Beacon Street Diary

Archives: October 2021

October 22, 2021

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Congregational Church of South Hadley Falls records, 1824-2012, contains many thousands of words. The collection contains a vast trove of photographs from throughout the church’s history, though especially from the later half of the twentieth century. These photographs contain many hundreds of memories of the people, places, and events that make up the history of the Congregational Church of South Hadley Falls.

These photographs also provide us windows into the traditions and happenings of the past. Many pieces of forgotten americana and old memories are certainly held within the collection. Among my personal favorites though are two images of youths, wearing sports uniforms and football helmets, carrying a basketball, and atop donkeys. These are two pictures of an exhibition sport known as donkey basketball.

Donkey basketball is certainly a unique piece of americana. Generally held as a special fundraising event, donkey basketball is very much what the name suggests, basketball, but the players are all riding atop donkeys. There is no dribbling, the teams are smaller, and to touch the basketball, one must be atop their steed. Donkey basketball dates all the way back to the 1930s, though the peak of donkey basketball was likely during the 1960s or 70s. Donkey basketball does still occur across America, though it’s popularity as a fundraising event has waned, especially in the 21st century due in large part over concerns for the welfare of the donkeys.

While we might not be able to identify the names of the youths atop the donkeys, nor do we know the exact date of these two photographs, it does not detract at all from the importance of these memories in photograph form. Photographs, first physical and now digital, have become one of the most important tools for people, and churches, to document daily life. Where once written word really was one of the only ways to consistently learn about daily life, photographs provide significant insights into the lives of 20th and 21st century persons. And as the donkey photographs show, these photographs can teach us about the various traditions and events once held in places which may have since become otherwise forgotten.

The mission of the CLA is to preserve the memories of the churches whose records are held at the CLA. Memories are stored in all types of records, from the memories of parish decisions kept in ledger books, to the memories of important life events found in vital records, to the memories of pastors found within church communications and sermon notes. And of course, you have the memories of church life found in photographs and scrapbooks. All these memories are precious and important, and we take these memories seriously all throughout the process of acquisition and processing. During acquisition, we try to ensure that we capture as much of a church’s documented memory as possible. And during processing, we not only ensure that descriptions make visible these memories in the finding aid, but also ensure that the materials are stored in ways that guarantee their long-term preservation. As an example, bond paper, a type of archival safe paper, is interleaved between every photograph to help ensure the long-term preservation of those photographs in the South Hadley Falls collection.

When looking through the photographs of the Congregational Church of South Hadley Falls, the two photographs of donkey basketball stood out to me, in large part because they showed me a type of event that I had no idea existed before seeing these pictures. But any one set of photographs could have captured my imagination and curiosity. And its for that very reason, that sense of discovery and excitement, that we are so honored to be a repository of these memories.

October 22, 2021

by William McCarthy, Reference & Processing Archivist

Today, we wanted to highlight a new book being released soon titled “Titus Coan: Apostle to the Sandwich Islands” by Phil Corr. This book is the first full biography on Coan and his work.

The book is slated for release in November of this year and we wanted to highlight it on behalf of the author. Phil first learned about Titus Coan while working on his dissertation related to the first thirty years of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. His research on Coan ramped up in 2009 and this book is the final result of that work.

The following is from the description of the book: “Phil Corr provides a tour de force by writing for both the biography reader and the scholar. In this hybrid work he vividly portrays the life of Titus Coan, “the pen painter,” while also filling gaps in the scholarship. These gaps include: the volume itself (no full-length published book has previously been written on Titus Coan) and the following chapters - “Patagonia,” “Peace” and “Other Religions.” Using the unpublished thesis by Margaret Ehlke and many other primary and secondary sources, he significantly deepens the understanding of Coan in many areas. This book is presented to the future reader for the purposes of edification and increasing scholarship of this man who lived an incredible life during incredible times.”

Reach out to us at if you want to get connected with the author. Have a great day!

October 1, 2021

by Sara Trotta, Librarian

Is there anything better than that new book smell? Maybe new old book smell and fortunately, at the Congregational Library, I regularly get to experience both. Recently, the library staff came together to discuss some suggestions for new material to be added to the circulating collection.

Deciding what to add to the library’s collection is a complex process. For our circulating collection, we look for books that are relevant to our mission and books that will help support research into the library’s primary sources. The staff also takes into account gaps in our collection and try to predict what will be useful to researchers in the future while balancing all of this with a limited budget. This time we were able to purchase nearly all of the staff suggestions. Here are some of our favorites:

Doomed Romance: Broken Hearts, Lost Souls, and Sexual Tumult in Nineteenth Century America by Christine Leigh Heyrman

This book is the staff’s next book club pick. The book depicts the case of a young woman seeking to become a foreign missionary caught in a love triangle who has her reputation impugned by a jilted suitor. Who can resist some juicy historical gossip? But this isn’t just a 19th century soap opera. Doomed Romance examines the role women played in foregin missionary work and what made them suitable (or not) for such a vocation. It also features many of the subjects of our reading room portraits in leading roles.




Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880 by Phillip H. Round

Removable Type features the CLA’s own copy of the “Eliot Indian Bible”, the first Bible printed in the United States which was printed not in English, but in an Algonquin dialect. From the back cover blurb: “Removable Type Showcases the varied ways that Native peoples produced and utilized printed texts over time, approaching them as both opportunity and threat.” Given the significance of early interactions between Congregational colonizers with Native peoples that extend into the 19th century, this book has a lot of relevance to the collection beyond the Eliot Bible.




Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy Before the Civil War by David E. Swift.

This book was recommended to us by Richard Taylor, author of The Churches of Christ of the Congregational Way in New England as well as other regional indexes, an invaluable resource. Black Prophets of Justice describes the lives and contributions of several Black Congregational ministers, stories that have been otherwise untold.

All of these titles are available to be  borrowed by members of the library. You can search for them (and more!) in our online catalog. If you have a suggestion for a book to add to the collection, please write to us at