Hopedale As I Found It
By Charles F. Merrill
Thelma Lapworth Shaw for saving it and passing it on.
I knew nothing of Hopedale before 1910. On the nineteenth of April in that year, in the early
morning, I stepped off the trolley car that had brought me from Framingham in an hour and a
quarter, for the price of fifteen cents. I found myself in a neat, quiet, well-ordered village, whose
inhabitants were, apparently, comfortably prosperous, and the air had a country freshness that was
delightful; quite different from the city atmosphere I had so recently left behind me. It seemed good,
and I was quite content.
The times, as I recall, were complacent and untroubled, and a sense of security prevailed. There
were no wars or rumors of wars. Women did not vote, smoke cigarettes or wear men's clothing.
William Howard Taft was in the White House, and a native of Hopedale sat in the Governor's chair
under the gilded dome of the State House in Boston. In the fall of 1910 the President was a guest of
Governor Draper in Hopedale, and we all saw the party as they toured the village and took off for
Mendon to visit the ancestral home of the Tafts.
The income tax collector was not yet abroad in the land, and a dollar was a respectable amount of
money. The paper ones were what we would now call "king-size," made before economy in
Government spending trimmed them down to the size they are now, and their purchasing power
became equally diminutive. The first church supper I attended here was of the ham and baked
beans variety, with all accessories and in generous portions, and priced at fifteen cents. My first
winter's fuel cost $42.00; $25 for five tons of Milford Gas Company coke, $16 for two tons of coal for
the kitchen stove, and one dollar for a big load of "shop wood," being remnants and waste from the
plant. We bought eggs in the fall for 22 cents a dozen and preserved them in a solution of water-
glass; two big stone jars full of them. When milk went up to ten cents a quart, we felt as if the hand
of oppression were being laid heavily upon us, and we squirmed uncomfortably.
Our house in Bancroft Park would now be considered rather primitive. It had been built to be
heated with stoves, and in both dining-room and living room (parlor in those days) there were places
in the wall to insert stove-pipes. The house had been supplied with a hot-air furnace before we
arrived. There were no laundry facilities, and the week's washing had to be done in the kitchen with
tubs, buckets, scrub-board, hand wringer and copper boiler on the stove. There was no gas or
electricity, and our light came from kerosene lamps. The week's ironing was done with half a dozen
irons that were heated on top of the stove, and tested for heat with a wet finger. A few years later,
gas was brought across the pond and we became quite modern. The simplest gas light was the
open flame, but for brighter illumination the Welsbach mantle burners were superior, and gave off a
sizzling sound as they burned.
The year 1910 marked radical changes in the block between Chapel and Social Streets, when
houses fronting on Hopedale Street were moved away and construction of the new Main Office was
started. At the upper end of the lot, at the corner of Chapel and Dutcher, was a white cottage in
which a lady, a Mrs. Adams, I believe, had a 100th birthday. On the other corner, where the fire
house now stands, was a rather shaky-looking old barn, and across the street from that was a small
shop where one could obtain a sketchy meal prepared by Miss Annabel Jenkins. I had ham and
eggs there daily while lodging with Mr. and Mrs. Bates at 88 Dutcher Street before occupying the
Bancroft Park house.
In the period of which I write, we worked until six o'clock in the evening for five days a week, and
until noon on Saturdays. We didn't seem to mind it, having known nothing else in other places. In
fact, this was more free time than I had before, when I had to work on Saturday afternoon. Our
recreation, as I found it here, was simple and inexpensive. Walks in the park lands were one
favorite diversion. Many people had boats and canoes, and on week-end afternoons they might be
seen paddling or rowing about the pond. In the fall, it was fun to gather chestnuts. At that time, the
woods and roadsides abounded with chestnut trees. Now, not one can be found anywhere. All were
swept out of existence by a blight in the early twenties. With them went many of the gray squirrels,
and all of the red ones, both of which depended so much on chestnuts for their food in winter. If one
yearned for distant places, there were always the trolley-cars going to almost anywhere. A trip to
Worcester was a real jaunt, by way of the G & U to North Grafton, then train or trolley to the city.
Indoor entertainment was home-made. The radio had not yet come into public possession, and was
not to appear in Hopedale for another ten years. Hand-cranked Victrolas were in vogue, with
records by Galli-Curci, Caruso, and others of the period. There was an amateur company who
called themselves the Hopedale Players who did some really excellent work. I recall that soon after I
came to town they presented "The Little Minister," and I came away amazed that local talent could
be so good.
