Lane Memorial Parkway

(Forthcoming in the Herald-Citizen)

Lane Parkway in November 2020.

Passed by many in Danvers each day, the blue memorial marker on the street sign for Lane Parkway near the Holten-Richmond Middle School stands in remembrance of a Danvers veteran: Lt. Ralph W. Lane, who died defending the United States in World War I. During the war, 730 men from Danvers entered the service, and 15 were killed either in combat or from the flu pandemic that ravaged military bases.

Born in Springfield in 1894, Ralph Lane later attended Worcester Academy and the University of Maine before moving to Danvers in 1911. A single man in his early twenties who was new to town, Lane lived in a boardinghouse at 20 Lawrence Street and was very active in the community. He was a member of the Maple Street Congregational Church and several clubs and bible study groups associated with the church, along with the Amity Lodge of the Danvers Masons, and the Danvers I.O.O.F.

Lane served in the Massachusetts state militia and was briefly deployed to the Mexican border in 1916 as part of an expedition sent to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had led an army across the border and attacked New Mexico. After this campaign, Lane returned to Danvers and was appointed drill instructor at the state armory on Essex St. in Salem.

Lt. Ralph William Lane in uniform, 1917. All departing Massachusetts troops were photographed by the Boston Globe before embarking for France. Massachusetts State Library.

Once it became clear in 1917 that the US would likely join the ongoing world war, Lane’s state militia unit was federalized into the National Guard. Promoted to second lieutenant in August 1917, Lane and his regiment were under the command of Col. (later Major General) Edward Lawrence Logan, for whom Logan Airport was named, and were assigned to the newly-formed 26th Infantry Division in September 1917. Known as the “Yankee Division” because it was made up of New England National Guard units, the 26th Infantry Division is the namesake for Route 128: “The Yankee Division Highway.”

Lane’s draft card. Even though he was already in the National Guard, he was still required to fill out the form. National Archives.

Arriving in France as the first unit of the National Guard deployed overseas, Lane and the Yankee Division trained with the French army to learn trench warfare techniques before entering the front line in February 1918 along the Western Front under the command of a French army corps. As soon as the Germans realized that Americans were in the line for the first time, there was a heavy German offensive in the area to try and break these new arrivals, but the line held.

That summer, Lane and the Yankee Division fought to slow the Germans’ spring offensive. While fighting along the Marne River, the Germans used poison gas against Lane’s position on the front line, causing him to be seriously hurt and hospitalized.

In a bizarre twist, when Lane was recovering in an Army field hospital, he encountered another Danvers man who served on a different section of the front with a field artillery regiment: Corp. Harold P. Sillars. Not only were these two men from Danvers, but they were friends who lived in the same boardinghouse on Lawrence Street! This unique “joyous reunion” was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in the Boston Globe.

By October, Lane was back with his unit to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final push that ended in the armistice of November 11, 1918. But, he never lived to see the Allied victory.

The Yankee Division was along the front line north of Verdun, near Belleau-Bois just below the French-Belgian border. This area was desolate, charred, and cratered land that had been destroyed during the Battle of Verdun two years prior, and known as “Death Valley” to the troops. The Yankee Division, as one of the most experienced American units in France – which previously survived bullets whizzing overhead, charges of German shock troops, constant shelling, mud, rats, and poison gas – was given the task of fighting through difficult hills and ravines in this wooded region of the front.

The area of Belleau Bois is in the bottom left quadrant of the map. American Battle Monuments Commission. (To see where this location is in GoogleMaps, click HERE).

As the offensive began in other sectors, Lane and the Yankee Division assaulted Belleau, a wooded ridge alongside the road to the village of Crépion. They advanced into the wood on the 23rd, had to withdraw that night due to heavy shelling, and then advanced 500 yards on the 24th starting the attack under a smokescreen, at which point they encountered fortified German positions of timber and concrete. Four times that day the Germans withdrew, called in heavy artillery on the Americans, and then the moment the shelling ceased, charged the American line inflicting heavy casualties.

After a full day of brutal fighting, at 2:30am the next day, October 25, the Yankee Division charged back into the woods, in the pitch dark and pouring rain, as German shells fell around them. They took the wooded hill, but Lane was killed – only 18 days before the end of the war, and only three miles from where the front line ended up on Armistice Day.

On December 8, 1918 Lane’s obituary ran in the Boston Globe, alongside a large list of Massachusetts men reported killed overseas. The Globe noted his father John S. Lane as his only surviving relative. Back home in Danvers, the Maple Street Church held a memorial service on February 9, 1918 for Lane and Sgt. Hadley McPhetres, two members of its congregation who died in the war. This was the closest thing to a funeral that Lane ever received.

Lane’s obituary in the Boston Globe, December 6, 1918.

Lane Parkway’s memorial sign, dedicated November 11, 1929, notes Lane’s death on that October night, and the Army records likewise note his death that day, but he has no grave. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission that oversees the American cemeteries in France, Lane’s remains were either never recovered or never identified, and therefore his name is inscribed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Closer to home, the sign on Lane Parkway keeps his memory alive.

Boston Globe, November 8, 1929.
Lane’s name on the Tablets of the Missing in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. From


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“Eight Infantry.” Boston Globe, January 9, 1916. Boston Globe Archive.

Forman, Ethan. “Danvers Veterans’ Squares Get New Plaques.” Salem News, May 4, 2017.

Globe Newspaper Company. Photograph of Lieut. Ralph W. Lane, 101st Infan. 1917. Massachusetts State Library.

“Lieut. Ralph Williams Lane (Obituary).” Boston Globe, December 6, 1918. Boston Globe Archive.

