Like I've said before, we love tales of discovery, and re-discovery. This is a tale of Mary Newell Montague and her husband Obed Montague. When we purchased our antique Longmeadow home, we took breaks from renovation projects to do research on the previous owners of the house. Searches through the old deeds in the Hampden County Registry of Deeds in Springfield revealed that the house dated to about 1801, and originally belonged to Hermon Newell, a local gravestone carver.
So by 1994, five years after purchasing the house, we had amassed a bit of information on the Newell family who had lived in the house until the 1850's. So, the discovery. At the time, we subscribed to a monthly antiques newspaper called the Maine Antique Digest, or MAD for short. This publication, with many sections covering antique shows, auctions and stories of interest to antique collectors, often went largely unread because of the overwhelming number of pages--I could barely look at photos and captions before the next issue arrived! Luckily, my husband was more thorough, and occasionally would get through the entire issue. In April of 1994, he spied an auction that was to take place in Maryland. In the auction ad was a tiny photo of two portraits--a gentleman and a lady--with a tantalizing caption; "Pair of portraits Obed and Mary (Newell) Montague of South Hadley, Mass, oil on canvas, circa 1830-40." Eureka! We knew who they were--Mary, also known as Polly--was Hermon Newell's daughter! Born in 1804, she married the handsome Obed Montague of South Hadley.
What to do? We couldn't drive to Maryland -- two small children, jobs, etc., made that impossible. This was before the days of internet auctions, and our option was to leave a "left bid," which essentially meant we had to pick a maximum price and trust the auctioneer to bid on our behalf! Yikes! But we prevailed, and some weeks later the portraits arrived in sturdy crates. After an evaluation and cleaning by a local expert, they were hung back in the house where Mary was born. Some further sleuthing revealed that she and Obed were married in 1832, and she died just four years later, about a month after giving birth to her namesake, Mary. Obed remarried, and he lived to the ripe old age of 82. We think the paintings went with young Mary when she relocated to Pennsylvania.
Now we have internet bidding, eBay and Google to find items to bring back home. The Historical Society has found a number of things that started out life in Longmeadow and traveled far afield. A few years ago we found a sampler made by a girl in Westhampton, MA at an auction in New Hampshire. A few emails later, and we were able to notify the Historical Society in Westhampton and the sampler is back home. The paintings will eventually have a new home at the Storrs House Museum.
Keep your eyes open! You never know what you'll find!
Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member.