For the men, there were two clubs in Hopedale; the Men's Club of the Union Church, and a similar
one in the Unitarian. I became a member of both, and for $1.25 could get a season ticket in either
club, which included five suppers and entertainment, and a Ladies' Night.
The village streets were surfaced with finely crushed stone, which was easy on the horses' feet. In
hot, dry weather, they were wet down with a sprinkler cart drawn by a pair of horses, laying the dust
and sending up a warm, humid smell as it passed by. The streets all had the same names that they
do now, but no one but a well-informed citizen could know what they were. There were no street
signs in 1910, and would not be until some time in the twenties when carrier delivery of mail came
into being. The ice-man made his rounds, delivering cold chunks that had been harvested on the
pond during the previous winter. Cutting ice was an important event in the local calendar. Much
preparation preceded it, and when once started, only a severe storm would suspend operations.
Mr. Barney supervised the work and took an active part in it. More than once, so it is said, he broke
through thin ice into a cold bath, and when rescued was given the ice-cutter's first aid treatment, of
which a quart bottle was always on hand for such an emergency.
I can name six people who had automobiles in 1910. There may have been a few more, but surely
all the cars in town would not exceed a dozen, and these were not all in daily use. So it was that the
sound of a motor was rarely heard, and the skies overhead were the exclusive domain of clouds and
birds, as I firmly believe the Creator intended. The heavens had not yet been desecrated by roaring
monsters, because only recently had the Wright Brothers succeeded in getting off the ground for a
On Christmas Eve the Dutcher house on Adin Street would have a lighted candle in every window.
These were real candles, not the electric imitations of today. I do not recall any other house having
illumination of this kind, and it was a pretty and dignified display. I think of its simplicity and
unpretentious beauty when I see the gaudy displays of our present era, and hear endless
repetitions of Christmas carols blaring forth from over-powered amplification of mechanical
recordings. We had less in those days, but what we did have was genuine and sincere; not tawdry
Memories crown upon me, but I have said almost enough. I shall name a few, but not describe
them. There was the annual field day for Draper employees in August; the well-meaning but often
discordant Hopedale Brass Band; the midnight freight train on the G&U, its asthmatic engine puffing
and wheezing and straining itself to draw its load up the hill toward Upton, sometimes gasping to a
stop and waiting for breath enough to continue its journey; Dr. Campbell's office, where for fifty
cents one might pour his troubles into a sympathetic ear, and come away with envelopes containing
brightly colored pills; the stone trough in front of Henry Patrick's store, where thirsty horses could
drink cold water; the house that stood on the Community House lot; Mead's market and Howes' store.
In contrast to the ever-changing scene, it is comforting to discover one aspect of Hopedale that has
steadfastly resisted the moving current of events, and is the same now as when I first knew it, and as
it must have been long before that.
I dedicate this paragraph to The Shop Bell; that worthy instrument for telling off the divisions of
Hopedale time, calling all good people to their daily labors, and closing that day with the ancient
admonition to cover one's fires for the night. The daily rites of ringing the Shop Bell perpetuate a
custom of long ago, and link us closely with the past. Here is a thread of continuity running
unbroken through the years when other remnants of antiquity have all but disappeared, the places
thereof knowing them no more.
I first heard The Shop Bell ring curfew on the evening of my arrival so long ago. I heard it open the
gates of day next morning at six. I heard it call people to work at seven, and again at one. I have
heard it perform this routine thousands of times in almost half a century, and its sound falls as
pleasantly in my ear as it did when I first heard it.
I have learned the moods of The Bell; sharp and metallic on a zero morning; soft and muffled in a
snowstorm; clear and mellow in the rain; sometimes almost inaudible when a strong wind carries the
sound away from me. When it was rung by pulling a rope, I could say that this man or that was
counting off the strokes and the measure of rest between peals. The people of Hopedale, perhaps
without ever thinking about it, have a unique and distinctive symbol of their community, with a voice
proclaiming that here abideth industry, order and peace. May the tongue of The Shop Bell never be
trees, is a little left of center. A bit of one of the Draper shops is at the
lower right. Also shown is a fire station, (in center with tower). It was known
as the Hose House. Beyond the Hose House is the Bancroft house and
barn, and past that is the Bancroft Library. Also in the scene, at the top
left, is the George Draper house and the Unitarian Church.