Unique New England Museums: The Middleborough Historical Museum


By Carla Charter

MIDDLEBOROUGH, MA.-The Middleborough Historical Museum, maintained by the Middleborough Historical Association, has many interesting exhibits and collections.  Among these are their collection belonging to Charles Sherwood Stratton and his wife Lavinia (Warren) Stratton better known as Barnum and Bailey’s General Tom Thumb and his wife, according to Doug Vantran, Middleborough Historical Association

Charles Stratton was born in Bridgeport Connecticut. When he stopped growing at six months his parents Sherwood Edward Stratton and Cynthia (Thompson) Stratton became concerned. His parents were informed by a doctor that it was likely he would never reach a normal height. Eventually as an adult, Stratton reached the height of 2 feet 9.8 inches.

Upon hearing of Stratton, P.T. Barnum, a distant cousin, taught him how to sing, dance, mime and impersonate famous people. Stratton made his first tour of America with Barnum at age 5 and his first tour of Europe at age 6. At age 7 he began performing main roles in large melodramas created by Barnum.

Lavinia Warren was born in 1841 in Middleborough, she too also having Dwarfism. After completing school she left home to work as a performer on a relatives river boat on the Mississippi River. In 1862, she became a performer for Barnum as well.

Shortly afterwards Stratton and Warren met and it was said to be love at first sight. The two married in a well-publicized wedding at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City, on February 10, 1863. The couple then traveled to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. where they were hosted at the White House by Abraham Lincoln.

When Lavinia and her husband retired from Barnum’s show,  they built a home in Middleborough. “We have memories of their early life when both went to work for P.T. Barnum, items from their wedding and memorabilia from their three-year Tour of the World.

During that tour Stratton and his wife were the first to take the Transcontinental Railroad from New York to San Francisco. From there they took a steamer to Japan then visited China, India and the Middle East then to England and back to New York City. He said the museum has seen an uptick in interest in the Tom Thumb collection since the movie the Greatest Showman came to theatres. “We say you’ve seen the movie, now see the truth,” Vantran said.

Other attractions at the museum include seven buildings that are also part of the museum.  These include the 1794 Judgeof Wilkes Wood  Law Office. Oliver was a well-known lawyer around the time of the American Revolution and was one of the judges during the Boston Massacre.  “He was a Tory and he and his wife Sally Hutchinson of Middleborough were run out of town, arriving in Boston then Halifax then on to Britain,” Vandran continued.

Among the other buildings are two mill houses from the 1820’s which workers lived in. One of these mill houses is home to The Deborah Sampson Military Room. Sampson was a Middleborough resident who during the American Revolution disguised herself as a man and served in the Continental Army. When she was wounded and her true identity was discovered, she was honorably discharged at West Point, New York in 1783. Sampson is the Massachusetts State Heroine.

The West Side Whistle House, constructed in the 1800’s to house a fire alarm system to signal the approximate location of a fire, houses an 1854 Tub fire engine and 1934 Maxim Motors Fire Engine which were made in Middleborough from 1914 to 1989.

A Carriage House holds transportation vehicles and antique signs. Another building, a replica of a blacksmith shop, holds tools used in that occupation as well as tools from the ice cutting industry.

“We also have a necessary (outhouse) from the late 1700’s. It is a five holer that was outside the tavern in town,” Vandran said.

The museum is open on Wednesday and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. from June 3rd to October 28th.  More information on the museum can be found at middleboroughhistoricalassociation.org