The Town of Hopedale
By Roger DeLand French
for one reason or another. The Brook Farm, the classic socialistic colony, failed, as
has the Oneida Community, as an experiment in social science. New Harmony
cannot be called successful; and neither can Hopedale, strictly speaking. Just as
the Oneida Community has become wealthy and prosperous through its
manufactures, so has Hopedale been built up by industry. Neither follows the plans
laid for it by its founders, though perhaps Hopedale has come the nearer to its ideal.
For generations the Draper family, an old one in Massachusetts, has been
interested in the manufacture of cotton. In 1816 Ira Draper, of Saugus, patented an
improvement in cotton mill machinery known as a revolving temple. His sons were
interested in cotton mills, two of them, George and Ebenezer, going to Uxbridge to
work in a mill there. There they met Adin Ballou, of the neighboring town of Mendon.
Adin Ballou was an enthusiastic religious reformer who had a scheme to
revolutionize society by recasting the relations among men. Briefly, his idea was to
form each village into a joint stock company in which each citizen should hold
shares. They were then to ply their trades, or to organize any commercial ventures
they pleased, but were to pool the profits and divide them among the total
population, in proportion to the number of shares held by each. There were grave
defects to this system, as any economist will point out.
This was the plan which Ballou set on foot in 1841. He and his followers purchased
that part of the historic town of Mendon known as "The Dale," and rechristened it
Hopedale. Here they lived, for a time, in the original house of John Jones, the first
settler in that section, and applied themselves to laying out and building up their
In 1852 George Draper joined the community, but, finding it a financial failure, he,
with his brother, purchased all the stock at par, paid the debts of the community,
and took over the manufacturing plant. They then began, in a small way, the
making of improved cotton-spinning and weaving machinery, which was destined to
grow to the present great proportions. This may be said to be the end of the
From that day to this, the business has increased at such a pace that, in place of
the few hands and limited room of 1852, there are now buildings affording about 27
acres of floor space, and the concern is employing over 3,000 men. To house and
feed so many men in any place but a city, or large town, is a problem of no mean
degree. The Draper Company has solved, or helped to solve it in a very efficient
and practical way, and has in addition made of Hopedale a town worthy to serve as
a model for others.
Going to Hopedale from Boston you pass through many a New England town, clean
and homelike, but not having much pretensions to other than natural beauty, or
high degree of comfort. You are finally deposited on the station platform at Milford;
and your heart sinks into your shoes. Surely, there cannot be any model villages
within a hundred miles of this spot! But you take heart when you remember that the
railroad station is often in the very worst part of a town, and as you walk up the
street toward the village square you find that you are getting into a less despondent
frame of mind. You board a trolley-car marked "Hopedale," for this little town is not
on any line of railway, pay your fare to a phlegmatic conductor, swing around a
corner after a few minutes' ride, and behold! you are in Hopedale.
It is difficult to give an adequate idea of the town, with its quiet atmosphere of
content, peace and plenty. Everywhere are trees to keep the walks cool, and to add
beauty to the vistas. Between the curb and the sidewalk is a narrow strip of grass,
as soft and smooth as if just cut; as it probably has been. On all sides of me are the
cottages of the Draper employees, now and then jostled by the larger and more
impressive mansion of some official of the company. Such is the first impression,
and after the most careful inspection, and prying search, this impression will remain.
When I dropped off the car at the Draper Company's offices, and asked to see
some one who could tell something about the town, I was met with a laugh, and told:
"Go out and roam wherever you please, and you will always find some one who can
tell you all there is to tell."
I walked up the street until I came to a little gem of a lake. There was a silvery-gray,
shingled building on its shore, all buried in shrubbery and vines, and surrounded
with such a green lawn as I had, by this time, learned to associate with Hopedale. It
was the public bath house, supported by the town through its park department; and
during the last year it catered the needs and pleasure of over 3,300 patrons.
I strolled along through a pleasant thicket on an agreeably "crunchy" gravel path,
and let my thoughts fly whither they would. They got so far away from this earth that
I bumped with considerable force, into a venerable old gentleman whose mind was
also far above things terrestrial. After mutual apologies, I ventured to ask where I
might be. "You are in our park system, sir," was the reply. "What next?" I thought,
"2,000 people and a park system!"
Finally I found myself back upon the street, and turned toward the center of the
village. The side streets looked so cool and comfortable that I was unable to
withstand the temptation to explore; and it is well that I did so, or I should have
missed seeing one of the most interesting features of this remarkable town. That is
the playground, covering five or six acres. It is laid out into tennis courts and
baseball diamonds, which were then deserted. While I stood wondering what
purpose a seemingly useless pile of stones, lumber, and lime barrels served, the
clock struck twelve, and boys and men began to hurry by on their way to the midday
meal. Some of them brought their lunches to the numerous benches with which the
playground is provided: and it did not take these long to dispose of the contents of
their dinner-boxes. This done, a ball was produced from somebody's pocket, and in
less time than it takes to tell it a game was in full swing.
From one of the spectators I learned, between bits of advice offered to the players
of both sides impartially, that my useless pile of lumber was by way of becoming a
new "gran' stan' for de ban'," to replace the one then standing near it. The
Hopedale band is in steady demand to play in the neighboring towns, and has
earned for itself an enviable reputation. During the summer it gives evening
concerts, which are attended by all the population.
