Nipmuc Park and the Mendon Trolley

    The establishment of Nipmuc Park in 1882 and the Milford - Uxbridge Electric Street
    Railway in 1901 created significant changes in how people lived their lives in Mendon.
    The park, on the western shore of Lake Nipmuc, offered clean water and air and a
    variety of recreational opportunities for weekend visitors. The resort and the new means
    of transportation led to changes in the town's land use, occupations, and population.
    Mendon's agricultural society and economy began a period of transformation that lasted
    through the 1940's.

    July 4,1882 marked the beginning of a new era for Lake Nipmuc.  Nature's beauty spot
    became the site of commercial entertainment. The dedication of Nipmuc Hall and the
    adjacent grove featured a clam bake and row boat and sailboat rides. A special ride
    was a licensed steamboat tour around the lake. Swings, hammocks, and a bowling alley
    were available, and summer treats included ice cream, soda, and lemonade. Brown's
    five-piece orchestra provided entertainment throughout the afternoon and evening.
    After sundown, there was a fireworks display from John Guild's cottage on the island.
    The beautiful lake and recreational offerings attracted hundreds of visitors on opening
    day and on every weekend during the summer.

    In December 1901, the electric street railway opened and purchased the park. New
    features were added such as electric lighting, a merry-go-round, a new theater, and a
    dancing pavilion. Vaudeville and burlesque shows were offered, and soon the park was
    the most popular resort in the region. The new attractions, plus the easy access by
    trolley, brought several hundred people from neighboring towns to Mendon every

    Two Mendon residents, Tom and Bill Hackenson, recently reminisced about their days
    of working at the park as teenagers in the early 1940's. Tom drove a launch, a tour
    boat holding fifty people, around the lake using a bullhorn to amplify his voice. He
    operated a variety of rides, including the merry-go-round. He also worked as a
    backstage prop man to set up and change decorations and equipment for burlesque
    shows.  He recalled that several of the dancers were very talented, including Sally Keith,
    Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr, and Ann Corio. Tom's brother, Bill, worked at the roller skating
    rink and as a ground maintenance man. Both men felt that they were very fortunate to
    have had these jobs as adolescents in a time of economic difficulty at a place that had
    significance in the town's history.

    With the weekend use of the trolley focused on the park, it was the Monday through
    Friday use that created the biggest changes and opened new occupational
    opportunities for Mendon farmers. Factories and mills in Uxbridge, Hopedale, and
    Milford became easily accessible by trolley, and many young adults chose to give up
    the family business in agriculture in order to find employment out of town. As this trend
    continued for several years, many Mendon families decided that the new economic use
    of the land would be to sell it for housing development. As more houses were built, the
    town's population grew. In 1890, 919 people lived in Mendon. By 1940, the population
    had grown to 1,315, and many residents were no longer involved in farming.

    Nipmuc Park and the Milford-Uxbridge Electric Street Railway helped to create change
    in Mendon's use of land, population, and economy. The popularity of the park was at its
    peak until the end of World War I, when an influx of automobile production greatly
    reduced the need of a regional trolley. The service ended in 1928. By the early stages
    of World War II, the trolley rails were pulled up throughout the country in order to use
    the steel for military equipment. The recreational use of the park had dwindled by the
    1950's. Mendon's landscape of dairy farms, orchards, and pastures is in the past, but
    during the era of transition, the town had a special place on the shores of Lake Nipmuc
    that had been a stimulus of change. For the Hackenson brothers, they were pleased to
    have been a part of it.

    Richard Grady
    October 1, 2012

Lake Nipmuc Park              Tom Hackenson   

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