Hopedale As I Found It
By Charles F. Merrill
Thelma Lapworth Shaw for saving it and passing it on.
I knew nothing of Hopedale before 1910. On the nineteenth of April in that year, in the early morning, I
stepped off the trolley car that had brought me from Framingham in an hour and a quarter, for the price of
fifteen cents. I found myself in a neat, quiet, well-ordered village, whose inhabitants were, apparently,
comfortably prosperous, and the air had a country freshness that was delightful; quite different from the
city atmosphere I had so recently left behind me. It seemed good, and I was quite content.
The times, as I recall, were complacent and untroubled, and a sense of security prevailed. There were
no wars or rumors of wars. Women did not vote, smoke cigarettes or wear men's clothing. William
Howard Taft was in the White House, and a native of Hopedale sat in the Governor's chair under the
gilded dome of the State House in Boston. In the fall of 1910 the President was a guest of Governor
Draper in Hopedale, and we all saw the party as they toured the village and took off for Mendon to visit the
ancestral home of the Tafts.
The income tax collector was not yet abroad in the land, and a dollar was a respectable amount of
money. The paper ones were what we would now call "king-size," made before economy in Government
spending trimmed them down to the size they are now, and their purchasing power became equally
diminutive. The first church supper I attended here was of the ham and baked beans variety, with all
accessories and in generous portions, and priced at fifteen cents. My first winter's fuel cost $42.00; $25
for five tons of Milford Gas Company coke, $16 for two tons of coal for the kitchen stove, and one dollar for
a big load of "shop wood," being remnants and waste from the plant. We bought eggs in the fall for 22
cents a dozen and preserved them in a solution of water-glass; two big stone jars full of them. When
milk went up to ten cents a quart, we felt as if the hand of oppression were being laid heavily upon us,
and we squirmed uncomfortably.
Our house in Bancroft Park would now be considered rather primitive. It had been built to be heated with
stoves, and in both dining-room and living room (parlor in those days) there were places in the wall to
insert stove-pipes. The house had been supplied with a hot-air furnace before we arrived. There were
no laundry facilities, and the week's washing had to be done in the kitchen with tubs, buckets, scrub-
board, hand wringer and copper boiler on the stove. There was no gas or electricity, and our light came
from kerosene lamps. The week's ironing was done with half a dozen irons that were heated on top of
the stove, and tested for heat with a wet finger. A few years later, gas was brought across the pond and
we became quite modern. The simplest gas light was the open flame, but for brighter illumination the
Welsbach mantle burners were superior, and gave off a sizzling sound as they burned.
The year 1910 marked radical changes in the block between Chapel and Social Streets, when houses
fronting on Hopedale Street were moved away and construction of the new Main Office was started. At
the upper end of the lot, at the corner of Chapel and Dutcher, was a white cottage in which a lady, a Mrs.
Adams, I believe, had a 100th birthday. On the other corner, where the fire house now stands, was a
rather shaky-looking old barn, and across the street from that was a small shop where one could obtain
a sketchy meal prepared by Miss Annabel Jenkins. I had ham and eggs there daily while lodging with Mr.
and Mrs. Bates at 88 Dutcher Street before occupying the Bancroft Park house.
In the period of which I write, we worked until six o'clock in the evening for five days a week, and until
noon on Saturdays. We didn't seem to mind it, having known nothing else in other places. In fact, this
was more free time than I had before, when I had to work on Saturday afternoon. Our recreation, as I
found it here, was simple and inexpensive. Walks in the park lands were one favorite diversion. Many
people had boats and canoes, and on week-end afternoons they might be seen paddling or rowing
about the pond. In the fall, it was fun to gather chestnuts. At that time, the woods and roadsides
abounded with chestnut trees. Now, not one can be found anywhere. All were swept out of existence by
a blight in the early twenties. With them went many of the gray squirrels, and all of the red ones, both of
which depended so much on chestnuts for their food in winter. If one yearned for distant places, there
were always the trolley-cars going to almost anywhere. A trip to Worcester was a real jaunt, by way of the
G & U to North Grafton, then train or trolley to the city.
Indoor entertainment was home-made. The radio had not yet come into public possession, and was not
to appear in Hopedale for another ten years. Hand-cranked Victrolas were in vogue, with records by Galli-
Curci, Caruso, and others of the period. There was an amateur company who called themselves the
Hopedale Players who did some really excellent work. I recall that soon after I came to town they
presented "The Little Minister," and I came away amazed that local talent could be so good.