The Draper Company employees hold an annual field day, comprising field and
track sports, baseball games, and the like. Prizes are awarded the winners in the
various events, which, while they are of no great value, serve to stimulate interest.
The "big men" of the company are no bigger than the veriest 'prentice hands, on
passed this gala day. All the Hopedale people get together, try their skill, if they are
so inclined, and go home feeling more tired, perhaps, than after a day in the shop,
but with the conviction that life is worth living, after all, in Hopedale.
On the way back to the main street, I pass the new grammar school, a building that
would put to shame many of those erected in cities of ten times Hopedale's size.
Further along is a building which a resident assured me was a "boardin' 'ouse,"
though its sign claimed the title of "hotel" for it. Here many of the younger and
unmarried employees live. Its ivy-covered walls certainly gave earnest of
comfortable rooms and bounteous fare within.
While I was wondering why more towns do not study the "Hopedale idea" I popped
around a corner, and found myself once more in the center of the village, with a
little park full of apple trees just at hand. Here is a statue of Adin Ballou, by
Partridge, and also the old front doorstep of the Jones house, over which he
passed so many times. The house stood some 425 feet from the present park, on a
site now covered by the buildings of the Draper Company. Full of bright flowers,
and with the customary green lawn, Ballou Park is a delight to the eyes, on a hot
Almost opposite the park is the Bancroft Library, given to the town by J. B. Bancroft,
and containing over 10,000 volumes. The public library is now such a familiar
institution in every town that little need be said concerning its work, except to note
that it is very liberally patronized. Just beyond the library, so near as almost to be
classed as part of it, is the beautiful Susan Preston Draper fountain. No words can
portray its exquisite beauty, its marble figure of Hope shimmering in the sun, and
the dolphins and Medusa's head spouting forth cool water, for the benefit of dogs
and cats as well as humans. No tin cup and ugly chain mar its charm; instead, there
is a graceful holder with a glass. A glass! Think of it, ye unregenerate who live not
in Hopedale! Moreover, I'm told that this selfsame glass has done duty since the
fountain was first erected, in 1904. Little facts like these prove the existence of a
spirit among the Hopedale people which might well be imitated elsewhere.
The church situation in Hopedale is unique. There are but two churches, the
Unitarian and the Union. The membership of the Union Church includes all those
adhering to the evangelical beliefs. Those who are not disposed to accept the
ministrations of either of these churches can find representatives of nearly all
denominations in Milford, ten minutes away by trolley. The Unitarian church
occupies a building presented to it by George A. and Eben S. Draper, in memory of
their parents, while the Union Church has a building recently constructed.
The town offices are located in a memorial building given to the Hopedale people by
Mr. George Draper. Here the selectmen, the executive heads of the town, have
their office. Here also may be found the town clerk, the town treasurer, the
assessors, the tax collector, and all the other town officials. Here are held the town
meetings, at which these officers are elected, and appropriations" are made for the
expenses of the ensuing year. The New England town government is about the
most democratic form in use; everything has to come before the citizens, "in town
The particular feature of Hopedale which is bound to catch the stranger's eye is the
lovely residence streets. On every hand are cosy and artistic cottages, surrounded
by well-kept yards. They are as different from the usual workingman's home as they
could well be. They are well and beautifully built, and show what can be
accomplished in solving the housing problem when it is given sympathetic attention.
They have nearly all been erected by the Draper Company, which rents them to its
employees at charges varying from $10 to $15 a month, the higher rents being for
those houses equipped with furnace and bath-room. Ashes and garbage are
removed free of charge to the tenant.
To secure co-operation on the part of the tenants in rendering the town beautiful by
keeping their lawns and backyards in order, the company has established a
committee of three which awards prizes for the best appearing grounds. These
prizes are given in November, but the committee inspects the competitors' lawns
and yards at various times during the season. For 1906 the prize list consists of
one first prize of $10, twelve second prizes of $7.50 each, and forty third prizes of
$5 each. For those employees who live on Prospect Heights in Milford, where the
company also has some houses, there is a smaller prize list which this year reaches
a total of $75.
The physical welfare of Hopedale's citizens is as carefully looked after as is their
mental well-being. The town is sewered, and the sewage is treated by contact beds
before it is discharged into Mill river, whence it finds its way to the Blackstone, and
finally into Narragansett bay. Water, electricity and gas are furnished by the Milford
corporations. The fire protection is excellent, Hopedale being one of the few places
where automobile apparatus is in regular use. This is made possible by the well
paved streets and the absence of steep grades.
When one thinks that the town of Hopedale has a population of less than 2,000,
and that its citizens are no richer than those of other similar towns, one cannot help
marveling at what has been accomplished. A large percentage of the taxes of the
town are paid by the Draper Company as a corporation and as individuals. As to
the appropriation of these moneys, the company has exactly no voice, and each of
the members of the company only as much voice as one of the employees. How has
the town been influenced to put forth such sums for improvements? Mainly by force
of example, I take it, until now every Hopedale man loves Hopedale, and puts its
welfare above everything but home and kin. It is true that the town has been
fortunate in the benefactions bestowed upon it, but it is also true that by far the
greater part of the credit must be given to the citizens themselves.
What has been done in Hopedale can be done elsewhere, when the man with the
motive and the right kind of genius arises. Welfare work, so-called, does not rest
entirely with the employer; the man at the machine must show an inclination to do
what he can. When both work together, what is the result? A liveable, lovable,
beautiful village, like Hopedale. The Village: a journal for village life, January
1907, Google Books.