The Old House of Hopedale

In America there are few dwellings whose history dates back over 150 years, [This was written in 1910.]  their builders constructing on such firm foundations, as to endure for so long a period the daily tread of the many feet that crossed their thresholds, as one family after another entered and departed from their doors.  The Old House of Hopedale was one of this number.  From the raising of its walls to the tearing apart of its timbers, it sheltered a multitude of souls, notably a good class of honorable people.

 To review its history, before it became antiquated enough to receive the name of Old House, and after its occupancy as such, is a pleasurable task, as it was the early home of my childhood.

 The years in Massachusetts following King Phillip’s War, in 1676, were followed by the return of settlers to their homes, having been driven away by the Indians who had destroyed their property.

 John Jones came as a new settler, about the year 1700, to make a home on the banks of the Mill River in a section called The Dale, now Hopedale.  His family was left behind in a distant town.  With his axe over his shoulder, alone with his dog, he made daily trips over the Mendon hills to hew out of the forest, timbers for a barrack, that he might be secure from roving Indians and wild beasts.  Bears, wolves, and panthers were then numerous enough to shorten his day’s work, and he returned before dusk to the settlement he left in the morning. Faith in a kind Providence sustained him through all the trials of a pioneer life.  He knelt in prayer before each frugal meal, believing that an over-ruling power protected him.  Later on, behind the walls of his stockade, he remained all night, lengthening out his days.

 This enclosure was built on the banks of the river on Water Street. [Water Street is shown on early maps of Hopedale but it eventually disappeared, built over by Draper buildings.] As late as 1805, it is related, that workmen unearthed the hearthstone of the old barrack, its embers having been preserved for a century.

 About three years after his axe struck the first blow, his wife and five children joined him, he having prepared a small house for them.  Prospering in later years, he added valuable parcels of land to his estate, and finally completed a fine mansion, unequaled by any other in the vicinity, and destined, years after, to be called The Old House.

 John Jones was a very pious man.  For many years he was an Elder in the First Church of Mendon.  Finally, a new church was organized, as the people living at The Dale, and easterly, considered it a hardship to climb the Mendon hills.

 Jones was chosen to fill the position of Elder in the new church, called the Second or Easterly Precinct Church of Mendon.  It was situated on Sherborn Road, now Main Street.

 The services attending the election of officers of the Church, was held in the Mansion house of Elder Jones.  Its dining room with a seating capacity of fifty guests, must have had, on this occasion, its long tables loaded with the profusion of country hospitality.

 Reverend Amariah Frost was ordained pastor in 1743.  For forty nine years he ministered to the spiritual wants of his little flock, dying in 1792, at seventy two years of age. (He married for his third wife, Sarah Thwing, grand-daughter of Elder Jones, an ancestor of Susan Thwing Whitney.)

 The children of Elder Jones, sooner or later, became members of the Church.  After marriage they moved elsewhere with the exception of the youngest son, Joseph, who was  associated with his father in the management of the estate.  Elder Jones died in 1753, being over eighty years of age.

 From an humble pioneer, striking out alone in the forest, in his early manhood he subdued the wilderness around him, and from the rich meadows of The Dale, his cattle brought him increase of wealth, until he became a landed proprietor.  He had a family of nine children; they, with their grand children, inheriting the estate.

 After the death of Joseph Jones, in 1796, at the age of 87, the property was rented by the heirs for some time.  My mother’s uncle, Elisha Daniels, lived in the place for some years, dying there in 1821.  His widow and children continued to reside there.  The eldest son, Hastings, finally bought the place.  After his death in 1839, the family left for Milford.

 My mother’s visits to the old homestead were frequent when a young woman.  The hospitality of her uncle’s house was proverbial.  Tradition tells of Washington’s visit there on one occasion.

 In 1841, the property was purchased as a site for the Hopedale Community.  I was then a child of two years when my father, Henry Lillie and his wife took up their abode in The Old House, previous to the coming of other members of the Community.  In October 1841 my sister Lucy was born.  Hers was the distinction of being the first child born in the Hopedale Community.  She was named Lucy Ballou Lillie, for the beloved wife of Reverend Adin Ballou.

 The winter was a memorable one to my mother, for it was her first experience of frontier life.  Being a very timid woman, she suffered exceedingly.  From the back roads, leading from Mendon, there often appeared, wandering dissolute men, who in those days were called “Shacks.”  On one occasion, father happened to be away and a “shack” made his appearance frightening us all, with his peculiar actions.  He drew out a long knife from his belt and commenced to sharpen it.  No harm resulted there-from, but we were glad to see him leave.

 One family after another came in the course of the next few months, and Community life began in earnest.  Families were crowded, each into one room, which served as sleeping room. Dining room, and kitchen.

 My parents occupied the southeast chamber, a pleasant room with four windows.  The bed was an old fashioned four-poster, in summer curtained with mosquito netting.  A trundle-bed underneath held the two youngest children, my sister and me.

