Nipmuc Park and the Mendon Trolley

    The establishment of Nipmuc Park in 1882 and the Milford - Uxbridge Electric Street Railway in 1901
    created significant changes in how people lived their lives in Mendon. The park, on the western shore
    of Lake Nipmuc, offered clean water and air and a variety of recreational opportunities for weekend
    visitors. The resort and the new means of transportation led to changes in the town's land use,
    occupations, and population. Mendon's agricultural society and economy began a period of
    transformation that lasted through the 1940's.

    July 4,1882 marked the beginning of a new era for Lake Nipmuc.  Nature's beauty spot became the
    site of commercial entertainment. The dedication of Nipmuc Hall and the adjacent grove featured a
    clam bake and row boat and sailboat rides. A special ride was a licensed steamboat tour around the
    lake. Swings, hammocks, and a bowling alley were available, and summer treats included ice cream,
    soda, and lemonade. Brown's five-piece orchestra provided entertainment throughout the afternoon
    and evening. After sundown, there was a fireworks display from John Guild's cottage on the island.
    The beautiful lake and recreational offerings attracted hundreds of visitors on opening day and on
    every weekend during the summer.

    In December 1901, the electric street railway opened and purchased the park. New features were
    added such as electric lighting, a merry-go-round, a new theater, and a dancing pavilion. Vaudeville
    and burlesque shows were offered, and soon the park was the most popular resort in the region. The
    new attractions, plus the easy access by trolley, brought several hundred people from neighboring
    towns to Mendon every weekend.

    Two Mendon residents, Tom and Bill Hackenson, recently reminisced about their days of working at
    the park as teenagers in the early 1940's. Tom drove a launch, a tour boat holding fifty people, around
    the lake using a bullhorn to amplify his voice. He operated a variety of rides, including the merry-go-
    round. He also worked as a backstage prop man to set up and change decorations and equipment
    for burlesque shows.  He recalled that several of the dancers were very talented, including Sally Keith,
    Sally Rand, Lili St. Cyr, and Ann Corio. Tom's brother, Bill, worked at the roller skating rink and as a
    ground maintenance man. Both men felt that they were very fortunate to have had these jobs as
    adolescents in a time of economic difficulty at a place that had significance in the town's history.

    With the weekend use of the trolley focused on the park, it was the Monday through Friday use that
    created the biggest changes and opened new occupational opportunities for Mendon farmers.
    Factories and mills in Uxbridge, Hopedale, and Milford became easily accessible by trolley, and many
    young adults chose to give up the family business in agriculture in order to find employment out of
    town. As this trend continued for several years, many Mendon families decided that the new economic
    use of the land would be to sell it for housing development. As more houses were built, the town's
    population grew. In 1890, 919 people lived in Mendon. By 1940, the population had grown to 1,315,
    and many residents were no longer involved in farming.

    Nipmuc Park and the Milford-Uxbridge Electric Street Railway helped to create change in Mendon's
    use of land, population, and economy. The popularity of the park was at its peak until the end of World
    War I, when an influx of automobile production greatly reduced the need of a regional trolley. The
    service ended in 1928. By the early stages of World War II, the trolley rails were pulled up throughout
    the country in order to use the steel for military equipment. The recreational use of the park had
    dwindled by the 1950's. Mendon's landscape of dairy farms, orchards, and pastures is in the past, but
    during the era of transition, the town had a special place on the shores of Lake Nipmuc that had been
    a stimulus of change. For the Hackenson brothers, they were pleased to have been a part of it.

    Richard Grady
    October 1, 2012

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