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Pepperell students preserving stories of mill town

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Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson, U.S. History teacher at Pepperell High School, adjusts the sound equipment that he and his students are planning to use to record the stories of Lindale residents and former mill workers. (Kristina Wilder / RN-T.com)

A teacher and his students are on a mission to preserve the personal histories of Lindale residents and former mill workers through a school project.

Scott Wilson, U.S. history teacher at Pepperell High School, is reaching out, hoping to find former and current residents of Lindale who either grew up in the mill village and/or worked in the mill to share their stories of life growing up in the area.

“When you get into history as a field, you can take two paths: the more traditional with historical papers and articles, and then the newer, public history push, which focuses more on the story of a person,” he said. “It’s not just about the story of George Washington, it’s about Pvt. Jones in the Army.”

Wilson said this personal history has become popular in museums, with micro­history displays even showing up in the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s more relatable, it has that personal touch,” he said.

Wilson was inspired to start collecting the stories from Lindale residents and mill workers partly because he himself has a family history in the Lindale mill.

“I worked there for several years,” he said. “Members of my family worked there. There have been efforts to preserve and restore Lindale itself, but none to really preserve the stories.”

The Pepperell district recently received a Striving Readers Grant to improve literacy and part of that was used to purchase technology. Some of the things purchased included sound and video equipment — enough to set up a small in-school studio.

He is putting a callout to anyone who may have lived or grew up in the Lindale village during the mill’s operation. This could range from the 1900s to 2002. The students and Wilson want to record the stories.

“This would help my kids get a taste of what being a historian is like, as well as offer them a unique project that they have a connection to,” he said. “It would also allow them to contribute to their community.”

Wilson has set up a special email address, phspublichistory@floydboe.net, as well as a Google phone number, 706-591-8155, so that those with memories to share can aid in the project.

“We ask that they email or call and leave a message to express interest,” he said. “Someone will be back in touch with them to conduct a pre-interview and then set up a full interview appointment at the school.”

Right now, Wilson is thinking of doing interviews Tuesdays through Thursdays from 1 to 3:30 p.m., but he will work with people if those times do not suit.

“I want the kids to have as many opportunities to do interviews as possible, but I can work with those who cannot come during school hours, because we want to collect as many stories as possible,” he said.

The benefits of the project are twofold, he said.

“It gives my kids some experience they could use later, especially if they plan to go into historical research,” Wilson said. “It preserves the history of a very influential period of American history as well. The textile industry had a revolution between the 1800s and the 20th century. I’m a fourth- generation mill worker, but the kids I’m teaching, my own 6-year-old son, won’t remember anything about the mill. Every day we lose someone who knows a story.”