WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

SPRINGFIELD — The name Mason is woven into the fabric of Springfield, but Regine Jackson of the Pan African Historical Museum USA said most people do not know the history of the man behind the name. That is why PAHMUSA has partnered with the Springfield Preservation Trust to present an online presentation, “The Legacy of Primus Mason: Revised.”

“So much of our city’s history is sitting on a shelf,” Jackson said, admitting that until a few weeks ago, she didn’t know who Primus Mason was, despite being a longtime resident of Springfield.

Mason was a Black philanthropist and entrepreneur who invested in real estate in Springfield during the mid-to-late-19th century. Born a free person in Monson, Mason became an orphan and endured a childhood of indentured servitude. He worked in a variety of industries as a young man, including being a pig farmer, a teamster and a prospector during the gold rush in California.

After returning to Springfield, Mason purchased a home on State Street with a loan from a local landowner. He was able to make a return on that investment and parlayed it into the acquisition of properties in the city, including a parcel at the intersection of Wilbraham Road and State Street. He later sold this land to the city of Springfield with the provision that it be preserved for public use. In the 1980s, this area was renamed Mason Square for the entrepreneur.

Mason sold other nearby property to brothers William and John McKnight, who developed it into a residential district, now known as the McKnight neighborhood, which has grown to encompass Mason Square.

Aside from Mason Square, the philanthropist has several other namesakes in the city. They include Mason Street, Primus Mason Memorial Park and Mason-Wright, an affordable senior living and care community that was established with $25,000 bequeathed by Mason to “found a home for worthy old men.”

In his 1909 report, “Efforts for Social Betterment Among Negro Americans,” sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois called Mason “one of the chief negro philanthropists of our time.” He was also an Underground Railroad agent, helping to bring enslaved people north from Hartford.

Jackson said that PAHMUSA, whose mission is to protect, preserve and promote the history of Springfield, has partnered with the Springfield Preservation Trust in the past with a focus on the underground railroad walking tour. However, she said, “There’s so much more to our history than that.” This is the first time the organizations have delved into this part of Springfield’s past.

James Johnson, executive vice president of the Springfield Preservation Trust, said, “Because I didn’t grow up in Springfield, I appreciate it more. If you grow up in it, it doesn’t have the same value.”

Johnson, who moved to Springfield when he became an air reserve technician at Westover Air Reserve Base, has lived in various cities around the country. Many places have what he called “cookie cutter” architecture, in which builders and architects did not experiment. But in Springfield, he said, “These neighborhoods, all these different designs, you don’t see that in other American cities.” He also said that the age of the houses in Springfield makes it apparent that the architecture stood as an example to builders that came later.

“We’re hoping to nurture an interest in Springfield’s history, especially its Black history … especially in younger people,” Jackson said. She noted that February, being Black History Month, provides an opportunity to highlight historical figures who contributed to the city.

The online-only event will take place Feb. 22, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. To register, visit tinyurl.com/889ev29d. The lecture will also be livestreamed on facebook.com/PreserveSpringfield.

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