Webster: Little New York and Baa Baa Museum Sheep
One of Dave Laabs sheep in progress.
By JANET STOICA
Yes, you read that right, the town of Webster was formerly known as Little New York. From the early 1900’s to the 1940’s, people came from far and wide to the town on the lake with the long Indian name. They came in droves really. According to local artist Dave Laabs, “there were 3 movie theaters, 21 beer halls, gambling venues, a full array of Main Street shops featuring New York fashions, trolleys to Beacon Park which offered 3 ferries across Lake Chaubunagungamaug, and tethered hot air balloon rides. It was quite the little city.”
Dave Laabs has also lent his talents to the creation of the Samuel Slater Museum in Webster, now known as the Samuel Slater Experience. The brainchild of Mr. Christopher Robert, the Samuel Slater Experience has to be seen to be appreciated. But, a museum in Little New York? You bet! There might not be street cars clanging their way from Main Street to Lake Street and beyond anymore but there is a gem of an historical exhibition the likes of which may be hard to beat by any other similar-sized gallery. Don’t go if you don’t want to be impressed. Don’t go if you think museums are stuffy and dull. Just go if you’d like to be pleasantly surprised that such a cool and wickedly amazing exhibition like this one is your local trip to another dimension of Disneyesque profundity. And, to think this remarkable show is right here in Webster!
The Experience is a testament to the strength, will, and motivation of both Mr. Robert and his creative staff to one of the founding fathers of our local area. Samuel Slater was labeled a scoundrel and traitor by his home country of England when he rode the rough seas of the Atlantic on a cargo ship to America to seek his fortune. He kept the blueprint of the Arkwright Water Frame in his head (or perhaps sewn inside the lining of his waistcoat) as he counted the days to his landing in the new young country called America. After making his way to Rhode Island—after all Slatersville IS named after him,--he set out to our local area where he began prepping and making his yarn spinning frames. He settled upon the use of water to spin the yarn frames thus becoming the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution” as his business flourished.
Just look at what he built! The towns of Dudley and Oxford gave up land to form Little New York! Webster was named after Senator Daniel Webster who was a peer and good friend of Mr. Slater.
Now, let’s get to the Sheep. The Slater Museum/Experience group decided upon an interesting way to attract people’s attention to the town’s new educational opportunity. A number of 25, life-sized poly-resin sheep was settled upon for manufacture by Icon Poly Studios of Gibbon, Nebraska. The critters are jobbed out for custom painting to various local artists who interview area companies interested in sponsoring a sheep. During their interview/meeting, the company sponsor determines what is to be painted on the animal, e.g., their logo, building, scenery, etc. After the painting scenario is approved, the artist’s rendering is applied to the mascot and then brought to Dave Laabs’ art studio for a weather-proof sealant application and then “put out to pasture” at either the business sponsoring the beast or at a public building. The sheep are very life-like in appearance and their replication is astoundingly attractive, not to mention the bright and colorful acrylic paints used to bring out their artfulness.
Webster truly was at the forefront of this Nation’s textile industry. The local factories that were born here were astounding. Anglo Fabrics, Stevens Linen, and Cranston Print Works to name a few. Shoe manufacturers set up shop too, such as Sandlerette, Webster Shoe, Bates, and B & W. The success of Little New York was legend. Area residents had jobs, received paychecks, and grew the local economy by spending their cash in town. Jobs attracted more workers. It was the rise to local prosperity. Times have definitely changed but if you’d like to see how it all started then the Samuel Slater Experience at 31 Ray St., Webster is the place to be. If you haven’t had the opportunity of a visit yet, take a good look at their website, that alone should entice you. The most exciting historical experience in this area ever……
Open on Friday/Saturday/Sunday. www.samuelslaterexperience.org Phone: (508) 461-2955.
Contact Janet: [email protected]