Reading, MA — An email was received by the Reading Town Clerk from a young lady from a Florida family that wanted to know more about her family’s connection to Reading. She gave some facts: her great-grandparents had moved to Reading in 1922/23, they lived on a farm, had some livestock, and sold Christmas trees in the winter. Her grandmother and her siblings grew up in Reading and moved into the house that used to be the first post office in Reading. They moved away in 1945.
The Town Clerk forwarded the email to several folks who might be able to help locate the property. What followed was an effort by at least 4 people who find it hard to pass up an opportunity to dig into Reading’s history. The 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses revealed some important facts. In 1920, the Lieberman family lived in Somerville. In 1930, the family lived at 34 Main Street in Reading and Samuel, the father, was a fruit stand proprietor. The 1940 census showed that they were living at 96 Main Street in Reading and that Samuel was a road stand manager. Samuel’s 1944 WWII draft card gave the same address (96 Main), his wife’s name – Elizabeth as well as Samuel’s place of birth – Russia.
Using Reading’s Street Lists can be a helpful tool, but researchers need to be aware that between 1936 and 1937, properties in Reading were renumbered. By comparing those two consecutive years it was clear that 34 Main Street became 96 Main Street. The family had not moved to a different house on Main Street. Samuel listed his occupation as farmer.
One of the researchers remembered that there was a photograph of a house on Main Street in the Proceedings of the 250th Anniversary of the Ancient Town of Redding, published in 1896, commonly known as the “Mugbook”. Indeed, on page 156 this photograph appears. The caption identifies the property as Martin M. Cummings’ on Main Street, references the first post office, and the tornado of 1857.
Every 10 years, from 1850 to 1910, Reading published the List of Polls and Estates of the Town of Reading. The1890, 1900, and 1910 lists include the description of the property of Martin M. Cummings with 1 house, barn, greenhouses, and 9+ acres. The first two only identify the location as Main Street. But the 1910 listing says 34 Main Street! Indeed, this is a photograph of the property on Main Street that was being researched. The house no longer exists. Later a large one-story commercial building, the Tambone Building, was built at this site. Now the property has come full circle to its former “use” – Calareso’s Farm Stand and Garden Center.
But there was still one mystery left to try to unwind – the reference in the caption to the first post office. According to At Wood End, and The Genealogical History of Wakefield, Reading and North Reading by Eaton, 1874, the first post office was established in 1811. It was located at the southeast corner of Main and Pleasant Streets, in a tavern owned by Col. Nathan Parker, the first Postmaster. (As a side note, the tavern was replaced in 1860 by the building for many years known as the Bank Building, now occupied by Latham and Latham Law Offices.)
In 1815, Parker was removed as Postmaster and was replaced by John Weston, Esq. whose house was on the east side of South Main Street near the corner of Hopkins Street. The property was later known as Leaning Elm Farm and was located across the street from the house at 34(later 96) Main Street. Eaton’s Town History says that the second post office was located “in the Weston house at “Hill End” (the area of Reading encompassing the South, Walnut, Hopkins, and South Main Streets area. There is no way to positively determine which Weston house was used as a post office because of the family-owned several properties in this area. Yes, according to Eaton’s Town History, there was a tornado in 1857 which damaged buildings belonging to the Westons. Yes, this is a picture of the house that once stood on Weston land at 34/96 Main Street where the Liebermans lived for over 20 years. And yes, this may have been the location of an early post office – but probably not the first.
Here is a photograph of a section of the 1906 map of Reading showing the location of the M. Cummings property and its buildings (at the SW intersection of Hopkins and Main Streets). The house across the street, owned in 1906 by M. Walsh is the house where John Weston, Esq. lived in the early 1800s.
If you have an older home in Reading, are you curious to find out more about its history? If you live in a new or newer house, do you wonder what might have been at that location earlier in Reading’s history? The History Room at the Reading Public Library has the Street Lists (which began in 1906), the Polls and Estates, the Town History by Eaton, the “Mugbook”, At Wood End, and many maps and other resources. Some of these may be available in digitized format online. And the library also has Ancestry.com available on its computers. Hopefully, the library will be open soon and you can take some time to learn more about Reading’s history.