We are featuring the Children’s Collection at present, which consists of four main elements:
1. The Phebe Harwood sampler, circa 1805;
2. Two miniature palm leaf Shaker hoods, made in Barre in the mid-1800s;
3. Minerva Ida Adams, an 1858 Greiner-type patent-head doll that belonged to a Barre girl, Agnes Eudora Dennis, with an assortment of clothing she made circa 1860 and accompanying dishes, books, photographs, and a trunk. It is called the Agnes Eudora Dennis Collection;
4. And an English Split-head Wax doll, circa 1830 – 1860.
The Children’s Collection offers insights into the lives of young people in
Barre in the early and mid-nineteenth century.
Minerva Ida Adams is a beautifully preserved doll of the 1858 Greiner type. She came into the home of Agnes Eudora Dennis, born in Barre in 1852, about 1860. Agnes was required to hand-sew a complete wardrobe for her doll before she could play with her. Minerva Ida Adams has a very interesting history. She stayed with her original owner until about 1916, when Agnes, who became Mrs. Abiathar Blanchard, gave her to the children’s book author, Emma Patten Beard. A friend of Agnes, Patten Beard was charged with taking care of Minerva Ida Adams and writing a book about her. Minerva Ida Adams spent about 20 years on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and Patten Beard published a book in 1931 called The Pantalette Doll, featuring Minerva Ida Adams. In 1936, Patten Beard donated Minerva Ida Adams and her collection of belongs to the Museum of the Barre Library Association at Woods Memorial Library.
Our circa 1830 – 1860 English Split-head Wax Doll, unlike Minerva Ida Adams, is a bit of a mystery character, but it is obvious that once upon a time she was well-loved and cherished. Although a bit worn, her pretty face and bright blue eyes are still charming. As we learn more information about this doll, we will share it here.
Barre was a small town in the nineteenth century and it is not surprising that the lives of the people who owned or donated these objects were intertwined by blood, marriage, and neighborly association. Phebe Harwood lived on what is now called 590 Sunrise Avenue. The house her father built circa 1798 faced an even older house, constructed about 1754, now known as 600 Sunrise Avenue. A Revolutionary War veteran, Henry Brigham, rented part of this older farm in the 1770s. He was a maternal great-grandfather of Agnes Eudora (Dennis) Blanchard, who was the owner of Minerva Ida Adams. Later, Thomas Dennis was the owner of this circa 1754 farm and his son, Dexter Dennis, was Agnes’ father. Agnes’ maternal grandmother was Martha “Patty” Gates, wife of Nathaniel Brigham. Martha “Patty” (Gates) Brigham probably lived on the same road, nearer Route 62. And Phebe Harwood married Ethan Holden, whose mother, Prudence “Pruda” (Alden) Holden, married Nathaniel Gates of Barre after Ethan’s father died when he was young. Nathaniel Gates was the brother of Martha “Patty” (Gates) Brigham, the maternal grandmother of Agnes Eudora Dennis, mentioned above. Over the decades, these families lived and worked in close proximity.
The Harwood family of Barre had a strong connection with the Woods Memorial Library and the Museum of the Barre Library Association. Phebe Harwood, who made the sampler, was a first cousin of George Harwood, who was famous in Barre for his longevity (living to 101 years of age). George Harwood’s son, Henry Wilcut Harwood, served as the Curator of the Museum for 50 years, retiring only when he reached his 100th birthday. He lived 102 years.
Lucy Allen, January 2016
The palm leaf hat and Shaker hood industry took Barre by storm from the 1820s to the 1860s. It was Barre’s biggest industry, and Barre was one of the biggest producers in the world. Boys and girls often made palm leaf hats and Shaker hoods at home. They might carry a miniature loom in a pocket on which to weave trim in their spare moments. Many children and women in Barre participated in this work, and the father of Agnes Eudora Dennis, who owned the doll named Minerva Ida Adams, was a palm leaf hat manufacturer
Girls were often educated at home when Phebe Harwood (born in 1795) stitched her sampler, about 1805, and that was probably Phebe’s lot. Had she lived in a different place, her sampler might bear the name of a school for affluent young ladies that promoted a unique type of sampler design. Phebe, however, lived on a farm in Barre and her sampler is quite plain and simple, but it provides information that otherwise cannot be confirmed: her date of birth. Like many children born in the eighteenth century in Massachusetts, her birth was not recorded or the record has not survived. Her sampler is her birth record.