Legacy Looms over Hopedale
Hopedale in August
Legacy Looms over Hopedale
By Rick Holmes
Milford Bureau Chief
Hopedale is a town with an especially interesting and colorful past, as we will learn in the weeks ahead
as Hopedale celebrates its centennial. But what of Hopedale’s future? Will there be time amidst the
birthday parties to contemplate Hopedale’s next 100 years?
Founded as a Christian socialist commune, Hopedale filled up with idealists in the mido-1800s. But
when the commune’s converts diluted its idealism, its chief financial backers, the loom-building Draper
brothers, pulled out their money, bankrupted the community and took the community into their own
hands. (As to the “loom-building Drapers,” both Draper men of the Hopedale Community, Ebenezer
and George, had died before the Draper Company sold its first loom. The source of the Draper money
in the Community years was a loom part, the temple.)
As the Draper loom company came to dominate the American textile industry, Hopedale became the
Draper’s personal fiefdom. It was a company town in the fullest sense. The company owned the real
estate, many of the homes in which its workers lived, and most of the town buildings.
It was a benevolent dictatorship according to the prevailing consensus. The workers were well treated,
their homes well cared for, their children well educated in schools subsidized by the Drapers.
Then, in 1978, what was left of Draper headed south, taking Hopedale’s identity with it. For a while,
there was widespread pity for the poor deserted residents of Hopedale.
But no one’s looking for pity now. Hopedale is on the rebound, its residents building new bridges
between the legacy of its unusual past and a bright – if still somewhat undefined – future.
A town government study committee, for instance, is working on adapting the town’s organization to
today’s needs. There was a time when virtually every town official was a Draper employee. Selectmen
used to hold meetings during the day at the factory where they worked. Town records were kept at
Draper’s main office, where most of the important town decisions were made.
Even now, stern-faced portraits of Drapers gaze down on the selectmen as they deliberate at Town
Hall. But the coordination between departments and elected officials that used to come from the
Draper managers has now been lost. So, the study committee is looking into centralizing the town’s
organizational structure to make it more accessible to residents and more able to cope with the
increasingly complex demands on local government.
The school system is also adjusting. With a big assist from the Drapers, Hopedale created a school
system that has long been the town’s pride and joy. But with Proposition 2 ½, a smaller tax base and a
growing student population, Superintendent Donald Hayes and the School Committee have begun
studying options. One committee is being assigned the task of evaluating the adequacy of current
school facilities, while another will look into the advantages of joining a regional school system, a hot
topic in town for years.
Meanwhile, the Planning Board is studying is studying a radical zoning bylaw proposed by Frank
Zersky, Jr., a local man with some land he’d like to develop. Zersky’s proposal is highly conceptual and
mind-numbingly complicated. It attempts to free developers from the standard frontage and setback
requirements that hinder imaginative projects, while giving town officials more control over density,
resource protection and the strain on town services large residential developments can create.
Because it is new, ambitious and complex, Zersky’s proposed bylaw faces an uphill battle. But it is
being given fair consideration, and that in itself is a sign of the conscientiousness with which Hopedale
residents and officials are facing the future. Of Hopedale’s 5.3 square miles, there is not a lot of land
left to develop, so every major project must be evaluated with great care.
The biggest question mark in Hopedale’s future is also the biggest reminder of Hopedale’s past. The
huge Draper factory sits vacant and largely silent, still dominating the heart of Hopedale.
The jobs lost when the factory closed are still missed, but the people have gotten used to the quiet in
Hopedale’s center. Concerted efforts are still being made to find new tenants for the sprawling facility,
but the noise and traffic of a major industry may not be what today’s residents want so close to
The legacy of Draper looms large over Hopedale years after the company left this town behind. But as
Hopedale’s second century opens, today’s residents are actively building a bright new future.
A Milford Daily News article from a binder of Hopedale news clippings saved by John
Ezine Menu HOME
Hopedale News - August 1920
Clippings from the weekly Milford Gazette,
saved at the Bancroft Library.