By Linda Rennie with assistance from Paul Brodeur, Robert Kane, Richard Cochrane and William Tate
Marlborough Historical Society
Marlborough – This is the second in the series of articles on the notable citizens of Marlborough that contributed to the foundation and growth of the community. Each one of the following people made such remarkable contributions, that their work continues as reflection of the city today.
Obadiah Wheelock Albee (1808-1866) graduated from Brown University in 1832. In 1833, he became principal of the Gates Academy (located where the Walker building is now). At this time education in the city sprang into new life. Previously, schools in the area had not made much progress. Gates Academy was such a success that not only students from Marlborough attended, but many from the surrounding towns and out of state. Albee made education available to everyone, not just the wealthy. The students who completed the courses offered at Gates often attained positions as teachers, lawyers, clergymen, doctors or manufacturers. Albee was a superior educator. Many of his successful students returned to the community and were successful in banking, business, medicine and industry. One such student was John Frye.
Albee remained principal from 1833-1851 and continued to teach until 1860. In 1851 the town of Marlborough took over the school. At that time the attendance at the school became so large the community had to make plans to build a new school building.
Albee was not only a proficient teacher and educator, he was also a liberal-minded and public-spirited citizen. He held the position of deputy collector of internal revenue for the Seventh Massachusetts District. He served as a member of the Massachusetts legislature for six years, two of them in the Senate, where he was the author of the Personal Liberties Bill.
Ezra Cutting (1871-1948) was an accountant who grew up in Marlborough. During his lifetime he never married, nor was he interested in politics. He was quiet, frugal, shrewd and hardworking. He graduated from Bryant & Stratton Business School in Boston and worked for S.H. Howe Shoe Company. He understood the importance of investments.
Cutting loved Marlborough. Throughout his working life, he supported different areas in the city that were in need, such as the Women’s Health Service, Marlborough Hospital – purchasing two machines for heart patients in the emergency room – and more. Upon his death in 1948 he set up a large trust for Marlborough. Each year since 1948, the interest from this trust has contributed to the hospital, the Marlborough Boys and Girls Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Marlborough Historical Society, Hillside School, the Women’s Health Service, local churches and much more. In 2015 the funds from this trust still continue to help benefit the much needed programs of the city
Cutting’s foresight into planning ahead for the community he loved has been a part of laying the foundation for Marlborough’s human services.
John Frye (1840-1911) In 1863 at the age of 23, John Frye began operating his simple shoe business on Elm Street. He was interested in quality and innovation. In 1865 he traded shops with L.A. Howe and moved to the corner of Pleasant and Chestnut streets where his success grew and expanded.
In 1889, the Frye Company had become the first of Marlborough’s large shoemaking concerns. It was the first of the town’s factories to switch from steam power to electricity.
Over nine decades, the guiding principle remained the same, the bench crafting of footwear that was strong, simple and styled to last for generations. These values reached into Frye’s American authenticity as the founder’s commitment to social responsibility. He strived to give his employees not just a livelihood, but a life.
Frye embraced the community. He was responsible for the construction of more than 75 homes, sold to working people for small upfront amounts with low payments. The employees of the Frye Company were loyal and held the record for longest employments. The Frye Company played a significant part in transforming the lives of Marlborough families. In addition, in 1914 Frye donated the land for the public library to be built.
Frye boots have become a legend in America. They were worn by soldiers in the Civil War. In the late 19th century, pioneers climbed aboard their wagons and headed west in their Frye boots. Frye boots mountain gear was part of the military’s footwear. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders wore them. Frye boots have been worn in western movies, television shows (“Gunsmoke,” “Rifleman”), and by famous people such as James Taylor and Jackie Kennedy. The Smithsonian Institute has two pairs of Frye Campus boots on display.
John E. Rice (1886-1958) was born in Marlborough, graduated from Marlborough High School, St. Lawrence University and Boston University Law School. In 1911 he was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. In his early days of law practice he served as principal of the Marlborough Evening Schools, designed to educate the foreign population, assisting them to become naturalized citizens of this country.
Rice had tremendous energy and for years he was considered one of the most prominent trial lawyers in the state. He influenced many organizations in almost every community in central Massachusetts and in many parts of New England with his speeches and public addresses. He held membership in many local organizations including the Masonic Lodge, Marlborough Lodge of Odd Fellows, Marlborough Grange and Rotary Club. Over the years his legal services were retained by numerous corporations in the area.
However, Rice was also well known in “fruit-growing circles” throughout New England. He was highly respected for his thorough knowledge and was looked upon as an authority in raising fine quality apples. In 1913 Rice started apple growing on land he acquired off Route 20 in the western district of the city. During the intervening years he built it into the largest apple orchard in New England, encompassing more than 300 acres with over 25,000 trees.
In addition to growing apples, he raised peaches, pears, plums, quinces and grapes. His vineyard was the largest in the east and amounted to more than 10,000 vines. Experts from all over the country have gone through the orchards and pronounced it as one of the finest they have ever seen. The extreme acreage produced a very abundant harvest and his products were shipped to every state in the union. The Rice Orchard’s stand on the Boston Post Road was one of the most handsome and modern fruit stands in the country. Cars bearing license plates from far and near could be seen parked in the stand’s lot. This is just another accomplishment that helped to establish Marlborough’s place on the map.
Look for histories of more notable Marlborough residents in upcoming editions of “The Community Advocate.”