John Byrne with his daughters, Regina Byrne DelVecchio, Ann Marie Byrne Wiley and Mary Ruth Byrne Neilan. Since John isn’t in his usual farm attire, it’s likely that the picture was taken during some occasion – probably a family reunion at the farm.

Peggy Byrne Cozzens
And Peggy again.

Ann Marie Byrne Wiley and Tommy Byrne. Tommy is holding his cousin, Danny Malloy. (Yes, that’s me.) The picture was taken during a family reunion, probably in 1942.

The former Byrne family house shown in December 2009.

Across Hartford Avenue from the house, on the Mendon side of the street, is the site where the barn once stood.

The former Byrne home (right, second from runway), Hartford Avenue, and the end of the Hopedale Airport runway. 2010

Heart’s Desire Farm

These are a few memories from our years on Hartford Avenue in Hopedale…1941 – 1949. We are a family of seven…our parents, John and Margaret Byrne and five children: Mary Ruth, Tommy, Peggy, Regina and Ann Marie, plus Nana Malloy, our grandmother, and Theresa, our aunt. We all lived in a small cape style house with one bathroom.

Our parents bought the 54-acre farm from a Mr. Hoothay, a man Dad referred to as “The Finn.” Dad often had special names for people.

Tommy christened the farm “Heart’s Desire.” Dad and Tom always wanted to be farmers. However, our small farm certainly didn’t provide sufficient income to support the family, so Dad also worked full time at Draper Corp. He was a first class fireman in the boiler room. His work hours varied weekly…first, second or third shift.

We milked twelve or fourteen cows. There was the mean mother cow and mean Julia and gentle Daisy and Cleopatra to name a few. Dad sold the milk to Coffin’s Dairy in Mendon. We stored the milk in twenty-quart cans in the spring house, a small outbuilding with a sunken soapstone well cooled by cold spring water until it went to Coffin’s to be bottled and delivered.

We also had a workhorse called Dick. When Dick was tired he would just head to the barn and if you were riding him you had to jump off or duck to keep from bumping your head on the barn door lintel.

We also had three or four pigs and several dozen chickens. Mom used to sell the eggs and any old chickens that stopped laying went into the stewpot.

Our closest neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Fred Morse, an old couple who lived very simply…no indoor plumbing. They used a small outhouse attached to the main house and they also used a large galvanized washtub for Saturday night baths.

Our farm was divided…the house and hayfield and large garden were on the Hopedale side of the road and the barn and pastures were on the other side of Hartford Avenue in Mendon. We had an old Fordson tractor with metal treads on the wheels and Dad couldn’t drive it across the road on hot days because it would dig up the tar.

True to the Irish tradition, we had a huge potato garden. I guess we were environmentally conscious in the 40s because we picked the potato bugs off by hand and dropped them into a coffee can containing a small amount of kerosene. Our reward…Dad would burn them.

One winter we cared for a lady’s pregnant goat. We named her Beauty. Beauty had two really cute kids named Grace and Charm. They were a lot of fun.

Another incident we recall was one snowy night a man from Mendon on his way home from working at the fish pier in Boston skidded off of Hartford Avenue into the ditch. With our horse pulling and us kids pushing we got the truck back on the road. As a reward the man frequently brought us fresh fish for Friday dinner.

Our brother Tom had a BB gun and target practice with old tin cans was a fun pastime. One day our Mother said, “How would you like me to put a BB through the mailbox?” She did!!! We knew it was beginner’s luck.

In the big field of squash and pumpkins, Dad watched one particularly large blue ribbon squash. Finally, harvest time arrived but to his disappointment a woodchuck had hollowed it out.

Our chores varied with Dad’s work schedule. Peggy was the fastest when it came to milking…all done by hand.

Mom and Dad used to laugh because Mary Ruth went from working at Lilly’s Jewelry Store in Milford to coming home, putting on old clothes and then mixing grain and molasses for the pigs. I‘m sure that Tommy did most of the heavy work and Regina and Ann Marie got to lead cows to the drinking tub and give them their grain and hay.

We had a “Surrey with a fringe on top” and Dad would hitch up Dick and take us for rides, especially when our city cousins came to visit. In the winter we had a big sleigh and we all remember the sleigh rides to Lowell’s Restaurant in Mendon with our cousins and Uncle Bill Byrne buying us all a hotdog and a hot chocolate. The horse would be steaming from his exertion and sleigh bells would be ringing as he pulled us along, as we all snuggled together under the blankets.

In January 1948, our Grandmother, Mary Brennan Byrne, died during a huge snowstorm. Grandma and Aunt Nellie Byrne lived in a newly built home next door to us. The snow drifts were so high that the plows had crews of men working with them in certain areas to shovel and break the drifts. Dad and all of us kids shoveled east from our house up to Route 140, about ¼ mile, so that the undertaker, Joseph Edwards, could get through. When the plows reached our house coming from the west, they were pleasantly surprised to find the road already cleared. The town of Hopedale later compensated us for our efforts.

In the 40s, Plain Street was a dirt road and it was the shortest way for Dad to get to work at Drapers. He traveled in an old green truck that unfortunately backfired fairly often. If Dad worked the 11 to 7 shift on Saturday night, the quiet of Hopedale’s Sunday mornings was often shattered. Our mother’s brother, Tom Malloy, was the police chief at the time, and because of several complaints from sleepy residents, threatened to ticket Dad if he didn’t get the truck fixed!

Making root beer was one of Nana Malloy’s specialties. What we remember about the root beer is not only the great taste, but also its explosive qualities. On several occasions a bottle exploded and sprayed root beer all over the ceiling.

During the war years the grain often came in printed sacks. The goal was to get enough of the same print. Mom made curtains and a washing machine cover from the blue print ones. There was always the fear that the mice would chew a hole in the middle of the bag and it would only be good for a dish towel instead of a broomstick skirt or curtains, and we looked forward to each grain delivery to see the design and its condition.

We moved from Heart’s Desire in October 1949 to Dell Dale Farm in Littleton. The farm in Hopedale was bought by people by the name of Varney. Draper Corporation later bought it, or perhaps part of it – the part north of Hartford Avenue, and turned it into Hopedale Airport. I’m sure that neither my parents nor I ever dreamed that forty years later their grandson, my son, Greg DelVecchio, and my cousin, Gary Wright, would be piloting small aircraft from the “big field” and former site of our large family reunions. (See below for photos of Gary and plane in 1994 when he came from Reading Pennsylvania to Hopedale to visit his parents.)

Regina Byrne DelVecchio
November 2009

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This article, as you can see, was from 1934, during the Dust Bowl years in the mid-west. Back before the Byrne family was at the Hartford Avenue farm, they had a farm in East Upton, where they were when they took delivery of cattle that had been starving. There was an actual cattle drive, partly along Route 140, from the train station to John’s farm. They had to work at keeping the cattle moving, because they wanted to stop for every bite of grass or weeds that they could find along the road.