David Atkinson's Memories of Hopedale
Growing up in Spindleville
Here is a little bit of my family history in Hopedale:
George and Lillian Atkinson had four children and lived at 7 Soward Street.
George William John (my father) was the oldest. Then came Gladys (who married the Milford Police
Chief Maloney) Dorothy (who married James Lutz and later Marty Diggins) and Priscilla (who married
Albert Iannitelli of Milford).
My father (they called him John) married one of the ten Nealley children, Mabel Louise. Howell and
Pearl Nealley lived right across from the Draper shop three doors from the Main Office. Their house is
Howell Nealley held the license that allowed Drapers to operate. Howell had to be accessible 24/7.
The Nealley children were: Dean, Arnold, Eugene, John and Andrew. Then the girls were Tina, Fannie,
Mabel, Martha and Pearl.
My brother John Howell was born in the Water Cure House when my parents lived there briefly.
My father and school did not get along. In fact my father once kicked Miss Cressy in the shins and
when my brother John had her she showed my brother the scar my father had given her. She was
brutal to my brother as well.
My father's 16 th birthday present from his father was a job in Draper Corporation. George Atkinson
was the foreman of the foundry. A big strong man with a thick English accent.
To get the most work out of his men George would drink with them on Friday nights. He would start at
the top of Water Street and drink his way down to the bottom of Central Street. The Milford Police would
often give him a ride home. When my father got his driver's license the police would call the house and
my father would be sent to drive his father home. The experience of seeing his father drunk kept my
father from ever having a drink in his entire life.
George Atkinson loved pickled onions. His wife Lillian could not stand the smell so when George
made them she left the house and stayed away all day. Once my cousin Jimmie Lutz stole one of
Grampa's jars of pickled onions and brought them to school and gave all the boys some to eat.
Jimmie got in serious trouble because the teacher could not stand the smell of the breath of her
students. My brother thought it was hilarious and related that story many times in his life.
Howell Nealley always wore a three piece suit with a gold watch and watch fob. It seemed he was
always at work. He had an electrical engineering license, a hydraulic engineering license, and among
other things was a locksmith and a registered safe cracker. He had a key to everything in Drapers.
Several times when the Milford Town Clerk would forget the combination of the safe Grampa Nealley
would be called to get her back into the safe.
Once while at the Milford Town Hall to open the safe Mr. Nealley noticed the clock on the steeple of
Town Hall was not working. He asked Catherine Coyne, the Town Clerk, about it and she said it had
not worked in a long time. Howell asked if he could take a look at it and in a matter of minutes had it
running perfectly and it ran for years.
As a little kid I remember watching my grandfather Nealley working on a lock. He had a locksmith's
shop setup in a closet in his bedroom. I marveled at the tiny little screws and do-dads he handled to fix
locks, watches, etc.
Howell Nealley loved Necco Wafers. When the grandchildren visited the Nealley homestead across
the street from the shop we would scour the house for Necco Wafers left in dishes, on the mantle, on
the piano, you name it. Necco wafers would be all over the house. He once said when he got to a flavor
he didn't like he would leave it where he was when he got to it in the roll. My aunt Dorothy told me that
he liked them all but knew the kids would be looking for them so he made up that story about not liking
Spindleville got its name from the mill powered by the dam where Greene Street and Mill Street
connected. The mill, which made spindles, was owned by Asa Westcott.
Day in and day out you could hear the machinery banging those spindles, making them straight and us
local kids enjoyed looking in the windows at the men below us moving those spindles.
I was lucky enough one day to be allowed into the mill while it was operating. I was fascinated by the
(what seemed to be) miles of leather straps flapping and snapping as they turned the wheels of the
machinery doing the work. All the power used in the mill came from the water as it spilled over the
damn and turned wheels. Walking in the shop could prove dangerous as most of the men there had to
duck their heads to avoid all those moving leather belts.
We had plenty of opportunity to look in those shop windows as the school bus picked us up and left us
off every day at that corner. Nothing like today's kids who get picked up by the school bus at the end of
each driveway. How wasteful that seems to me who walked the whole street (about a mile) from
Kindergarten through the sixth grade when my parents moved to Mendon.
