History of Auction and Rotary Barn


In 1951 Al Elliott hatched the idea for a “Country” Auction fund raiser. This gave birth to the Winchester institution known as the Rotary Auction. The auction was held on a Saturday in the spring at Town Hall. There was an early bird viewing from 9 to 10 AM prior to the auction. The auction started at 10:00 and ran until everything was sold. A few times the auction ran until 7:00 in the evening. In the early years the merchandise included items donated by local merchants.


Spring in Winchester meant Rotary Auction day to the townspeople. The members of the club collected items for the Auction from attics, cellars, garages, and in some instances would not even reveal their sources. One of the big attractions was the chance to see the banker, the lawyer, the doctor, all Rotarians, trade their gray flannel suits for denim overalls.


The Rotarians used their trucks and cars to haul off the donations collected during the year.


For the first 10 years the “stuff” was stored in Les Whittaker’s barn at the Winchester Conservatories or Sid Elliott’s barn on Pond Street. Some people actually knew enough to drop their donations at Sid’s barn themselves. For a time a barn on Vine Street owned by Aram Mouradian’s, owner of Mouradian Rugs, was also used for storage. Friday before Auction was moving day when all of the merchandise was taken to Town Hall to be set up. This was no small task. It was a labor intensive, exhausting project.


The first auctioneer was Rotarian Aram Mouradian. In subsequent years the club hired a professional auctioneer. One reason for this was that auctioneers had followings and this helped increased attendance of non-Winchester residents and also brought in many dealers.


The items for auction were displayed in local business’ show windows prior to the auction and ads were placed in the Winchester Star seeking donations and advertising the items for sale.


Starting in 1954 lunch prepared and served by Rotary Anns was added. (The term Rotary Ann, an expression of endearment, was coined in 1914 when Ann, the wife of a Rotarian, attended the Rotary International convention and was introduced as the Rotarian’s Ann. From that day forward until the late 1980’s the name was affectionately used when referring to a Rotarian’s spouse.) 

They would make sandwiches, desserts and snacks, individually wrap them and set up tables at the back of the Town Hall where lunch items would be sold along with coffee and punch.


There was a flower table set up by Les Whittaker, owner of Winchester Conservatories, where geraniums that he grew and donated were sold.


There was a white elephant table and a large selection of books for sale.


In 1959 an old fashioned bean supper, much like the one Paul served us today was added to the day’s events. Over the years more than 600 dinners were served annually. For many years the price held at 99 cents. The original Chuck Wagon (picture to follow) built  by Rotarians was set outside the back door of Town Hall and the prep work was done for the bean supper. Also Fred McCormack made his secret elixir (moonshine) in the chuck wagon and frequent visits were made by the hard working Rotarians to imbibe in this early version of 5Hour Energy. The supper was prepared by Rotarians and served at the end of Auction Day by Rotarians and Rotary Anns. At the end of the auction the hall was dismantled and tables and chairs were set up for the supper.

For at least one year, 1962, a Pancake breakfast with sausages was served from 7:00 to 9:00AM in Town Hall.


There were years when the proceeds of the auction were dedicated to specific projects. ie; in 1955 the proceeds went to the Radio Transmitter at WHS; in 1956 they went to the Home for the Aged, the Police Athletic League and the Little League.


Some of the great tales related to the auction are the side stories. Like the time Charlie “Chub” Murphy had a side sale of a Chevvie, with the proceeds going to the club. Another time Charlie Donohue invested $49.00 in a piano (cost of piano, moving, storage, & tuning) which finally sold for 25 cents to a fellow Rotarian. “Penny Pinchin” Jim Cullen. The boat that Rotarian Harry Damon put a reserve bid of up to $40.00 on since he could not be at the auction and when that level was not reached it got bid up by 2 Rotarians when the bidding stalled at $30.00

One year Woburn Rotarian Johnny Black was bid up on a small chair by Charlie Murphy to the point where he could have had it made to order for less money.
Each year Al Elliott, Rotarian and local builder, would go to his workshop and use his woodworking skills to produce a piece of furniture for the auction. It was always one of the most bid on objects at the auction.

John Wilson, the upholsterer, would donate newly refurbished furniture pieces and Boodakian Rugs would donate very saleable oriental carpets etc.
In 1963 due to the amount of yearly donations the club purchased the property at 36 Elmwood Avenue, a barn then owned by Moody Motor Sales, located on Main Street in what is now Winchester Wine and Spirits, to house and store auction merchandise. The barn was also opened year round on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings and items not designated for the auction were sold. In September of each year a cook-out was held at Sid Elliott’s house at which time the Barn Assignments for the year were handed out. There were no sign up sheets. Every Rotarian was assigned a month of duty and one member was designated as chairman for the month. Barn sales equaled or bettered the Auction amount in many years.


In 1970 Rotary International recognized the Winchester Rotary Auction for significant achievement and it was one of 113 worldwide awards. There was 14,022 clubs at the time so Winchester Rotary was in the top 1 per cent bracket. This was an outstanding accomplishment.
Also in the 70’s, in an editorial in the Star, the editor referred to the 3 great Fund Raisers/Social events of the year were The Winton Club Cabaret, The EnKa Fair and the Rotary Club Auction.


The final auction was held in 1985. There were many factors that resulted in the end of an era. Not the least of which was yard sales that became so popular caused donations to drop off dramatically particularly in quality items that were necessary to attract bidders. Many Monday night pick-ups were the remnants of what went unsold at someone’s yard sale. It was decided by the Board and membership later in 1985 that the auction would be stopped and the barn would be sold.


Since there are no complete financial records for the Auction or Barn it is my best guesstimate that the combined endeavor raised well north of $600,000.00 over 34 years.


In March of 1986 a Bid Proposal sheet was prepared and the Barn was offered for sale in a sealed bid process with a minimum bid of $80,000.00. Any non-conforming bid would be rejected. The accepted bid was $104,000.00. There was 1 non-conforming bid.


The property up to the day it collapsed in early February 2011 after a major snow storm was known to the end as “The Rotary Barn” even though it had been almost 25 years since we sold it.


The Rotarians who served the club during the years 1952-1985 left a great legacy and endowment for the present membership.


On the following pages are most of the ads and stories related to the Auction accumulated from the Winchester Star and all of the paperwork concerning the purchase and sale of the barn. Also there are pictures of the “Barn” and “Auction”.


See the following links for Auction and Barn Articles, Photos and Documents:


Auction and Barn Articles 1952 to 1959

Auction and Barn Articles 1959 to 1965

Auction and Barn Articles 1965 to 1973

Auction and Barn Articles 1973 to 1985

Auction and Barn Articles Photos 1

Auction and Barn Articles Photos 2

Auction and Barn Articles Photos 3