bricks from the Alice Mill which burned down in 2011. The bricks were eventually located and wonderfully integrated into the final exhibit.

 

July Presentation to the Foundation and Society with installed Mill Memory exhibit

It is May 2017; the grand opening is only five months away. A google drive database created by the Museum’s Assistant Director Sarah Carr provided a place for researchers to add the information found about each mill. Each mill location had two characteristics, a name which might change if the owner changed, and a product, a mill that spun cotton in 1890 might be spinning nylon in 1930. When Sarah finished writing, there were 130 individual data points, with 98 of them requiring captions and images. This collection of data was an unprecedented documenting of the mills of Woonsocket. Content•Design visited the RIHS Library on Hope Street in search of reference maps and manufacturers advertisements so the streets and railroad lines would appear accurately on each era. Manufacturers advertisements provided images for the graphic murals. 

More support and content came from the community. A member of the Finkelstein family provided photographs of workers from his father’s mill that were taken by a fashion photographer. Stitching rubber garments never looked so good on film. These photos enhanced the exhibit quality significantly. The Woonsocket Historical Society provided artifacts of product promotional items and workforce motivation pins. A local Polish market allowed the use of a publicity photo so we could complete our “Communities of Woonsocket” section. 

Funding progressed enough, so a carpet that evoked mossy cobblestones and enhanced light adjustments that complemented the new deep blue walls completed the gallery makeover. On November  2, 2017, two days before the 20th-anniversary gala, the builders 42DesignFab made final adjustments to the gallery space and left it gala-ready. The opening party was a smashing success, the exhibit was packed, and these museum visitors stayed until 1:00 in the morning. 

The gallery is ready for the opening gala

Before and after photos of the gallery 

This project met the challenging goals set out by the Museum and Foundation, its development was  hardly linear, but followed the winding Blackstone River as summed up by Anne Conway:

“We embarked on the project wholeheartedly with the confidence that the community and funding partners would embrace the idea and support it. From phase to phase, new fundraising goals were set, and new challenges emerged. Research, exhibit development, and fundraising happened simultaneously. It took a little over two years to complete Mills along the Blackstone, a beautiful new interactive exhibit which brings to life the history of the local mills and its workers.”

  

Sarah Carr from the Museum asists gala attendees explore mill history

Each visitor has their own portal in which to travel through time for each mill location

Foundation President Paul Bourget and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt with bricks from the Alice Mill

Museum of Work & Culture