A History of South Hopedale
1664 – 1970
by Elsie Jenks
The writer has collected these facts from research in “Adin Ballou’s History of Milford” and “John Albee’s “Confessions of Boyhood,” with the help of recollections by Miss Hazel Albee, Mrs. Ernestine Knox and Mrs. Hilda Chilson.
In Reverend Adin Ballou‘s History of Milford he states that the “very oldest parcel of land on our territory assigned to individual possession was one acre for a corn mill. In 1664 the old Constitution of Quinshipaug Plantation gave Benjamin Alby (Albee) a one-acre mill lot or seat situated on the Mill River at what is now Hartford Avenue. The original mill and Benjamin Alby’s house were destroyed by Indians in King Phillip’s War. The mill was later re-established at or near the site of the present mill, which for many years in the beginning of this century was a shoddy mill.
The next laying out of land was made to John Sprague in 1670, northwest of Alby’s corn mill on what was then the turnpike over Neck Hill from Mendon to South Milford. For many years this road was known as Turnpike Slip
Adin Ballou lists many early families who settled on the east side of Mill River, taking advantage of the fertile, level plains. This was called “Mill Plain,” and for old time residents it is only in recent years that we have become accustomed to using the names of the streets. In our childhood days to walk south on Plain Street was to “go down the Plain Road,” or to “go down on the Plains.” Settlers also took advantage of the Second Plain, northeast of Mill Plain, towards Charles River, then known as Second Bridge River. South Milford grew gradually, not as a town, but as an area which eventually was part of Mendon, Bellingham, Milford, and Hopedale.
This article is an attempt to recall the early history and growth of the South Hopedale section, which of necessity overlaps with the growth of the entire community of South Milford.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries our early settlers cleared land, built dwellings, and developed farms which supplied their families with food and clothing. A few small home industries gradually grew up and were conducted in small shops on the owner’s property. In the nineteenth century varied industries began to develop in Milford and Hopedale. South Hopedale men went to work in those factories, doing their farm work before and after factory hours, or hiring someone to work their farm for them. The workweek in industry was much longer in those days than now, so this was by no means an easy life. Some men combined trades such as carpentry and masonry with farming.
The early expansion of South Hopedale followed the paths of Hartford Avenue, Plain, Mellen, Newton, Mill, Warfield, Howard, and South Main Streets. For over two centuries these were narrow dirt roads bordered by the stone walls built by early settlers who utilized the stone cleared from their land to mark boundary lines and to fence in their property. Many of these roads were not paved until well into this century. Some of the streets were named for the original families who lived on them, others after the area through which they were laid out. Hartford Avenue received its name from the old Hartford Turnpike or Turnpike Slip which connected Boston and Medfield with Mendon and Hartford. Apparently Penniman’s, later the Green Store, was a stagecoach stop. (Milford News Green Store article)
During the first quarter of this century many abandoned home sites were visible. One was on Hartford Avenue opposite the Bicknell Cemetery, once called the “Dr. Thurber Burying-ground.” Plain Street had several such sites, of which two were near the present entrance to the Hopedale airport. For many years beautiful lilac bushes marked these two spots. It is not known who built the houses or who planted the shrubbery which people enjoyed for so many years, even to the extent of transforming small portions of the bushes to their own gardens. The southern section of Plain Street boasted the Gaskill racetrack which existed so many years ago that there seems to be no written account of it, or anyone alive who recalls any detail concerning it. There was also a charcoal operation on this section of the street. A short distance north on Plain Street were two more cellar holes near the junction of Mellen Street. The one on the westerly side has long since been covered by a section of the Rosenfield sand pit, and the one on the easterly side is being filled and leveled. Still another cellar hole near the junction of Mill and Plain Streets was visible until a few years ago. One of the best defined of these old cellar holes was on the west side of Warfield Street. The location is very pleasant and even as a boy Mr. C. Henry Knights talked of wanting to build a house there, which he did in the middle of this century. Three other home sites, one of them on Howard Street near the Charles River and two on Mellen Street have disappeared.
The writer has been unable to do the research necessary to state accurately when the oldest house still standing in South Hopedale was built and by whom. Probably in all this area there are not more than a half dozen which date back to the eighteenth century. A few were built early in the nineteenth century and some in the latter part of that century. In the twentieth century, the growth of new homes has been fairly steady. New streets have been added-Charlesgate Road, Thayer Street, Lloyd Street, Glendale Road, and Villa Drive. These, like the older streets, were named for people and locations.
The original portion of South Hopedale Cemetery was apparently a donation by Elijah Albee to the town for the consideration of two dollars in 1801. The original portion contained about sixty-six rods of ground. In 1836 it was enlarged by the purchase from Joseph Albee for ten dollars, a half acre of land at the north end.
The original schoolhouse for this area was very small. It stood at what is now the southeast corner of the cemetery on the land occupied by the Warfield lots and monument and was probably built in about 1790 or a little earlier. Its next successor, two rods further south was built in 1813 or 1814. The members of the building committee as listed by Adin Ballou were Samuel Penniman, Samuel Warfield, Sr., and Joel Howard. Zuriel Howard took the contract to build the schoolhouse for three hundred dollars. Nahu Legg taught the first class there in 1814-1815.
