Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company

Though Middleborough’s oldest residents might recall the Peirce Block as site of the Middleborough Post Office between 1902 and 1933, the overwhelmingly greater number of memories of the Peirce Block concern one of the block's later tenants - The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, always known familiarly as the A & P. Few other Middleborough businesses seem to be held in as high a collective esteem or remembered with such warm regard as the Four Corners A & P.

Founded in 1859 as a New York-based mail order tea business, the A & P first opened in Middleborough in 1920 in a small ell attached to the Nemasket House hotel on North Main Street. Managed by W. S. Wilder, the store was one of several thousand A & P stores operating nationally.

In late 1920 when Wilder was moved to a new A & P branch on Center Street, he was replaced with William Jacobs in the North Main Street location. The late Lyman Butler fondly recalled one of his earliest jobs as a part-time stock clerk in this first North Main Street A & P under the management of Bill Jacobs, and he described how he was later "eased out" when expanding business warranted a full-time clerk. At the time, the A & P retailed only dry and canned goods and Middleborough customers had to patronize other local markets for perishable items. Despite that fact the A & P store grew rapidly, eventually adding the sale of fresh meat and produce.

In the 1920s, the North Main Street store relocated across the street into the Panesis Block to the store later occupied by Panesis' own market and still later by Cleverly's Market. The A & P paid Panesis $90 a month rent and required Panesis to repaint the store's interior "in accordance with color scheme of Tea Co." with paint provided by the A & P. In 1927, this store began selling fresh food with the addition of a meat market.

Besides the North Main Street location, the A & P also operated a second branch store on Center Street, first in the Atwood Building from about 1920 through 1925 then between 1926 and the early 1930s at Everett Square on the corner of Center and Everett Streets. The Everett Square store was the scene of considerable excitement in 1933 when it was robbed of $396, the robber brandishing a gun and tying up the manager and clerk. The so-called "A & P Bandit" was returned to Middleborough for trial the following year.

In 1932, the North Main Street store moved to larger quarters in the brick Thatcher Block on the corner of Center Street and Thatcher's Row where the rent in that more visible location was a more substantial $275 a month. Lyman Butler described the Center Street A & P as "without question the most modern in town." In contrast to today when the floor areas of supermarkets measure in thousands of square feet, the Center Street A & P occupied about 2,500 square feet of space (nearly twice that of the North Main Street store), with stock areas located in the basement. At the time of its relocation, the A & P added a large concrete medallion depicting the familiar "A & P" monogram logo to the cornice of the building. This reminder of the store's presence survived until the late 1970s when it toppled to the pavement below.

The A & P remained in the Thatcher Block for only a short period of time. As the Post Office had vacated the bottom floor of the Peirce Block at the Four Corners a number of years earlier, the A & P was able to rent that space from the Peirce Trustees, and Middleborough’s A & Ps were consolidated there in 1938. For years following the A & P's removal to the Peirce Block, its advertisements emphasized its location as being that of the "Old Post Office," indicating how closely identified the Post Office and Peirce Block were in the public's mind at that time. Ironically, the A & P would later, itself, become so closely identified with the Peirce Block that it would supplant any former associations between the building and its former tenants - even the Post Office whose long term presence in the building has since been somewhat forgotten.

The A & P’s advertising at the time proclaimed the new Peirce Block store which opened for business on March 25, 1938, as the “newest … most modern self-service food store!" Clearly the typesetter exhausted his supply of exclamation points when setting the following piece of enthusiastic copy about Middleborough's latest A & P: "A new type of food store – stripped of frills – stripped for action to give you bigger and better savings. Over a thousand ways to save this modern way – not just a few tempting special[s] – but sensational low Self-Service prices for everyday of the week on every single item. It’s fun, too. No necessary waiting – serve yourself and save! Compare prices – compare quality. You’ll be amazed! Get the Self-Service habit and save! More clerks employed than ever before to make your shopping easier!”

Like Lyman Butler, Clint Clark also wrote warmly of his reminiscences of the A & P, remembering it for its role in introducing self-service shopping locally.

"I don't think the A & P at the Four Corners ever operated as what we called a 'straight' grocery store, clerks waiting on customers, that is. As I recall, it was set up for self-service when it opened. In theory, self-service would make it possible to reduce food prices, as it eliminated maintaining a staff of clerks to wait on customers. On the other hand, self- service required staffing checkouts, and help to keep the shelves stocked and goods priced - plus numerous other chores." Not only were the self-service concept and savings popular with Middleborough shoppers, but brands such as Eight O'Clock and Red Circle coffee, Jane Parker and Ann Page products found a following as well.

At the time the A & P moved into the Peirce Block, it was managed by Elmer "Tubby" Dewhurst, with Andy Pike managing the meat department. Later, James Mooney was named manager of the store.

When the A & P made its move to the Peirce Block over sixty years ago, the grocery trade was far more competitive than today. At the time, Stop & Shop operated a store a short distance away along Center Street while the main A & P rival in Middleborough - the First National - conducted business in the brick block which later was the last home of the Boston Store. Additionally, there were the numerous local stores, including the Homestead grocery, which competed for Middleborough shoppers.

Despite this competitive environment (or, perhaps, because of it), the A & P flourished in the Peirce Block, remaining there until larger quarters were required in 1961, at which time it relocated Everett Square. During its roughly quarter century of Peirce Block tenancy, the A & P attracted thousands of shoppers and, in the process, created what seem to be thousands of affectionate memories. Mention the Peirce Block to any Middleborough resident of the right age and, undoubtedly, they'll share one of these memories with you.

(Of course, still younger readers will recall the A & P from the days following 1961 when it relocated at Everett Square in the building now occupied by the Rockland Trust Company. It remained there until it closed in 1977).

Illustrations:
A & P Logo

The distinctive A & P logo helped brand the store and promote the company as one of the most reliable and recognizable in the country.


Former A & P, Center Street and Thatcher's Row, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Clint Clark, 1975
The A & P occupied a store in the remodelled Thatcher Block on Center Street between 1932 and 1938 before relocating to the Peirce Block and, later, Everett Square. Ironically, the A & P logo which the company erected along the roofline of the Thatcher Block and which is clearly visible in this photograph remained long after the store had relocated elsewhere. It eventually toppled to the pavement.