 On the upper floor was a large attic which was divided into two rooms, one of which was occupied by the older girls of the various families, the other by the boys. The history of these old attic rooms would be an account of delightfully good times.  The girls enjoying themselves especially, with credit to their memory.  I have heard that some of the pranks the boys used to play on each other, frequently went beyond the limit of decent behavior.

 There was still another attic, one over the kitchen which was filled with odds and ends, such as we read about.  I remember the fragrant smell of herbs as the door opened.  There were bunches of penny-royal, sage, catnip and peppermint hanging with downward heads.  Sassafras root and sweet-flag were bundled away in safe corners.  Old trunks were there with the ballroom dresses of my mother’s dancing days, later on to be utilized for Sunday wear for her little girls.  I remember that one gown with its ample skirt, clothed us like Red Riding Hood.  Resplendent in bright hues, with hoods and cloaks alike, we must have illumined our snowy pathway to Church.

 This attic held another memory dear.  As a child, I was very fond of pets.  I remember it as a place of refuge from my boy tormentors, who delighted to tease me and my kittens.  The mother cat seemed also to know the safety of this place, for here, year after year, she raised her families undisturbed.

 Down the back stairs, from the second floor, was a half-way landing before a window. This was a favorite corner for our dolls and their housekeeping arrangements.  At the foot of the stairs was a hall with an outside door, and doors leading into the east room and the long dining Hall.  Here the Community table was spread and as it was filled with the gathered crowd, the number often reached fifty or more.  The cooking was done by the women, who took turns, so many for a given period, My mother, who thoroughly enjoyed catering to a crowd, prided herself, when it came her turn to superintend, to give them all something extra good to eat.  When some others, with less experience than she, had charge, oftentimes all the family had for supper was corn-meal mush and milk.

 From the dining-room, opened a large pantry with its little window.  I well remember its many drawers, shelves and little cupboards, and especially the musty, moldy smell as the doors swung backward.  The storage of food therein for more than a hundred years had permeated the wood with an odor that no washing could remove.

 The kitchen was an ell, perhaps the original house built for the Jones family.  The main part of the Old House, that afterwards received the name of Mansion, was not built until 1735.

 One great feature of kitchens in olden times was a set kettle, so called because it was kettle of huge dimensions set around with brick, with a place for a fire underneath.  Here the clothes were boiled and unless there was another for farm purposes, the chicken and hog feed were prepared, grease tried out after hog-killing, and water boiled for various purposes.  Such a kettle was cornered in our kitchen.  Stretched out at right angles from the ell was a long shed building.  A bakery was established in one end, and a man was employed to bake the bread, pies, ginger-bread, and beans and meat for the large family.  A fire was kindled in the big oven, when thoroughly heated, the coals were withdrawn and it was then ready for use.  Beyond the bakery, connecting was the woodshed of immense capacity.

 Returning to the dining room, a door opened therefrom to the cellar stairs.  A black hole at the bottom I well remember, without ventilation, I imagine, as the house had an embankment of earth all around to keep out the frost.  A candle was necessary even in daylight to penetrate its gloom.  In one corner was a room with shelves for milk.

 A dining hall door opened into the north room, and here was a corner wainscot cupboard with glass paned doors in front and closet underneath.  I imagine the china of the Jones family and later that of Uncle Daniels would be of treasured value now.  I remember the porringers of pewter that were kept in this cupboard.  They were low dishes with bulging sides with side handles, each containing about a pint, being a favorite dish in use for bread and milk.

 I remember how badly my mother felt, years after, when Bridget turned one over and used it as a stand for her flat-iron, melting it all out of shape – and this, the last one.

 Great oaken beams stretched across the ceiling of each room.  Swings for the children were often upheld by them.

 The four large rooms in the house had each four windows with small panes of glass.  Smaller rooms were on the upper floor in the rear.  The outside door, midway between the two front rooms, opened into a long narrow hall.  Underneath the front stairway was a closet, from the interior of which, could be seen the immense stone chimney build in the middle of the house from its foundations.  Huge fireplaces in the large rooms opened into it.

 In the front yard stood two large lilac trees, reaching to the chamber windows, on either side.  On the north side were two flourishing elms.

 From a gentle slope on the north end of the house, stone steps led into the garden.  I suppose all sorts of vegetables were planted there in season.  I remember most distinctly a fine large cherry tree that bore delicious fruit.  

 The old barns in front of the house were my delight.  Wagon sheds to the left, the oxen and cows were stabled in in the middle, and the horses to the right.  Of the names of the horses, so familiar then only one is now remembered, that of Pompey.  The happy days of memory that stood out from the rest were those when we drove with father and mother, to visit one of our many aunts in an adjoining town, the only discord on such occasions being caused by the irritation of my father, who was constantly reminded by my mother of his inattention to his horse, her timidity preventing her from enjoying our ride.

