Swift River Valley Historical Society given golden cane from flooded Quabbin town of Dana
Originally published: 7/28/2020 Greenfield Recorder
NEW SALEM — After being passed down from generation to generation, the golden cane from the former town of Dana has been donated to the Swift River Valley Historical Society by the descendants of the last citizen to hold it.
Charlie Hunting, 85, a retired Greenfield schoolteacher, said his great-grandfather, Frank E. Stevens, was awarded the cane — a tradition started by the Boston Post in 1909 to honor a town’s oldest resident. While it is unclear exactly what year Stevens was awarded the golden cane, he was its last recipient before Dana was flooded in 1938 to create the Quabbin Reservoir, along with the towns of Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. Hunting said it was in his family’s possession in 1947, when Stevens was 96 years old.
Hunting said his great-grandfather died the year after receiving the cane. The cane then stayed in the Hunting family and was passed down through the generations. Hunting said his grandfather passed it on to his mother, and he has held onto it ever since she died.
“It’s been in the family right along,” Hunting said. “I figured at this point it should be in the public domain, with somebody that’s going to take care of it.”
Hunting and his granddaughter, Kate Smead, delivered the cane to the Swift River Valley Historical Society at 40 Elm St. in New Salem on Friday. He said he hopes the historical society can research the Dana golden cane further, and give it a home where the public can learn about its history.
“I’m pretty limited on my research, because I’m trying to do it from my memory when I was 10 or 12 years old,” Hunting said. “Eventually, I’m sure something will be written up that’s pretty explanatory.”
Swift River Valley Historical Society Curator and Historian Elizabeth Peirce, 96, accepted the cane on behalf of the society. Peirce said the society has a book with information pertaining to the canes and their history. It also possesses the golden cane from the town of Enfield.
While the locations of the golden canes from Greenwich and Prescott remain unknown, Hunting and Dot Frye, the historical society’s administrative assistant, said they hope they will be found.
“Someday all four of them are going to be together,” Hunting said.
Before making the donation, Hunting and his son built a custom display case to house the Dana golden cane. The plastic was cut to size and donated by SmallCorp in Greenfield. The case also houses a photograph of Hunting’s great-grandfather, Frank E. Stevens, and features Hunting’s initials, C.H., engraved with a wood burner.
Charles & Elizabeth visit Dot Frye & Charles Hunting Frank Stevens
The Swift River Valley Historical Society preserves the artifacts, stories and records of the lost towns of the Quabbin Valley. It also offers educational opportunities focused on this region’s history.
While the historical society’s buildings remain closed for the duration of the 2020 season, the cane will be presented for the public to see once it can open again. When that happens, the public is invited to visit the Whitaker-Clary House, Prescott Church Museum and Carriage Shed at the historical society’s site for a glimpse into the life of each of the four lost villages.
For more information, visit swiftrivermuseum.org.