By Michael Perna, Jr., Contributing Writer
Starting this week, we will begin featuring a series of articles based on a large collection of photographs obtained from the Bigelow family, one of Shrewsbury’s most prominent families in the late 1800s-early 1900s.
Horace Holly Bigelow (1827-1911) was born in Marlborough, Mass. During the Civil War years, he became a successful industrialist in the shoe/boot industry. Later, he built what was known as “The Rink,” located roughly where the DCU Center is today, in Worcester. The Rink featured all kinds of performances. A few years later, he decided to develop the area around Lake Quinsigamond. He purchased a large area of land on the Shrewsbury shore, just south of what would later become Route 9. He built an elaborate mansion and boathouse there. By 1905, he opened the White City Amusement Park on the site, a cutting edge operation for its day. He went on to develop various other parts of the Lake area, including the Shrewsbury and Worcester Railroad. He was an avid runner, and ironically passed away in 1911 after running a race against the Worcester Police Department, at the ripe old age of 84!
The great White City Amusement Park opened in June 1905, after the opening was delayed twice due to problems with the park’s electric power production equipment – there was no commercial electrical power available in the area, so the park produced its own. The response to the opening was overwhelming – this was cutting edge entertainment at its best – with correspondingly huge crowds. This was in contrast to the much older Lincoln Park amusement park, which was located just across the lake on the Worcester shore. In this rare photograph, part of a collection from the Bigelow family itself, we see a group of the White City’s original employees from the opening season. It should be noted that the photograph has the location of the park as “Worcester, Massachusetts” – this is how it was commonly referred to during those years, as many people back then thought of Shrewsbury as the area around the center of town only.
The Number 8 School, located at what is now the corner of South Quinsigamond Avenue and Ridgeland Road, was built on land donated to the town by the Bigelow family, who owned large tracts of land in the area. The Bigelows also developed not only the White City Amusement Park, but also ran steamboats, the Worcester and Shrewsbury narrow-gauge railroad, and gave the city of Worcester what eventually became Lake Park.
The Bigelow School itself was built in the late 1800s, as it appears on a map of the lake area produced in 1898, being noted as the “Shrewsbury School.” It later had a name change to the “Bigelow School.” By 1921, the school department was recommending that the school be added on to.
It was during that year that the town approved replacing the “outdoor closets” (outhouses!) with regulation toilets in the basement. The school was enlarged in 1924, with three rooms being added, but burned in July 1926, just as the Calvin Coolidge School was being completed. It was said that the fire was the work of a teen-aged arsonist. Until just recently, when this photograph and one other was acquired, there was only one known photograph of the school – a grainy view from an old town report, so the newly discovered views should be considered rare.
Photos/courtesy Michael Perna, Jr.