Mystery Door

The library at the Oaks, founded by Frederick William Paine.  The six matching floor-to-ceiling double door bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, Worcester history, early American writings, genealogy, and the history of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The library at the Oaks, founded by Frederick William Paine (1788 – 1869). The six matching floor-to-ceiling double door bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, Worcester history, early American writings, genealogy, and the history of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Three days after Christmas and three days before the New Year, I was standing in the middle of Frederick William Paine’s old library.  I had just ended an eight year relationship and I needed a distraction.  My eyes moved carefully around the room, surveying row after row of old, leather-bound books behind uneven glass.  Who was Frederick Paine anyway?  Look at all these books.  So peaceful.  Centuries of knowledge sitting quietly on these shelves, and yet my own mind was a restless blaze from a mere forty-something years of living.

Frederick William Paine (1788 - 1869)

Frederick William Paine (1788 – 1869)

I tugged at a drawer on Frederick’s desk and looked inside.  Paper and dust, and a pull knob that had come off  long ago and had never been repaired.   I sighed.  This house needed so much love.  She needed people.   Her potential had gone unattended for so long.  As I considered the long history of the “Oaks,” a house that had seen the Revolution, had been home to several generations of the prominent Worcester Paine family, and for the last hundred years had served as the chapter house for the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Daughters of the American Revolution, I understood that  I was truly at a crossroads.  I was  standing in the midsts of someone else’s life  as I contemplated my own path and the direction I was going to take next.

I turned to the other side of the library and looked with scrutiny at three white doors.   Two were slightly ajar, but the one in the middle was locked.   Why was it locked? How long had it been locked? What was behind that door?   It could be a million dollars.  It could be the answer to the universe!

Skeleton keys to the historic unknown.

Skeleton keys to the historic unknown.

I was a woman on a mission.   I scurried through the house to all the hidey-holes and returned to the library with a fistful of skeleton keys, some labeled, some not.  This one?  No.  How about this?  Fits but doesn’t turn.  Nope not this one either. I have to open that door.  I have to know what is inside.  Key after key after key . . . but still no prize.  I sat on the carpet and leaned against the unyielding white door in resignation, surrounded by keys.  What is it about this time of year that makes people want to clean out closets anyway?

. . . and that’s when I knew that we were a lot alike, the Oaks and me.  We had forgotten ourselves over the years.  It was time to remember where we were coming from, time to retrieve those dreams that had been left by the wayside and it was time to move forward with passion and purpose.    This wasn’t a journey for one, I mused.  It was time to reach out to our friends.

A few days later, armed with two Daughters, the caretaker, the skeleton key that fit but didn’t turn, a can of WD40 and a pocket knife, the mystery was revealed.

A locked door in the Paine library revealed a lost cubby of historic literary treasures.

A locked door in the Paine library revealed a lost cubby of historic literary treasures.

Behind the door was a shallow cubby of shelves filled with old books . . . and not just any old books.  While the library has continued to grow over the years with donations from chapter members and “on loan” collections from the Worcester Art Museum,  these particular books had been part of Frederick Paine’s (1788 – 1869) original library, a library that had been famous in its day for being one of the largest and best in the state.    Many of the title pages had been signed by Frederick and his family.

Frederick was the son of Dr. William “Billie” Paine (1750 – 1833), a respected Loyalist-turned-American Worcester resident, and one of the founders of the American Antiquarian Society.  Frederick was also an active member.  He served on its council and gave generously to their library.

Like his grandfather Judge Timothy Paine (1730 – 1793),  Frederick was also a public servant.  He was representative to the general court in 1829.  He served as selectman from 1827 – 1831 and again from 1838 – 1849. He also served his community as assessor from 1829 – 1848.

In addition to being a perpetual scholar and civic leader, Frederick Paine had a passion for horticulture.  He was an influential member of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, served as its treasurer, and his garden at the Oaks was renowned for the beauty and variety of its flowers and fruit.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter members Caroline and Linda examine autographed old books belonging to Frederick William Paine's (1788 - 1869) original library.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter members Caroline and Linda examine autographed old books belonging to Frederick William Paine’s (1788 – 1869) original library.

As I sat on the couch in the library contemplating my companions with my camera,  I realized how important the Paine family had been to Worcester.  Their love and devotion to the city was apparent through their public service and dedication to the preservation of antiquities.  I am still a fledgling member of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and I still have so much to learn about the hidden history of the Oaks, but I know one thing for certain: as the chapter historian I owe it to the Paine family to do everything in my power to ensure that the Oaks and her legacy survives.   Their love and devotion to the city Worcester deserves no less.

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