By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Have you ever thought about visiting all 351 of Massachusetts’ cities and towns?
Pete and Debbie Lincoln, retired teachers from Lunenburg, not only thought about it, they actually did it and have shared their experiences with audiences throughout the state. Last night at the Stevens Memorial Library, it was North Andover’s turn to hear about their journey, which took them 7 1/2 months.
They didn’t just show up in each town and say, “We’ve been to Sudbury” or wherever. They took pictures of each other with signs proving that they’d actually visited a particular town or city. They also compiled a wealth of information and little-known facts about the state’s diverse communities, which range from Gosnold, boasting a population of 52 according to the 2010 Census, to Boston, claiming more than 600,000 residents.
The Lincolns ended up with more than 700 photographs and estimated they drove about 8,000 miles.
Both demonstrated their dramatic flair in their pictures. When they were photographed in front of a library, one of them would usually be shown reading a book. Pete is posed in front of the Wakefield Bowladrome, ready to hurl a strike.
They often posed in front of “Welcome to” signs.
“Does North Andover have a Welcome to North Andover sign?” Debbie asked. They didn’t find one when they visited this community, she said. People in the audience assured the Lincolns that a sign welcoming people to North Andover is situated in the downtown.
Massachusetts used to have 355 cities and towns, but that changed in the late 1930s, when the Quabbin Reservoir was dug so people in the Boston area would have enough water. The towns of Prescott, Dana, Greenwich and Enfield were disincorporated and submerged.
Pete said his family lived in what is now the Quabbin Reservoir for seven generations. More than 5,000 people were displaced by the massive project, he noted.
Debbie asked what town most people think of when Cape Cod is mentioned. Hyannis, someone said. Actually, that’s not accurate, she pointed out. Hyannis, made famous by the Kennedys’ presence there, is not a town. It is part of the city of Barnstable, she said.
The Lincolns had some missteps along the way, they admitted. For example, when they looked for the Baldwinville Town Hall, they discovered there’s no such thing. Baldwinville is merely a village in the town of Templeton.
There are five requirements for incorporation as a town or city in Massachusetts, according to Pete. The town or city must have a meeting place, a police force, a fire department, mail delivery and a school for students through eighth grade, he said.
In Gosnold, which comprises the Elizabeth Islands to the northwest of Martha’s Vineyard, they interviewed a teacher who had just one student a few years ago. Her school now has four students, Pete said.
So why did the Lincolns undertake their journey? Pete, who taught 12th-grade English at Lunenburg High School for 38 years, said that when they retired in 2007 and thought about what to do with their time, it occurred to him that there were at least 70 communities in Massachusetts that he’d never visited.
Mind you, the Lincolns were never homebodies. Avid Red Sox fans, they have watched their team play in all 31 Major League ballparks, including the World Series-clinching game in Denver in 2007. Like many Bay Staters, however, they hadn’t seen all of their home turf.
So when Pete suggested they visit every city and town in the Commonwealth, Debbie, who was a guidance counselor at Lunenburg High before she retired, said, “Why not?”
One of the goals of their presentation, titled “Purgatory to Podunk: A Pictorial Journey Through the 351 Cities and Towns of Massachusetts,” is to encourage Massachusetts residents to appreciate the diversity and rich heritage of their state.
Podunk, by the way, is a swampy area — not an incorporated town — about halfway between East Brookfield and Sturbridge, they said. The name is an American Indian word that means “place where you sink up to your waist,” Pete said.
As for Purgatory, the Purgatory Chasm, in Sutton, was so named by Indians because this downward, rock-strewn slope seemed to lead to hell, he explained.