The Old House
Hopedale center, c. 1890.


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 –

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