For the men, there were two clubs in Hopedale; the Men's Club of the Union Church, and a similar one in
the Unitarian. I became a member of both, and for $1.25 could get a season ticket in either club, which
included five suppers and entertainment, and a Ladies' Night.
The village streets were surfaced with finely crushed stone, which was easy on the horses' feet. In hot,
dry weather, they were wet down with a sprinkler cart drawn by a pair of horses, laying the dust and
sending up a warm, humid smell as it passed by. The streets all had the same names that they do now,
but no one but a well-informed citizen could know what they were. There were no street signs in 1910,
and would not be until some time in the twenties when carrier delivery of mail came into being. The ice-
man made his rounds, delivering cold chunks that had been harvested on the pond during the previous
winter. Cutting ice was an important event in the local calendar. Much preparation preceded it, and when
once started, only a severe storm would suspend operations. Mr. Barney supervised the work and took
an active part in it. More than once, so it is said, he broke through thin ice into a cold bath, and when
rescued was given the ice-cutter's first aid treatment, of which a quart bottle was always on hand for such
I can name six people who had automobiles in 1910. There may have been a few more, but surely all
the cars in town would not exceed a dozen, and these were not all in daily use. So it was that the sound
of a motor was rarely heard, and the skies overhead were the exclusive domain of clouds and birds, as I
firmly believe the Creator intended. The heavens had not yet been desecrated by roaring monsters,
because only recently had the Wright Brothers succeeded in getting off the ground for a few seconds.
On Christmas Eve the Dutcher house on Adin Street would have a lighted candle in every window.
These were real candles, not the electric imitations of today. I do not recall any other house having
illumination of this kind, and it was a pretty and dignified display. I think of its simplicity and
unpretentious beauty when I see the gaudy displays of our present era, and hear endless repetitions of
Christmas carols blaring forth from over-powered amplification of mechanical recordings. We had less
in those days, but what we did have was genuine and sincere; not tawdry and spurious.
Memories crown upon me, but I have said almost enough. I shall name a few, but not describe them.
There was the annual field day for Draper employees in August; the well-meaning but often discordant
Hopedale Brass Band; the midnight freight train on the G&U, its asthmatic engine puffing and wheezing
and straining itself to draw its load up the hill toward Upton, sometimes gasping to a stop and waiting for
breath enough to continue its journey; Dr. Campbell's office, where for fifty cents one might pour his
troubles into a sympathetic ear, and come away with envelopes containing brightly colored pills; the
stone trough in front of Henry Patrick's store, where thirsty horses could drink cold water; the house that
stood on the Community House lot; Mead's market and Howes' store.
In contrast to the ever-changing scene, it is comforting to discover one aspect of Hopedale that has
steadfastly resisted the moving current of events, and is the same now as when I first knew it, and as it
must have been long before that.
I dedicate this paragraph to The Shop Bell; that worthy instrument for telling off the divisions of Hopedale
time, calling all good people to their daily labors, and closing that day with the ancient admonition to
cover one's fires for the night. The daily rites of ringing the Shop Bell perpetuate a custom of long ago,
and link us closely with the past. Here is a thread of continuity running unbroken through the years when
other remnants of antiquity have all but disappeared, the places thereof knowing them no more.
I first heard The Shop Bell ring curfew on the evening of my arrival so long ago. I heard it open the gates
of day next morning at six. I heard it call people to work at seven, and again at one. I have heard it
perform this routine thousands of times in almost half a century, and its sound falls as pleasantly in my
ear as it did when I first heard it.
I have learned the moods of The Bell; sharp and metallic on a zero morning; soft and muffled in a
snowstorm; clear and mellow in the rain; sometimes almost inaudible when a strong wind carries the
sound away from me. When it was rung by pulling a rope, I could say that this man or that was counting
off the strokes and the measure of rest between peals. The people of Hopedale, perhaps without ever
thinking about it, have a unique and distinctive symbol of their community, with a voice proclaiming that
here abideth industry, order and peace. May the tongue of The Shop Bell never be stilled!
partly obscured by trees, is a little left of center. A bit of
one of the Draper shops is at the lower right. Also
shown is a fire station, (in center with tower). It was
known as the Hose House. Beyond the Hose House
is the Bancroft house and barn, and past that is the
Bancroft Library. Also in the scene, at the top left, is
the George Draper house and the Unitarian Church.