Elmhurst Farm West Street, c. 1915.
The Pest House in the early 1980's after restoration and addition by Paul and Annette Lawson.

Three Homes on West Street

Three of the earliest houses in Hopedale once stood on the west side of West Street (Route 140) near the Hopedale-Milford town line. The oldest of the three was known as the Madden house and was built in about 1753. It was razed in 1958, but the other two, the Pest House and Elmhurst Farm are still there. Pest house was a term used for houses where people with contagious diseases were sent. The term comes from the word, “pestilence.”

In 1901, Heman Hersey, who lived near the center of Hopedale, came down with smallpox. To get him somewhat isolated to prevent the spread of the disease, the town took for unpaid taxes the house that then became known as the Pest House. The town kept ownership of the house for years, but I’ve never seen mention of it being used again. In 1929, it was given to Cordelia Williams as payment for some of her land that was taken to relocate the road now called Route 140.

Elmhurst Farm was more than just a farm. In the picture at the top of this page, the building in the middle was a tiny filling station. You can see the gasoline pump to the left of it. After that business ended, the little building was moved to Freedom Street to be used as a garage. It’s still there.

Below are memories of Paul Lawson of growing up at the Pest House, and then at Elmhurst Farm. His grandparents lived at the Madden house.

My grandmother, Delia (Presho) Merrill was born in 1903. I think her family, the Preshos, bought Elmhurst Farm around the turn of the century. In 1926, the state straightened out the road by the farm. It’s now called Route 140, but it wasn’t then. When they straightened the road, they went right in the middle of my great-grandmother’s land. I think my great-grandfather had died by then. To pay for the land that had been taken, they gave her the choice of a cash payment or the house the town of Hopedale owned at the time, which was known as the Pest House. She decided to take the house for income.

My parents were married in 1944 and lived in Mendon for a while. They moved to the Pest House before I was born, paying rent to Albert Williams. We moved to Elmhurst Farm in 1957 after Williams died and my grandmother inherited both properties.

Much of the area near us along Carpenter Road  was my grandparents’ farm. What is now covered by trees was all open field when I was young. The foundations are still there. One was the foundation of the cow barn that came down in the 1938 hurricane. It was a pretty good-sized farm, with a lot of vegetables and a lot of hay. Nevertheless, it didn’t provide enough income for my grandparents to live on, so in addition to his farm work, my grandfather worked at Draper Corporation.

At Elmhurst Farm, they gave out these hand-held fans with a picture on one side and what was sold there on the other.

Beyond the houses it was all open. My grandfather would use part of that space for his vegetable garden, and my father had a garden for us there too. My grandparents had another vegetable garden between their house and the Carpenter Road brook. About a quarter mile through the woods beyond the gardens, there was what we called the big field. That’s what my grandfather used to hay to get hay for his horse. I remember going there and sitting on top of the hay on the hay wagon, which was neat. Beyond those fields, going toward the railroad tracks there was a nice spring with very good water. That spot was used as a little picnic area. Past that was woods where we’d chop wood in the winter and bring it home with a horse and sleigh.

The Elmhurst Farm filling station building on the right, and the gas pump on the left.

I believe Fred and Cordelia Presho operated the filling station and stand, but I am not certain. After Fred died, Cordelia marred Albert Williams. If he and Cordelia operated it, I doubt the stand would have been moved before Route 140 was straightened in 1926. I cannot think of any means to verify the operation dates.

This photo of my father and me, taken next to the back of the Pest House, is a favorite picture of mine.

I lived in the Pest House until 1957. My grandmother, Delia Merrill, inherited both Elmhurst Farm and the Pest House when Williams died in 1956. She gave Elmhurst Farm to my parents. She kept the Pest House and moved to it from the Madden farm. Prior to that, the only 20th century convenience both the Pest House and the Madden farm had was electricity and Albert Williams didn’t even have that at Elmhurst farm.

The Pest House just had a dug well right outside the front windows that went dry every summer. When that happened, we had to get water from the pond on the other side of Route 140, until my wife Annette and I had a deep well drilled in 1977.
Elmhurst Farm had the same until after we moved in, in 1957. The dug well there was about 15 feet deep, and was within the triangle I now own. That well made it through the summers but it was a bit tight. I still remember the fellow my parents hired to find where to dig, fashioning a rod from a branch on one of our apple trees and seeing the rod (supposedly) being pulled down. Probably a good act since he picked the lowest, wettest spot.

Both the Pest House and the Madden Farm were heated by kerosene stoves and space heaters. The cooking was done on the stoves. I believe it was the same for Elmhurst Farm. I do not remember any working fireplaces or wood stoves in any of the houses. The wood that my grandfather cut fueled the wood stove in his workshop in the Madden barn.

