Here’s my father, George William John Atkinson (called John at home and Jack at work) at his desk in the Metal Pattern Making Department at Drapers

From top left: my brother John Howell Atkinson, James Lutz, Jr., David Lee Atkinson and on the bottom step Richard Maloney. The photo was taken by Andrew Nealley at 157 Mill Street, Hopedale.

David Atkinson’s Memories of Hopedale

Growing up in Spindleville

Here is a little bit of my family history in Hopedale: George and Lillian Atkinson had four children and lived at 7 Soward Street. George William John (my father) was the oldest. Then came Gladys (who married the Milford Police Chief Maloney) Dorothy (who married James Lutz and later Marty Diggins) and Priscilla (who married Albert Iannitelli of Milford). My father (they called him John) married one of the ten Nealley children, Mabel Louise. Howell and Pearl Nealley lived right across from the Draper shop three doors from the Main Office. Their house is still there. Howell Nealley held the license that allowed Drapers to operate. Howell had to be accessible 24/7.

The Nealley children were: Dean, Arnold, Eugene, John and Andrew. Then the girls were Tina, Fannie, Mabel, Martha and Pearl. My brother John Howell was born in the Water Cure House when my parents lived there briefly. My father and school did not get along. In fact, my father once kicked Miss Cressy in the shins and when my brother John had her, she showed my brother the scar my father had given her. She was brutal to my brother as well.

My father’s 16th birthday present from his father was a job in Draper Corporation. George Atkinson was the foreman of the foundry. A big strong man with a thick English accent. To get the most work out of his men George would drink with them on Friday nights. He would start at the top of Water Street and drink his way down to the bottom of Central Street. The Milford Police would often give him a ride home. When my father got his driver’s license the police would call the house and my father would be sent to drive his father home. The experience of seeing his father drunk kept my father from ever having a drink in his entire life.

George Atkinson loved pickled onions. His wife Lillian could not stand the smell so when George made them, she left the house and stayed away all day. Once my cousin Jimmie Lutz stole one of Grampa’s jars of pickled onions and brought them to school and gave all the boys some to eat. Jimmie got in serious trouble because the teacher could not stand the smell of the breath of her students. My brother thought it was hilarious and related that story many times in his life.

Howell Nealley always wore a three-piece suit with a gold watch and watch fob. It seemed he was always at work. He had an electrical engineering license, a hydraulic engineering license, and among other things was a locksmith and a registered safe cracker. He had a key to everything in Drapers. Several times when the Milford Town Clerk would forget the combination of the safe Grampa Nealley would be called to get her back into the safe.

Once while at the Milford Town Hall to open the safe Mr. Nealley noticed the clock on the steeple of Town Hall was not working. He asked Catherine Coyne, the Town Clerk, about it and she said it had not worked in a long time. Howell asked if he could take a look at it and in a matter of minutes had it running perfectly and it ran for years.

As a little kid, I remember watching my grandfather Nealley working on a lock. He had a locksmith’s shop setup in a closet in his bedroom. I marveled at the tiny little screws and do-dads he handled to fix locks, watches, etc.

Howell Nealley loved Necco Wafers. When the grandchildren visited the Nealley homestead across the street from the shop we would scour the house for Necco Wafers left in dishes, on the mantle, on the piano, you name it. Necco wafers would be all over the house. He once said when he got to a flavor he didn’t like he would leave it where he was when he got to it in the roll. My aunt Dorothy told me that he liked them all but knew the kids would be looking for them so he made up that story about not liking certain flavors.

Spindleville got its name from the mill powered by the dam where Greene Street and Mill Street connected. The mill, which made spindles, was owned by Asa Westcott. Day in and day out you could hear the machinery banging those spindles, making them straight and us local kids enjoyed looking in the windows at the men below us moving those spindles. I was lucky enough one day to be allowed into the mill while it was operating. I was fascinated by the (what seemed to be) miles of leather straps flapping and snapping as they turned the wheels of the machinery doing the work.

All the power used in the mill came from the water as it spilled over the dam and turned wheels. Walking in the shop could prove dangerous as most of the men there had to duck their heads to avoid all those moving leather belts. We had plenty of opportunity to look in those shop windows as the school bus picked us up and left us off every day at that corner. Nothing like today’s kids who get picked up by the school bus at the end of each driveway. How wasteful that seems to me who walked the whole street (about a mile) from kindergarten through the sixth grade when my parents moved to Mendon.

Stories of Roscoe Look

When I was born my father had just finished building a new house at 157 Mill Street. He bought the land from Roscoe Look. Roscoe Look and his wife (who was 16 years younger) lived at the next house down on the opposite side of the street. They were real farmers. They had cows, chickens, lots of gardens, Mrs. Look canned and preserved everything. Her kitchen was always buzzing with activity. As a small kid I loved hanging out at their house and watching them work. I imagine I asked lots of questions. That was my style and still is.

