Memories of Mr. Gregory
This week we’re going to do something a bit different. Let’s first start with a formal introduction. Hello Monroe history lovers, my name is Kevin Daly, and I’m the board historian for the Monroe Historical Society. I’m the guy who’s been writing all these historic posts for your enjoyment. You may have noticed that I always present our history anonymously. It’s not about me after all, it’s about our rich town history, but this week I’m going to make a rare exception. Let me explain.
Just last week I was approached by a Monroe resident who reminded me it was Black History Month and asked if I was going to write anything about Monroe’s Black history. As you might imagine, this can be rather challenging, especially considering that Monroe was a very homogenized community since its earliest days. Only in the post-WWII era have we evolved into a multi-racial and multi-cultural community. Yes, of course I could write about our earliest settlers and the institution of slavery, our town’s Black residents who fought for our country in numerous wars or any number of other related subjects, but I thought, why not share one of my own personal memories of Black history in Monroe. Hence the introduction.
I grew up in Monroe and attended Monroe Elementary School. That’s the Monroe Consolidated School to our older readers. In those early formative years, I remember how exciting it was to ride to and from school each day on a school bus. The best part of it was the elevated viewing perspective it gave me as we travelled about town. There was always something interesting to observe, especially with the bus stopping so often. It was a wondrous time in my youth, learning all the street names and seeing the last of the few surviving farms that dotted our landscape.
The route home from school was the same every day. We turned out of the school’s driveway and headed south on Monroe Turnpike toward Purdy Hill Road. Immediately on our left was a fascinating property at 342 Monroe Turnpike, a quaint white house, its property impeccably maintained. But what made it especially curious were the many colorful birdhouses and feeders, each elevated on its own pole. From the school bus window, the countless birds could easily be seen darting back and forth between them. To a 5-year-old this was like some sort of magical amusement park. Who was responsible for this oasis on the east side Monroe Turnpike?
Then, one sunny day I saw the homeowner. He was an elderly Black man. But the color of his skin was really the last thing I noticed about him. He was very tall and slender, and although he moved slowly, there was an undeniable dignity to him. Here was this man working on his lawn, but he looked as if he’d just returned from church on Sunday. He always wore a stylish fedora; his trousers were pressed, and his dress shoes were polished. And once all of those details set in, I eventually noticed it appeared he was missing an arm, or at least the lower portion of an arm. It was almost too much detail to process at such a young age. I remember wondering how anyone could possibly build and paint all those beautiful birdhouses with only one arm. His presence was something I always looked forward to and wished I could have somehow stopped the bus just to talk to him. That fond memory from my youth was over half century ago now, and I wonder today just how accurate the details are. Was it all a dream?
In my current role as historian, I have many tools at my disposal that can provide me with more information on our past residents than I could have ever imagined. So, I recently began to research this gentleman and learned his name was Stephen Gregory, and based on the combined census records, it appears that he and his bride, Mary Freeman-Gregory raised 10 children in that house. Of course, these and all the other details learned from these resources are interesting and impressive, but they tell us very little about the actual man and his family. And that’s where all of you come in.
So, this week, instead of me sharing Monroe’s history with you, I’m inviting you to share your memories with us, to teach us more about the Gregory family, or the Freeman, Farrar and Baskerville families, or any other Black family from Monroe’s past. What are your memories of these families? Surely there’s someone out there who can enhance my memories of the very special Mr. Gregory and our overall understanding and appreciation of Monroe’s Black history.
Through my research I have learned that Mr. Gregory was just about 80 years old when I first saw him, and he lived to 97 years. He, his wife Mary, and other members of the Gregory family are buried in the Monroe Center Cemetery. The property that so fascinated me as a boy is for sale today. All the colorful birdhouses that once adorned the lawn are gone now, but a single pole that elevated them remains. On that pole is an American flag, which I think is most appropriate to represent the Gregory family’s history here in Monroe.
Please share this post with your family and friends and ask them to respond with their memories, or if your memories are too great for a simple Facebook reply, you can email them directly to us at the Monroe Historical Society. It’s nice to formally meet you all, and a sincere thank you for your continued interest in Monroe’s rich history.
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present