Eugene E. Kirby Paved First Roads in Foxboro and Drove First Automobile From Oak Bluffs to Gay Head
|Typical Motorized Conveyance1912 Foxboro and Oak Bluffs|
Every day and every evening thousands of vehicles drive over the paved and electric night lighted streets of Foxboro. Nary is a thought given to the time when these same roads were unpaved and illuminated by gas lamps, and traveled upon by horse driven wagons and carriages. As when Foxboro’s gravel and cobblestone roads gave away to paved streets, so there was also a time when gas lamps were converted over to electric lights. We take for granted many of the modern conveniences in our present time. However, the historical events of paved roads and electric lights did not take place in a vacuum. There was an individual charged with the responsibility to oversee this transformation and that person was Foxboro’s Eugene E. Kirby.
However, Eugene was much more than the youth who worked each night lighting the gas lamps and later supervised the construction of Foxboro's first paved roads. Foxboro was his consuming love. He lived his entire life, three months shy of a hundred years, in Foxboro. Eugene was truly a New England neighbor, friend, entrepreneur, public servant, parishioner, son, husband, father, and grandfather in every sense and every way.
Eugene E. Kirby was born in Foxboro on December 25, 1865, the son of Jeremiah and Mary (McFarland) who were natives of Ireland. Jeremiah was born in County Kerry, but in early life crossed the Atlantic and established his home at Millville, Rhode Island, where he resided for a year and a half. He then came to Foxboro, where he engaged in railroad work throughout the remainder of his life. He passed away on May 3, 1915, having for a decade survived his wife, who died in March, 1905.
Eugene was Vincent M (Vin) Igo, Jr.’s grandfather. Vin, “Mr. Foxbro” (Vin’s Massachusetts vanity license plate) is fondly remembered. Vin worked for the Foxboro Company from 1943 to 1990. He was a former assistant to the publisher and up until his death a contributing writer and news photographer for the Foxboro Reporter where readers had been “Going Along With Vin Igo” for decades. In 1976 Vin’s old High School was named the Vincent M. Igo School Administration Center and in 1995 it was changed to the Vincent M. Igo Elementary School.
According to his obituary Eugene served a total of twenty years as “Superintendent of Streets” and retired in 1946 at the age of 78. He guided the department from the horse-drawn days to the motorized equipment and he built the first hard surface roads in Foxboro. Eugene spent his youthful days under the parental roof and pursued his education in the schools of Foxboro.
In November, 1888, Eugene married Ann C. Barton, a daughter of Andrew and Julia Barton, who were also natives of Ireland. They came to America in early life and established their home in East Foxboro, where the father worked on the railroad section for a number of years. He and his wife’s remaining days were passed in Foxboro. Eugene and Ann became the parents of three children, Mildred (Vin’s mother), Eugene E. Kirby, Jr. and Sumner B. Kirby.
During the 1880's Eugene ran one of the largest horse livery stables in New England. He established a livery partnership with Charles C. Sumner. The “Cohasset Stables” became known as the firm of "Sumner and Kirby.”
Each summer he took 27 horses aboard a Woods Hole ferry for the trip to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard Island where he operated another livery business for transportation by summer residents. In 1915 he sold the livery enterprise and turned his attention to the growing new automobile industry in Oak Bluffs and in Foxboro. Eugene is credited with driving the first automobile from Oak Bluffs to Gay Head where an Indian reservation was then located.
Eugene E. Kirby belonged to several fraternal organizations, having membership with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Loyal Order of Moose as well as with the Knights of Columbus. His religious faith was Catholic and was a “loyal and unfaltering” member of the Democrat Party.
The archive of the Foxboro Reporter provides insight into the character Eugene and several historical vignettes merit recalling. The February 28, 1903 edition reporting on the Cocasset Stables stated, “Hundreds of people in Foxboro have enjoyed sleigh rides in the winter and barge rides in the summer with Eugene holding the ribbons."
Additionally, in the June 16, 1917 edition, a letter to the editor signed ‘A Subscriber’ stated, “In these days of selfishness and trouble, it does one's heart good to see a real charitable act performed. On Sunday last, after services at the Foxboro Catholic Church, many people stood on the Church steps waiting for a letup in the storm. Mr. Kirby, townsman and member of the church, was there with one of his machines. He kindly offered his services to see all reached home safely, making several trips to different parts of the town and refused utterly any reimbursement for his trouble."
The familiar, cheerful, and portly man with white hair who renewed his auto license every year until the age of ninety-six passed away on September 23, 1965, at the age of ninety-nine years and nine months.
Eugene E. Kirby's life gently affected not only the people he loved and came in contact with, but every aspect of the life of the town he was born, lived and died in whether it private, public, religious, social or business.
As time moves forward and generations live and die, there will always be innovations and inventions to better the quality of daily living. But the virtue of human kindness transcends death and will be shared by all who discover and live it.