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American Battle Monuments Commission. “Lt. Ralph W. Lane Memorial Certificate.” Accessed October 29, 2020.

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175 Years of the Maple Street Church

(In the Herald-Citizen, 12/27/19)

Maple Street Church(Author’s photo, December 2019)

The Maple Street Church, originally known as the Third Orthodox Congregational Church of Danvers, was formed in 1844 and one year later a building was constructed on the site of its present church building on Maple Street. As the town grew, the church split off from the First Church of Danvers, and took the name Third Church because there was already a Second Congregational Church in the southern part of town that is now Peabody. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Maple Street Church, an institution that has played a prominent role in the community for generations.

Danvers Plains, the area that includes Danvers Square, was quickly becoming the commercial center of town with the coming of the railroads, replacing the area surrounding the corner of Hobart and Centre Street that had served as the center of the community since it was Salem Village. This new church became a centerpiece of the new downtown, and the building hosted town meetings until town hall was built in 1855. During one of the town meetings held in the church in 1847, the people of Danvers voted on a resolution condemning the United States’ entry into the Mexican-American War, which was widely opposed in New England.

1887 Map, Danvers Square
(Danvers Square in 1887, Maple Street Church is at the top labelled as “orthodox church.” Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.)

In 1836 American settlers in Texas declared independence from Mexico, partly so that the settlers could own slaves – which was illegal in Mexico – and Texas was later annexed by the U.S. as a slave state. In 1846 President James K. Polk sent U.S. troops over the Mexican border to provoke an attack, which he then used as a cause for the Mexican-American War. Abolitionist New England viewed the conflict as a ploy to add territory to the southern US and thereby expand slavery.

Rev. Richard Tolman delivered a sermon to the Maple Street Church on July 4, 1847 denouncing the “miseries and crimes of the Mexican War,” and connected it to the expansion of slavery as he decried “the dreadful waste of treasure and blood… for the purpose of extending and perpetuating that system of oppression.” Many members of the church, including Deacon Samuel Fowler whose brick house still stands at the Port Corner, were known for their strong abolitionist beliefs.

Original Maple St Church
(The first church building, 1845-1850. Drawing by David S. Shattuck. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Though it quickly became the center of the Danvers community, the church suffered a terrible setback only five years after construction. At nine o’clock on the evening of July 10, 1850 two arsonists set fire to the building. The inferno was enormous, and threatened the whole neighborhood. The “General Putnam” engine company of volunteer firefighters from Danversport responded, its horse-drawn carriage galloping up High Street. When the firefighters arrived, men from the neighborhood joined them in combatting the flames. But, the church was lost.

During the fire, one man who volunteered to help the firefighters, William Duffy, had worked so hard that he won the respect of the fire company and returned to the engine house with them, where he was immediately voted in as a member of the volunteer company. Soon after, Duffy was arrested for being the accomplice of the man who set the fire that night.

Duffy was sentenced to life in the Charlestown State Prison, while the arsonist who turned state’s evidence apparently served no time. Well into his prison term, members of the church and the Danversport fire company captain lobbied to have him released early, finding it unjust that the man who had actually set the fire walked free while the accomplice was imprisoned. Duffy was released, and several years later enlisted to fight in the Civil War. He died fighting for the Union.

Despite the tragedy of the church burning down only years after it was established, a new church building was soon built and the congregation continued to grow quickly. When first established in 1844 the church counted only 42 people but by 1869 there were 200 members and by 1899 there were 751 members, with yet more attending services. That same year three of its members became some of the first western missionaries to visit China, which only recently began allowing western missions. The leaders of the church continued to be important in the wider community, and after pastor Rev. James Fletcher resigned from the Maple Street Church in 1864 he became the principal of Holten High School, the public high school in Danvers, from 1866-1871.

Maple St Church - Moynahan 1899
(The second church building, 1851-1944. Picture circa 1899, originally printed in Moynahan, Danvers, Massachusetts)

Fire struck the church again in the congregation’s hundredth anniversary year. Around 10pm on the night of May 20, 1944 one of the firefighters at the old central fire station looked out the window and saw flames reflected in a window across the intersection. A fire that began in a shed behind the church had quickly spread to the church building. The fire departments of seven towns fought the flames, fearing that they could easily spread to the neighboring gas station, the Maple Street Elementary School, and the railroad warehouse.

Maple St Church Burning
(The second church building burning in 1944. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Despite the multitude of firefighters and equipment, the fire raged through the grand wooden structure, and one hour after the fire was discovered the steeple collapsed into the church. In a sign of ecumenical and community-wide support for the church, at one point during the height of the inferno Fire Chief Joseph E. Kelley, Catholic priest Fr. Michael F. Collins, Superintendent of the Electric Light Dept. Leo Nimblett, Maple Street Church Deacon Carlton M. Stearns, and teenager Leland E. Martin Jr. (who later became a Danvers Fire Chief) ran into the basement of the burning church to rescue the congregation’s silver communion set. The church was rebuilt in 1948, the structure that stands today, and the rescued communion set is still used.

Maple St Church Ruins
(The burned out church building, as seen on the Sunday following the fire in 1944. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Maple St Church Clock and Rubble (1)
(The clock from the church’s steeple lying on a pile of debris in the nave of the church. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

At its 175th anniversary, the Maple Street Church’s congregation numbers approximately 375 people and the church’s services are broadcast on Danvers Community Access Television (DCAT). In addition to mission trips, the church sponsors Boy Scout Troop 16, is active in the Danvers Interfaith Partnership, and organizes numerous charitable endeavors.

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