Rochester Historical Society celebrates 50th anniversary

Sep 14, 2019

ROCHESTER — A celebration of the Rochester Historical Society’s 50th birthday introduced many audience members to the concept of sheep ghosts, and brought them back down the memory lane to a time when gas was $0.35 per gallon, there were just under 2,000 people living in Rochester, and Richard Nixon was president.

Members of the Rochester Historical Society celebrated their 50th anniversary at the Rochester Senior Center on Saturday, Sept. 14, to share their mission of preserving the town’s history.

After guests were treated to lunch, Corresponding Secretary Edyie Johnson kicked off her presentation with a series of questions about 1969, the year that the Rochester Historical Society was officially incorporated. After asking how many people in attendance, were born, married, or had kids that year, she asked various trivia questions that highlighted how much the town, and the country has changed since then. 

For example, in 1969 the average home value in Rochester was $28,000, today that number is about $375,000.

Although many things change over time, the Rochester Historical Society’s mission has stayed the same. President Mack Phinney said that “it’s very important to look at the history, and for us to preserve it.”

He added that it is the responsibility of the historical society to pass knowledge along to the next generation, and publicly called out to any young people interested in history that may want to become involved in the future.

Vice President Connie Eshbach shared findings from the historical society’s early meeting minutes. In the 1970’s, the historical society held “memory nights” where members and guests were invited to tell stories of Rochester’s past.

Eshbach’s grandfather once recalled how people use to dance at the Maccomb family’s house while old Amos Chummuck played the fiddle. According to his story, that activity ended after the loss of a “battle of baseball bats,” because boys from another town destroyed the dancing pavilion.

Another resident had shared that the town was once convinced that ghosts haunted a vacant home on Bowens Lane. That is, of course, until someone went inside the home and found that the white figures seen through the windows were just some stranded sheep.

Jackie Demers spoke about her experiences as Rochester’s first kindergarten teacher, a title she is very proud of. “I told my husband, I want that on my tombstone,” she told the crowd.

A self described “city girl from New Bedford,” Demers was surprised by the small town’s tight-knit community when she first started her job. Before classes began, she suggested having an open house so students and parents could get to know her. The school principal handed her a list of about 60 students, with their home phone numbers.

After getting a positive response from the first family, she immediately called a second, but to her surprise, they had already gotten the news from someone else.

In addition to food and stories, the historical society also had a selection of museum items, such as molds from a hat factory, and scrapbooks full of newspaper clips documenting the town’s history on display. They also sold t-shirts and mementos to help raise funds to maintain the museum at 355 County Road, and keep the historical society in operation.