Hollis’ Wheeler House is 100 years old

HOLLIS – By all accounts, Ruth E. Wheeler was a remarkable woman.

During the early years of the 20th century, a time when few women pursued careers, the Hollis High School graduate earned her Bachelor of Arts from Simmons College in Boston and a Master of Science from Boston University, and then advanced study and certification in dietetics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Widowed during World War I, she worked as a Red Cross volunteer in World War II and opened her home for volunteer work among women, and served as an occupational therapist at Fort Devens Hospital.

According to “The History of the Wheeler House” by Sharon Howe, of the Hollis Historical Society, Wheeler also introduced and taught first aid classes to Hollis firemen, started the first Hollis kindergarten, founded the Hollis Girl Scouts, and whenever she could, she encouraged and assisted young people in obtaining college educations.

She had no children of her own, but in her extended family, she was always the teacher or the family nurse, and neighborhood children always knew her home would be open on Halloween for trick-or-treat.

Wheeler’s legacy lives on in the form of the Wheeler House at 20 Main St.

At her death in 1979, she willed her home to the Hollis Historical Society for its headquarters and museum. The Ruth E. Wheeler House was her final gift to the society, which she helped establish in 1958, becoming one of the charter members.

The house has remained much as it was during her lifetime, a modest World War I-vintage wooden dwelling. The kitchen, which remains as it was when Wheeler owned the house, reminds many visitors of their grandmothers’ kitchens.

The original wood-burning stove with a copper hot water tank behind it has been removed, but the electric stove and a small early General Electric refrigerator next to the porcelain drain board kitchen sink remain in place, along with the linoleum flooring.

The Wheeler House includes a varied collection of Hollis artifacts and is cared for by society members, who “are always looking for more helpers,” member Fredricka Olson said.

The Hollis Garden Club cares for the Lucie Beebe Garden, which is behind the house and named for one of the society’s early volunteers.

The society is celebrating the house’s 100th birthday this year, and has been adding special items for display, including the scrimshaw powder horn carried by Capt. William Read, of Hollis, during the Revolutionary War.

This month’s topic is “concealment shoes” – shoes that were hidden in houses when they were being built to ward off evil spirits.

On display in the dining room is a “patriotic afghan” made and donated by Phyllis Houle that is being raffled off.

Tickets can be purchased at the Wheeler House or at the Hollis Historical Society booth during Hollis Old Home Days on Sept. 12-13.