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The Yankee Express

Volunteers are lifeblood of Douglas’s Jenckes Store Museum

Ursula Levi, a member of the Board of Directors of the Douglas Historical Society, works a cash register during an open house at the E.N. Jenckes Store Museum on May 1st.

By Rod Lee

The latest in a long line of curators for the Douglas Historical Society and the E.N. Jenckes Store Museum on Main St. in the center of town is Chelsea Bielecki, a reddish-haired young woman who relishes her role as a conveyor of all sorts of facts and figures about the legendary building.

Following in the footsteps of other curators, including Wallace Darling, “the first, and a founding member of the Douglas Historical Society,” Chelsea Bielecki enjoys telling visitors all about the E.N. Jenckes Store Museum.

“This was essentially a one-stop shop for everyone in town,” Ms. Bielecki said during a two-hour open house at the Jenckes Store on May 1st. “I joke around that it was the original Walmart or Amazon. That gets kids interested.”
The open house was a prelude to the official start of the museum’s summer season, which will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 28th, as a highlight of Memorial Day weekend activities. The museum will be available to the public Saturdays after that.
Operated by the Douglas Historical Society, the E.N. Jenckes Store was built by “Mr. Balcom” in 1833 and purchased by first Gardner Chase in 1839 and then E.N. Jenckes in 1889. Mr. Jenckes expanded the premises. He died in 1924. His daughters, Mialmi and Helen Jenckes, were the last owners of the property before it closed in the early 1970s, according to Ms. Bielecki.
The Jenckes Store is a symbol of pride for the Douglas Historical Society and the community. As the DHS points out in literature that is available to visitors, the E.N. Jenckes Store Museum is preserved and maintained “as an example of a typical general store and historical reflection of life in a rural community during the early 19th Century.”
“We call this a living history museum, as a way to experience what it was like in Douglas in the early 1800s,” Ms. Bielecki said.
The Douglas Historical Society is always looking for more people to bolster its all-volunteer ranks, Society President Laurie Church noted. Helpers are needed in a variety of capacities: as cobblers and crafters, as docents, as curators, for upkeep of the buildings and grounds, to work in the gift shop, to assist with membership and public relations and to schedule programs and events.
Yard sales as fundraisers for the Society will resume in June, Ms. Church said.
The Society takes its charge seriously, which is good news for local residents. Recently, with help from State Sen. Ryan Fattman, the Society obtained a $40,000 grant “for updates,” Ms. Church said. “Sen. Fattman has taken an interest” in the property, she said.
A great grandfather of Ms. Church’s, William Leander Church, though underage, served in the Civil War. His rifle, GAR sword, flute and stirrups are on display at the store museum.
Ms. Bielecki was eager to talk up the museum on a gorgeous spring day, as curious visitors came and went.
Articles manufactured in Douglas that are on display at the museum include dry goods, clothing made at the Hayward-Schuster Mill, baseball memorabilia from the Boston Red Sox’s game at Soldiers Field in the 1940s (and a reenactment in 1996), and axes manufactured by the Hunt brothers’ factory.
“Douglas axes were everywhere,” Ms. Bielecki said. “They were involved in the War of 1812.”
Douglas Axe Co. was the first business in Douglas and operated five different shops in town.
A baseball from the Red Sox’s appearance at Soldiers Field on exhibit in a glass case was signed by, among others, Johnny Pesky and Dominick DiMaggio.
“The E.N. Jenckes Store was the bread and butter of town for quite a while,” Ms. Bielecki said.
Visitors to the store museum are likely to learn such things as that Dr. William Douglas offered funds to the town to establish and maintain a free school with thirty acres of land, a house and a barn for the privilege of naming the town. After 1745 the town was known as Douglas; and that the Declaration of Independence was unanimously approved at town meeting in 1776.
A green bench that sits in the dry goods section “is original to the store and is nationally famous,” Ms. Bielecki said.
Items for sale in the gift shop include maps, mugs, baseball caps and sweatshirts.
“Every time I come in here and find something new, I feel like a kid in a candy store,” Ms. Bielecki said.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.