A & P Advertisement, Saturday Evening Post, c. 1930
The A & P was noted not only for the prices it offered, but for its high quality and frequent advertising as well. This example which depicts an A & P store similar to the one which operated in the Thatcher Block touted the quality and savings offered by the store, as well as its exceptional staff: "And the personnel ... they're out of the ordinary, too! Alert, intelligent and courteous sales people lending every effort to make you feel at home. A cheery 'good morning' when you come and a friendly 'thank you' when you leave. Your visit has been all too short, you say, as you go home, supremely confident you have purchased the utmost in quality and at a substantial saving."

Sources:
This post originally appeared in "Recollecting Nemasket" in the Middleboro Gazette.


For more about the history of the A & P, visit the A & P website or read:
Avis H. Anderson, Images of America: A & P - The Story of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002).

William I. Walsh, The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (L. Stuart, 1986).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving at Finn's, 1930s

Finn's Sea Grill operated on East Grove Street, opening in May, 1931 on what previously had been the site of the town dump, a fact which gave the establishment its less formal name of "Finn's on the Dump." Operated by William Finn, the Grill also featured an oyster bar and seafood market and advertisements touted the restaurant as the "finest in New England". A drastic change came to the business with the repeal of Prohibition in December, 1933, and the acquisition of a liquor license in March, 1934. That spring, extensive changes were made to the restaurant, including the creation of a cocktail lounge, certainly one of the first in Middleborough. The lounge was noted for a large mural, "The Face on the Bar-room Floor" painted by Helen Martin of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, an admittedly eyebrow-raising title.

Finn's was operated until the late 1930s, and the site has since been occupied by a succession of restaurants including the Zombie, Eugene's and the Riverside.

Illustration:
Finn's Sea Grill, Thanksgiving menu, H. L. Thatcher & Company, printers, Middleborough, MA, 1930s
This small appropriately pumpkin-colored card detailed the Thanksgiving Dinner special at Finn's Sea Grill. Finn's specialty - oysters - were featured as both an appetizer and a main ingredient in the turkey stuffing. The full course meal cost $1.50.

Source:
Middleboro Gazette

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lake Assawompsett Idyll


The view depicts a young girl looking wistfully over Lake Assawompsett from the Lakeville shore near Bedford Street. In the background, a boating party launches its craft into the waters of the lake which were then not restricted for use as a public water supply. Such idyllic scenes were frequent subjects for stereographic card publishers such as Shaw & Childs, druggists at Middleborough center who sought to supplement their sale goods with souvenir novelties such as this card.

Illustration:
Lake Assawompsett, "Lakeville Scenes", Middleborough, MA: Shaw & Childs, publisher, stereocard, late 19th century

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sovereigns of Industry


The Sovereigns of Industry was a reform movement which sought to encourage consumer cooperatives and "the purchasing of all goods used by families at producers' prices". Established in Massachusetts in 1874, it flourished briefly, principally in New England and the eastern states.

The organization of the Sovereigns of Industry was modeled upon that of the Grange which in 1873 began operating cooperative stores for its members, and it was heavily influenced by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England, as well. At the height of its popularity, the Sovereigns of Industry had over 250 councils in New England, each of which operated a cooperative store. Essentially the stores sold goods at market prices. Profits were returned in the form of dividends to shareholders as well as to purchasers in proportion to the amount of goods which they purchased.

The avowed goal of the Sovereigns was the promotion of "mutual fellowship and cooperative action among the producers and consumers of wealth throughout the earth....We mean to substitute cooperation, production and exchange, for the present competitive system.... We war with the whole wage system and demand for labor the entire result of its beneficial toil." Most at the time found these goals too radical and the organization consequently suffered from this characterization.

Middleboro Council No. 162, Sovereigns of Industry, was formed either in late 1875 or early 1876. In January, 1876, the organization was meeting in the Town Hall and just a month later hired Assawamsett Hall for their headquarters. Unfortunately, little is known of the local organization or its membership. Certainly by 1879 it was defunct along with the national organization whose stores were unable to weather political opposition and the straitened economic circumstances of the mid and late 1870s. "Like many other associations, this of the Sovereigns had grown too fast and been joined by too many ignorant, discordant elements to bear the shock of adversity. The severa and long-continued hard times, from 1874 to 1879, began to tell upon the order" [Bemis:43].

Walter H. Smith whose membership card appears above was a carpenter who, in 1879, was residing on Wood Street in Middleboro. Eugene P. LeBaron, who signed the card as secretary of the local council, was associated with the LeBaron Foundry on Vine Street.

Illustrations:
Sovereigns of Industry membership card, front and reverse, Walter H. Smith, Middleborough, MA

Sources:
Bemis, Edward W.
History of Coöperation in New England. Baltimore: Publication Agency of the Johns Hopkins University, 1888.

Curl, John. History of Work Cooperation in America. Berkeley, CA: Homeward Press, 1980.

Leikin, Steve, "The Citizen Producer: The Rise and Fall of Working-Class Cooperatives in the United States" from Ellen Furlough and Carl Strikwerda, eds., Consumers Against Capitalism: Consumer Cooperation in Europe and North America, 1840-1990. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

Middleboro Gazette, "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago", January 8, 1926, p. 3; "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty-Five Years Ago", January 2, 1931, p. 6, and February 20, 1931, p. 7.

New York Times, "The Sovereigns of Industry", March 6, 1874.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hill Top Farm

In June, 1901, the original Cape-style farmhouse at Hill Top Farm on Highland Road in Lakeville was burned down as reported by the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial at the time:

Morgan Rotch's country seat at Lakeville, "Hilltop," was burned early one morning recently. A Portuguese farm hand who slept in the barn discovered fire in that building and had barely time to get himself and the horses out, getting burned somewhat while doing so. A little of the furniture was saved from the house. Mr. Rotch is abroad.

Following the fire, a new large house (pictured above in the process of construction) was erected at the bottom of the hill near the shore of Long Pond.

The History of Hill Top Farm in the Words of Lydia Rotch, a new booklet in the historical series published by Preserve Our Lakeville Landmarks, is a continuation of the story of this house, its surrounding property and the family which occupied it as as told by Rotch's grand-daughter Lydia (1910-2005).

