A Page from North Quabbin History: Athol to Athol letter writing

  • The Athol Public Library will host a Pen Pal Project with the Athol Library in Athol, Idaho. Athol, Idaho, was named after Athol, Mass., in the 19th century. PHOTO CREDIT/EMILY BOUGHTON

  • Carla Charter pf Phillpston. Paul Franz

Published: 5/22/2023 4:36:50 PM
Modified: 5/22/2023 4:34:19 PM

By Carla Charter

This is the story of two different Athols, the history that connects their towns and a letter writing project which their respective libraries hope will connect the populations.

The Athol Public Library in Massachusetts sometimes receives calls from people thinking they are speaking with the library in Athol, Idaho. Likewise, the library in Athol, Idaho, has had residents coming in looking for a book they placed on hold by phone in Athol, Mass.

“We knew they existed. People have called us trying to reach them, we share a name,” said Emily Boughton, teen specialist at the local Athol Public Library.

Along with the occasional wrong numbers, the two towns also share a historical link. Athol, Idaho, bustled in the 1800s, said Deb Mitchell, archivist at the Museum of Northern Idaho. Logging, milling and agriculture provided jobs to those who settled there and a Northern Pacific Railroad station was constructed in 1882.

The Idaho town was originally known as Colton and only became Athol when an unnamed settler from Athol, Mass., came through and renamed it. By 1903, the town had many businesses, including a hotel, drug store, blacksmith, jewelry store, restaurant, a mercantile company and a saloon. It became the unincorporated town of Athol in 1909, stated Mitchell.

The two libraries are hoping to open a new link between their communities through a summer pen pal program. Open to all ages, the program will run from June to August and was developed by Boughton and River Stanley, children’s librarian at the Massachusetts Athol library. The two were inspired to create the program as a result of the Summer Reading Program theme, Find Your Voice.

“It’s always nice to receive something handwritten, showing the letter writer spent time and thought on it rather than an auto-typed e-mail,” Boughton said. “Also, we like to support the Post Office.”

When residents sign up at the library, the librarian will take basic information and match them with a pen pal with similar interests. In mid-June, everyone who signed up will learn who their pen pal is and get a kit with materials to send three letters. After writing a letter to their pen pal, residents can return their letter to the library, which will mail it. No addresses will be shared, unless the letter writers choose to share them.

“We are hoping people engage and enjoy it,” Boughton said, adding “we would love to see people form long-term friendships with other people across the country.”

Grace Schaffer, circulation director and the person who runs the adult section, was contacted about the letter writing project and thought it would be a really fun idea, said Jill Roche, the manager at the library in Athol, Idaho.

“We have begun advertising the program to the community and have ordered stickers and stationary for the program,” she added.

Residents can sign up for the program through the Athol Public Library website at www.athollibrary.org, over the phone or in person. Boughton said there are no plans for Athol, Idaho, to become a sister town, but added “it’s a very good idea.”

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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