HOPEDALE — With sounds of an excavator in the distance picking up tons of dirt, local historian Dan Malloy
    recounted growing up in town when the dominant force was Draper Corp.

    Not only was the business the lifeblood of the town, providing 4,200 jobs at its peak and award-winning housing,
    the factory was also, at one point, the biggest automatic loom maker in the world, producing more than 2,000
    looms a month, according to another local historian, Linda Hixon and Milford Daily News archives.

    “They sold huge numbers of them,” said Malloy, 79, during a gloomy afternoon last week as construction crews
    were at work tearing down what was once a 1.8 million-square-foot facility. “The loom was their main product.”
    Hopedale historian Dan Malloy has a website detailing the town's history.

    But it all ground to a halt in August 1980, when the last two employees punched out at Draper Corp. for the final
    time. After more than 130 years in business, the lights were turned off and doors were closed for good.

    In the more than 40 years since, the facility has remained mostly empty, with various buildings having been torn
    down over the years. Then, in December, Philip Shwachman, whose company First American Reality owns roughly
    80 acres of the property, announced he was tearing down the entire complex and planning a major redevelopment,
    one that could include housing, shops and a bike trail.

    The Drapers may be long gone from Hopedale but the story of how Draper Corp. and, moreover, the Draper family
    came to be the town’s most impactful and influential players starts with one clergyman’s dream of a utopian
    Christian society and a patented technology.

                                                      Hopedale, a utopian society experiment

    Rev. Adin Ballou, a Unitarian minister from Cumberland, Rhode Island, wanted to create a Christian commune  
    society that was committed to such causes as ending slavery, supporting women’s rights and sharing of goods,
    writes historian Anita Cardillo Danker in her academic journal entry, "From Christian Utopia to Company Town:
    Communal Life and Corporate Paternalism in the 19th and 20th Century Hopedale Massachusetts."

    In 1842, about 28 people decided to start this utopia on about 258 acres of farmland in a far-out part of Milford that
    crosses the Mill River, Danker writes.

    Hixon said the community believed “in all of the progressive stuff of the time.”

    “Abolition, temperance, women’s rights — all the big progressive issues. Women in town were voting in 1842," she
    said. "Think about when women in the nation got the right to vote — that was 1920. Eighty years later, the rest of
    women in the country got the right to vote. He had this vision of this utopia, where they could live this sheltered
    existence outside of what they consider to be a corrupt government.”

    Among those 28 people was Ebenezer Draper, who became one of Ballou’s closest allies and eventually president
    of the community. To help bring income to the community, Draper started a business based on his father's
    patented self-acting loom temple technology, Malloy said.

    “It became the most successful product of the Hopedale community,” Malloy said. “It’s what kept them going for a
    long time after other communes of the same time disappeared.”   

    In 1853, Ebenezer’s brother George moved to town, Malloy said. George Draper had plans of expanding the family
    business and making it a more established player, while Ebenezer was more interested in keeping with the ideals
    and goals of the Christian utopian society that Ballou founded.  

    “I usually say in connection to this, even if you look at these guys’ pictures, Ebenezer has the look of a true
    believer of a better way of life,” Malloy said. “George had the look of a sharp businessman.”

    By the mid-1850s, George had convinced his brother that they were essentially the backbone of the community
    and could push for more control, Malloy said.

    While the community was doing OK financially, there were internal struggles, both economically and in the way
    people were living out their day-to-day lives, Danker wrote. Small cracks were developing in the walled garden that
    was the utopian society.

    “The economic life of the Hopedale settlement was never efficient and was characterized throughout by a struggle
    between the forces of individualism and community,” she wrote.

    At an annual community meeting in the mid-1850s, Ebenezer Draper, then the president, said the community had a
    net gain of over $7,000, according to Danker. However, it had a small $300 shortfall.

    The Drapers and other Hopedale officials came to a deal that allowed the Drapers to pay off the debt, but also take
    much more control.

    “A hasty compromise was negotiated whereby the Drapers would assume control of the industrial property and in
    turn honor all of the debts of the community,” Danker wrote. “Residents could stay on at will, newcomers were free
    to settle in the village and the church was maintained, but all the trappings of the communal lifestyle were
    discarded. The Christian Utopia was about to give way to a company town.”  

                                                                    The company town  

    For the next 30 years, the Drapers continued to expand their business, producing various textile-related
    machinery, Malloy said. As they became more successful, they expanded. They hired inventors to help make
    better, more competitive machines.

    By the late 1880s and early 1890s, they had started selling their famous Northrop automatic looms. Later, during
    World War II, the company produced equipment for the military.

    The Drapers didn’t just build their business up and leave the town behind. They built and offered many riches to
    the community they loved, Danker wrote.


    “The story of Hopedale was the story of America, but the community was unique, for unlike scores of bleak
    and cheerless factory towns that sprouted up and scarred the landscape with smokestack and soot,
    Hopedale evolved into a model industrial village enhanced with lush parks, fine schools, handsome public
    buildings, and prizing winning working housing,” she wrote. “These were gifts of the Draper Family,
    quintessential entrepreneurs tinged with social conscience.”

    But just as they loved Hopedale itself, they also loved control. And the town under the Draper family was
    much different than it was under Ballou, according to Danker.

    “Hopedale might as well have been called Draperville so tight was the family’s control over the development
    of the town,” Danker wrote. “When Hopedale separated from Milford in 1886, a move initiated by the ever
    opportunistic George Draper, the first by-laws strictly regulated the planting of trees, the building of fences,
    the parking of wagons, and even the flying of kites and the tossing of a baseball on the streets of Hopedale.”

    Labor disputes occurred. Workers organized a strike against the company. One striker named Emilio
    Bacchiocchi was killed by a police officer, she wrote.   

                                                                   The downfall

    By the  mid 1960s, business wasn't looking good. Competition overseas became fierce and the company was
    not innovating at the rate it once was, Malloy said. In 1967, it was acquired by Rockwell International, a
    manufacturing conglomerate.

    “There was some hope at the time that Rockwell would have the money to put into research to get some of
    these newer modern looms,” Malloy said. “Draper did come out with a few different types of what they called
    a 'shuttle less loom,' using different ways of getting that thread back and forth instead of having a shuttle
    carrier. But they really didn’t keep up with the competition, so as you get into the '70s they are laying off
    more and more and more workers.”   

    That eventually led to its closing in 1980, Malloy said.

    In the years that followed, the property passed through several hands. A number of smaller businesses
    popped up inside, but they barely used 5% of the facility, Malloy said.

    Sometime in 1988, some piping burst and began gushing water. It was noted after cleaning up this mess, the
    building was going to continue to deteriorate, Malloy said.

    Also around that time, there was a plan to redevelop the site and create 1,200 condominium units there. But
    the plan never materialized, according to Milford Daily News archives.

    Shwachman first purchased a portion of the property in January 1990 and over the years since has
    purchased the approximately 80 acres his company now owns.  

    Cesareo Contreras can be reached at 508-626-3957 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter
    @cesareo_r.


  Demolition -
Hopedale Street side, south end   

  Demoltion -
Hopedale Street side, Social to Freedom Street   

  Demolition -
Freedom Street side   

  
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