Owned since 1889 by the Rotch family of New Bedford which had been instrumental in that city's economic and political growth, Hill Top Farm was the family's summer retreat and was established during the era when the regions surrounding the Middleborough and Lakeville ponds were developed as summer estates by regionally prominent individuals. Occupying the crest of what was once known as Shockley Hill, and sloping eastwards down to the shore of Long Pond, Hill Top Farm was originally operated as a stock farm by Morgan Rotch where dairy cattle and trotting horses were raised. In 1910, the property was inherited by Miss Rotch's father, Boston landscape architect Arthur Grinnell Rotch, who made numerous improvements about the property and continued to spend summers for the remainder of his life there.

Miss Rotch recounts the evolution of the property from 1889 through 2005 and considers its role as both a working farm and a summer retreat for the family. Throughout, the history is illustrated with snapshots from her private collection, depicting both the family at play as well as the buildings and grounds.

In 2006, the 90 acre property was left to the Trustees of Reservations through the generosity of Miss Rotch.

The History of Hill Top Farm in the Words of Lydia Rotch is published by Preserve Our Lakeville Landmarks and is available at the Lakeville Town Clerk's office for $5. P. O. L. L.'s earlier booklets (listed in the right sidebar here) are also available for purchase.

Illustration:
"A Summer Cottage Being Built on the Shore of Long Pond in Lakeville by Morgan Rotch 1902", photograph by George Dorr of Middleborough, 1902

Sources:
Lydia Rotch. The Lakeville Historical Tour Committee Presents the History of Hill Top Farm in the Words of Lydia Rotch. Lakeville, MA: Preserve Our Lakeville Landmarks, 2009.

Old Colony Memorial, "News Notes", June 29, 1901, page 3.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A View of Middleborough, c. 1905

This view of Middleborough Four Corners taken from above the Nemasket River about 1905 looks westward towards the town center. Visible on the horizon line (from left to right) are Middleborough Town Hall, the Central Congregational Church, the Central Baptist Church, Leonard and Barrows shoe manufactory on Center Street, the Forest Street standpipe and the Central Methodist Church. In the foreground, on the opposite bank of the river, is the land now occupied by Spencer Street and the Middleborough Housing Authority. Originally, it was used for a small landfill. Mill houses along both Wareham Street at the right and Jackson Street at the far right may be seen as can the newly-built Middleborough Public Library peeking through the trees. Glimpses of the Cushing House at the corner of Wareham and Lincoln Streets as well as the nearby trolley car barn (later Maxim Motors) may also be seen. The Municipal Light Plant is easily recognizable on the right, though its smokestack is long since gone. Across Wareham Street from the plant, on the edge of the river is the so-called "Ocean House". In 1908 the building was condemned and two years later in 1910 it was torn down.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Middleborough Heritage Festival


On Saturday, November 14, the Middleborough Historical Association will sponsor the Middleborough Heritage Festival from 10 am through 4 pm at historic Middleborough Town Hall in celebration of Middleborough's 34oth anniversary. The Festival will include a host of events, craft demonstrations, re-enactments and other activities, as well as displays of historical information presented by local organizations. Children's activities will also be featured and families are encouraged to attend what promises to be a fun, educational (and inexpensive) day out.

Scheduled Events

10:00 a.m. Opening Ceremony

10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Quilt Documentation
Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project
Appointment required

10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Children's Activities:
Crafts with Soule Homestead Education Center
Face painting by Art on the Spot
Games by the Middleborough Historical Association

10:00 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Images of America: Middleborough
Book signing with author Michael J. Maddigan

10:05 a.m.
Soule Farm Expansion Plan
Presentation with Executive Director Frank Albani

10:30 a.m.
Dialogue with Judge Peter Oliver
Performance by re-enactor Michael Lepage

11:00 a.m.
Historic Preservation Awards
Presentation by Jane Lopes, Middleborough Historical Commission, Chair

11:30 a.m.
“What Did the Colonial People Wear?”
Historic textile talk by Hallie Larkin, Southcoast Historical Associates

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Images of America: Middleborough
Book signing with author Michael J. Maddigan

12:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Children’s Activities continue
Face Painting by Art on the Spot
Games by the Middleborough Historical Association

12:30 p.m.
Quarterly Meeting
Middleborough Historical Association

1:00 p.m.
Rock Village Publishing
Discussion with author Yolanda Lodi

1:00 p.m.
“How to Research Practically Anything”
Panel discussion

2:00 p.m.
“Petticoat Patriot, Deborah Sampson”
Performance by Joan Gatturna

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Images of America: Middleborough
Book signing with author Michael J. Maddigan

3:00 p.m.
“Meet Mrs. Tom Thumb”
Illustrated talk by Gladys Beals and Dorothy Thayer, Middleborough Historical Association

3:30 p.m.
340th Anniversary Cake
Cake cutting ceremony

4:00 p.m.
Festival ends

Participants

Participants include American Legion, Cabot Club, Church of Our Saviour, Committee for Preservation of Thompson Street, Eddy Homestead, First Congregational Church of Middleborough, Future of Middleborough Trust, General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Green School Preservation Committee, Lakeville Historical Commission, Lakeville Historical Society, Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project, Middleborough Historical Association, Middleborough Historical Commission, Middleborough on the Move, Middleborough Public Library, Nemasket Hill Cemetery, Old Colony Historical Society, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Recollecting Nemasket, Robbins Museum of Archaeology, Soule Homestead Education Center, St. Andrew’s Church and Weston Memorial Forest.

Participating craftspeople and individuals include Mary Guidaboni (braided rugs), Dean and Laurie Rantz (blacksmithing and colonial spinning), Spinners with Soul, Harlow House Spinners, Jeff Stevens (gravestones & cemeteries), Country Piecemakers, Trish Holloway (artist), Yolanda Lodi of Rock Village Publishing (author) and Kara Andrews of Art on the Spot.

