“Reading the Gravestones of Old New England” with John G. S. Hanson June 18 2022

Watch the WilliNet video HERE

The Williamstown Historical Museum presented a free slide lecture onReading the Gravestones of Old New Englandby Williamstown native John G. S. Hanson, on Saturday, June 18, at 11 am in the Community Room at the Milne Public Library, following the Museum’s brief annual meeting. The public is invited.

John Hanson is a Williamstown native – son of the late Harlan “Harpo” and Dorothea Hanson – a 1976 graduate of Mount Greylock Regional High School, and the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021, $39.95 in paperback)

For me, these graveyards hold an absorbing store of poetic messages from early New Englanders.  I started collecting interesting epitaphs in the Williamstown burial grounds when I was a kid, and through the years I keep asking myself ‘where did these verses come from, and how did they get on these gravestones?’” Hanson explained.

Trying to satisfy my curiosity on those two questions has led me on a personal journey of heart and mind into the literary and spiritual world these people inhabited. Each time I stand in front of a gravestone and read, I hear the sadness, grief, hope, joy, and faith of these ordinary people who lived and died two centuries ago and more.”

Hanson’s lecture will be heavily illustrated with slides, including examples from Westlawn and Southlawn cemeteries in Williamstown. “Westlawn has some great stones and carving, but is oddly short on epitaph verse,” Hanson said. “Whereas Southlawn is fabulous, with a remarkable range of scripture, hymns, original writings, and poetry.”

This lecture will give historically-minded members of the community a new window, albeit through an odd aperture, into the reading, writing, and devotional lives of the early settlers, some of whom may be their ancestors.”

The lecture will be preceded by the brief annual meeting and election of officers of the Williamstown Historical Museum, and followed by a question and answer session. If you have a copy of Hanson’s book, bring it along and get it signed.


John G. S. Hanson is a Williamstown native currently dividing his time between Cambridge and Tyringham. He received his AB in English and American Literature from Harvard. Hanson has been collecting and studying early New England epitaph verse for many years. When not exploring old burial grounds, he is an executive at an Internet services company. Hanson is the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021, $39.95 in paperback).


The Williamstown Historical Museum was founded in 1941, as the Williamstown House of Local History, to preserve and to promote knowledge of the town’s history. Its goal is to document the diverse people and buildings, the associations and businesses, the institutions and events, which form the town’s history from the earliest days to the present time. The collection includes photographs, documents, and artifacts from the 1700s to the present day, as well as published works related to the town’s history. There is a permanent display, and rotating exhibits use many items in the collection to help educate our community on many aspects of the town’s history. The museum’s current exhibit is “Schools and Children in Williamstown Through the Years.”

Featured slider Talks

The History of the Williamstown Grange and the Grange Hall

Saturday, March 26th at 11 am

in the Community Room, Milne Public Library, 1095 Main Street, Williamstown, MA

Thanks to WilliNet Community Television for taping this program. Click the link below to watch.



Please join us for a free lecture and panel discussion on the History of the Williamstown Grange and Grange Hall on Saturday, March 26 at 11 am in the Community Room at the Milne Public Library.

Alex Carlisle, who owns the Grange Hall on Water Street with his wife, Beth Carlisle, will talk about the early history of the Grange and of the Grange building and property since 2005, followed by recollections from current Williamstown Grange President, Nancy Lescarbeau, and members Susan Bernardy and Maureen O’Mara.

The National Grange was founded in 1867, and identifies itself as “…a family, community organization with its roots in agriculture…”and “…a national organization with a local focus.

The Grange movement caused quite a stir when first introduced in Berkshire County, but within a decade every town and city had one. Williamstown was fairly late to the trend, forming a Grange here in 1888. Following a long search for a permanent location, the Grange building on Water Street became the long term home of the Williamstown Grange until 2005.

Bernardy, the daughter of Grangers and one herself since she was 17, will be bringing some of her ribbons, won at the annual Grange Fair in September. “I so looked forward to that fair every year!,” she exclaimed, remembering when there was a ferris wheel and horse drawing and such, outdoors, and all the handiwork, baking, and vegetables entered for judging, inside the hall. The very popular horse show started out as part of the fair, and then evolved into a separate event.

While we still do the rituals, discuss the state of the agricultural industry, and hold seasonal agricultural programs in our monthly meetings now, there used to be lots of social events – suppers, fundraisers, entertainments. It seemed like everyone belonged to the Grange back then, so there were always a lot of people at Grange events.”

Both Carlisle and the current Grangers will have photos, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia on hand to share with attendees.

The Milne Public Library is located at 1095 Main Street, on the south side of Field Park at the northern junction of Routes 2 & 7 in Williamstown. Ample parking is available and the building is handicap accessible. Admission free.


Alexander M. Carlisle moved to Williamstown in 1995 to work at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center as a conservator of furniture and wooden artifacts, and has called Williamstown home for the past twenty-seven years. Before choosing art conservation as a career, Alex also trained and worked as a carpenter, timber framer, and furniture-maker and holds a life-long interest in historic preservation, land use, and architecture. He was most recently employed, as Senior Art Conservator at Historic New England, the oldest historic preservation group in the country.

Featured slider Talks

Barbara Winslow Talk on Shirley Chisholm

The Williamstown Historical Museum will be hosting professor and historian Dr. Barbara Winslow to speak about Shirley Chisholm on Saturday, February 26th, at 11AM. Dr. Winslow is the author of a book about Chisholm, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for change.

The lecture will be over zoom; the link to access the lecture is below.

Topic: Barbara Winslow lecture on Shirley Chisholm
Time: Feb 26, 2022 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 841 9058 3888
Passcode: 351325