Article from the April 2002 Newsletter

The article tells of a visit to the Shrewsbury junk shop run by the Garfield family.


Visit to the Shrewsbury Junk Shop, Queer Sights and Stories 

The owner a cousin of President Garfield

The writer and his friend drove out Lincoln Street,down the road that leads by the Poor Farm to the lake. From off this road a turn was taken into the old Boylston Road. This road was followed to where it turns right,then another turn was taken and the right hand road was followed to the next right hand turn, and that road followed nearly to Shrewsbury Center. Just this side of the Shrewsbury Cemetery the goal was reached. It might have been reached by the usual road to Shrewsbury, but the other road is far more attractive. It winds through heavy woods nearly all the way, after leaving the Lake road and few houses are seen.Under a deep blue summer sky, the green woods and occasional bright waters, the “flowers,bees and birds” all have a charm that lulls and quiets one as no indoor sleep can succeed in doing. After numerous small adventures with cows, pretty girls and the like the Gazette man reached the Mecca of his pilgrimage. (50 Gulf Street).


He was after the place known as the “The Old Junk Shop”, conducted by William Garfield of Shrewsbury. The queer place has got a great reputation “for miles around” and the writer had heard of it for years. He needed no signboard to tell him when he had reached it. A turn in the road showed a little weather beaten house in the distance, but some time before the house was reached dozens of old carriages, teams, coaches, vehicles of every description were seen in the woods that skirted the road. The carriage was driven to the doorway of the little house, but a bit of pasteboard announced that the inmates were “up to Sawyer’s”. An ugly looking dog, and a lot of cats and a few hens were the only sign of life.

The writer was out of the carriage, however, and meandered across the fields toward Sawyer’s. Before he got there, however, he met Mr. Garfield. That gentleman wore a rough and tattered suit, but before the writer left he decided that he was as kindly and courteous an old man as he ever met. His hair and beard were grey and somewhat unkempt but the color in his cheeks was clear and healthy and his grey blue eyes keen and bright. He was getting in hay on his farm but left work and received the newspaper man most heartily.


William Garfield claims to be a cousin of “the murdered President”, the late James Abram Garfield. He was born 75 years ago in President Garfield’s native town and says that his father and the great Garfield’s father were brothers. While a boy he moved to Wilbraham and there learned the shoe trade. Just 42 years ago, in 1849, he married in Wilbraham, the daughter of Corbett Gardner, a well to do farmer of that place. A year later, the couple located in their present Shrewsbury home.

While the old man was telling these plain facts his wife appeared, and the reporter and his friend were presented. For over an hour after that the old couple entertained their visitors in a most admirable style and told them and showed them much that was interesting.

Mrs. Garfield has been a wonderfully helpful spouse to her husband. She is only 65 years of age, but is slighter and more delicate then he. She has however worked with him on his farm, built barns and houses with him, and hauled over carts and heavy iron.

When the pair located at their present place in 1850… They now own about 10 acres, “and every bit paid for”, said the head of the house. “I don’t owe a cent”. During the fifty years the pair have lived on the place they have cleared, graded, dug away and filled in until now a portion of their land is quite valuable. They get in enough hay for their horse and enough vegetables for themselves.

For a short time after locating in this place, Garfield made shoes, but he found he did not make enough money and therefore took it into his head to buy up old junk and sell it to dealers. This plan he carried into execution and “old junk” has been his business ever since. 

He goes around the country towns collecting what he can and buying occasionally, and sells in Worcester. Until within five or six years, he says, business was good and he made money, but during the last few years prices have gone down and his stock has piled up on his hands.


Mr. Garfield says his farm is now worth $1200 to $1500, and says that he has money enough in Worcester banks to buy two more like it. It is safe to say he has property of over $5000, and it will be left to the only living child of the pair, a married daughter living in Shrewsbury.

The Garfields had one other child, a boy born blind and weak minded, who lived to be 27 years old. The story of his misfortune forms a tragic if simple story. Shortly before he was born an old uncle of Mrs. Garfield’s importuned the pair for money. As it was known he had means, no attention was paid to him, and then he declared he would have revenge.

His revenge was most horrible and unnatural. He declared he would visit his wrath on the child that was to be born to his niece. He therefore, with diabolical cunning and craft, procured a haddock’s head and cut out its eyes. With this awful object in his closed hand he rushed up to Mrs. Garfield and said: “See here! Look at this!” and opened his hand. The poor woman was given a fearful shock and soon gave birth to a half-witted boy, having eye sockets but no eyeballs. He was always a harmless fellow, but never said a word that denoted intelligence. With no physical force and without the aid of the laws of man the wicked perpetrator of this outrage punished, but nature, or fate, or God, punished him for his sin, and within a year lost every cent he possessed and died of cancer that ate away one side of his neck and jaw.

NOTE: the Shrewsbury records say George, (the son) died 15 Jan 1878, 21y 5m 9d

Another tragedy was enacted at the Garfield’s house that is worth recalling. About ten years ago the man and wife built a shabby little house on their land and rented it to a man and woman with three children. One night in a fit of anger the woman struck one of her children a blow that caused its death before the close of the night and on the following morning the house burned to the ground consuming the body of the murdered child.


Mrs Garfield claims that she has kept her husband up in his junk business, and says she taught him how to farm. Until she took hold of him he only knew how to make shoes, but learned from her better than she from him, for when he tried to teach her to cobble she brought the first stroke of the hammer down on her finger and lost a nail. Her great forte has been herb doctoring, and she had won many victories over disease by onion plasters on the chest, and other such wholesome and choice smelling compounds. She has been something of an invalid, and has stuck close to her home. Mr Garfield travels about collecting old stuff, and goes into the city once a week to sell, but his wife has not been to Worcester since ground was being broken for the Dummy Railroad.  She asked curiously if Dr. Joseph Sargent was still alive, and when told he had been dead a good many years did not seem surprised to learn that she was behind times, but seemed to think it natural that a five year old story should not have reached her. She was interested in Dr. Sargent, as he examined her blind son at one time. 

Mr Garfield informed the writer that he never smoked but once and then he was “drunk sick”. He chewed and never drank but a half pint of liquor, and that was when he was sick, “Water and milk is good enough for me” he said, “and I reckon I’m one of the healthiest men in the county.” 


He stated that he and his wife had had some pretty hard tussles in order to get their land and keep free from debt. At one time they owned $35 and picked cowslips and sold them in the city, earning $40, thus making them square again. Another time, in order to clear themselves of debt, they lived for a long while on crackers and sweetened water, drinking their well dry. 

The writer asked Mr Garfield why, when his cousin was President, he did not strike him for a position as Minister to the Court of St. James or something of that sort, but the old fellow said he thought he could do better in the junk business. He said that he was a Republican, but did not seem to know much about politics. “There have been Democrat and Republican presidents,”  said he, “and my health and my business ain’t changed much. Your vittles taste the same whether you have a table cloth or not, and I guess its the same with life, whether Republicans or Democrats are in office.”


William Garfield died May 26, 1899, 82 yrs, 8m, 22d, of heart disease at Gulf St., Shrewsbury, MA and buried at Shrewsbury, MA. He was a farmer and junk dealer. He was born at Sudbury, (His death record states he was born in Sudbury but the Vital Record does not record his birth there) son of William Garfield (place of birth unknown) and Sally Whitcomb (place of birth Marlboro). 

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