Refreshments are available for purchase all day with hot dogs available from 12 noon – 2 p.m. All proceeds from the refreshments benefit Middleborough Historical Association and the Soule Homestead Education Center, two local non-profit organizations.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Free Love at East Middleborough, 1922

Communists, birth control advocates, labor organizers, socialists, nudists. These were just the folks to set conservative Middleborough agog in 1922, particularly when rumors surfaced that the East Middleborough farm owned by Charles A. Garland of Boston was a seat of communal living by left-leaning advocates of free love and what were regarded by many as other social vices and dubious political theories.


Garland, largely unknown today, was the object of much media attention at the time, both for his unconventional views as well as his ultimate legacy, the American Fund for Public Service (1922-41) which has been alternately lauded as financier of organizations promoting social and economic justice in America and vilified as a Communist front organization. Not surprisingly, Garland himself proved an equally controversial personage, and the mixture of power, sex, wealth, and politics which surrounded his story fascinated the public during the mid-1920s, including Middleborough residents with a more direct connection.

Garland was born the grandson of Boston millionaire James Albert Garland who had been a vice-president of the First National Bank of New York and an organizer of the Northern Pacific Railroad. James Garland was later noted as a collector of ancient glass and porcelain and upon his death in 1900, his estate was valued at between $7 and $8.5 million. Garland’s son and Charles Garland’s father, James A. Garland 2d, was a graduate of Harvard, a noted yachtsman and sportsman, editor of the New England Magazine and author of The Private Stable: Its Establishment, Management and Appointments (Boston, 1899), a seminal work in its field.

Charles Garland, known to many as “Barl”, was liberally educated in England and at Harvard University, where according to a later Time magazine article he “acquired more ideas than he knew what to do with" [Time, June 30, 1941]. Among those ideas appear to have been social justice, naturism, and free love. (For his part, Garland always disputed that such ideas had been acquired at the Ivy League college, maintaining that he was a Christian socialist who had developed his views through the teachings of Christ and readings of Tolstoy and H. G. Wells) [New York Times, November 28, 1920].
"It is not mine. I never did anything to earn it."
While Garland’s father James had no compunction about making use of the family wealth for personal gratification (he had a summer estate on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay and was described in his September, 1906, obituary in the New York Times as a “well known yachtsman and clubman”), Charles had a particular aversion to what he characterized as “unearned wealth”. “It is not mine. I never did anything to earn it”, he said of his inheritance[Harpers, February 1921]. Accordingly, in 1920, at a time when the Garland estate remained the fourth largest shareholder in the First National Bank of New York, Charles Garland refused formally to accept his $1,000,000 share of his father’s estate - one of the first public indications of Charles Garland’s radicalism. (Charles’ younger brother, Hamilton, likewise refused his legacy, before ultimately reconsidering and accepting it).

Refusing his inheritance was an action indicative of Garland's increasingly unconventional personality, which was of a free-thinking and independent nature. Local news correspondent James Creedon later described Garland as “a man of much independence.” Creedon noted that Garland “usually walked when he wanted to get anywhere. Folks who offered him a ride in the early autos of the day, as they saw him plodding along the roads, were always thanked for their offer, with a statement he preferred to walk" [Brockton Enterprise, July 30, 1953]. Despite holding what were decidedly anti-capitalist views, Garland in mid-1919 wed a scion of Yankee propriety, Mary Wrenn, daughter and heiress of Philip W. Wrenn, former president of the Boston Stock Exchange.

In late 1921, Garland who was residing with his wife at Bay End Farm on Buzzards Bay purchased the 30 acre East Middleborough poultry farm owned since 1904 by Joseph April. Consisting of a dwelling house, barn and several chicken houses, the farm was located in a secluded area east of Wall Street between Plymouth and Stone Streets partially on the property now occupied by the Capeway Rovers. In time, the chicken houses “were fitted up for use and occupancy of guests” [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953].
Garland increasingly became fascinated with rural agrarian life, and the farm appears to have been an attempt on his part to establish a simple life for himself, unconnected with and unconcerned by wealth. "I believe that every man, after providing for such simple needs as shelter, food, clothes, and the satisfaction of the instinct for beauty, should give willingly his surplus to those who need it. When need is satisfied, we will have abolished war, prisons, injustice, rebellion, and our other social sufferings", Garland believed [quoted in Samson:2-3]. “One of Garland's ideas was that people ought to live together in simple peasant communes, sharing love and money” and as a consequence, the East Middleborough farm came to be tenanted by “girls in gay embroidered dress, young intellectuals in sturdy work clothes, living as free spirits, the most exotic peasantry that ever came out of the better Eastern colleges" [Time, June 30, 1941]. For her part, Garland’s wife, Mary, is said to have opposed living at the Middleborough farm, and as a consequence a “little white house” was acquired for her in Dedham.

"I believe that every man, after providing for such simple needs as shelter, food, clothes, and the satisfaction of the instinct for beauty, should give willingly his surplus to those who need it."
The East Middleborough farm (frequently reported in newspapers of the time as having been situated in North Carver) remained known as April Farm and it became the center of many of the allegations regarding Garland’s private life. One report indicated that naturism or nudism was practiced at the farm. As recalled in 1953, “At that time the newcomers were away ahead of their day, in that they believed in getting back to nature, according to report, and part of that getting back was to live without the encumbrance of too much clothing” [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953]. More seriously, the farm was also believed to be a “love colony” where adultery and free love reigned, and Garland’s own actions at the time only served to reinforce this view.

About the time of the purchase of the East Middleborough property, Garland is said to have fallen in love with Lillian Conrad, an art student and his mother’s former private secretary, a development which understandably contributed to the collapse of his marriage. While Miss Conrad was entertained at April Farm, the exact nature of the relationship between the Garlands and Miss Conrad is not clear. In early 1922, however, Garland admitted frankly, “My wife has sufficient grounds for divorce”, and Mary Garland is said to have quitted April Farm for good at this time [New York Times, January 24, 1922].

On Sunday, January 22, 1922, Miss Conrad herself also fled the East Middleborough farm, later reports alleging that it had been in repudiation of Garland’s unconventional ideas. While Garland immediately followed Conrad to Boston, he denied to the press that he was fleeing after her despite the fact that he had allegedly avowed to friends at the time that he loved Conrad and wished to marry her. Once at Boston, Miss Conrad was “rescued by the Tideover League” and “placed in the home of a ‘cultured Boston family,” from where she could once more lead “a pure life” according to the press jargon of the day. In the meantime the story garnered much media attention resulting in the denouncement of Garland “from Boston's pulpits as a degenerate” [Samson:3].
"When need is satisfied, we will have abolished war, prisons, injustice, rebellions and our other social sufferings."

