The Farmers and Mechanics Club of Wilmington was falling apart in 1890. In spite of its annual fair, which most people loved, there was a loss of enthusiasm.
The organization, part of a national group, had formed in Wilmington in 1875. With H. Allen Sheldon as president, the F&M put together a stellar celebration of Wilmington’s 150th anniversary in 1880. Deacon Sheldon, as he was known, served as president for many years. By the late 1880s, though, the clock needed winding, so to speak.
In 1891, the club breathed new life with a new member of the board. Mrs. Dr. France Hiller brought with her a $500 donation, along with a promise to cover any deficit. All of a sudden, the club and the fair sparked to life. Mrs. Hiller had long been a participant in the fair, and won the art exhibition in 1879.
A newspaper report on the fair shows the degree of success brought about by her donation.
“Among the comparatively few towns in the county which maintain the Farmer’s and Mechanics Club with much of the old-time energy and enthusiasm, Wilmington must be ranked as one of the most prominent.”
In 1894, Deacon Sheldon again took the helm, and the club had a few more good years.
The fair was the major social event of the year for Wilmington. There would be “flying horses” (a carousel) and a great many vendors of peanuts, bananas, panaceas, fried chips and Yankee notions. The normally-quiet town would be lively with the vendors calling out their wares.
The setting for the fair would be the town hall and the Congregational Church. The carriage sheds behind the church housed the animal exhibits, swine, sheep, chickens and horses. In the town hall, there were exhibitions of vegetables, fruit, flowers and grains. There would be many exhibits of home arts, woven work, needlework, drawings and wooden crafts.
One competition that always drew interest was ploughing. The field where St. Thomas Church now stands was the setting for that for many years. It was also set at the Swain School site as well as the field at Federal Street and Middlesex Avenue. The contest was often won by William Henry Carter 2nd, who had a farm on Shawsheen Avenue. One man who was determined to win was Mr. Spaulding, superintendent of the town poor farm. He bought Carter’s team of horses, but Carter won again, with a new team.
Carter, who was known as Bill Hen 2, said the way he won the contests was the same way he plowed his fields — take it easy, do a good job and never swear at the horses.
The Farmer’s and Mechanics Club undertook projects to improve the town. One year, they planted several shade trees in front of the Congregational Church. A couple of those trees lived to be 75 years old.
In the late 1890s, the club replaced the town flagpole. The following account appears in a newspaper clipping in the Wilmington Scrapbook.
The staff was blown down about two years ago in a severe thunderstorm. At the Town Meeting in March, it was voted to raise and appropriate the sum of one hundred dollars to erect a flag-staff in place of the one that was destroyed. A committee of five were appointed to take the matter in charge. Mr. Sylvester Carter offered to present to the town any tree in his lot that should be considered suitable for the mast. Mr. John T. Wild offered the Union Ice Company’s saws to draw the tree to the ground. Mr. George T. Eames offered to cut down the tree and Mr. Otis Gowing very kindly offered to furnish liquid refreshment (cider) for this herculean task, and if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Arthur W. Eames offered to help drink the cider. The committee selected a tree from a lot owned by Mr. William Gowing, who very generously presented it to the town, and once again, “Old Glory” floats in the free winds of Heaven.