John Keith Letter Archive

Turners Falls’ fledgling years had a now famous cast of community leaders, such as Alvah Crocker, Wendell Davis, William C. Crocker, Bernard “Barney” Farren, and others.

The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage in Greenfield MA recently uncovered a book that provides a rare look into the life of another Franklin County personality and keen businessman . . . John Keith, of the Keith Paper Company.

This discovery is Keith’s ‘copy book’, which includes all of his personal and professional outgoing letters, from 1875 until his death in 1886. More than 400 letters were “sponged” into this book of ‘onion skin’ paper pages, before being sent to their addressees. In a world without copiers or scanners, this was the only means of creating duplicates of your ink penned letters.

Nearly all of these 400+ letters have been photographed and transcribed for easy viewing and reading. This collection is now available online as part of the debut of our museum’s research database. Noted historian, Ed Gregory, has painstakingly transcribed each of these difficult pages and has included the benefit of his knowledge to provide additional explanation and historic context to the reader.

Over the years, both newspapers and historians have written what was publicly known about Keith and his company. How might they know about this man, personally? How was business conducted in the second half of the 1800s? The letters reveal some rare clues to these answers!

The book suggests a man, without higher education, and learned his trade from the ground, up. He was blunt and direct in making his points known, and often sarcastic when disappointed. He liked his liquor and cigars, managed large amounts of money, and engaged regularly in area projects and the greater business community. We hope you will enjoy this opportunity to explore this window into a life and world of business from another generation.

 

Here are some interesting questions which link to possible answers:

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Use this link to Browse the Keith Letter Collection

Use this link to access the entire Museum of Our Industrial Heritage Research Database