Childhood Days in the Hopedale Community,
                                                            and other Recollections

From the many recollections of long ago those I am giving are mostly of childhood days in Hopedale Community, where my father’s family came Nov, 1853, our first home being in an old-fashioned red house belonging to Newton Daniels, on the site of which, I think, now stands Governor Draper’s barn.  A few months later we moved into the so-called “Water Cure” house, which was our house for many years. [The Water Cure house was located at 33 Hopedale Street.  In the early days of the Community, Dr, and Mrs. Wilmarth would cure whatever ailed their patients with a remedy evidently involving a combination of hot and cold baths.  The house was demolished a few years ago and replaced with a duplex.]

My school experience in Hopedale began in the building now occupied by Mr. Arnold, then half its size, later enlarged.  [The building referred to was on Hopedale Street between Freedom and Chapel streets.  Mr. Arnold was the father of Marge Hattersley who was the children’s librarian at the Bancroft Library for many years.  Marge was born and lived as a child in the building that had been the Community chapel and school.  Probably the last resident there was Dutcher Street School sixth grade teacher, Jessie Gover.  She was at that address in the 1955 street listing but not in 1956.  At about that time, that house along with another at the corner of Hopedale and Freedom streets, and the Chapel Street School were razed.  At the time, Draper Corporation had plans to build a research center on the site.]   It also served as church, and for all public meetings, and was heated in winter by a small box stove.  A little room at one side of the entrance, used for storage purposes, was also the children’s Sunday School Library, books being kept on shelves in a wooden closet.  The adult’s library, on the other side, was more pretentious, having a large bookcase with glass doors.

In the basement was the Community variety store, kept by Mr. Munyon, afterward by Mr. Swazey.  Mrs. Abbie Heywood, (we called her “Mrs. Abbie”) [daughter of Adin Ballou] was my first teacher, Mrs. Mulliken the second, for both of whom I have pleasant memories.  Across the pond lived Mr. Soward, who taught us writing.  His cousin and housekeeper, Aunty Burton, was a quaint, kindly woman, with a badly disfigured face, caustic in criticism, but a favorite with all.  The schoolhouse was the scene of many happy festivals, that at Christmas being an especially joyous one for children; some taking part in the exercises and all sure of a gift from the tree.

My first impression at Church was vividly remembered.  It seemed so queer to see dignified women appear in bloomer dresses, some made with quite snug fitting “pants,” others full and gathered at the ankle, with a narrow frill falling over the shoe.  In summer some ladies wore to church, sunbonnets, – quite a contrast to the present style of head covering.

Hopedale was a music loving community.  A trio, Edward Stimson, George Young, and my brother Charles, often gave vocal selections, Origen Young accompanying on a melodeon.  Joshua Hutchinson, one of the famous family of singers, gave several concerts, and one winter conducted a singing school, in the place.  For a time there was no instrumental music at church service, but later a melodeon was used, Amanda Albee, a sister of Mrs. Ida Smith, playing the hymns.  At the dedication of the large Community Barn (afterward converted into a tannery) children assisted with declamation and songs, two verses of one written by a village poet.  I recall: –

“The rose when crushed gives back perfume,
To blows, rich fragrance follows soon; Fair rose, thou lovely Christian flower,
Wed be like thee, in trial’s hour, Then why should we not love the flowers
That grow about this Dale of ours, Sweet tokens they will ever prove
Of our dear Father’s bounteous love.”

Children had many amusements, simple but enjoyable, among them occasional rides in the large and only boat on the pond; skating and coasting in winter; berrying and picnics in summer; hanging May baskets all through the month; and hunting wild flowers in the fields and sprout land woods growing on part of what now is Dutcher Street.  After a time dancing was allowed for adults and children, Mr. Ballou approving, as to quote his words “Innocent recreation in due season accords with true Religion.”  The dance hall was in the upper part of the Dutcher shop; hours for dancing from 6 to 9:30 P.M.  John Moore, a fine clarinetist and Mr. Cross of Milford, violinist, furnished music; Mr. Cross being also, teacher and prompter.  Square and Contra dances, only, were allowed, masculine arms encircling feminine waists, as in polka and waltz, being considered detrimental, by some of the elders.