The goings on at East Middleborough naturally did not fail to escape local attention. As Gloria Barrett Samson later wrote, “While his refusal of wealth seemed aberrant, his concurrent public repudiation of enforced monogamy and his statement that conventional churches were "full of hypocrisy" received equal attention and widespread disfavor" [Samson: 2].

Middleborough Police Chief Sisson was explicit about his intentions should Garland chose to flout the law and local convention. “Garland will not be allowed to go on with any such thing as a ‘free love’ union in this town. If a man lives with a woman without being married and transgresses the law he will be dealt with as the law directs. The fact hat he has beliefs that are different from those of the lawmakers will have no bearing on the case. The fact that Garland is a millionaire will not excuse him either. Garland will be dealt with as though he were an ordinary man. I shall keep an eye on him and his place, and if there is anything wrong I shall not hesitate. We can’t have such things going on in this town" [New York Times, January 27, 1922]. Garland later defended his lifestyle: "As to unmarried people living together, this is a matter of individual inclination, and not understood by the common run of social fabric."

Meanwhile, rumors had been circulating that male and female acquaintances of Garland’s intended residing at the farm during the summer of 1922. In response to a question as to what Sisson would do should Garland attempt to establish “a colony” of like-minded individuals on the farm, the chief was unequivocal: “If there is anything wrong – any law broken – I shall take action at once" [New York Times, January 27, 1922]. For his part, Garland denied the reports. When confronted with public reaction towards his views, Garland simply dismissed them. “I refuse to answer the criticisms of these people because they are based solely on a misunderstanding of the problem" [ibid.]. He would later argue that “the relations of men and women were a personal matter and that it was not for government to regulate then, unless the persons concerned disturb the peace and health of the community." Nonetheless, the pervasive attitude at the time was that just such activities were detrimental to the moral climate of the community in which they occurred. Throughout the 1920s, there were incidences in Middleborough, as elsewhere, of unwed couples being prosecuted for what was termed “lewd and lascivious cohabitation”, so it’s not surprising, given his notoriety that Garland would come under scrutiny by local law enforcement officials, both in Middleborough and neighboring Carver.

"My wife has sufficient grounds for divorce."

Despite this controversy and the relatively high profile which Garland had at the time, the Middleboro Gazette, remained surprisingly mute on the topic. Perhaps on the premise that if it didn’t report it, it didn’t happen, the Gazette remained virtually silent on the affair. In contrast, sensational articles appeared in regional newspapers such as the Brockton Enterprise, and even the staid New York Times reported Garland’s presumed foibles and eccentricities.

Complicating matters for Garland personally was the fact that his wife, Mary, was pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time. The baby, a son, was delivered at Massachusetts General Hospital, in April, and some hoped that the birth of a son would help promote a reconciliation between the Garlands. It did, but only temporarily. The marriage appears to have been on shaky ground by late 1922. On September 12, 1922, when Mary applied for a passport, she listed her residence as Dedham and that of her husband as North Carver (the nearest post office to his East Middleborough Farm), indicating that they were then living apart for much of the time. Mary took the couple’s two children to Europe, departing aboard the S. S. France on October 11, 1922, and touring France, England, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland, before returning aboard the S. S. Paris out of Le Havre on April 14, 1923. Mary arrived in New York April 21, 1923, and returned home to Bay End Farm at Buzzards Bay. No doubt prompting Mary’s return was the fact that she was seven months pregnant at the time with her third child, Christopher.

In the midst of this personal turmoil, Garland at the behest of influential members of the American political left such as Upton Sinclair, took his $800,000 inheritance and with it helped establish the American Fund for Public Service, an organization intended to financially support the advancement of the public welfare in America. At the time the fund was established, Garland stated:

I am trying to use the inherited wealth toward social issues for the following reasons: I believe that every person is an integral part of society, and that the interests of one individual cannot be divorced from the interests of the other members of society without all having to pay the price for it in the end. From this it follows that I must strive to use whatever resources I have to the advantage of all. [New York Times, July 24, 1922]

While organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union benefited from the largesse of the “Garland Fund”, more radical organizations also received funding. This fact, coupled with the support given the fund by communists, socialists and anarchists led to the American Fund for Public Service being branded as a Communist front organization. The hostility demonstrated by the political right towards Garland and his fund was probably not confined solely to Garland’s political views. Undoubtedly, some of the expos√©s of Garland's private life were politically-motivated attempts to discredit him and his organization by appealing to the conservative moral sensibilities prevalent at the time. Ironically, while it had been Garland’s intention that the fund would expend his unwanted legacy on promoting social justice within America and would do so in such a way as to deliberately and quickly deplete itself (thereby ridding him of the unwanted money once and for all), as fate would have it investments made by the fund allowed it to perpetuate itself for nearly twenty years before it was ultimately depleted.

"... Every person is an integral part of society, ... the interests of one individual cannot be divorced from the interests of the other members of society without all having to pay the price for it in the end."
Though Garland owned the East Middleborough farm until 1931 (when he sold it to Louis E. Clark), he appears to have abandoned it shortly after 1922 for a similar one in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, just outside Allentown. That farm, too, became known as April Farm, taking its name from the one at East Middleborough. Garland’s similar communal April Farm “love colony” at Coopersburg, however, would prove to be Garland’s undoing. At its height, it appears to have had only 15 members – six men, six women and three children. Following the death of his daughter Barbetta which he had fathered by Bettina Hovey, one of the women in the colony, Garland was indicted by the Lehigh County Grand Jury on April 5, 1925, was convicted of adultery and served a prison sentence. His wife, Mary (Wreen) Garland from whom he had been long separated, divorced him the following year.

By late 1931, Garland had rewed, and had disposed of the East Middleborough farm. Ten years later, when the American Fund for Public Service had finally become defunct, Garland was reported as living quickly in a New York City suburb when he related simply “I don’t give money away anymore” [Time, June 30, 1941]. By 1953 he had largely dropped out of sight. “What has become of Garland, or his money, if any is left, is not clear now” wrote a local Brockton correspondent at the time [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953]. The only thing that appeared clear was his controversial, though now largely forgotten, legacy.

