By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Tom and Helen Porter, who live on Holman Street in Shrewsbury, are the custodians of some notable history. First, their home was built in the 1840s by Amasa Howe, son of Nathan Howe, a Revolutionary War minuteman, on land that was once part of the Howe Farm.
In addition, the Porters possess a treasure trove of historical documents, papers and artwork handed down through the family. As such, Tom Porter’s great-great-aunt Olive Bauer, sister of his paternal great grandmother, left behind some interesting papers after her death.
Hailing from Kensington, Conn., Bauer never married and was a teacher. She was also a member of the First Congregational Church. She went on a church mission to teach in Marion, Ala., in the early 1930s at the Lincoln Normal School. Incorporated in 1867 in Marion and Perry County, it was supported by the American Missionary Association (AMA) which was a Christian abolishment group and affiliated with the Congregational Church.
Known for its high percentage of graduates who went on to attain advanced degrees, the school’s success was attributed to its nine founders (who were all freed slaves) and their northern teachers’ dedication. The students were African-American and largely descendants of former slaves. Its most noted alumna is the late Coretta Scott King.
“[Miss Bauer] taught English and, at some point, she asked her students to write their autobiographies,” Porter said.
Eleven of these were found among Bauer’s papers and letters.
An excerpt, dated Jan. 20, 1934 read: “The oldest member of my family which I can remember is my grandfather whose name was West Kynard. I think he [was] born in Perry County. He was born during slavery time. I have heard him talk about when he was a little boy; the older people would have church service in the woods. They would steal away from their masters.”
Other autobiographies held similar recollections.
The Porters came into possession of these papers when they inherited the home from Tom’s cousin (once removed) Steve Porter, who bought the home in 1965. Steve and his wife Molly were active with the First Congregational Church. Steve, a history enthusiast, was also a member of the Shrewsbury Historical Society. They had no children and Steve was estranged from his sister. There being no other Porters nearby interested in the house or its contents, he reached out to Tom and Helen (whom he never met) who were then living in Seattle, Washington.
Fate brought the Porters and their two boys, Nick and Mitchell to Massachusetts in 1992 when Porter, an accounting professor, took a position at Boston College. Soon after they finally met with Steve who said, “I’ve waited for this day for a long time.” He was so eager to share what he had with family.
From then on, they forged a very close bond and took care of Steve until his death in 2003. Tom and Helen made the house their home and have been excellent stewards while continuing the Porter legacy in their adopted hometown.
It is their intention to parse through various letters and papers and donate them to the appropriate schools and museums.
“This is what we will do in our retirement,” Helen said.