• An Appreciation of Barbara Leighton, Medfield’s Unofficial Historian

    by  • September 1, 2019 • Leighton, Medfield, Peak House • 0 Comments

    Barbara Leighton

    Barbara Leighton of Robert Sproul Road died on July 11, 2019 in Medfield, where she had spent almost her entire 100-year life. She was the daughter of Newell and Myra (Spofford) Leighton and the sister of the late Harry Leighton.  Barbara attended Medfield Public Schools; she graduated with the Medfield High School Class of 1936 and was a standout tennis player.

    As Barbara put it, she was her father’s second “son,” never failing to get her hands dirty and do the work of any man. She loved the outdoors and was clearly a naturalist and sportsman, who hunted, fished, chopped wood, cleared brush, and tapped maple trees for syrup.

    She loved her town of Medfield and without a doubt was the town’s unofficial historian. She had more knowledge and memory of Medfield’s rich history than anyone in town. She was the longest serving member of the Medfield Historical Society. As curator and active member, she was the face of the Society from the 1950s to 2000, volunteering at the historical society whenever it was open and for many years spending almost every Saturday during the school year helping the middle school students work on their Medfield research projects.

    Barbara Leighton, 99, long-time MHS member, with Betsey Lawless, nurse-caregiver, at the Peak House.

    For years and years, she was the caretaker of Medfield’s famed Peak House, watching over it, caring for it, serving as hostess and guide when it was open, and overseeing the annual Peak House Pantry Sale. She delighted each year in starting the chimney fire to keep the historic house warm for those attending the sale.  It was Barbara who helped shingle the Peak House, helped with the archaeological digs conducted around the landmark house, and guided school students through on field trips.

    For years she conducted archaeological digs for the sixth-grade students as part of their history and science field trips to the Cronins’ Wight Street property, a project that was known as “The Never-Ending Dig.”

    One of her true loves was the town’s Kingsbury Grist Mill, where she served on the original Grist Mill Committee. It was her research and knowledge that made assured all restoration work was done correctly. Here she spent countless hours climbing ladders, shingling the roof, replacing windows and doing every kind of repair and restoration work imaginable. Because of her efforts the Grist Mill today is a town gem, as the current committee is now able to build on the work Barbara started.

    Barbara was an avid reader and active member and supporter of the Medfield Memorial Public Library. She was a stanch advocate for preserving town records and worked with the town clerk in helping to research and preserve our early town records.

    One of her lasting contributions was her donation of 7.4 acres of land off Rocky Lane to the town in 1989, now known as Leighton Woods Conservation Land.

    In addition to all her Medfield knowledge, her old Yankee common sense philosophy of hard work, and her dedication and love of her hometown, she was also a most knowledgeable Boston Celtics fan. She almost never missed watching the Celtics on TV, and she knew all the players and their statistics as well as any sports announcer.

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    Graveside Remembrances by Barbara’s Friends

    In lieu of a church funeral, at her graveside service July 25 Barbara Leighton was remembered by Richard DeSorgher, Cheryl O’Malley, Jackie Wile, Paul Baker, Electa Kane Tritsch, and other friends and caretakers whom Barbara inspired in one way or another over the last 40+ years. The Rev. Karen Munn of the UCC led short prayers.

    Here are Electa’s comments:

    My long-time Down East avatar, Barbara, just died. She lived in Medfield all the time I knew her but came from Pembroke Maine, next door to Perry where my Gramma grew up and where Dad spent every summer of his boyhood.

    For some time now I’ve had the idea I would like to talk about Barbara when we saluted her moving on. I would bear witness to the specialness of a woman who didn’t have many acquaintances left. So, I said, what meaty, elegant, character-full, words can I say about my friend?

    Every time I thought of something to say it came out as a cliché.

    • The self-reliance of a born and bred Down Easter.
    • Always questioning, always exploring, always thinking.
    • Not given to speeches, but plain-spoken when the situation warrants.
    • Not big on emoting but a birthday smile and chuckle are enough to say she’s happy.
    • We share roots and our age difference reincarnates my Dad and the Maine family before him (the train ride from Boston to Eastport that announces home; the sea lavender that – even last year – I hadn’t got the harvest timing right)
      She knows so many things I want to know – the minutiae of life a century ago (the eels her dad sent her out to catch for breakfast in the streams right here in Medfield)
    • She sets me an example of independence and persistence – embracing them both.
    • She makes the most of what she has to give within a narrowed scope – affecting, perhaps, fewer lives but in very permanent ways.

    A cliché becomes a cliché because it captures our idea of the way things are s’posed to be. For me Barbara Leighton has been an exemplar from the first day I saw her digging away – alone – at the Peak House bicentennial excavation: a strong and independent woman, a stubborn Down Easter, a person whose fascination with life and respect for learning – down to the minutiae of archaeological poking about, genealogy searches, saw mill turbines, recalcitrant gardens – kept her interested and interesting far longer than most of us even live. I celebrate our friendship and wish her Godspeed.

    About

    Richard has been a lifelong resident and an educator in Medfield. He began his teaching career in Medfield in 1976 as a social studies teacher at Medfield Middle School, winning several achievement awards, and went on to teach Political Science and U.S. (AP) History at Medfield High School from 1995 to 2011, where he also distinguished himself. Deeply involved in the community, Richard has served as town Election Officer, as member and chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission and Board of Selectmen, and as a representative to the Norfolk County Advisory Board. He is dedicated to the preservation and sharing of Medfield’s unique history and has served as President and Curator of the Medfield Historical Society, as chairman and member of the Medfield Historical Commission and as MEMOs Discover Medfield Day Trolley Tour director. Officially appointed Medfield’s town historian, Richard has written three books on the history of Medfield and is a regular correspondent to Hometown Weekly and the Medfield Historical Society, where he shares stories of Medfield’s history.

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