One day Mr. Look asked me if I wanted my own garden. He didn’t have to ask twice. He took me out behind my parents’ house where a loggers’ camp had been torn down and pointed out a small square of land that had no weeds and told me that was mine and showed me how to plant and care for the seeds he gave me. Maybe Mr. Look gave me my own garden to get rid of me for a while, I don’t know, but that was the beginning of my love of gardening and one of the nicest things anyone could have done for a kid. Mr. Look had a son in the Second World War named Ike. When Ike got out of the service, he bought his mom and dad a TV. We were told it was the very first TV in Hopedale. The whole neighborhood was excited. Mr. And Mrs. Look had a grandson named Billie Francis who was a close friend of my brother and lived at 155 Mill Street. On Saturday nights the neighborhood kids were invited to lie on the Look’s living room floor and watch the Milton Berle Show on that fabulous, exciting, brand-new TV.

On the very first night I learned what the word “hark” meant. We would be laughing at something on the TV and Mr. Look would say in a loud voice, “HARK!” It did not take too long to figure out he wanted us to shut up and be quiet. Who knew that “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” meant keep quiet and listen? I did.

My third tale of Roscoe Look involves my brother John and Billy Francis. Mr. Look was getting ready to slaughter chickens and asked them to help. They were eager because neither of them had witnessed such a thing before. Of course, I was always in the background, curious about what my big brother was going to do. John was 7 years older than me. Billy was probably 4 or 5 years older. The big day came. My brother held the chicken’s head, Billy held the chicken’s feet, and Mr. Look held the ax. I watched from a safe distance, leaning against a low fence. It took quite a while for the boys to get the hang of holding the chicken against its will, but finally John and Billy stretched the chicken so that the neck was over a log, Mr. Look raised the ax and let it fall. If I only had a movie of what happened next. Both boys let go of their chicken parts as if they were on fire. Blood and feathers went everywhere. The chicken’s head squawked bloody murder. The chickens body ran toward me. I fell over the fence backwards in fear of the headless, squawking chicken. Mr. Look was amused.

I don’t remember how many chickens were killed that day or even if I stayed to see another. All I remember is that one chicken. That image was been in my head since that day and will probably stay there until my end comes. Who knew a chicken’s severed head could squawk? I knew by experience. Thank you, John, for jogging my memory with your writings of your memories of Hopedale. It was indeed like growing up in Paradise.

The last paragraph refers to the memories of John Cembruch about growing up in Hopedale. After reading John’s memories, Dave called him and was inspired to write his own story.

Some time later, I sent out a story on the route of the Milford & Uxbridge Street Railway. Dave responded with the following: Thanks Dan, your article jogged a few memories. At one time, the Atkinsons lived on Soward Street. When the metal bridge was taken down my father got a piece of metal and used it for the post of our mailbox at 157 Mill Street in Spindleville.

Also, my grandfather George Atkinson used to tell stories about riding the street car to Lakeview Park for the burly shows. They once had a contest at the Park to wrestle a pig. Success in holding the pig for a certain amount of time got you a $10 bill. My grandfather was successful but had to spend the $10 on a new suit as he ruined the one he was in wrestling the pig. The pig was greased.

Mention of the Mendon airport brought this response from Dave. My brother used to tell stories about the old Mendon Airport. He and Billy Francis used to ride their bikes up George Street to the airport. They would buy a frappe at Lowell’s and then watch the action at the airport. David Moroney (before he married Carlia Mueller, Fanny Nealley’s daughter) would once in a while give them a ride in his plane. What a thrill that must have been for a little kid. When the war ended my brother said they went up and threw out rolls of toilet paper that streamed to earth.

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The 1955 Flood in Spindleville

The thing I remember most about the flood is that the little store that went down the river used to belong to my mom and dad. My father and Bill Francis built it before the end of World War II. I was very young and would be with my mother while she ran the store, because my father worked in Drapers. A very nice man who worked for Rosenfeld Concrete would stop in the store and take me with him on his runs to deliver concrete. I felt like a giant riding in that cement mixer.

We sold the store to Mr. and Mrs. Hatt. Mrs. Hatt had a collection of salt and pepper shakers; some say she had over 400 pair. My brother John helped her husband save as many as they could before the building slipped into the river.

My brother added that it was the water wheel that gave the mill its power that caused the water to wash the store down the river. The water wheel came off its stand and lodged crooked and would not let the water pass through, causing the Mill River to find another route. The store was in an area a little lower than the spindle mill. That is where the Mill Street kids waited for the school bus. David Atkinson, February 2008.

David sent the pictures below, with the following:

Hi Dan,My cousin Debbie (Priscilla Atkinson’s daughter) found these photos of my father and grandfather. One was taken on the steps of my father’s store in Spindleville. One of my father as a Hopedale cop and one of my dad and me as a baby. David