"I don't give money away anymore."

Illustration:
Map of Middleborough showing the location of Charles A. Garland's "April Farm".


Sources:
Brockton Enterprise, “Recall Days of Garland”, July 30, 1953
Harpers, 142, February 1921.
Klein, Henry H. Dynastic America and Those Who Own It. New York: Henry H. Klein, 1921.
Middleboro Gazette, “Middleboro”, October 28, 1921, p. 7; “Tax Collector’s Sale of Real Estate”, February 23, 1934, p. 6

New York Times, "James A. Garland Dead", September 14, 1906; "On Refusing a Million", November 28, 1920; "Garland in Boston, Seeks Miss Conrad", January 24, 1922; "Will Watch Events at Garland Farm", January 27, 1922; "Son for Charles Garland", April 26, 1922; "Heir to a Million Gives Up $800,000", July 24, 1922
Plymouth County Registry of Deeds
Samson, Gloria Garrett. The American Fund for Public Service: Charles Garland and Radical Philanthropy, 1922-1941. Greenwood Press, 1996.
Time. “Milestones”, August 23, 1926.
Time. “Radicals: Mr. Garland’s Millions”, June 30, 1941.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day


Illustration:
"Honoring All Who Served", J. Luke Borland, United States Air Force News Agency

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I Think of Middleboro All the Time"


Throughout the duration of their overseas service, Middleborough World War I soldiers frequently recalled boyhood homes, and their hometown was never far from mind. The harsh realities of war prompted many to recall what they had left behind, and comfort and solace was often found in such thoughts amidst the chaos often surrounding these men. The smallest items could provoke such pleasant and homely memories as indicated by the letters below.

[Excerpt]
Chatellon sur Seine, France
May 13, 1919

Dear Mother:

…On the left side here is a slope and it runs along one-fourth mile all covered with red and white lilacs; some pretty sight. I can smell them, shut my eyes, and see home….

MILLARD E. RAYMOND
Prisoner of War Escort
Company 223


Many Middleborough soldiers recalled their childhoods and the events which had made them special. The advent of Christmas, 1918, prompted Fred Sherman to ask his father in a letter, “Do you remember the times we used to go skating on Christmas?” Writing to friend Fred Pratt in Middleborough, John E. Morrison mentioned thoughts of childhood which sustained him in the face of battle: “I have been over the top four times now and came out pretty lucky, thank God for doing so. Every time I went over I thought of the old dog cart and lots of other good things.” Even the weather, as poor as it was, could conjure these same feelings. “Tonight the wind blows like a good old New England blizzard. At first thought it gives one rather a homesick feeling,” wrote Clifton McCrillis from France on September 28, 1918.

Darragh L. Higgins remembered the Nemasket Grange, while James E. Quigley tired of Army food, missed the local ice cream. “Just think,” he wrote to Lorenzo Wood, “if I could only be in Tripp’s Waiting Room and a nice big plate of ice cream sitting in front of me. I wonder how quickly I could make it disappear.” Ironically, such memories provided greater sustenance to Middleborough soldiers, who desired little more than the small pleasures which they had once taken for granted. Warren F. White simply stated that “it will be a happy day for me when I walk up old Elm street again.”

Throughout the war, local servicemen, but particularly those serving overseas, were sustained by thoughts of Middleborough. Many admissions to this effect were made in response to the activities of the Middleboro Service Committee and other local relief agencies whose members sent letters and parcels to local residents serving in the armed forces. In one typical response to a letter from the Middleboro Service Committee, John B. Bartlett wrote, “I may have bettered myself by being a resident of Texas, but Middleboro is a town one cannot help wanting to call home and this last move only makes it stronger.” Arshag Derderian voiced a similar sentiment when he wrote, “I feel glad and proud of my home town and the folks who do not forget the boys who left behind all their loved ones and their personal interests for the ‘Great Cause.’” Arthur Robinson similarly expressed pride in his home town in a thank you letter to the town Service Committee.

[Excerpt]
Newport News, Va.

Dear Sirs:

I must express my appreciation for your kind thoughts of us boys in service and am sure you will find others feel the same. I must admit that it was a proud moment when I received the letter, telling what you planned, for my captain was with me at the time and I passed it to him and he asked if he might have the letter to send to his Commercial Club at home to show them what was being done in the north (he is from Birmingham, Ala.) and wake them up. You see we get moments when we feel pretty proud of our hometown….

Corp. ARTHUR T. ROBINSON,
Attending Surgeon’s Office,
Newport News, Va.

Melvin Southwick likewise wrote of the attention such letters and packages received from his fellow soldiers, and recognized the support he felt from the home front.

[Excerpt]
Somewhere in France,
Jan. 14, 1918

Kind Friends:

…Believe me when I say that I know there is not another town of any size in this country which is doing a bit more for their boys in the service. I say that from remarks that have been made to me by boys from every state in the Union. I have had it asked me more than once if I had to write for these boxes, and when I have said “of course not,” invariably I have had it asked where my home is; and I have never hesitated in the least to say, “Middleboro, Massachusetts”…

Sincerely yours,
MELVIN L. SOUTHWICK,
U. S. N. Air Station,
U. S. N. Operating Base

During his exploits with the British Army, Earl Dempsey remained proud of his hometown as indicated by a letter which he forwarded to the Middleboro Service Committee.

[Excerpt]
France,
March 5, 1918

Dear Sirs:

…The boys in my section don’t know much about the United States, but they are learning fast. The two principal places now are New York city and Middleboro, and I think it won’t be long before I have them educated up to the idea that Middleboro is the principal town in the U. S. A.

Sincerely yours,
E. F. DEMPSEY,
[11th Battalion, C Co., 11 Sect. Tank Corps, British Expeditionary Force]

Once senses the gratitude and pride implicit in the words Sarkis K. Afarian wrote in July, 1918, “I will write always and keep in touch with my home town.”

Regardless of the sentiments or the reasons, Edward Kraus summed up most Middleborough soldiers’ thoughts when he wrote on December 21, 1917, from France: “I think of Middleboro all the time.”

