By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Longtime Northborough resident Claire Swan has been involved in many community volunteer positions and served on town boards throughout the years. That list includes being part of the 200th Northborough Ball committee in 1966. As Northborough celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, Swan shared her memories of the bicentennial year.
As newlyweds, Swan and her late husband Parker moved to Northborough in 1955. It was a farming community with a population of less than 5,000 people. It was there that they would call home and raise their two daughters and son. Both Claire and Parker were actively involved with the community; Parker served as the town moderator for 33 years.
Northborough has since expanded quite a bit. She credits the growth of the town to having easy access to I-290, I-90 and I-495 as well as to the reputation of the school district.
“Springfield, Boston, Providence, Concord, N.H., are all within 90 minutes away,” Swan said. “The school systems have experienced phenomenal growth and are highly regarded. Changes come with time.”
In 1966, there wasn’t a conference center to hold a big event like an anniversary ball.
“Northborough hadn’t held anything of this magnitude before,” said Swan. “Women weren’t sure of what to wear. The Worcester Telegram actually had a spread of photos of women modelling acceptable gowns for the event so women knew what to wear and what was expected for attire.”
The sold-out event was held at Algonquin Regional High School because it had the capacity to hold the size of the event. The café was decorated and there were desserts, coffee, tea and soda provided for guests. Liquor was not allowed on the school property.
Swan recalled that some were concerned about having the dance floor in the gym of the school.
“The gym floor was sacred,” said Swan. “There was a lot of concern about high heels leaving scuff marks on the floor. We even photographed the floor before to be sure it looked the same when we were done.”
People were extremely excited for the orchestra music as it was provided by Lester Lanin from New York – a popular musician from the era who played worldwide for kings and queens as well as at White House inaugural balls.
“There was always music being played,” said Swan. “People danced all night.”
Another highlight of the evening was when Senator Edward Brooke arrived and led the grand march. The march is always led by celebrities and starts with two people while the band plays and others join in.
An invitation to the ball was even sent to the White House and, although no one attended, the reply is now part of the town historic archives to commemorate the milestone.
As with the 250th celebration this year, the 200th celebration included events throughout the year.
“It was a yearlong celebration,” said Swan. “There was even a small shop that opened in the center of town to sell bicentennial commemorative items.”
Swan also remembered a red calico print material that was used to make outfits for herself, two daughters and shirts for Parker and their son David.
“It was typical of the era to wear a costume like that to events,” said Swan.
A men’s social group that existed at the time of the bicentennial was Brothers of the Brush. Members would grow beards and would organize events like breakfasts and dinners as fundraisers.
“Events were always hugely attended,” said Swan. “Spirits were high and people got really into it. Northborough has always had community spirit.”
That community spirit continues as Northborough celebrates its sestercentenial this year with events such as the Northborough Community Chorus concert “American Song” Saturday, May 7; Northborough Trolley Tour Sunday, May 15; and the Historical 5K Road Race Saturday, May 21. A calendar of all the upcoming events can be found at www.northborough250.org or follow Facebook at Northborough’s 250th Anniversary Celebration.