The Town of Hopedale
By Roger DeLand French
reason or another. The Brook Farm, the classic socialistic colony, failed, as has the Oneida
Community, as an experiment in social science. New Harmony cannot be called successful; and
neither can Hopedale, strictly speaking. Just as the Oneida Community has become wealthy and
prosperous through its manufactures, so has Hopedale been built up by industry. Neither follows
the plans laid for it by its founders, though perhaps Hopedale has come the nearer to its ideal.
For generations the Draper family, an old one in Massachusetts, has been interested in the
manufacture of cotton. In 1816 Ira Draper, of Saugus, patented an improvement in cotton mill
machinery known as a revolving temple. His sons were interested in cotton mills, two of them,
George and Ebenezer, going to Uxbridge to work in a mill there. There they met Adin Ballou, of
the neighboring town of Mendon.
Adin Ballou was an enthusiastic religious reformer who had a scheme to revolutionize society by
recasting the relations among men. Briefly, his idea was to form each village into a joint stock
company in which each citizen should hold shares. They were then to ply their trades, or to
organize any commercial ventures they pleased, but were to pool the profits and divide them
among the total population, in proportion to the number of shares held by each. There were grave
defects to this system, as any economist will point out.
This was the plan which Ballou set on foot in 1841. He and his followers purchased that part of
the historic town of Mendon known as "The Dale," and rechristened it Hopedale. Here they lived,
for a time, in the original house of John Jones, the first settler in that section, and applied
themselves to laying out and building up their village.
In 1852 George Draper joined the community, but, finding it a financial failure, he, with his
brother, purchased all the stock at par, paid the debts of the community, and took over the
manufacturing plant. They then began, in a small way, the making of improved cotton-spinning
and weaving machinery, which was destined to grow to the present great proportions. This may
be said to be the end of the Hopedale Community.
From that day to this, the business has increased at such a pace that, in place of the few hands
and limited room of 1852, there are now buildings affording about 27 acres of floor space, and
the concern is employing over 3,000 men. To house and feed so many men in any place but a
city, or large town, is a problem of no mean degree. The Draper Company has solved, or helped
to solve it in a very efficient and practical way, and has in addition made of Hopedale a town
worthy to serve as a model for others.
Going to Hopedale from Boston you pass through many a New England town, clean and
homelike, but not having much pretensions to other than natural beauty, or high degree of
comfort. You are finally deposited on the station platform at Milford; and your heart sinks into your
shoes. Surely, there cannot be any model villages within a hundred miles of this spot! But you
take heart when you remember that the railroad station is often in the very worst part of a town,
and as you walk up the street toward the village square you find that you are getting into a less
despondent frame of mind. You board a trolley-car marked "Hopedale," for this little town is not
on any line of railway, pay your fare to a phlegmatic conductor, swing around a corner after a few
minutes' ride, and behold! you are in Hopedale.
It is difficult to give an adequate idea of the town, with its quiet atmosphere of content, peace and
plenty. Everywhere are trees to keep the walks cool, and to add beauty to the vistas. Between the
curb and the sidewalk is a narrow strip of grass, as soft and smooth as if just cut; as it probably
has been. On all sides of me are the cottages of the Draper employees, now and then jostled by
the larger and more impressive mansion of some official of the company. Such is the first
impression, and after the most careful inspection, and prying search, this impression will remain.
When I dropped off the car at the Draper Company's offices, and asked to see some one who
could tell something about the town, I was met with a laugh, and told: "Go out and roam wherever
you please, and you will always find some one who can tell you all there is to tell."
I walked up the street until I came to a little gem of a lake. There was a silvery-gray, shingled
building on its shore, all buried in shrubbery and vines, and surrounded with such a green lawn
as I had, by this time, learned to associate with Hopedale. It was the public bath house,
supported by the town through its park department; and during the last year it catered the needs
and pleasure of over 3,300 patrons.
I strolled along through a pleasant thicket on an agreeably "crunchy" gravel path, and let my
thoughts fly whither they would. They got so far away from this earth that I bumped with
considerable force, into a venerable old gentleman whose mind was also far above things
terrestrial. After mutual apologies, I ventured to ask where I might be. "You are in our park
system, sir," was the reply. "What next?" I thought, "2,000 people and a park system!"
Finally I found myself back upon the street, and turned toward the center of the village. The side
streets looked so cool and comfortable that I was unable to withstand the temptation to explore;
and it is well that I did so, or I should have missed seeing one of the most interesting features of
this remarkable town. That is the playground, covering five or six acres. It is laid out into tennis
courts and baseball diamonds, which were then deserted. While I stood wondering what
purpose a seemingly useless pile of stones, lumber, and lime barrels served, the clock struck
twelve, and boys and men began to hurry by on their way to the midday meal. Some of them
brought their lunches to the numerous benches with which the playground is provided: and it did
not take these long to dispose of the contents of their dinner-boxes. This done, a ball was
produced from somebody's pocket, and in less time than it takes to tell it a game was in full
From one of the spectators I learned, between bits of advice offered to the players of both sides
impartially, that my useless pile of lumber was by way of becoming a new "gran' stan' for de
ban'," to replace the one then standing near it. The Hopedale band is in steady demand to play in
the neighboring towns, and has earned for itself an enviable reputation. During the summer it
gives evening concerts, which are attended by all the population.
