According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Podunk refers to a locality in Connecticut, a town in Massachusetts, or any small isolated unimportant town. On Thursday July 5, 2001, ePodunk.com brought attention to the seemingly unimportant town of Shirley by naming it the Most Historic Small Town in the Nation.
As soon as the wire services picked up on the information, newspapers, radio, and television reporters were contacting Shirley people for their reactions to the announcement.
Going to the website of this new dotcom, one sees the title "ePodunk Celebrating the power of place." The founders of ePodunk believe that, "Despite the growth of fast-food restaurants, national retail chains, suburban sprawl, the global economy, and the Internet - geography matters." They "see the sense of place thriving in thousands of cities, suburbs and villages. By culling facts from thousands of sources, ePodunk has compiled profiles with content and scope unique to the web. This information is designed to be plugged-in to existing sites and wireless services as a compliment to travel information, maps, weather forecasts, website directories and other sources of information about place. "
For the rating of most historic small town, ePodunk first looked at population and location statistics, then scored towns on
Out of a possible score of 100 points, Shirley earned a total of 90 points, six points more than #2 ranked Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
In checking the numbers to see why Shirley ranks so high, ePodunk recognized the fact that Shirley has three historic districts and an individual historic building listed on the National Register.
The Shirley Shaker Village was the first Shirley Historic District, approved in 1976 with eleven Shaker buildings and a Shaker cemetery still remaining. The Shirley Center Historic District was approved by voters with 42 contributing structures in 1988. The Shirley Village Historic District was accepted in 1991 with 317 contributing structures. Many businesses and families in this last district made use of HUD funds to restore their historic structures, thus adding points to our ePodunk score. Shirley also has a separate 1983 National Register listing for the 18th century Valley Farm.
The Worcester Telegram was the first paper to pick up the story and headlined it with "Shirley you jest!", reflecting the astonishment of local historians to news that their town was the most historic in the country.
Peter Ward, who writes for the Fitchburg Sentinel and Lowell Sun, interviewed life-long resident Ziggy Wesolowski for his article in the Saturday morning editions. Ziggy did not comment on how many historic buildings we had in Shirley, but he did know that he missed walking the dirt roads and hearing the French and Polish spoken of the Shirley streets in his youth.
Kate Field, Chairman of the Historic District Commission and President of the Historical Society, when interviewed by the Worcester reporter thought the designation was a bit of an exaggeration.
Meredith Marcinkewicz, curator of the Shirley Historical Society, when interviewed by WBZ Radio, stated that Shirley was definitely a lovely old New England town, but that ePodunk needed to correct some of their facts, like saying that Shirley is an industrial town specializing in textile manufacturing. When it is primarily a residential town at this point in its history. Meredith is now in contact with ePodunk , supplying them with corrections and additions to their description of Shirley.
Laurie Bennett, CEO of ePodunk said that they also have been receiving much media attention and many emails since the announcement, but that they are willing to improve their Shirley descriptions as facts become verified.
New England Cable News did an accurate piece on the Shirley designation of Most Historic Small Town and aired it on the six o'clock news Friday evening and again later that weekend. They filmed interviews with Kate Field and Selectman Chip Guercio. They showed live pictures of the Samson Cordage and President Suspender factories. They showed the Town Hall and the Revolutionary War and Civil War monuments. They showed the view from the top of the First Parish steeple and from inside the Meetinghouse listening to Mona Longley play the 1847 Stevens tracker organ. They showed that whether or not Shirley is Number One across the nation, Shirley is a beautiful historic town to live in and Shirley people are indeed proud to be here.
In early December Boston Magazine did a brief article on us.
On December 30, 2001, the Boston Globe did a follow-up feature article on our notoriety.
In April of 2002 we were featured in an Arts and Entertainment segment
on Fox 25 evening news.
The interview and filming took four hours and edited down to a well-done three minutes. Meredith Marcinkewicz was interviewed my Naumau Delaney and showed sites at MCI, Phoenix Park, President Company, Umbagog on the Catacunemaug, the old Hazen Library, The Town Hall, the old cemetery, the town pound, and outside and inside the First Parish Meetinghouse.
And our fame goes on . . . . . . . .