Illustration:
Armistice Day Celebration, Middleborough, MA, photograph, November 11, 1918
When news of the Armistice reached Middleborough later in the day on November 11, an impromptu victory parade was held featuring School Street School children marching and waving American, French and Italian flags.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Doughboys


Following the outbreak of war in Europe in the summer of 1914, in an effort to maintain the strictest neutrality, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation August 4, 1914, barring American citizens from enlisting in the armed forces of the belligerent nations. The order was largely ignored. Men from across the country flocked to join Canadian, British, French, and other forces, including men from Middleborough. Demonstrating, indeed, that it truly was a world war, Middleborough men (many of foreign birth or with foreign-born parents) would early on enlist in the armies of Britain, Canada, France and Italy, flouting America’s declared policy of neutrality and becoming the first local participants in the Great War.

Regardless of which uniform they might don, these men shared one thing in common – an abiding belief in the honor and rightness of their cause. The numerous letters written by Middleborough men in foreign service nearly all indicate the common cause which they shared with their Middleborough friends and neighbors.

James E. Jones, John McNeil and Earl F. Dempsey were among those Middleborough residents who enlisted with the British. Dempsey's story is reflective of that of the others. Enlisting in the British Army in July, 1915, he was transported to England aboard a horse ship. Originally a cavalryman in the 2d King Edward's Horse, he served in the trenches as a bombsman, machine gunner and signal man during the 1915-16 campaigns after the command was dismounted when the futility of employing cavalry on the Western Front was realized. During the summer of 1916, the low point of the British experience in France, Dempsey served on special duties as a dispatch carrier, before rejoining his regiment. He was wounded at the Somme in 1917, following which he was trained as a gunner in the tank service. On September 28, 1918, he was again wounded, in the back and neck, by an exploding shell. The tank in which he was serving caught fire, and Dempsey badly burned. Nonetheless, he survived the war.

Still other Middleborough men joined the Canadian forces. In 1915, fifteen-year-old Roger Keedwell left his home on Frank Street to enlist with the Canadian Army and served some ten months in the Canadian Grenadier Guards before his father was successful in having him discharged due to his age. He would later perish as a member of the American forces in the Argonne.

Kenneth Cosseboom, whose father was a native of New Brunswick, also served with the Canadian Army. He enlisted in the fall of 1914 and shipped to France in March, 1915, with the rank of corporal. He served at the front the majority of the time. In 1916, he was awarded a medal for bravery in action and received an honorable mention several times. In March, 1918, he graduated from officers' training school in France, and was made a lieutenant and transferred to the 26th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He was engaged in training Canadian recruits up until October, 1918. He was wounded in the arm once, and was in the hospital for six months recuperating.

Herbert M. Jones, like Cosseboom, saw action with the Canadian Army in France, as a member of a railway engineer company responsible for constructing and supplying supply rail lines.
John A. P. Lacombe similarly saw service in France as a member of the Canadian Army and was wounded a number of times. He too recognized the common cause shared by Americans and Canadians alike. “I am not in the American army, but in the Canadian, but it is all the same these days and we are all fighting for the same cause.”

Following the American declaration of war upon Germany in April, 1917, Middleborough men would continue to join foreign armed services, as indicated by this letter from Charles Fish to Middleboro Gazette editor Lorenzo Wood.

Montreal, P. Q., Canada,
Oct. 10, 1918.

Dear Editor:

Perhaps you would like to print a letter from one of the Middleboro boys in the service of Canada. I joined the Canadians just one month ago and have been in training steadily here in Montreal for overseas service, soon. My company is the 1st Depot Battalion, Quebec, but I'm attached to the tanks. Most of the fellows here are from the states and they are all Americans like myself. We call ourselves the American reserve Forces of Canada…. We are all soldiers fighting for democracy so there isn't any feeling shown between the Canadians and Americans. In fact the Americans are making the Canadian army….

Sincerely,
CHARLES L. FISH,
1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment,
Guy Street Barracks

Still other Middleborough men enlisted with the French forces. Haroutune Haroutunian, an Armenian native, enlisted with a number of other local Armenians including Sarkis K. Afarian, Madirus Gochgarian, Dicran Baghdelian and Mihran Piranian, on August 3, 1917, in the French Army Legion d'Orient, anxious to serve in the front lines against Germany’s Turkish ally to avenge the Armenian genocide which had been perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey. The Legion, created in November 1916, included some 2,000 Armenian Americans. In 1918, Haroutunian wrote his brother John, "We are ready to attack the Turkish army by orders from Gen. Allenby. We are very happy at the present time because we are seeing the surrender of our enemy from our motherland." Haroutunian gave voice to the local Armenian community’s willingness to sacrifice when he wrote Lorenzo Wood on March 16, 1918, that “for humanity and justice, we will be ready for all happenings…”.

Six Middleborough residents not recognized on its honor roll, but two of whom would ultimately make the supreme sacrifice were the Merluccio brothers who departed Middleborough for their former homes in Italy where they enlisted in the Italian Army.

Despite the fact that Middleborough men would join the forces of foreign nations, and might not always consider themselves firstly as Americans, they clearly recognized the mutual goals which they shared with the native born Middleborough soldiers. The color of the uniform ultimately was irrelevant. Herbert M. Jones, then serving with the Canadians in England, succinctly wrote the President of the Middleborough Red Cross Association, emphasizing the common ideals shared by all.

[Excerpt]
Purfleet Camp, Essex, Eng.
Sept. 28, 1917.

Dear Madam:

…We are all fighting for one common ideal freedom from militarism – an ideal that America has stood for and I hope will continue to stand for in the years to come…. As I go to France, I go as a comrade and brother in arms to my American brothers. I have worked with them and played with them and eaten with them. I’m glad to know that I am to fight in a just cause shoulder to shoulder with your best and bravest. Many of us will not come back. I only hope that we shall all die to some purpose…. Here’s to the cause – God bless America and Americans and may they be worthy of their ancestors.