 One of the first schools of the Community was in an upper room of a building, whose lower part was used for a shop.  The entrance was from an outside stairs. Rev. Adin Ballou was the teacher.  I was so young at that time, that all I remember of my school days then was a reprimand that I received, with another little girl, for fastening a shawl around a tall desk in the room, making for ourselves a play-room.  I think this must have been the same tall desk that I remember seeing in his home years after, before which he either sat or stood writing page after page of matter, so instructive and entertaining to his hearers.

 A squabble with Abby Lucy Ballou, daughter of Amos Ballou, who was inclined to be belligerent as myself, was probably the cause of my withdrawal from school.  Mrs. Amos bore down heavily upon me in the midst of our tussle, my mother over-looking from an upper window.

 Knowing from long experience as a teacher that quarrels often arise between parents on account of their children, I suppose my mother thought I was the injured party, and if taken from school would no longer come in contact with Abby Lucy and her mother.

 When I returned to school in the spring, my mother was highly complimented by Reverend Adin Ballou, as he considered my progress in reading under her instruction most satisfactory.  Her reply to him firmly impressed itself upon my mind, when I was old enough to appreciate its merit.

 Her plan was to teach each lesson so thoroughly, before going to the next, that the words therein could not be easily forgotten.

 This method must have left its impression for during many years of teaching, I too, received many compliments for instruction given in Reading.

 During our several years of residence in the Old House, as a family, we came in contact with many singular people.  Their peculiarities were indelibly stamped upon my young mind assisted by the recollections of relatives.

 The greater number of them, nearly all of my own family included, have left the world they tried so hard to benefit.  I trust their efforts will be more and more appreciated as the spirit of reform permeates society generally.  The principles of Christian Brotherhood they advocated are not dead.  They are imperishable as the world itself.

Sarah L. Daniels
Greenville,  Sonoma County,

                                                               The Old House

 Curiously enough, our trade literature has never yet included any illustration of or reference to the original building which formerly occupied a part of our present manufacturing site.  The dwelling shown in the above illustration was built about 1700 by John Jones, of the neighboring town of Mendon.  It being the first building erected in all of the territory now occupied by the towns of Milford and Hopedale.  Although our shops cover part of the site, one of the three elm trees shown is still standing.  It was in this house, March 24, 1842, that the first meeting of the Hopedale Community was held, and the families forming the nucleus of that organization occupied the dwelling while their various new habitations were in the process of erection.  It was demolished in 1874, being then in an unsafe condition.  Although it is quite possible that the founders of our present business would have worked out a similar conclusion irrespective of locality, it is certainly true that the choice of this situation; and the presence of the original building, were important factors in the development of events which brought the men who built the works now standing.  Cotton Chats, May 1903.


Above – Peter Hackett. His letter below explains about the plaque.

Perry MacNevin recalled establishing the probable location of the Old House, which was determined to be a couple of hundred yards northwest of the Adin Ballou statue.  A plaque was placed on the outside wall of the building that now occupies the site.  Like the Old House, the plaque has also disappeared.

“The eldest son, Alexander Jones, and one or two of his brothers, became adventurers in trade at the South—Charleston, S. C, if I mistake not—and grew rich, especially Alexander. He soon settled in Providence, R. I., and was long a wealthy merchant there. In the Summer season these mercantile brothers, with their families and negro servants, spent several weeks annually at the old homestead, and seldom failed to signalize this sojourn by some jovial displays and romantic festivities. One autumn a showy wedding was celebrated on the occasion of their sister Hannah’s bridal union with a dashing Southern trader. But the young beaux of Milford were slighted; not one of them was invited. The guests were all from abroad, and of a higher standing in fashionable life. The wedding went off with eclat; but the young, slighted Milfordonians testified their resentment by a stealthy joke. That night they carried old Mr. Jones’ nicely wrought bean arbor from his garden, transporting it to the town common, where it next day appeared as a refreshment booth, some rods in length, ready to serve a military muster then at hand. Such was the genius of those times.”

Thanks to Susan Elliott for sending this from Family Record of the Jones Family of Milford, Massachusetts, etc., etc. Evidently “the old homestead” referred to in the paragraph was the Old House.

The plaque and stone shown above are at Adin Ballou Park.

In this 1870 map of Hopedale, the street going more or less vertically is Hopedale Street. At that time Social and Union streets crossed Hopedale Street and continued west for 100 feet or so. They were eventually discontinued and built over by the shop that’s still there. The Old House was on that discontinued section of Union Street. In this map, it’s circled in red. Click here to see the complete map.

The map below, which also shows the location of the Old House, (6) is from 1858. Water Street was eventually discontinued and the area built over, and the name Main Street was changed to Hopedale Street. It seems that 8 must have been the Water Cure House. To see more early
Hopedale maps, click here to go to the map menu.