Jewelry Findings in the classroom

June 2, 2006

It is a warm and sunny spring day in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the kind of day when students and teachers at elementary schools everywhere are in end-of-school-year-mode. In Attleboro, at a local elementary school, the third grade classes are going to have a special visitor, and he is going to share some Attleboro area history.

Not long after George Shelton, a retired Industrial Arts teacher and curator of the Attleboro Area Industrial Museum, arrives at the school, he has his well-organized and carefully packed traveling museum set up and ready. 50 third graders and their teachers quietly file into the auditorium. Directed by their teachers, these well behaved, bright faced students take their seats; faces expectant. Once everyone is seated, Mr. Shelton begins the history lesson. It isnít even a minute into the program when the children have their hands up, hoping for a chance to answer one of Mr. Sheltonís opening questions. The engagement has begun and the program that follows is interesting, pertinent, well paced and interactive, with the students asking many intelligent questions of their own.

Beginning with a 10,000 year old hand carved stone pestle, which the students are allowed to hold, a brief explanation of ancient tools used by Native Americans in the area, leads to a discussion of the local tribes with the names Wampanoag, Massasoit, Wamsutta and Narragansett being familiar from in-class history lessons.

Mr. Shelton leaps forward on his time line to Thomas Willet, who purchased the land known as the North Purchase from Wamsutta and the Wampanoag Tribe. He then starts talking about industry, and explains that iron was discovered in the area soil, which led to Attleboroís very first industry, an iron works, built in an area known as Mechanics Pond. The next industry involves a bit of mystery. A man came to the North Purchase, and he was known only as "the Frenchman". He knew how to make metal buttons and how to overlay them with gold so they would not rust or tarnish, hence Attleboroís second industry, button manufacturing. Later "the Frenchman" simply left, and to this day no one knows his real name, where he came from, or where he went to when he left. Button making planted seeds for the jewelry industry, as metal working was already in play.

Photo of Mechanic's Pond in Attleboro where the city's first iron works was establised.

Attleboro is also known for its dye works mills, and Mr. Shelton explained to the classes how the mill town or mill village began and named two familiar neighborhoods, which were originally developed for the mill works. Attleboro is not without its inventors, and Frank Mossberg, a Swedish immigrant who settled in Attleboro, is probably the most famous among them. He invented, among many other tools including the torque wrench, and the original bicycle wrench, which allowed the rider to repair any mechanical part of their bicycle with one simple hand held tool that fits in the personís pocket.

As Mr. Shelton advanced on the timeline into the 1880ís, the subject of jewelry manufacturing became the center of attention. He related to the students by way of class rings made by the Balfour Company, and showed an example of a 5" model ring, which was used as a sales tool. The model ring was for a professional sports team championship. Mr. Shelton also explained that Attleboro became so famous for jewelry manufacturing that it was once known as "The Jewelry Capital of the World". "These children indeed are living in a city rich with history, inventions, and industrial fame, and I think Mr. Shelton was able to relate this to the children", stated Andrea Guyot Twombly, visitor to the class and Vice President of Guyot Brothers Co., Inc., a 102 year old jewelry findings manufacturer.

Photo of the brass heart charm used by the girls to make their keyrings.

Photo of the brass frog charm used by the boys to make their key rings.

The height of excitement came along with a vocal vote of approval from the students, however, when Mr. Shelton announced that there would be an activity. Each student was given a kit of jewelry findings, including a key ring, a jump ring, and a Guyot Brothers charm, a heart charm, for the girls and a frog charm for the boys. With instructions from Mr. Shelton and an extra set of hands from the teachers, each student assembled their own key ring to take home as a souvenir to help them remember the day, and more importantly, a bit of their local heritage.

"It was a delightful experience for me to attend this presentation, and I am very happy that Guyot Brothers Company was able to participate, not only in supplying the charms for the key rings, but in being in attendance among some bright and energetic Attleboro students - it was a unique time to be touching the past while observing the future, and my thanks go out to Mr. Shelton and the classroom teachers for allowing me to be part of their morning".

The History to Go program is another example of the invention and creative thinking that the Attleboro area has fostered. Mr. Shelton has tremendous energy and desire to make history a fun and interesting subject for our public school third graders and for actively utilizing the museumís collection. He is also doing a fine job as curator of the museum and the exhibits are well documented and informative.



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