By GAIL LOWE
LYNNFIELD — There is a story that has long floated around town about Mrs. Fletcher and the former Perley Burrill gas station on Salem Street, which was dubbed “America’s First Filling Station.”
Longtime resident Julia (Miller) Hallenborg, known throughout town affectionately as “Julie,” told the story at Historic Lynnfield, Inc.’s first History Café interview at the Meeting House recently.
Many years ago, Julie was at the filling station when she spotted Mrs. Fletcher filling a gas tank while holding a lit cigarette in her hand. Julie tried desperately to get Mrs. Fletcher’s attention, without success, until finally she looked up and noticed that Julie was calling out to her.
“Put out that cigarette!” Julie yelled.
It was then that Mrs. Fletcher complied. Perley Burrill’s grandson, Jimmy, was also at the event, and he offered a few words about the history of the gas station.
Julie, who celebrated her 85th birthday on July 30, told the story of Mrs. Fletcher and many others during a conversation with Historic Lynnfield Clerk Kirk Mansfield.
Historic Lynnfield Vice President Karen Nascembeni opened the evening by welcoming and thanking residents for attending. She said that Mansfield had long been fascinated with Julie’s story and generation, so they was decided that she would be the first in a lineup of what is hoped will be many more interviews.
For about two hours, an audience of about 75 people listened as Julie spoke not only about Mrs. Fletcher, but her family’s history, which began with her father in Lima, Ohio. Her mother grew up in Boston.
When the Great Depression went into full swing, both of Julie’s parents were forced to leave school in grade 8 to help their individual families keep food on the table. Julie’s father worked on the family farm, while her mother went to work at a boarding house on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston owned by her great aunt and grandmother.
One story Julie shared was an amusing anecdote about the famous Brinks robbery in the North End of Boston on Jan. 17, 1950. When the identities of the robbers were made public, Julie’s mother realized that she had grown up with several of the suspects.
And when it came time for her father Amos Miller to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, he “fibbed” about his age. He was only 16-years-old, but as fate would have it General Electric Company in Lynn needed military men and when Miller applied for a job, he was hired on the spot.
“The workers had to be searched thoroughly at the beginning and end of each work day because the ‘Jet Pioneers’ were working on the first jet engine,” Julie said.
When the Miller family first settled in Lynnfield, they lived in a two-story white house at 909 Salem St., across the street from Perley Burrill. Behind the house were four acres of land whose soil was rich enough to grow all kinds of vegetables. There were also an apple orchard, pear tree and grapevines.
The house, said Julie, had a big walk-in pantry where her mother stored homemade jams and preserves. She told a hilarious story about homemade root beer—too much yeast spoiled the brew, which exploded.
Amos Miller loved his chickens, which he kept in two hen houses.
“We got fresh eggs every day,” Julie noted.
One hen, Julie said, laid an egg that weighed 8.02 ounces. When the hen died, the jumbo egg was cracked open only to reveal yet another egg plus four more. Altogether, there were five eggs hidden in that one shell, much like Matryoshka dolls.
Julie’s brother Jim loved roosters, and at his 50th birthday party, his friends brought one to the Elks Lodge in Peabody, where a celebration was underway. When the rooster was released, it flew right to Jim’s shoulder where it remained for the rest of the evening.
Mansfield was curious about where the Hallenborg family shopped for the food they didn’t grow, and Julie replied that they went to South Common Street in Lynn where there was an A&P grocery store. She also recalled about bread lines and ration stamps. She said coffee and some meats such as bacon were among the food items being rationed.
“People were savers then, not spenders,” she commented, adding that her father’s haircuts were handled in the backyard, not at a barbershop. When Julie’s own sons were born — Arthur Brian (now of Florida), Amos Bradford (Waltham) and Adam Barry (Tyngsboro)—she continued her mother’s tradition of backyard haircuts. Today, however, they won’t let their mother within an inch of their hair.
