by Lilla Bancroft
twenty-four when little Sylvia Willard Thwing was born in Uxbridge-town, in Massachusetts.
The youngest of thirteen children of Benjamin and Anna Mowry Thwing, she was the pet of the household
and when we, her children, listened to the stories of her childhood days, we were impressed with the love
and devotion that always surrounded her.
Her father, Benjamin Thwing, died when she was six years old, and her mother brought up her family with a
firm though loving hand. Her children always spoke of her with deep affection not untinged with awe. Even
Aunt Hannah Thwing who was, in my childhood, Hopedale's great lady, a "cutup" in her youth, chuckled with
joy as she related how her mother dealt with her mischievous pranks. I wonder what her great-great-
grandchildren would think of her methods in this year of grace nineteen hundred and thirty-six.
One of my favorite stories had to do with my mother's first glimpse of my father. She was about seven years
old, blue-eyed, red cheeked, with a mass of bright chestnut hair. She used to go with an elder sister,
Minerva, to drive home the cow "up the lane," as they called it. On this particular day Minerva was away when
the cow-driving hour arrived and Grandmother asked little Sylvia if she thought she could do the work alone.
Filled with pride Sylvia started; her mother felt she might have some difficulty with the heavy bars though
Mother was sure she wouldn't, but she tugged and tugged while the old red cow stood patiently waiting.
Finally almost in tears she looked up and saw a little barefoot boy coming whistling along the lane. He saw
the tiny tot in her little pink cambric frock, long in the skirt and low in the neck, with pretty white ruffles at throat
and wrists, and stopping asked -- "Can I help?" So he took down the bars and together they walked up the
lane, a little switch in Sylvia's hand to remind the cow she must move along and not loiter for grass and
The boy asked her name and when she timidly said, "Sylvia Thwing," he said, "Mine is Joseph Bancroft and
when I get to be a man I'll come back to Uxbridge and marry you,--"and he did. Some thirteen years later he
walked from Medway to Uxbridge and found her -- a beauty with a charming voice so that every Sunday she
led the singing of the hymns in the village choir.
Her father, Benjamin Thwing, taught in a private school in New York, so he was seldom at home. We have
a letter written to my grandmother in truly courtly style, ending, "May slumber sweet thy bed attend."
Expressing love was a dignified proceeding in those days.
Another story, not so happy but one I never tired of hearing, was one of an accident that resulted in my
During one of his summer vacations when Mother was six he took Grandmother and Mother to Mendon to
spend the day with some of the Taft or Mowry cousins. They had a happy visit, although Grandmother was
timid about riding with that particular horse for it had a very bad habit of running down the hills -- and oh,
those Mendon hills.
On the way back to Uxbridge a long hill was before them and as they approached it Grandmother said,
"Benjamin, let us all get out and walk down and lead the horse." He laughed and said, "That would be more
dangerous than to ride;" but she said -- and this was thrilling to me, "I feel I want to get out, Benjamin; stop
and let Sylvia and me out."
So he stopped and they jumped out quickly from the carriage just as the horse bolted; halfway down the hill
as mother, terrified, watched she saw the carriage turn over and her father thrown to the ground. The horse,
kicking and rearing, freed itself and dashed away.
When they reached my grandfather he was unconscious. He lived, I think, hopelessly ill for some weeks,
but died from his injuries and Grandmother was left with her thirteen children. Of course some were
married and away from home by this time, but still her hands were too full to find time to mourn unduly and
she bravely shouldered her responsibility with determination.
Mother was but six years old and could never quite overcome her fear on horses; (she was always timid). Is
it any wonder when her father's accident was always so vividly before her? I can see her now, when our
horses went rather rapidly, her arm protectingly across Lura and me as we returned from the usual Sunday
afternoon call on Grandmother Bancroft in Medway.
For awhile after their marriage Father and Mother lived in Uxbridge but soon moved to Hopedale where with
Eben and George Draper, who had married mother's sisters Anna and Hannah, he founded the Hopedale
Machine Company and here in Hopedale their ten children were born. Five died in childhood but five of us
lived to maturity: Eben, Anna, Mary, Lilla, and Lura.
It can truly be said that Mother "brought us up" for the only punishment I ever knew of Father's giving us was
when he lifted his keen, black eyes, inherited from his lovely French mother, looked at us squarely for a
moment and in a quiet way said, "Did you hear your mother speak?" We did -- at once. Mother's method
was a gentle one. Even Eben, who was rather a lively youth, once told me that after some little
misdemeanor the look of sorrow on Mother's face made him swear he would never do such a thing again.
My Mother was devoted to books and read in her spare moments (where could she find any in her busy
day?) the best literature she could find in our tiny village.
The village people were indeed plain in their living but remarkably advanced in thought -- real followers of
the blessed Adin Ballou of revered memory. It was her joy in books that after her death suggested the idea
to Father of a Memorial Library.
He realized that her first great interest, outside the family, was her church; but already George and Eben
Draper had built the lovely church now standing at the corner of Adin and Hopedale Streets in honor of their
father and mother; so after talking it over with us he decided to build "The Bancroft Memorial Library."
Father and Mother were Unitarians, Mother an ardent worker. One of my most vivid pictures of her is as she
sat in her own easy chair by one of the living room windows with The Christian Register in her hand, entirely
absorbed in some sermon or item of religious news from a far-away land.
When the Draper boys, George and Eben wanted to tear down the old church building that had served as
church, theatre, and playground for years, Mrs. Eben Draper, (charming Nancy Bristow) came to Mother to
ask if it would hurt her if this were done, for "the boys" were eager to build a church in memory of their
I was with Mother at the time -- and she smiled as she said, "I think it a beautiful thing to do -- beautiful."