My father’s name was John Alden Lawson. He was known as Alden to family and friends. His job was a railyard and maintenance worker at Drapers. In the street listing books he was listed as a woodworker. He liked working with wood and might have preferred being seen that way. His greatest passion was gardening.

My mother, Pearl, was originally from Hopkinton, a child of the large Proctor family. She came to live with Delia and Fred in 1930 in a foster arrangement. I do not know much about her birth family other than the Proctor genealogy stretched back to the 1500’s in England. I only met one her sisters on one occasion.

Pearl flourished and graduated from Hopedale High School in 1935 as valedictorian and was the first recipient of a HHS Alumni Association scholarship which allowed her to attend Becker Junior College in Worcester. She wanted to go to BU but that was out of the question financially. She returned the HHSAA’s favor by being its secretary for many many years and had a scholarship named in her honor.

After Becker, she worked in the business office of the Thomas Smith Co. and later for Patrick’s Store where she met my dad while he was a delivery driver and living in Mendon with his Aunt and husband, Elenor and Frank Hersey and other Aunt, Marie Lawson, a draftsman (no gender distinctions then) at Drapers. Her one sojourn beyond Hopedale during this time was a summer or two on Nantucket as a family aide; a time she always spoke of fondly.

In 1952 she went back to work part time as the Union Church’s secretary, not retiring until well into her seventies. She also taught the youngest Sunday School class for many years. Needless to say, the Union Church was my third home growing up. Good memories, especially of summer Vacation Bible Schools, the Fall Fair, the youth group, and playing trumpet in Rev James Hutchinson’s church band, modeled after those in his native Scotland.

My mom was the rock of the family, looking after us and many others. Her Depression era upbringing and war time early adulthood served her well. She knew and acted on what was important, negotiated significant difficulties, encouraged our education, and supported our hobbies, often making personal sacrifices. And Grammie provided the same all day environment for our children, Liliana, Aaron, and Allicia, as my grandmother did for Russ and me. Pearl had much support in town, including enough to not label Annette as a newcomer when she ran for and was elected Hopedale’s first woman selecman.

After Drapers demolished my grandparents’ house and barn in 1958, a skeet range was set up in what had been the vegetable gardens. They had two towers; one high and one low. I think it was mostly done by Dick Hoberg. He was active in the church, a school bus driver, and everything else.

The skeet range.

When I was somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve, my father and I built a scow type boat. We dragged it over to the Mill River and I kept it there. My friends and I would take it down the river past the Rustic Bridge and into Hopedale Pond. We camped on Fisherman’s Island a couple of times.

My grandparents had a utility wagon we used to go out in. We’d play croquet near their house, and have hammocks strung between the trees. We played horse shoes, and that was with real horse shoes, of course. I kept them for years, but they disappeared somewhere along the way.

I’d leave our house in the morning and come back at night, after spending all day nearly every day at my grandparents. It was great growing up there. 

Hopedale High Class of 1922 on their Washington trip.

I believe my grandmother is second from left in back row, but not certain. This would have been near the beginning of Taft’s tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Must not have been any big decisions that day.

The major curiosity of this photo is that there were only nine 1922 HHS graduates and this photo has what looks like 17 students.


The Chief Justice and former president in a photo of a class trip to Washinton. Wow, that was a different era!

Paul wondered about why the group was so large for  a class of nine, and thought the trip might have included Mendon or Upton students also. I’ve seen at least one Milford Gazette item from around that era, that told of a combined Hopedale/Mendon Washington trip, but there was no mention of that in 1922. Sometimes , in addition to school staff members as chaperones, parents went along for the trip also.

The Hopedale High School graduates for 1922 were Elizabeth Collier, Ellen Draper, Delia Presho, Florence Schentzler, Letha Williams, William Collier, Lloyd Fitzgerald, Raymond Monehan, and Frederick Wood.

Elmhurst Farm painting by Ray Andriotti.
Elmhurst farm gas station with pump.
Cordelia and Fred Presho and children.
Elmhurst Farm, early 1900s
Madden barn
Madden barn during a flood.
Madden barn
Madden house in the 1930s
Madden house in winter.
Barn wreckage after the 1938 hurricane.

Fred Merrill was Paul’s grandfather. Matilda was his parents’ first car, a 1941 Chevy.

Paul with parents, J. Alden and Pearl (Proctor) Lawson.
Cow barn foundation in 2022.
The former Elmhurst Farm filling station, now a garage on Freedom Street.

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