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Greenfield, MA: Scale Model Town in His Backyard

Greenfield, MA: Scale Model Town in His Backyard
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In 1962 Waine Morse decided to build a make-believe store beside his vegetable garden in Greenfield, MA, to house his burgeoning collection of Americana. He couldn’t stop.

Excerpt from “’The Man Who Build a Town in His Backyard,” Yankee Magazine, December 1989.

It didn’t start out to be like this, a whole village, a toy town that he built, one enterprise at a time. Waine Morse doesn’t know what it started out to be. He remembers that germ of it, a trip that he and his wife, just then his bride, took to a general store behind the Yankee Pedlar inn and restaurant in Holyoke.

Both schoolteachers, they had been married only a couple of months when in February of 1962 they took a trip during school vacation. It was raining, not a great day for an excursion, but when he saw this place, filled as it was with nostalgic reminders of the decades before — the coffee grinder and the penny candy and the old lanterns and the big potbelly stove — it struck him that that was what he would like to have. A store, a place to put reminders of times past.

He was 28 at the time, and he and Margaret had their whole lives together ahead of them. He had already built a small house for them on land that had belonged to his mother since the 1920s. This was just outside of Greenfield, Massachusetts, where the Mohawk Trail begins to climb west. Though it was modest from the outside –shallow-roofed and single-story — the inside gradually accumulated such Victorian treats as paneled walls and parquet floors, velvet couches and ancestral portraits. “It evolved,” he says. That’s the way Waine Morse works.

He started on the store, weekends and nights, building it like an old Cape, and roofing it with slate, taking the design out of his head. When he wasn’t building, he was collecting. “The first thing I got was a coffee grinder for $16,” he says.

Amazing that he can recall, since now the store is stocked to its rafters, floor to ceiling, with washboards, boxes of crackers, butter churns, sacks of flour, coffee cans, biscuit boxes, cakes of Ivory soap, shovels, suspenders, crocks, apple peelers, racks of postcards –an endless inventory of stores past. It might justly be called the collection of a lifetime, except that there is so much else.

Waine Morse is 56 now, his gray hair is thinning, but there is still plenty of bounce in his step. He does not even call this a village. He has no name for this flourishing manifestation of the past, housed in what appears to be a group of sheds, sided in rough pine, the roofs like chicken barns.

It’s what’s inside that matters. Whatever it is, it now surrounds his house, hidden among trees and continuing up the steep hill above. There are weeds high around the foundations and the dirt paths are obscured by the overgrowth. Beside the vegetable garden, an old steam pumper is covered in plastic. Farther down is an old wooden milk wagon, badly in need of buttressing.

Next to the store is the pharmacy, which he built in 1969. “There was a drug store on the way to Sturbridge, in West Warren. I noticed one day that they were going out of business,” he says. He bought the counters and the glass cabinets, as well as the 14-foot-long wall that separated the pharmacist’s work area from his customers — a big, old-fashioned affair that includes mirrors framed by dark-stained wood pillars.

He took it down and brought it back to Greenfield, piece by piece. He reassembled it inside his new building. He worked alone — he did then and does now. From that old drug store and from others, and from items bought at flea markets and yard sales, he began to stock the shelves.

Like the general store, there is not a hairline left for expansion. Crammed into the cases and up on the shelves, Waine has lined up hundreds of packets of herbs (frostwort, blessed thistle, horehound, ignatia) and assortments of salves and medical assists — King’s Kidney Plaster, Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap, Corn Cure, Tuttle’s Family Elixir, Carter’s Little Pills, Dr. Blue Jay Corn Plasters, Kantleek hot water bottles, Red Raven Splits of “Laxative Water.” There they are, their labels still bright, the wrappers still sealed, full to the top with the old remedies.

Waine Morse has never tried any of them. “I just like to come in here and look,” he says. In the windows sunlight shines through big blue and amber apothecary jars. Other jars and bottles crowd in, shoulder to shoulder.

Updated Monday, July 14th, 2008

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