In 1855 a larger school was built north of the cemetery, the work done by Lowell Fales. The site, about three-fourths of an acre, cost sixty dollars and twelve cents and the house one thousand four hundred ninety one dollars. The former schoolhouse was sold to Joseph Albee for one hundred twenty five dollars and made into a dwelling. It stands on the original site and has been occupied by the Edgar H. Jenks family since 1906. The triangular piece of property between Newton and Mellen Streets was known for many years as the School House Common as it had been part of the playground. An examination of the deed to the property shows that Mellen Street is the southeasterly boundary. Newton Street is thought to have been an approach to the oldest schoolhouse and for some years after the second school was built it was not in use. The third schoolhouse is now a dwelling owned by Mrs. Alma Lussier, and for many years children have been transported by bus to the Hopedale Center schools. Previously they had attended the South Hopedale School through grade six, then traveled by trolley to Hopedale by way of Milford.
The house at 2 Mellen Street occupied by the Howes family is an interesting old place with a large central chimney surrounded by three fireplaces. The small building is thought to be a bootmaker’s shop. Of the three large farms which existed well into the century only one remains. It is owned by Vincent Whyte, located on Plain Street and formerly was the property of Nahum Gaskill. A second large farm on Plain Street, owned and operated for many years by Frank Gaskill is now the headquarters of the prosperous concrete company owned and operated by Joseph Rosenfeld. The William Knights farm has been divided into house lots on Plain, Mellen, Warfield, and Thayer Streets, and the central portion was developed into an air strip which is now the home of Air Travel Service Corporation and Hopedale Airways, Inc., a very busy aircraft maintenance plant and flying school, with many private planes parked on the field. One could not help wondering what the Indians, whose arrowheads can still be found on Mill Plain, would have thought of last summer’s airlift and flying demonstration.
The old Green Store, so well described was the center of much activity-a country store of the type we find when we travel through New England, with church services, meetings, and suppers, held in Harmony Hall on the second floor of the building. For many years one errand popular with children was a trip to the post office in the Green Store to get the mail, a hike usually rewarded with a penny or two for candy.
In the early nineteenth century transportation was chiefly by foot or carriage. The nearest public transportation was the railroad from Franklin to Milford with a station at the Hartford Avenue crossing. The advent of the trolley cars on South Main Street in the latter part of the last century made traveling much easier. One could board a trolley and by changing car enroute arrive in local towns as far away as Providence, Worcester, or Boston. Busses eventually took the place of the trolleys. The railroad is now a local freight road.
In the early days we have tried to describe there was very little recreation among adults, as you know it today. Church attendance on Sunday was regularly observed and was about the only change from the hard work of making a living from the land. Children did much work on the land and had very simple amusements. The writer recollects that even in the early part of this century young people enjoyed skating on the Charles River between Mellen Street and Hartford Avenue and on the schoolhouse pond, coasting on the hill behind the schoolhouse, and sleigh rides on snow packed roads, often along Hartford Avenue to a Medway restaurant where we were served an excellent oyster stew. In spring May basket parties were popular. In summer it was time for blueberry picking, swimming, and baseball. Fall brought chestnut gathering and hiking.
At the school which is now the Lussier property an interesting Memorial Day observance was held each year. On the nearest school day to May 30 we were dismissed shortly after the opening of school with permission to go out and gather wild flowers or to get flowers from families who could spare some from their yards. Returning to school we made up bouquets for the cemetery. In the afternoon a Civil War veteran appeared with small flags. We had appropriate recitations and songs and a short talk by the veteran. We then formed a double line, each child carrying a flag and a bouquet. Let by the veteran and our teacher, we marched from the school to the cemetery, singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Each flag and bouquet was carefully placed on a veteran’s grave. Extra bouquets were put on graves of people who had no living relatives. This observance was one which we will always remember.
An integral part of our twentieth century history is the South Hopedale Branch Library. At first books were brought to the school from the Hopedale Library. Later on different women in the community acted as librarian, also with books supplied by the Hopedale Library. This popular source of reading material is now located in the home of Mrs. Betty Butcher, who keeps young and old supplied with books.
South Main Street, now Route 140, also called Cape Road is part of a route which connects northern Massachusetts with New Bedford, and is a favorite route for travel to and from Cape Cod. The South Hopedale section is built up with attractive homes, old and new, with well-kept grounds. From Plain Street south on Route 140 one finds a car dealer, a tire dealer, the headquarters of Massachusetts Electric Company, a trailer sales concern, a modern nursing home, a service station, a wholesale-retail chicken supply business, and the Community Bible Chapel. Here at the Mendon line our three hundred year ramble around and in South Hopedale history comes to an end.
I received the following information on South Hopedale on May 31, 2004
I am taking a history course here at school and it is great. We got a chance to go on your website. It was so interesting. It did mention that if we noticed anything that didn’t quite sound right you wanted to know. Naturally, I went to the south of town section to see if there was anything written about my house. I noticed that you mentioned there was a boot shop on Mellen Street. We happen to have deeds to our house stating it was originally owned by a Cahill and the boot shop was located on our land. Mill/Plain street. We have an unusual out-building right outside our back door and that was the place of the boot shop; not Tommy’s. I just thought you might like to know. Our house was built in 1860 if that gives you any help. I don’t have much information except from Colby Look [a former neighbor] and my own grandfather. Thought you might also be interested in knowing that our barn was the first Boy Scout meeting place.
Although it wouldn’t seem like a small, low population area like South Hopedale (or South Milford, as it was called then) would be enough to support two shoe shops, I can think of a couple of possibilities to explain two shoe shops in the same neighborhoods. One is that they may not have existed at the same time. One may have been in business for forty or more years, followed by another. Another possibility is that the shops may not have been making complete shoes. Before the days of the big shoe shops, such as in Milford, Broctkon, and many other places, very small shops that made just one shoe part were common. An individual or company would buy the different parts from various shoe shops and assemble them into complete shoes. In that situation, it wouldn’t be at all unusual for two shoe shops to exist at the same time in the same neighborhood. DM