Sincerely,
HERBERT M. JONES


Illustration:
Prior to shipping overseas, many World War I soldiers had their portraits taken for posterity, either individually, or in groups as did the eight soldiers above who posed for Irving Kimball at his studio in Boston. Though unidentified, the group presumably includes Middleborough men.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brett's Clothing Store

One of the most prolific advertisers in Victorian Middleborough was Brett's Clothing Store. Operated on Center Street by George L. Brett, the store was a purveyor of men's and boys clothing and furnishings. Additionally, a steam laundry was operated by the firm for the convenience of customers. Throughout the early 1880s, Brett's issued numerous trade or advertising cards both to solicit business and to attract repeat customers, many of whom collected the colorful lithographic cards and pasted them into albums. Brett's was shortly succeeded as a dealer in men's apparel by Sparrow Brothers and the Middleborough Clothing Company, but neither left behind such a colorful legacy as did Brett's.



Illustrations:
Brett's Clothing Store trade cards, Gies & Company Lithographers and Publishers, Buffalo, NY, numbers E2 and E1, early 1880s.
These cards were produced by a publisher in Buffalo and overprinted in Middleborough with Brett's information by local printer Thatcher & Company. Trade cards were (and remain) highly collectible for their beautiful scenes and skilled printing.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oak Street, 1849

The first developed portion of Oak Street appears to have been the section north of Center Street. The street was opened along the division line between the 17 acre parcel Dr. William R. Wells had acquired in 1846 from Susan Erpel on the east and James A. Leonard’s estate on the west. Wells sought to develop the remaining portion of this land as what is today Pearl Street. As early as August, 1849, there is a reference to Oak Street as the “New Muttock road”, in distinction to the old Muttock road, that is, North Street. In deeds, Oak Street was also known as the highway leading from the depot to Muttock. In the mid-1850s when Middleborough's streets were named, it came to be called Oak Street.

Illustration:
"Middleborough Four Corners" detail from H. F. Walling, “Map of the County of Plymouth, Massachusetts”. Boston:
D. R. Smith & Co., 1857.

The map shows the layout of Oak Street as well as the rapid residential development it underwent in the period following 1848-49. The arrival of the railroad in Middleborough in the 1840s created an economic boom and a consequent need for new residential housing. Oak Street helped fill that need, though it initially served the professional rather than working classes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Early Herring Auctions


Throughout the eighteenth century, the Nemasket alewife fishery was regarded as a valuable communal asset, but the manner in which it was exploited would change radically. While the town of Middleborough initially operated the fishery itself, engaging men to take the fish, overseeing the sale of the herring at the weirs and paying agents to supervise the process and protect the fishery, the town by the mid-eighteenth century was of the opinion that the run could be operated more profitably by auctioning the right to take fish from the river to a single individual for a specified period of time (generally one year), with that person being relatively free to dispose of the fish as he saw fit. In essence, Middleborough was looking to privatize its fishery. While it has been stated that Middleborough did not establish such a commercial fishery until 1792, as early as October 8, 1764, the town had “voted to sell the privilege of catching the fish at auction to the highest bidder”. Nelson Finney was the high bidder that year, paying the town 80 pounds for the privilege. Subsequently, the alewife auction would become an annual fixture in Middleborough and Lakeville until 1966.

An unusual feature of the early herring auctions was not the availability of alcohol at these events, but the fact that it was provided by the town at taxpayer expense, undoubtedly as a means to lower financial restraint on the part of bidders. A record of October 6, 1789, notes the naming of a “vendue master” (auctioneer) and a vote that free liquor should be provided “to encourage the sale”. Other votes record the earmarking of ten shillings for the purchase of liquor and compensating a local resident for the use of his home as both an auction locale and site for storing the drink. In fact, much greater amounts were expended by the town providing alcohol with which to “lubricate” its auctions. In 1779, Hercules Weston was paid two pounds, 10 shillings for “Liquor at the Sale of the Alewives”, while Thomas Sproat was paid nearly twice as much the following year. Given these sums, the figure for providing liquor at the 1781 auctions – twelve pounds (which was paid to Sproat) – was truly astounding.

Too much alcohol, however, could prove problematic; yet “another record reveals that with the free liquor at a herring sale, the crowd became too noisy to continue the sale, which had to be adjourned.” Undoubtedly, such rowdiness at the annual alewife auction fueled efforts by local temperance advocates to limit the sale and consumption of alcohol which would be pursued with renewed vigor during the first half of the nineteenth century.

By the 1790s, the practice of auctioning the right to take fish from the river to a single individual seems to have created some consternation, and ultimately the practice was considered by the Massachusetts legislature. “…Doubts have arisen, whether the inhabitants of … Middleborough are authorized by law to agree with and hire any person or persons to take [alewives], and sell them at the price stipulated by the law, and to account with the said inhabitants for the net proceeds.” Ultimately, in early 1802, the legislature passed an act sanctioning the practice.

Illustration:
Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus). Courtesy of Cornell University.

Sources:
An Act in Addition to the Several Acts Now in Force, Regulating the Taking of the Fish Called Alewives, in the Town of Middleborough.

Brockton Enterprise, “Selectmen Hear Interesting Data on Herring Disposition”, February 23, 1949.

Middleborough Town Treasurers Book July 18th 1769 et seq.

Old Colony Memorial, “County and Elsewhere”, June 21, 1883.

Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro. Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nemasket's Largest Cornfield, 1878

The biggest cornfield in Plymouth County is on the old Camp Joe Hooker field, at Lakeville, known as the Basset farm. It comprises thirty-seven acres, and the yield promises to be an exceptionally large one.

The fields on the farm stretched from Main Street nearly all the way to Lake Assawompsett along what is now Staples Shore Road.

Illustration:
"Corn - Early Golden", Aggeler & Musser Seed Company, Los Angeles, California, seed packet, early 20th century.

Source:
Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", August 22, 1878, p. 5.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Huckleberries

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.”

Illustrations:
"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.
.
Sources:
Middleboro Gazette
Old Colony Memorial

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Union Oyster and Eating House


Illustration:
Union Oyster and Eating House, trade card, late 19th century.
Little is known of Middleborough's Union Oyster and Eating House. Undoubtedly named for the popular Boston restaurant which had operated since 1826, Middleborough's version looked to capitalize upon the 19th century infatuation with oysters. Demand for the shellfish prompted the establishment of oyster houses, oyster saloons and oyster bars throughout the region, including the one advertised here.