I well remember the shock to the Community caused by the death, in a railroad accident, of Dr. Butler Wilmarth, and not long after, the drowning, in a pool in front of the Samuel Walker estate, of a son of Aunty Johnson, a colored woman whom many will remember.  In those early days the dead were taken to the cemetery in a large wagon, friends following on foot.

The Community was strongly Anti-Slavery in sentiment, and the celebrations of Emancipation in the West Indies, held in “Nelson’s Grove,” were enthusiastic events, enjoyed too by the children.  Some noted speakers would be present, among them Garrison, Phillips, Abbie Kelley Foster, Charles Burleigh, whose features so strongly resembled pictures of Christ, and Sojourner Truth, once a slave, a powerful, if not cultured, advocate of freedom for those of her race in bondage.  She was a large, very black woman, very witty, and an inveterate smoker.  The late Theodore Tilton once asked her how she expected “to enter Heaven with a tobacco scented breath.”  Her reply was, “When I die and go to Heaven, I ‘spect to leave my bref behind me.”  The “Man with the Branded Hand” was at one time a resident of Hopedale.  He was called so, as in aiding slaves to escape, he was caught by owners, and the letters S.S. (Slave Stealer) burned in his hand. (Evidently Jonathan Walker, “The Man with the Branded Hand” spoke at one or more antislavery meetings in Hopedale but it’s very unlikely that he lived here. Click here for more on this.)

I think no one dreamed then what a vast increase in manufacturing was to come!  The shop by the pond was a small affair, the making of nipper blocks and hatchets, two of the industries carried on in it.  My father had a small room for his drafting and pattern making.  A wooden building opposite the Dutcher shop contained the counting room, tin and carpenter shops; a room in which at one time Pliny Southwick kept shoes for sale; and a room where two girls set temple teeth.  My brother carried on a bindery in a part, now demolished, of the house at the corner of Union and Dutcher streets.  This house was built by an Englishman, who in telling of his plans for it, said he was going to “‘have ‘hells on it.”  Miss Bailey now lives in one of the “hells.”  [Georgiena Bailey lived at 7 Union Street according to the 1905 town directory.  It listed a John Bailey as a roomer at 8 Union Street and George Bailey as a roomer at 8 Prospect Street.  Both of the men worked in the ring department at Drapers.]

It was not strange that residents should differ in opinion.  Some were vegetarians, regarding the use of meat as a food wrong, and at one time the Lyceum was the scene of heated arguments between those who favored and those who opposed its use.  One family advocated such an extremely plain diet, that it was rumored theirs consisted chiefly of “peat and molasses.”  

Preparing ground for the new Church was done by the Industrial Army composed of men of the village.  There was rejoicing when the Church was finished and dedicated.  

Among the villagers were some odd characters, one old resident, Mr. Bowers was quite original in his remarks.  He believed in early rising, and used to say, “Folks lie abed so late now, the next generation won’t get up at all.”

Of the “Old House” and its inmates, I have pleasant recollections, and it seems as if no water has ever tasted as good as that drawn from the depths of the “Old House” well.  I remember the great crop of peaches, one fall, and the extreme cold of the following winter which killed all the trees that bore them.  Where once nearly every garden had its peach trees, few are now to be seen.

One prominent event in Hopedale history occurred, when Mr. Morgan Bloom, who had previously been connected with the Five Points Mission in New York City, opened a Home School for boarding and day pupils, irrespective of color, a school later conducted for several years by Mr. and Mrs. William S. Heywood.

The Civil War wrought a great change in Hopedale.  Excitement ran high, and with some, the Non-Resistant principles were overcome by the “Spirit of ’76.”  The Post Office was at that time a room in the house, now occupied by Mrs. Susan Whitney, and at mail time was filled with a crowd eager for the New York Tribune, with its details of the killed and wounded in engagements.  The battlefield, “Andersonville Prison Pen,” and disease claimed as victims several who enlisted from Hopedale, and the peaceful life of the village was over for a time.

Since then Hopedale has become a flourishing town; many of the old residents have passed away, and old landmarks are fast disappearing, but as advancing years bring more vividly memories of the past with its joys and sorrows, I realize that some of the happiest hours of my life were those spent in “Old Community Days.”

Nellie T. Gifford,
Fitchburg, Massachusetts

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