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Next volume of Wilbraham town history to be released this spring

Date: 3/5/2015

WILBRAHAM – Since 1863, three authors have each compiled a volume in a series of books about the town's history and character, spanning 50 years at a time. Now, the newest volume, “Preservation of Wilbraham History and Culture: Continuing the Story in Print: Volume IV-1963-2013” is set to be released sometime this spring.  

The first author in 1863 was Rufus Stebbins, who wrote his volume 100 years after the town was incorporated, Joan Paris, editor of the fourth volume, said. Stebbins’ volume was followed by Chauncey Peck’s in 1913, which was in turn followed by Charles Merrick’s for the history up until 1963.

Paris noted that while editing the fourth volume, she discovered that she was a descendant of Stebbins.

This history text is unique among the previous volumes because residents have contributed their own stories and experiences within the 22 chapters of the volume, she added.

“After some of the chapters, there are what we call little vignettes,” Paris said. “So, some people in town have stories … It has some personality. It has its own identity. So, we get the history and sociology.”

Patti Diotalevi, co-chair of the 250th Anniversary Committee and a contributor of several stories to the book, said she contributed her personal memories about growing up in the four corners section of town as well as about being the chair of the Wilbraham Peach Festival pageant.

“I’ve got some vignettes on the stories myself,” Paris said. “I wrote one about Frank Shea, the superintendent of schools, no longer with us, but quite a character. So, every once in a while we have a story that exemplifies the chapter.”

Every chapter was written by someone who was born in Wilbraham or connected with the community, she added. Paris contributed a prologue, an introduction and edited the chapters.

Topics include the Wilbraham Peach Festival, which ended in 2009, closing out a 25-year run, urban growth, the 2011 New England tornado, historic cemeteries, town government, the Police and Fire departments, the formation of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District in 1959, sports and recreation, as well as notable places in town.

“Many of [the chapters] refer to the agricultural roots, which were so prevalent [and] so strong in Wilbraham,” Paris, who is a former assistant town administrator, said. “For a lot of the early settlers, that was the work.”

Wilbraham operated 19 working farms during the last half century, now the town has Green Acres, the Wilbraham Community Gardens, and the Merrick Farm and roadside stand, she added.

Diotalevi said a time capsule unearthing and burial took place last year during the town’s 250th anniversary, during which the contents of the 1963 capsule were opened. Diotalevi was also at the 1963 ceremony.

“The whole book will be black and white, but there will be a centerfold that folds up all in color, so when you open that piece, there’s a picture of Patti and the 2013 time capsule, she’s got a [photo] of President [John F.] Kennedy’s assassination held over her head and to the left of that is a picture of the first time capsule opening in 1963,” Paris said.

Diotalevi, 75, said she was standing with her newborn son during the 1963 time capsule opening.

Other developments in town during the past 50 years include the expanded development of Boston Road between the 1980s and 1990s, Paris said.

“A lot of planning went into place,” she added. “A lot of zone changes went into place. A lot of really good leadership and foresight on the part of the town [made that possible].”

Diotalevi described Boston Road before its modern development as being “very sparse” with “totally open space.”

Establishments no longer in business on the road include the Parkway Drive-In Theater, which has a photo in the book, Paris said.

Another more recent development was at Post Office Park in the late 1990s, which now has dozens of businesses within its area, she added.

“Everything has that unique identity carried through,” Paris said. “The architecture; even on [a bank] on Boston Road. There’s been a lot of vision and planning that’s gone into place there.”

The book will be on sale this spring at the Wilbraham Public Library. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Friends of the Wilbraham Public Library for building repairs, Diotalevi said.