Shirley to host annual Founder’s Day on 125th anniversary of town

SHIRLEY — Though Beverly Estall uses a cane to walk, she could be seen with her hands in the dirt this week, not about to miss out on a chance to help prepare Shirley’s historic depot for the town’s biggest event of the year.

The longtime Shirley resident got to work weeding overgrown flower beds outside the depot — which houses the town’s historic museum and serves as a centerpiece for the Shirley Founders Day celebration — while others took to touching up the trim.

Estall is one of many who have been dedicating countless hours the past few months to organize the town’s annual Founders Day, which commemorates the town’s founding in 1890, and proceeds for which support museum projects.

This year, organizers hope to make the event the biggest in Shirley’s history.

A longtime member of the Shirley Historical Society, Estall said this is the first time in decades the Founders Day event — which runs Friday through Sunday — has been extended to more than one day, a move she hopes brings more people to her community.

2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the town’s founding, prompting organizers to extend the festivities and plan family-friendly events throughout the weekend, Estall said.

“There are so many people that don’t know about the history of the town; we want to change that,” she said.

Attractions include farmers Olympics, flea markets, a tractor show, a 5K walk, fair food, live entertainment, a community-wide church service and a farmers market.

She added the last event of this size tackled by the town was the diamond jubilee conducted in 1965.

Joan Cupp, secretary of the historical society, said she doesn’t mind the hard work that goes into a large event like Founders Day because it brings the community together and preserves history for future generations.

“Every hour will be filled with something to do,” said Cupp, adding that a final schedule of event is still being worked out. “It should be a lovely time for everyone.”

Cupp, who grew up in Shirley, said she has fond memories of the former train depot, which is now used as a museum, and hopes to pass valuable historical information to families in Shirley.

“I have these memories of sitting inside this train station waiting for my father to get off work,” Cupp said. “I want others to have fond memories of this place as well.”

The depot has also been freshly painted — bright orange, which town historians found was the original color of the wood siding when the structure was a new stop along the railroad.

Scott Riddle, whose company was hired to paint the historic structure, said rain delays put the project in jeopardy over the past few weeks as the deadline loomed for the big event.

But Riddle was happy to put in some extra hours during a dry weekend to finish the depot’s paint job.

It’s more of a joy than a job, anyway.

“I love to paint old buildings like this,” Riddle said. “I feel like we’re preserving history.”

The depot also was recently remodeled, and the group hopes to showcase the updates during the town-wide event.

More than a week before activities kicked off, the historical society had already raised close to $2,000 for additional museum projects. They’re hopeful the three-day event will bring in even more donations.

Most Founders Day activities will be centered on Railroad and Main streets in the town’s historic district. Along with the depot, Shirley’s famous Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House museum will also be open for free tours.

Opening ceremonies are set for 6 p.m. Friday; a parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday. A talent show is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday.

Organizers of the parade — Estall’s favorite part of the event — have sent more than 125 invitations to potential entrants.

“We’re really trying to make this the biggest parade ever,” Estall said. “We would love to see everyone in town come to the event.”

Other town organizations, including the Visionary Committee, are helping plan the family-friendly historic event.

Many in the town are invested in keeping Shirley’s history alive, Cupp said.

“I think it’s important to teach the younger ones about the history,” she said. “I hope Founders Day does just that.”