Category: History Mysteries

The Sharps’ War – History Mystery, September 2016

The Wellesley Historical Society is delighted to collaborate on this month’s History Mystery with the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills.  This post is written by UU member and history buff, Marc Shechtman. Photo courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills and shows the church c.1930

Question – September 14, 2016

In 2006, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vasehem, honored two Wellesley citizens as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an award granted to “honor non-Jews who risked their lives, liberty or position to save Jews during the Holocaust.” Of the nearly 25,000 documented heroes who have been honored since the award was established in 1963, only five Americans have been declared such heroes, and two of them are from Wellesley!  Do you know the story behind our true local heroes? Hint: watch the Ken Burns documentary about them, Defying the Nazis, on your local PBS station on September 20 and return on September 28 to find out the answer.

Answer – September 28, 2016

Waitstill and Martha Sharp were awarded the honor of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. In 1939 and again in 1940, Waitstill Sharp, Minister of the Unitarian Society of Wellesley Hills, and his wife Martha travelled to occupied France, Portugal, and Czechoslovakia on a relief mission that wound up smuggling dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish dissidents and refugees to England and America.

Waitstill Sharp was called to the Unitarian Society of Wellesley Hills in 1936 where he and his wife brought their concerns for social justice and international peace. He had entered the ministry in 1933, eight years after graduating from Harvard Law School. Martha had been a social worker in Chicago where she worked with the poor at Hull House. Despite grave misgivings about leaving their children, 7-year-old Hastings and 2-year old Martha “without any parental supervision or befriending,” the children were looked after by family friends and parishioners who agreed to live in the parsonage on Maugus Road. The church continued to operate with an active lay ministry support team.

The couple separated in 1944 when Waitstill left the Unitarian Society of Wellesley Hills for a position in Cairo with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). Martha returned to Portugal to run the Lisbon office of the Unitarian Service Committee and helped organize Aliyah programs of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization with which she maintained close ties, becoming an international spokesman for the group. Waitstill Sharp died in 1984; Martha Sharp in 1999.

Their heroic story is told in the Ken Burns documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War (2016) and a companion book with the same name by Artemis Joukowsky, their grandson. The film will be shown on October 5, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills, 309 Washington Street, Wellesley Hills, Mass. Light refreshments will begin at 6:15 P.M. Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with Artemis Joukowsky III, co-director of the film and grandson of the Sharps; Tom Andrews, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the organization co-founded by the Sharps; and Catherine Chvany, one of the children rescued by the Sharps. For more information about this event, please visit Registration is requested at

To learn more, please visit:

Problem Rock – History Mystery, August 2016

What’s the Problem with ‘Problem Rock?’

August 15, 2016 – Question

Have you ever noticed this formation of stone at the intersection of Grove Street and Dover Road in Wellesley? At first glance, it appears to be an interesting geological formation, but a plaque at the site deems it “Problem Rock.” This begs the question – what is the problem with Problem Rock? Come back on August 31 to find out the answer!

August 31, 2016 – Answer

Undated Photograph of Problem Rock.
Wellesley Historical Society Photograph Collection.

On a peaceful summer afternoon in Wellesley, there is hardly anything that seems problematic about the stoic rock rising out of the Dover Road brush.

However, to a geologist’s eye, the boulder may indicate more of a problem. Its name goes back as early as 1961 when local geologist Katharine Fowler-Billings calls the massive puddingstone “Problem Rock” in her pamphlet “The Geological Story of Wellesley.” A 1975 Townsman article asserts that geology students at Wellesley College were the first ones who named the rock so.

The problem with Problem Rock, according to Fowler-Billings is that it is nearly impossible to tell whether the rock is an outcropping or a smashed pinnacle. An outcropping is simply exposed bedrock; however, a smashed pinnacle is a term seldom used in geology, and as Fowler-Billings explains, the rock could have been part of a larger rock ledge off which it then fell.

While its classification as outcropping or smashed pinnacle still remains a mystery to geologists, there still is a fair amount geologists do know about the rock and its make-up. For starters, it is a Roxbury Conglomerate, also called puddingstone for the conglomeration of pebbles that stick out of the rock like plums in a Christmas pudding. Puddingstone formed 250 million years ago in the Permian Period by “torrential streams,” as Fowler-Billings described them, that rushed down from mountains in the east (where the ocean is now) and deposited pebbles of quartzite or granite.

Because of the pristine example of puddingstone that Problem Rock represents, and for the puzzle its origin poses, its preservation was a special point of interest for The Hills Garden Club, Conservation Council, and Conservation Commission. In 1974 the rock became part of the first ever property gift to the Wellesley Conservation Commission, a gift from Ruth Howe Tyler Smith and her husband Everett Ware Smith, who formerly owned and lived on the land. In the following August 1975, the Hills Garden Club installed a granite marker to commemorate its donation to the town.

Regardless of its geological history, the rock and its name have gained a new meaning for local residents due to the treacherous junction where it is located. The rock sits right where Dover Road forms a V-shape with Grove Street, creating a tricky driving situation and has been the site of many a car accident, or at least near misses. Apparently this aspect of the “problem” with the rock didn’t go unnoticed to the residents of 1970’s Wellesley; In October 1974, the town changed the short cut-through from Grove onto Dover into a one way street because, as the Townsman describes, the narrow, two-way cut through could be a dangerous scene for a “heedless, arrogant or intoxicated driver.” (Townsman, October 3, 1974)

Olivia Gieger, Wellesley High School, class of 2017

Special thanks to Olivia for volunteering at the Wellesley Historical Society this summer and assisting with historical research, including this History Mystery and our upcoming historic house tour.