The Draper Company employees hold an annual field day, comprising field and track sports,
baseball games, and the like. Prizes are awarded the winners in the various events, which, while
they are of no great value, serve to stimulate interest. The "big men" of the company are no bigger
than the veriest 'prentice hands, on passed this gala day. All the Hopedale people get together,
try their skill, if they are so inclined, and go home feeling more tired, perhaps, than after a day in
the shop, but with the conviction that life is worth living, after all, in Hopedale.
On the way back to the main street, I pass the new grammar school, a building that would put to
shame many of those erected in cities of ten times Hopedale's size. Further along is a building
which a resident assured me was a "boardin' 'ouse," though its sign claimed the title of "hotel" for
it. Here many of the younger and unmarried employees live. Its ivy-covered walls certainly gave
earnest of comfortable rooms and bounteous fare within.
While I was wondering why more towns do not study the "Hopedale idea" I popped around a
corner, and found myself once more in the center of the village, with a little park full of apple trees
just at hand. Here is a statue of Adin Ballou, by Partridge, and also the old front doorstep of the
Jones house, over which he passed so many times. The house stood some 425 feet from the
present park, on a site now covered by the buildings of the Draper Company. Full of bright
flowers, and with the customary green lawn, Ballou Park is a delight to the eyes, on a hot
Almost opposite the park is the Bancroft Library, given to the town by J. B. Bancroft, and
containing over 10,000 volumes. The public library is now such a familiar institution in every town
that little need be said concerning its work, except to note that it is very liberally patronized. Just
beyond the library, so near as almost to be classed as part of it, is the beautiful Susan Preston
Draper fountain. No words can portray its exquisite beauty, its marble figure of Hope shimmering
in the sun, and the dolphins and Medusa's head spouting forth cool water, for the benefit of dogs
and cats as well as humans. No tin cup and ugly chain mar its charm; instead, there is a graceful
holder with a glass. A glass! Think of it, ye unregenerate who live not in Hopedale! Moreover, I'm
told that this selfsame glass has done duty since the fountain was first erected, in 1904. Little
facts like these prove the existence of a spirit among the Hopedale people which might well be
The church situation in Hopedale is unique. There are but two churches, the Unitarian and the
Union. The membership of the Union Church includes all those adhering to the evangelical
beliefs. Those who are not disposed to accept the ministrations of either of these churches can
find representatives of nearly all denominations in Milford, ten minutes away by trolley. The
Unitarian church occupies a building presented to it by George A. and Eben S. Draper, in memory
of their parents, while the Union Church has a building recently constructed.
The town offices are located in a memorial building given to the Hopedale people by Mr. George
Draper. Here the selectmen, the executive heads of the town, have their office. Here also may be
found the town clerk, the town treasurer, the assessors, the tax collector, and all the other town
officials. Here are held the town meetings, at which these officers are elected, and
appropriations" are made for the expenses of the ensuing year. The New England town
government is about the most democratic form in use; everything has to come before the
citizens, "in town meeting assembled."
The particular feature of Hopedale which is bound to catch the stranger's eye is the lovely
residence streets. On every hand are cosy and artistic cottages, surrounded by well-kept yards.
They are as different from the usual workingman's home as they could well be. They are well and
beautifully built, and show what can be accomplished in solving the housing problem when it is
given sympathetic attention. They have nearly all been erected by the Draper Company, which
rents them to its employees at charges varying from $10 to $15 a month, the higher rents being
for those houses equipped with furnace and bath-room. Ashes and garbage are removed free of
charge to the tenant.
To secure co-operation on the part of the tenants in rendering the town beautiful by keeping their
lawns and backyards in order, the company has established a committee of three which awards
prizes for the best appearing grounds. These prizes are given in November, but the committee
inspects the competitors' lawns and yards at various times during the season. For 1906 the prize
list consists of one first prize of $10, twelve second prizes of $7.50 each, and forty third prizes of
$5 each. For those employees who live on Prospect Heights in Milford, where the company also
has some houses, there is a smaller prize list which this year reaches a total of $75.
The physical welfare of Hopedale's citizens is as carefully looked after as is their mental well-
being. The town is sewered, and the sewage is treated by contact beds before it is discharged
into Mill river, whence it finds its way to the Blackstone, and finally into Narragansett bay. Water,
electricity and gas are furnished by the Milford corporations. The fire protection is excellent,
Hopedale being one of the few places where automobile apparatus is in regular use. This is
made possible by the well paved streets and the absence of steep grades.
When one thinks that the town of Hopedale has a population of less than 2,000, and that its
citizens are no richer than those of other similar towns, one cannot help marveling at what has
been accomplished. A large percentage of the taxes of the town are paid by the Draper Company
as a corporation and as individuals. As to the appropriation of these moneys, the company has
exactly no voice, and each of the members of the company only as much voice as one of the
employees. How has the town been influenced to put forth such sums for improvements? Mainly
by force of example, I take it, until now every Hopedale man loves Hopedale, and puts its welfare
above everything but home and kin. It is true that the town has been fortunate in the benefactions
bestowed upon it, but it is also true that by far the greater part of the credit must be given to the
What has been done in Hopedale can be done elsewhere, when the man with the motive and the
right kind of genius arises. Welfare work, so-called, does not rest entirely with the employer; the
man at the machine must show an inclination to do what he can. When both work together, what
is the result? A liveable, lovable, beautiful village, like Hopedale. The Village: a journal for village
life, January 1907, Google Books.