Neighborhood series: Bancroft Park, Hopedale

                                                By Christopher Gavin - Daily News Staff

    HOPEDALE - Elmer Viens used to have a five minute commute to work.

    He could leave in the morning, be back for lunch, and then head out again for the second engineering shift at
    the Draper Corporation mill, which once cranked out some of the best textile machinery the world had ever
    seen.

    Now 97 years-old, Viens has since retired after that old factory shut down decades ago. But he and his wife
    Peggy, 92, still have their Bancroft Park home, a duplex once built over 100 years ago for mill workers like
    him.

    "He loved it around here and we stayed because it was good," Peggy Viens recalled. "The kids could walk to
    school."

    While many of their familiar neighbors have since moved on, those who have taken their places say they still
    appreciate that same community feeling that emanates from Hopedale's streets - the one that has retained
    many families for generations.

    "I love the small town," said fellow Bancroft Park resident Brad Booth, 29. "I love the history of it with the mill."

    Tucked just behind the old factory, Bancroft Park - built in the 1890's - dates back to Joseph Bancroft,
    president of the Draper Corporation from 1907 to 1909, according to local historian Dan Malloy.

    And for Bancroft, who settled in Hopedale in 1847, the Drapers were more than an employer: they were
    family. He married Sylvia Thwing, whose sisters married Ebenezer and George Draper - two brothers who
    brought the family business to town in the mid-1800s.

    The development was the largest subdivision of the time in Hopedale and it's affordable and well-
    maintained duplexes offered a wonderful abode to the workers who kept the factory running just down the
    road.

    For decades, everyday life played out the way it always had in New England mill towns. Men grabbed their
    lunches every morning, walking diligently across those railroad tracks, across the Freedom Street bridge to
    take their places along the line, following in the footsteps of their fathers and their father's fathers.

    Even for a short while, former Bancroft Park resident and future Aerosmith guitarist, Joe Perry, was among
    them before finding his place in rock 'n' roll stardom.

    "Four thousand people made their lives there," said lifelong resident Jean Griffin, who now lives in Bancroft's
    former house just next door to the mill. "My parents did...everybody you knew worked at Draper's."

    She remembers how her parents split their shifts, how the afternoon bell at the factory would signal her
    father to pick her and her siblings up from school.

    But the sale of the company put a splinter in that cycle during the 1960's before a new owner closed its doors
    officially in 1980.

    Four decades of decay have played out through the windows of the next door home of Harley and Jean
    Griffin, who moved there in 1978.

    Plans to reuse the site in the 1980s surfaced, but like all talk since then, nothing has taken root, they said.

    Looking around Hopedale these days, the Griffins, now in their seventies, and like the Vienses, said it's quite
    clear the town they once knew has also evolved with more development and more in the works.

    Still, fresh faces come for the same reason the Griffins once did: drawn to a school district with a good
    reputation.

    Booth, who moved to Bancroft Park a few years ago, graduated in 2006 from Hopedale Junior-Senior High
    School in the same class as his wife.

    As a father of a five year-old daughter and a nine month-old son, Booth said he found his way back to town
    knowing it was a good place to raise his family - a trend he sees forming with some of his old buddies, too.

    There's an annual block party and a neighbor throws a Halloween party each year on Bancroft Park, Booth
    said.

    "It's a nice area to grow up," he said.

    At Bancroft Memorial Library, just next to the Griffin's and a stones throw from the mill, Director Anne Fields
    said many of those youngsters stop by, the new families often asking about the vacant factory down the
    street.

    "It's one of these communities that kids still wander around in," she said, her delight evident.

    In the afternoons, they scatter down the street just after school ends, some of them walking back over that
    old Freedom Street bridge, past the mill, heading home.

                                                     
Now and Then - Bancroft Park                Draper Housing           

                                 
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Elmer and Peggy Viens