Stories of Roscoe Look
When I was born my father had just finished building a new house at 157 Mill Street, the last house in
Hopedale. He bought the land from Roscoe Look. Roscoe Look and his wife (who was 16 years
younger) lived at the next house down on the opposite side of the street. They were real farmers. They
had cows, chickens, lots of gardens, Mrs. Look canned and preserved everything. Her kitchen was
always buzzing with activity. As a small kid I loved hanging out at their house and watching them work. I
imagine I asked lots of questions. That was my style and still is.
One day Mr. Look asked me if I wanted my own garden. He didn't have to ask twice. He took me out
behind my parents house where a loggers camp had been torn down and pointed out a small square
of land that had no weeds and told me that was mine and showed me how to plant and care for the
seeds he gave me.
Maybe Mr. Look gave me my own garden to get rid of me for awhile, I don't know, but that was the
beginning of my love of gardening and one of the nicest things anyone could have done for a kid.
Mr. Look had a son in the Second World War named Ike. When Ike got out of the service he bought his
mom and dad a TV. We were told it was the very first TV in Hopedale. The whole neighborhood was
excited. Mr. And Mrs. Look had a grandson named Billie Francis who was a close friend of my brother
and lived at 155 Mill Street. On Saturday nights the neighborhood kids were invited to lie on the Look's
living room floor and watch the Milton Berle Show on that fabulous, exciting, brand new TV.
On the very first night I learned what the word “hark” meant. We would be laughing at something on the
TV and Mr. Look would say in a loud voice, “HARK”. It did not take too long to figure out he wanted us to
shut up and be quiet. Who knew that , “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” meant keep quiet and listen? I
My third tale of Roscoe Look involves my brother John and Billy Francis. Mr. Look was getting ready to
slaughter chickens and asked them to help. They were eager because neither of them had witnessed
such a thing before. Of course I was always in the background, curious about what my big brother was
going to do. John was 7 years older than me. Billy was probably 4 or 5 years older.
The big day came. My brother held the chicken's head, Billy held the chicken's feet, and Mr. Look held
the ax. I watched from a safe distance, leaning against a low fence. It took quite a while for the boys to
get the hang of holding the chicken against its will but finally John and Billy stretched the chicken so
that the neck was over a log, Mr. Look raised the ax and let it fall. If I only had a movie of what happened
Both boys let go of their chicken parts as if they were on fire. Blood and feathers went everywhere. The
chicken's head squawked bloody murder. The chickens body ran toward me. I fell over the fence
backwards in fear of the headless, squawking chicken. Mr. Look was amused.
I don't remember how many chickens were killed that day or even if I stayed to see another. All I
remember is that one chicken. That image was been in my head since that day and will probably stay
there until my end comes. Who knew a chicken's severed head could squawk? I knew by experience.
Thank you John for jogging my memory with your writings of your memories of Hopedale. It was indeed
like growing up in Paradise.
The last paragraph refers to the memories of John Cembruch about growing up in Hopedale. After
reading John's memories, Dave called him and was inspired to write his own story.
responded with the following:
The Atkinson's lived on Soward Street. When the metal bridge was taken down my father got a piece of
metal and used it for the post of our mailbox at 157 Mill Street in Spindleville.
Also, my grandfather George Atkinson used to tell stories about riding the street car to Lakeview Park
for the burly shows. They once had a contest at the Park to wrestle a pig. Success in holding the pig for
a certain amount of time got you a $10 bill. My grandfather was successful but had to spend the $10 on
a new suit as he ruined the one he was in wrestling the pig. The pig was greased.
Mention of the Mendon airport brought this response from Dave.
My brother used to tell stories about the old Mendon Airport. He and Billy Francis used to ride their
bikes up George Street to the airport. They would buy a frappe at Lowell's and then watch the action at
the airport. David Moroney (before he married Carlia Mueller, Fanny Nealley's daughter) would once in
a while give them a ride in his plane. What a thrill that must have been for a little kid.
When the war ended my brother said they went up and threw out rolls of toilet paper that streamed to
Here's my father, George William John Atkinson
(called John at home and Jack at work) at his desk
in the Metal Pattern Making Department at Drapers
From top left: my brother John Howell Atkinson, James Lutz, Jr.,
David Lee Atkinson and on the bottom step Richard Maloney. The
photo was taken by Andrew Nealley at 157 Mill Street, Hopedale.
Click on the picture for Dave's memories of the
1955 flood in Spindleville and more pictures of it.