The History of the “Boston Post Cane”
by Jody Phillips
The tradition of the Boston Post Cane was established by the Boston Post Newspaper in 1909 to honor the oldest resident in each of 431 New England towns. The cane belonged to the town, not the person who received it, and was to be transferred to the next oldest resident when the original recipient moved out of town or passed away. The cane was made of a rare black ebony from Africa and was embellished with a 14-ct gold collar and top engraved with the name of the town. The holder of the cane had to be at least 90 years old and have maintained a fixed, permanent and principal home in the town for a minimum of the last 20 years. The purpose of the project was to increase the newspaper’s circulation.
The newspaper folded fifty years later but the tradition lives on. At one point, only about 150 of the canes were accounted for but slowly they have been reappearing – in the basement closet of an old town hall, in a trunk in someone’s attic, for example. Surely some have been sold. The efforts to retrieve as many original canes as possible is on-going. In many towns, duplicates have been made.
WHEREAS: The Elverson Historical Commission purchased a special cane, hereto forth known as the Elverson Borough Cane, in May of 2013; and
WHEREAS: This cane is intended to be presented to and held by the oldest citizen of the Borough of Elverson, Pennsylvania, provided that he/she has lived in the borough for at least twenty years and maintains a home in the borough; and
WHEREAS: RECIPIENT’S NAME and AGE is believed to be the oldest resident of Elverson Borough;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, a member and representative of the Elverson Historical Commission, do hereby proclaim that RECIPIENT shall hold this cane for the rest of HIS/HER life and that HIS/HER name shall be entered on the official list of Elverson Borough Cane recipients, to be posted and displayed at the Elverson Borough Hall.
Signed: Jody Phillips, member
Elverson Borough Cane Ceremony
Robert E. (Bob) Cook received the Elverson Borough Cane at a brief ceremony held in the Twin Valley Fire Department’s meeting room on Sunday, January 11, 2014. Elverson Historical Commission member Jody Phillips made the presentation.
In awarding the cane, Jody explained that the Elverson Cane tradition was established in June of 2013, in the spirit of the New England Boston Post Cane, to honor the borough’s oldest, long-time resident. Noting that Bob was born in the borough and has lived there all of his life, she stated that he is a perfect candidate to receive this honor – especially since he has served the community so extensively, even in his retirement. With his wife Ruth by his side, Bob was visibly moved when he thanked everyone for sharing this special occasion with him.
All of the 25-30 family members and friends in attendance received a full-color handout detailing the history of both the Boston Post and Elverson Borough Cane and a synopsis of Bob’s very active life to date. After the presentation, everyone enjoyed refreshments featuring beautiful iced cookies made in the form of cardinals and blue jays, to honor Bob’s life-long love of birds, and canes to recognize the occasion.
Harry L. Barnett, Jr., of Park Avenue, Elverson received the Elverson Borough Cane in a brief ceremony on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at the Twin Valley Fire Department Meeting Room in Elverson.
Harry was born in Lower Chansford Township in York County, 25 miles from the city of York on January 17, 1925. He grew up on a small farm where his family raised crops and livestock. He went into the Army directly out of high school and, after training at the Third Army Mine School, was sent to Glascow, Scotland where he served with the 164th Combat Engineers as a jeep driver for various officers. After a three-year stint in the Army, he studied Agriculture and got a job in the Soil Conservation Service in West Chester. In 1951, he married his wife Geraldine. They lived in West Chester and Honey Brook where they raised three sons and enjoyed hunting and camping at their small cabin in Clearfield County. During this time, Harry became active in the Elverson Volunteer Fire Department, serving as an EMT on the Ambulance Squad. He held the offices of Ambulance Captain and Fire Police Captain. He and Geraldine lived on a farm off Route 345 before moving to Elverson in 1991 where he bought and and lived in the same house on Park Street for 23 years. He retired from his position as a Soil Consultation Technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1989. He is a World War II veteran, having served on the European Front.
Harry passed away after a brief illness on June 1, 2014. He attributed his long life to always staying active, both mentally and physically.
Margretta Sheeler Fries was born in the white frame house at 24 East Main Street on June 25, 1913 and she resided in this house her entire life. In fact, three generations of her family were born in this home and grew up there. She and her husband Harry raised their three children there – two sons, Frank and Ner (Sonny), and a daughter, Bets Witmer. They had five grandchildren and two great grandchildren and Margretta was always surrounded by family – especially after her husband Harry passed away in 1987. In her youth, Margretta was quite active in her church, serving as organist and choir director. She also was on many borough committees. Throughout the years, she kept numerous scrapbooks and photo albums and she loved to paint, write and tell stories. She contributed several reminiscences to our local history book, “History of Our Community Elverson Pennsylvania,” written by resident Bob Patry to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town’s incorporation as a borough in 1911. One was titled “A Walk Up Main Street” and another was “I remember My Home Town.” Margretta wrote with warmth, feeling and some humor about the town she knew so well. Margretta died on June 17, 2013 – only three short months after she had received the cane.
Margretta Sheeler Fries could easily be called the inspiration and reason for the Elverson Borough Cane. Her 100th birthday on June 25, 2013 called for a very special celebration, and when the members of the Elverson Historical Commission were asked to think about a way to note this historic milestone in the life of one of its long-time citizens, member Jody Phillips remembered the New England tradition of the Boston Post Cane. Having lived for 22 years in New Hampshire, 18 of them in the small farming town of Hollis, she knew that the oldest resident of many New England towns was honored by receiving a lovely commemorative cane – to hold until they either moved from the town or passed away, at which time the cane was awarded to the next oldest citizen. She felt that giving this special cane to Margretta would be a wonderful way to honor her. With the approval of the Commission, she found and purchased a cane that was similar to the original Boston Post Cane, decided on the wording for the plaque on the top of the cane and ordered it. At a ceremony held at the Elverson Methodist Church on June 25, the date of her 100th birthday, Margretta Sheeler Fries became the first holder of the Elverson Borough Cane. Jody also presented Margretta with a framed certificate proclaiming her the oldest citizen of Elverson Borough. Of course, everyone hoped that Margretta would hold the cane for a very long time.
Historical Commission Events
Elverson’s Role In The American Iron Industry Presentation
Springfield Room, Hopewell Manor, Main Street, Elverson, Pa
September 18, 2013, 7 p.m.
The Historical Commission Presentation is now available, below.
Local author and historian Bob Patry delivered a historical presentation titled “Elverson, PA: Home of The Hands That Rocked The Cradle of The American Iron Industry.”
Patry’s presentation provided an overview of the history of Elverson area iron furnaces, focusing on the families that built the local furnaces, the iron making process, the region’s role during the American Revolution, and the collapse of the Elverson area iron industry.
Patry was a former Elverson resident and past chairperson of the Elverson Historical Commission. He was the author of the 2011 book, “The History of Our Community: Elverson, Pennsylvania.” He was a volunteer with both the Elverson Historical Commission and the Caernarvon Historical Society. Most recently, he had written a play about the region’s involvement in the American iron industry. Please read the tribute to Mr. Patry in the December 2013 Elverson Newsletter.
We would love to hear from you about any ideas you may have for future Historic Presentations! Have an interest in history or Elverson send an email to join the group. Email us at elversonhistoric @gmail.com.