Monday, November 2, 2009


Prior to the propagation of cranberries, one of Middleborough’s principal fruit crops had been the wild huckleberry. While huckleberries may never have proved a crop of enormous commercial value for Middleborough, their role in the social history of the community is, nonetheless, noteworthy, and recorded references to huckleberrying are frequent in the period preceding the First World War.

The wild huckleberry was noted in the earliest written accounts of the region made by European explorers. About 1602, Captain John Smith had described nearby Cape Cod as “overgrown with shrubby pines, hirts [huckleberries], and such trash.” Areas closer to Middleborough were likewise marked for their “considerable undergrowth of vines, huckleberry bushes and other shrubby plants.” Huckleberries thrived in both the swamps and uplands of South Middleborough, particularly, and they grew there in such abundance that they gave their name to nearby Huckleberry Corner in Carver near the end of Pine Street, where residents would sell their berries to the occupants of passing stages en route to New Bedford. Local residents would make their way into the woods each summer in search of the berry, and so great was their allure, that in August, 1879, a 90-year old woman is recorded as having "filled in some spare time this summer by picking a goodly quantity of huckleberries."

Wild huckleberries were picked also for sale throughout the last decades of the nineteenth century. In 1875, Middleborough produced 4,756 quarts of the berry valued at $421, a not inconsiderable amount when contrasted with the value of Middleborough’s other agricultural output. At the time, Middleborough ranked third in the production of huckleberries in Plymouth County, behind Scituate and Marshfield. The Gazette, noting the local sales from its woods and dairy farms remarked “only think of the bowls of huckleberries and milk.”
Attempts were made at Middleborough, as elsewhere, to commercially exploit this natural bounty and, in July, 1885, an unnamed South Middleborough man was in fact shipping several crates of huckleberries a week to Nantucket, reportedly “doing a good business … and realizing good prices.” However, because the huckleberry plant was wild and had yet been domesticated, harvests were highly dependent upon the vagaries of nature. In November, 1902, it was reported that “South Middleborough bushes have become so twisted as to the season that they have been blossoming.” On October 25, 1913, the Gazette reporter was shown a cluster of ripe huckleberries and blossoms on the same branch by Elmer Hatch who just previously had been able to harvest enough berries for a pie. In 1919, South Middleborough residents were surprised to find ripe huckleberries as early as June.

Because of the wild and therefore unpredictable existence of South Middleborough huckleberries, harvestable quantities fluctuated greatly on an annual basis. In 1877 it was reported that “the swamp huckleberry is scarce.” In August, 1888, huckleberries were considered scarce and “when you find them they are not worth the seeking.” Similarly, in August, 1912, “huckleberries have not as yet been found very plenty,” and in August, 1918, they were “a scarce article.” In 1922, their scarcity drove the price up to thirty cents a quart. Other years, however, produced bumper crops. In July, 1906, “prospects of huckleberries are good.” Thirteen years after, in 1919, huckleberries were being gathered “in great abundance and everyone ought to have enough, as there are plenty now in the swamps,” in fact, so many that “many bushels will go to waste.” In 1935, “the oldest inhabitant never remembers a season when huckleberries were more plentiful than they have been this summer.”

Clearly, as long as huckleberries remained uncultivated, they would never form the basis for a successful or stable commercial enterprise, though South Middleborough natives readily took advantage of the crop in the years when it was available to them. Elmer Hatch, in particular, had an especial knack for locating the ripe berry. “We think Elmer Hatch must have been about the first to find ripe huckleberries, as it was three weeks ago he reported them.” In September, 1919, Hatch was still able to locate ripe berries, picking several quarts and bringing “home bushes with a good display of large blue ones which were as nice as those of the earlier part of the season.”

"Wild Berries", photograph by Stefan Klopp, August 8, 2008. Used under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

USGS Map, Snipatuit, 1943.
The map shows the location of Huckleberry Corner in Carver just up East Street from Middleborough and the Weweantic River. Residents from nearby South Middleborough likely were among those selling huckleberries here to passing stages, a practice which gave the neighborhood its name.
"Huckleberry Bush", photograph by farmerjulie, July 5, 2007. Used under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
"Huckleberries", photograph by Geoffrey Smith, September 13, 2009. Used under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Middleboro Gazette
Old Colony Memorial


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