Within two generations of the settlement of Plymouth, 64 square miles of land was purchased from the
Nipmuc Indians by a group from Braintree and Weymouth. This area became the town of Mendon
which was incorporated in 1667. Settlers moved into the region prior to incorporation, however, and in
1664 Benjamin Albee built a grist mill on the Mill River in what is now the south end of Hopedale. The
mill and the rest of the buildings in Mendon were destroyed in 1675 during King Phillip's War. A new
mill was built on the site by Matthias Puffer in 1684.
By the 1700s more people were moving in to the Mill River valley, which by that time was known as The
Dale. One of the best known settlers of that time was John Jones. Several sections of Mendon had
broken off to form separate towns and Jones became a leader of a group that wanted a new town in the
area that was to eventually become Milford. Jones ran into strong opposition to his plan and for ten
years failed to get any nearer to his goal. In 1741 Jones decided on another approach. Instead of
petitioning for incorporation, he and his group, the Mill River Men, called an Eccliastical Council of area
churches and received permission to start a new church. Because only a town could have a church at
that time, this was an important step, but it wasn't until 1780 that Milford, including what is now
Hopedale, became a town.
As the Industrial Revolution was beginning to turn the Blackstone into "the hardest working river in
America," Adin Ballou was turning his thoughts to making life better in ways that rivers and waterwheels
couldn't. Born in 1803 in Cumberland, Rhode Island, a descendant of an associate of Roger Williams,
he had little formal schooling, which, he later wrote, left him free to form, "the independent convictions,
principles, and aims now so sacred to me." By the early 1820s Ballou had become a Universalist and
in 1823 he became the Universalist minister in Milford. By 1831 he had moved on the become the
minister of the Unitarian Church in Mendon. This was an era of reform movements and Rev. Ballou
soon became involved in several of them; most notably, peace, women's rights, abolitionism,
temperance and Practical Christian Socialism.
Through letters and meetings, Ballou maintained contact with other reformers and in 1840 he began
publishing a biweekly newspaper, The Practical Christian, to promote their ideas. The first suggestion
of a community based on his beliefs appeared in the September 15, 1840 edition of his paper. In it, he
proposed to establish "a compact neighborhood or village of practical Christians, dwelling together by
families in love and peace, insuring themselves the comforts of life by agricultural and mechanical
industry and directing the entire residue of their intellectual, moral and physical resources to the
Christianization and general welfare of the human race." After a long period of working out the details
and raising money, they purchased a 258 acre farm on the Mill River in what by that time was Milford.
They renamed the area, long known as The Dale, Hope Dale. The farm included several building in
rather poor condition but the group felt that the twenty-four foot drop in the river would provide a useful
amount of water power. In April 1842 Ballou and about forty others moved into the Old House which
had been built in 1703. They immediately went to work planting crops, repairing buildings, constructing
a two-story mechanic shop, and building a structure that would serve as a school, dormitory and office
for the Practical Christian. Before long they were also at work on a dam and a chapel which would also
be used as a school. Within a year they were also building homes after dealing with the difficulties of
having more than forty people living in one house. Over the next several years the Community made
progress in some areas but its strict standards limited new membership and it had difficulty in
establishing business that would generate a reasonable income.
However some growth was made and by 1846 Hopedale had seventy resident, a dozen houses, a
machine shop, a blacksmith shop, a sawmill and a second dam. They had also started producing
temples, an important component of looms, which keep the cloth stretched to the desired width while it
is woven. By 1852 the population had reached 200, the number of houses had nearly tripled, land
ownership by the community had almost doubled, more orchards and gardens had been planted and
several small businesses had been opened.
Through the 1840s and 1850s Ballou and the Community continued to speak for and promote the
causes that they had been identified with since the beginning. They were opposed to the Mexican War.
They hosted antislavery meetings where Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd
Garrison spoke to a thousand people. Women had the right to vote on Community affairs and many
had committee memberships, though positions of leadership were rare. There were two women
doctors in town in the 1850s, Emily Gay and Phila Wilmarth. Abby Price who had joined the Community
in 1842 gave one of the major speeches at the women's rights convention in Worcester in 1851. Later
that year Lucy Stone gave two lectures on women's rights in Hopedale.
While the shops along the river may be the first things to come to mind when thinking of nineteenth
century Hopedale, the community established branches in agriculture, horticulture and orchardry.
During the 1850s, a large barn was constructed and twenty-five acres were planted in corn and
potatoes. Two thousand apple trees and a smaller number of other types of fruit trees had been
planted. A store was opened in the center of Milford to sell Hopedale's produce and deliveries were
made to homes by wagon. The orchardry division also did well in selling trees, bushes and shrubs.
In 1853 Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Bloom opened the Hopedale Juvenile Home School, which was both a
boarding school and a day school for boys and girls. Under the Blooms, the school didn't attract many
students. It did better after it was sold to Ballou's daughter and son-in-law, Abby and William
Heywood. By 1858 they had over fifty students. One of the students at the Home School was the son of
William Lloyd Garrison.
Most of the members of the Hopedale Community were opposed to the idea of a communistic
arrangement with all members owning an equal share. Rather, it was a joint-stock association with
many members having few or no shares and a few owning large numbers.Ebenezer Draper, in
attempting to assist the community's growth, had used a large amount of the money he had earned in
his temple business to buy stock in the community. In 1853 he took his brother, George into his
business as a partner. George also became a member of the Community but he didn't share all of the
idealistic goals of Rev. Ballou and Ebenezer. In 1856, George convinced his brother to join him in
withdrawing their investment, which amounted to three-quarters of the total value of the Community.
This action resulted in the end of the Hopedale Community, except for a few of its lesser functions, and
the beginning of the Draper era.
The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of tremendous growth for the companies along the
Mill River in Hopedale which, by 1897 would be absorbed by the Draper Company. By the early 1900s,
Drapers became the largest producer of textile machinery in the United States. Along with business
success, Drapers also acquired sufficient power and political influence to separate Hopedale from
Milford and incorporate as a town.
Like the rest of the New England textile industry, Drapers found orders declining even before the
Depression and while World War II provided military contracts and kept business going for a while,
foreign competition after the war resulted in a recurrence of the earlier problems. In 1967 a controlling
interest in Drapers was acquired by North American Rockwell and in 1980 the Hopedale plant was
closed. Images of America - Hopedale
Hopedale Center, c. 1890