"Oh! Aunt Sylvia," cried Mrs. Draper, "I am so glad you feel like that; the boys did not want to do it, if it would
make you feel bad to see the old building go." Mother, hesitating a moment said thoughtfully, "One mustn't
hold back the march of progress."
How she would have rejoiced in the fine new Community House which the generosity of G.A. Draper made
One winter she evolved a scheme for "table conversation," as we called it; both she and father abhorred
gossip. Each one of us was to bring to the meal some item gleaned from the papers that would be of
interest to the family. Occasionally I inserted a witticism, but we usually brought good material that would
cause a little eager discussion. Lura was especially keen on this idea and sought for things of real
Father purchased a pleasant winter home in San Mateo, Florida, during the later years of his life and here
we spent many winters on the beautiful St. Johns River. Friends often came for long, happy visits. It was a
lazy life surrounded with birds and flowers; the house itself was large and attractive and stood in a small
orange grove of three hundred or more trees.
Father's brother, William, bought the house with him, and how they both tramped with sticks in hand
through the grove, or went fishing all day up the creek with faithful old black Bose to row the boat.
In those days no end of steamers went up and down the river carrying tourists to see the curving Ocklawaha
alive with alligators and turtles, or to pick up the orange filled crates from our docks. The automobile, alas!
has changed all that and taken much from the picturesque beauty of the lovely spot, but the old river is there
-- one of the most beautiful I have seen in any country.
On pleasant afternoons Mother would take her sewing or knitting out on one of the broad porches and
neighbors would drop in for friendly chats. These neighbors came from far and near and Mother listened
eagerly to their stories of life in the West or North making for herself there, as at home, a place in their hearts.
On Sunday our table was filled with people who had been asked informally to drop in for fried chicken and
strawberry shortcake, or better still, some of our big black cook's delectable ice cream.
I think all of the grandchildren visited there at one time or another and must remember a little of the southern
charm that surrounded the place. I remember the visits of Alice, Joseph, Anna, Bancroft, and Allen, but
perhaps Walter, Jr., never came.
I am happy to think of those long quiet winters in a warm and relaxing climate, when Anna relieved mother
of household cares so she could rest and play after the long years of continual work.
Another great pleasure that came to her in later life was the annual driving trip in the autumn when the trees
were brilliant and the roads at their best. Then Father and Mother, with faithful John Tucker to drive and Anna
to be on hand in case Mother wasn't well, joined Mr. and Mrs. Ray of Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. Follett of
Wrentham, and sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Coburn of Hopkinton and off they went, merry and filled with the
anticipation of a pleasant week or two over the hills of lovely New England, sometimes venturing further
I can remember once seeing them start. They met at our house on a perfect October day, harnesses
shining, horses tossing their heads impatient to be off. It almost seemed as if they, too, felt the joy of the trip
ahead. Sometimes John drove the grays, sleek and shining, or sometimes the chestnut pair with glistening
coats; one of them our beloved Dobbin who would kick up his heels and rear, though why we never found
out. Father drove him single so long as he was able to hold the reins and see the road ahead, for his sight
grew dim those last years of his life.
Mother must have had a great deal of initiative, for when we were little children she would pack a trunk and a
few bags and off we would go to Nantasket for a month to see if the salt air would not bring strength to Lura,
who was never strong; and each winter there was a trip to Boston to see some fine play and have lunch at
Copeland's restaurant where a fountain played, much to our excitement, for we could never quite understand
where the water came from, and then on to the old Boston Museum to see the wax works. No other children
in our little village had such privileges, and what wild tales we would spin for weeks afterward.
When Father decided to take us to California on a Raymond-Whitcomb trip, Mr. Whitcomb came out to
Hopedale to talk things over, and what a glorious trip it was! Eben and Mary were married then and I felt so
sorry that they must stay at home.
And so the years flew by; -- a summer or two at Watch Hill, many at Poland Springs where the water did
much for mother's health, and then Hopedale outgrew its simple Community days and became the abode of
fashion with an ambassador to Italy, General Draper, and a governor of the Old Bay State, Eben Draper, both
devoted admirers of Father and Mother. How well I remember "Aunt Sylvia's" talks with Eben when his
mother died, and he went away comforted.
My mother and father celebrated in a simple way their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary asking the entire
village, and Mother wore a silk dress, "ashes of roses" color, and a white rose in her hair with a tiny glass
bird perched in one of the petals.
Their fiftieth anniversary was a very elaborate occasion with guests from many cities, a caterer, a huge tent
for the supper, beautiful gifts, -- and Mother in gray satin and point lace. She was no older in spirit than the
seven year old little girl driving home the red cow up the Uxbridge lane.
No portrait of Mother gives any idea of the charm of her expression -- a sweet gaiety and a look of great
peace. The one hanging on the walls of the Library is not good, but the one of Father seems to me almost
God bless them both.
And now, in January in the year nineteen hundred and thirty six, only two of us are left; Anna and Lilla, -- soon
we, too, will join the family circle of our generation, and that is why I have written this little sketch of Sylvia
Thwing Bancroft in whose memory my father built the dear little library in Hopedale that the next generation,
should it care to read, may know something of the woman who lived and worked and died universally
beloved and admired.
Joseph Bancroft Eben Draper Bancroft
Lilla Bancroft Lura Bancroft
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house on Hopedale Street
Sylvia Thwing Bancroft