Jessie Foote And Her Climb Up The Steeple
Let me tell you about one of Ashland’s unsung celebrities- Jessie Foote. Jessie was born on August 8th, 1860 in New Berlin, NY. As a child her Father, Adrian Foote, moved the family to Ashland. Adrian was hired to supervise the construction of the Dwight Print Company’s factory buildings on the corner of Main Street and Myrtle. Today this building is known as the Lombard building on Main Street and is home to many businesses. After all that work, Dwight Print Company never moved into the factory! Jessie’s father remained in charge of the property, he was selectman for many years and was chair of the committee to start a public library in the town. Yes, her father had quite the resume – but Jessie has an even better story!
The Boston Daily Globe, August 24, 1901- 100 Feet in Air. Plucky Act of an Ashland Woman About 40. Made the Journey Up and Down without a Mishap, and Talks of her Exploit as Though it were an Every-day Incident in her Life. That Plucky Ashland Woman is none other than, Jessie Foote! She was no ordinary Edwardian lady in a bustle!
The newspaper sketch does a great job showing the 135 foot spire with Jessie on her mission to the top, the Methodist Church (1868), located on the corner of Alden Street and Church Court, was demolished in 1924. It was a beautiful wooden structure.
Back to the hilarious article! When asked why she climbed the 135 foot spire of the Methodist Church, Jessie responded: Why, Sir, just because I wished to do so. (I really like this woman!)
While visiting with friends the previous day, Jessie had seen painters working on the spire. Once the idea was in her head- there was no stopping her. I envision her lying awake that night going over the idea in her head and giggling to herself! Jessie continues to say: Wednesday, I dashed to the Davis house, jumped from my bicycle, and cried out to my friends: Get out your smelling salts, up I go now (much better than our modern equivalent: “hold my coffee”). Those who had encouraged the attempt of the feat 24 hours previous were frantic at once.
I rushed across to the church. I met a painter and announced to him that I intended to scale the shaft in the sky. I expected that he would remonstrate, but he never uttered the least objection. That was strange.
She makes a point to state that her garments were: those which I ordinarily wear when out on the highways of the town wheeling for amusement and exercise. A moment later I was at the top of the second ladder with the carved ornamental design in my arms. If it had been a weather vane I should have clasped it just the same.
From the belfry I threw my hat to the wind in triumph and watched it float to the grass and land.
Somebody said afterward that my stomach must have felt queer when up so high in the air. I told the person that I Don’t have that kind of stomach.
Miss Foote was asked if she notified her father of her intention to climb the steeple before she did. She replied that she wasn’t in the habit of describing to anyone what she purposed; talking previous to accomplishing was not her habit.
Asked if she had notified her father of her accomplishment. She replied that she did. What did he say? Humph! Not a surprising reaction from her town connected father. Then again, he might not have been surprised by Jessie’s actions, since they happened before….. Yes, She Has Done This Before, Ladies and Gentleman!
Jessie’s first climb can still be seen today. If you stand in front of the The Historical Society and look towards the Lombard building there is a large chimney. She only climbed part of the way up the 119 foot brick chimney and was not happy about her failed attempt. Need I remind you, her father was in charge of the building! Oh Adrian, I feel for you!
Jessie lived to be 93 years young and I would have loved to have met her. I will leave you some advice from Jessie: Be careful how you go down stairs, don’t go in a hurry.
The Boston Daily Globe, August 24, 1901
History of the Town of Ashland
Jessie’s advice came from Jean’s Guestbook, October, 1878