Heman Hersey and the Pest House
mill pond at the Hopedale-Milford town line,) has long been known as the Pest House. I'd heard that it
was a place where people had been sent for the reason of being quarantined, the name being short
for pestilence, but I didn't know anything beyond that.
After receiving a question about it from the present owner a few weeks ago, (Hmmm, when did I write
that? Probably around 2004. It couldn't have been after 2005.) I decided to ask Hester Chilson if she
knew anything about it. As it turned out, she remembered the situation quite well. Her foster-father,
Edwin Darling, was a selectman at the time it was first needed and was involved in the purchase of
the house. Also, the brother of the victim lived next door to Hester and her foster parents, the Darlings,
on Freedom Street. (She lived at 54 Freedom Street. Hersey was in the duplex just below that.) As far
as she knows, the house was only used once when an employee of Henry Patrick's Store, Heman K.
Hersey, become ill with smallpox. She recalls that no one knew how he caught it.
From what I can tell by looking through town reports, Hersey came down with the pox in 1901. I haven't
found out where he was living at the time, but the 1898 town directory gives him as boarding with Mrs.
A.F. Downing, Dutcher, corner Hope. He survived and the 1905 town directory gives his occupation
and place of residence as "clerk, Patrick's, rooms in block over store." That would be the store that
was where the parking lot between the library and the Harrison Block are now. I haven't seen any town
directories for about fifteen years after the 1905 one, but by 1920 Hersey lived with his parents at 7
Hopedale Street and was there through 1923. His age that year was given as 45. By 1924, evidently
his father had died, and he had moved back to an apartment over Patrick's, this time with his mother.
Mr. Hersey evidently made a complete recovery. By the time he retired from Patrick's, he had worked
there for more than sixty years.
Hester told me that Hersey eventually married, moved to Mendon and lived at the corner of Main Street
and what she referred to as Birch Alley. She cleared that one up for me by telling me that it's now
called Washington Street. Main Street is Uxbridge Road/Route 16. Dan and Joyce Gilmore live there
now and about a year ago they donated a wooden Henry Patrick delivery box and two very old (c. 1900)
order books to the Little Red Shop Museum. I assume they were items left there long ago by Hersey.
The town report of 1903 mentions that the town paid rent for the Pest House. In the years after that,
it's listed as a town owned property. (Years ago, the value of each building owned by the town was
given in town reports.) The Pest House was valued at $600 for a few years and later raised to $1,000,
where it remained into 1928. It's not listed in town reports after that. See the paragraph from the town
report for 1929 below for more on that. The town report of 1901 lists the following expenses related to
the Hersey case:
Smallpox case, account Heman Hersey:-
Sylvester L. Madden, milk, etc. $9.88
J. Allen Rice, rubber gloves 2.50
H. Louise Ketchum, nurse 95.00
H. Shattuck, nurse 95.00
Edith L. Warner, nurse 75.00
Abram Waldron, labor 2.00
Draper Company, sundries 7.30
H.L. Patrick, groceries, etc . 72.78
Remick Furniture Co., furniture 59.12
Dr K.A. Campbell, medical attendance 340.00
Avery & Woodbury, screen 1.50
S.A. Staples, sundries 18.75
L.A. Lamson & Son, medicine 34.85
F.T. Harvey, hospital bed 9.00
Hopedale Stable, wood, etc. 12.75
Now and Then at Patrick's Buildings Menu HOME
Street (Route 16) and Washington Street.
After the purchase of the pest house, it was among the town-owned buildings listed in
the town reports each year up to 1928. The paragraph above is from the town report of
1929. Evidently the article passed. There's no mention of the pest house in town
reports after that. It appears that Article 4 was covering two matters; the sale of the
house and also "damages" occurring because of work on the road later known as West
Street or Route 140. The term "damage" often appears in town reports in connection
with road work and I think refers to land taken to widen the road.
The 1930 book of Hopedale poll tax payers lists Cordelia Williams, 60, on West Street,
no number given. There was also Albert A. Williams, 54, West Street, machinist.
The Pest House at 366 West Street. Thanks to Melissa and Michelle
who invited me in to take a look at it when I knocked on the door and
said, "Is this the former pest house?' Very nice in there. A lot has been
done since the time of Heman Hersey's stay. The part on the right is
an addition, and there are two more additions out of sight of this view.
According to the Board of Health report for 1902, there were two cases of
smallpox in Hopedale that year. In the report of the Overseers of the Poor
we see that Heman Hersey was one of them. There's no indication of
who the other one was. In the list of deaths in the town report for that
year, none have smallpox being given as the cause. While they paid for a
casket and body removal of Hiram Kent, his name doesn't appear on the
deaths page. It seems that the other person probably wasn't taken to the
pest house. Perhaps his family was willing and able to take the chance
and care for him at home. I presume Hersey wasn't dependant on aid
other than the time that he was ill with smallpox. Before and after that
time, he worked for Patrick's.
The drawing above of the pest house is from a brochure showing houses and public
buildings in Hopedale produced by the Hopedale HIstorical Commission in 1992.
While the wording suggests that it was used a number of times, I've never found
mention of it serving the intended purpose for anyone other than Heman Hersey.