There was also the story about the 400 cans of sardines, which Amos Miller bought at a store selling canned goods at $2 a carton, the contents of which were not known until the cartons were opened. And another about the family’s pet parakeet “Blue,” whose habit was to fly to the top of Julie’s mother’s head. Her mother had long hair, which she braided and created a “fence” at the crown, a perch Blue considered a perfect nesting place.
Julie attended the original South School, a four-room school with six grades and six employees—four teachers, a janitor and cafeteria worker. Her teacher, Mrs. Morrill, was said to be fussy about penmanship and had a huge portable blackboard she would roll across the floor.
“She was ambidextrous, and would begin writing something with her left hand and continue across the board with her right hand,” said Julie about Mrs. Morrill, who taught grades 5 and 6.
There was no mail delivery in those days, so Julie went twice a week to pick up the mail for her family at the South Lynnfield Station. At age 10, she got her first bicycle—and her first job delivering newspapers, including “The Boston Globe,” “Boston Traveler,” “The Daily Evening Item” and the “Wakefield Daily Item.” She finished by 6 or 6:30 p.m., just in time to eat her supper and do her homework.
Julie continued her education at the “new” South School High that is now the Senior Center. She later graduated from Wakefield Memorial High School in 1956.
As she grew through her formative years, she would ride her bicycle across the foot bridge connecting Pillings Pond to an island now owned by former Selectman Bob MacKendrick, and this is where she first met Arthur Brian Hallenborg, who would later become her husband. Arthur accessed the island by boat.
The two had their first date on the night of Brian’s senior prom. The evening started with dinner at the Suntaug Lake Inn and continued inside the gymnasium of Wakefield Memorial High School. The Sautaug Inn eventually became the Bali Hai Restaurant and is now the site of The Arthur, a new 23-unit apartment building.
Course categories offered in high school were general, business and college. Julie chose to study business subjects and following graduation, established a career in accounting. She eventually worked at Transitron in Wakefield, the IGA grocery store in Lynnfield and the Beverly Trust Company.
The couple married in 1957 and began their family eight years later.
During the in-between years, the couple bought a small cottage for $4,000 on Crescent Avenue and spent an additional $12,000 to renovate it.
They celebrated 64 years of marriage before Arthur Brian died in August 2021.
Before concluding her life story, Julie told her audience about a baseball Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski had given her when she worked at Beverly Trust Company, a baseball that had been signed by the entire team. She gave the coveted ball to her cousin—a diehard Red Sox Fan in Ohio—and it continues to sit in a protected glass case even today.
A dedicated team of residents who have a passion for the town’s history are leading Historic Lynnfield, Inc.
“We are thrilled to have Nan Hockenbury at the helm of our organization,” said Nascembeni. “Having served previously as both the chair of the Lynnfield Historical Commission and president of the Lynnfield Historical Society, Nan is undoubtedly one of the foremost experts on Lynnfield history. Her knowledge of and passion for preserving Lynnfield’s history make her the perfect candidate to lead our team of dedicated volunteers.”
Also joining Mansfield, Nascembeni and Hockenbury on the Historic Lynnfield board of directors are Treasurer Inta Simone and Directors Karen Hathaway, Sharon McLaughlin, John Michalski and Lauri Priestley.
For anyone choosing to donate to Historic Lynnfield, funds raised will be used for preservation of the 1714 Meeting House and to obtain, catalog and preserve important Lynnfield artifacts to be housed in the Pope-Richard Lynnfield Historical Center on behalf of the town of Lynnfield and available for research.
Founded in 2022, the mission of Historic Lynnfield is to foster community involvement in the preservation and education of all things significant to the history of Lynnfield past and present for future generations. To become involved with Historic Lynnfield, contact Hockenbury at 781-334-6245 (home), 781-640-6415 (cell) or send an email to info@HistoricLynnfield.org. Volunteers are welcome.