Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Bull Moose" Progressivism in Middleborough & Lakeville, 1912

The following item is posted in response to a query I had regarding President William Howard Taft's 1912 visit to Middleborough. The article was originally published in the Middleboro Gazette and republished in the Middleborough Antiquarian in May, 1989.

Though progressive Republicanism was never as influential along the East Coast as it was in the West and Midwest, it did create an enormous pull on sympathies of Middleborough voters. At the start of this century, as many of the state's urban voters began taking to the Democratic Party, many rural communities in southeastern Massachusetts, including Middleborough, began developing a progressive Republican bent. The high water mark of progressive Republicanism in Middleborough was the brief period of 1912-13. During that time, the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, under the aegis of Theodore Roosevelt, exerted a tremendous impact upon the political life of both the town and the nation. The 1912 presidential campaign brought both Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft to Middleborough in a clash of progressive and conservative Republicanism. The 1914 elections, however, sounded the death knell for Bull Moose Progressivism in Middleborough as previously disaffected progressive Republicans returned to the fold of a liberalizing Republican Party or joined the ranks of the burgeoning Democratic Party.

Bull Moose Progressivism, itself, was an indirect consequence of a political maneuver made by Roosevelt. Following election to the White House in his own right in November, 1904,the progressive Roosevelt renounced a third term for himself as president in the "bully pulpit," though this did not prevent him from personally hand-picking his successor - Secretary of War William Howard Taft. Despite a year-long African safari with his son Kermit followed by a triumphal European tour, Roosevelt could not arrest the presidential itch and by February, 1912, considering Taft disloyal to the cause of progressive Republicanism, Roosevelt declared, "My hat is in the ring" for a third presidential term.

Vying with Roosevelt for the Republican bid were progressive Wisconsin Senator Robert "Battle Bob" La Follette, who sought to deprive Roosevelt of the mantle of progressive Republicanism, and President Taft, candidate of the conservative or "stand pat" Republicans. La Follette virtually disqualified himself at the beginning of February with a rambling and incoherent speech, a consequence of overwork, while Taft had his own drawbacks. Taft's tendency to fall asleep in public (once, as a front row mourner, he drifted off at a funeral to the utter horror of his military aide, Archie Butt), his obvious corpulence, his heavy reliance upon arch-conservative Speaker of the House "Uncle Joe" Cannon of Massachusetts and his responsibility for the loss of the House Republican majority in the 1910 election were all detriments to the Taft campaign. Nor did it help that the president self-deprecatingly referred to himself as both a "cornered rat" and a "straw man" in the campaign.

In contrast, the dynamic T. R was enormously popular with the rank and file Republican voters and he hoped to win numerous delegates in the 13 presidential primaries, 1912 being the maiden year of the primary system. The Massachusetts primary was scheduled for Tuesday, April 30, and both Roosevelt and Taft spent much time in the commonwealth posturing for the event.

On Friday evening, April 26, President Taft gave a major address in Boston which left him physically and emotionally exhausted. Taft told the Boston audience, "I do not want to fight Theodore Roosevelt, but sometimes a man in a corner fights. I am going to fight." At Boston, Taft raised the third term issue, concerned that Colonel Roosevelt "should not have as many terms as his natural life will permit." Ironically, it was just this issue which was responsible for a foiled assassination attempt of Roosevelt by a disgruntled New York bartender in October in Milwaukee.

Roosevelt was the first of the two contenders to speak in Middleborough, arriving April 27 , three days before the primary. Roosevelt's stop in Middleborough was part of his second trip to New England since the beginning of April. Interrupting the New England tour was a side journey to Kansas and Nebraska which nearly cost T. R's voice, so strenuous were the speaking engagements. Because of the strain of the tour, Roosevelt knew it would be futile to mount a full-scale railroad car campaign when he returned to New England at the end of April. "It is folly to try to make me continue a car-tail campaign," he said. Consequently, Roosevelt scheduled appearances only at Fall River, New Bedford and Boston for the morning and evening of the 27th. Due to the efforts of the local Roosevelt Club, however, the itinerary was altered to include brief stops in Brockton, Middleborough and Taunton.

Arriving from Brockton one hour before the scheduled arrival time of 12:30, Roosevelt's motorcade of nearly 12 autos dressed with streamers and enormous Roosevelt placards, came to a halt at the Station Street depot. Roosevelt addressed the crowd of approximately 1,500 from his auto.

Frustrating the Colonel's initial attempts to speak, several motors remained annoyingly running, whereupon Roosevelt protested, asserting, "I cannot talk against the hum of industry."

He continued: It is a pleasure to be in Massachusetts and to ask your support in as clean drawn a fight between the people and the professional politicians as there ever was in history. We who fight as progressive Republicans fight more than a factional or party fight. The people have a right to rule themselves, to bring justice, social and industrial, to all in this nation. I want justice for the big and little man alike, with special privilege to none. I am glad to see you and to fight your fight. Put through next Tuesday in Massachusetts what Illinois and Pennsylvania have done (T. R. swept both of those states' primaries). ...I ask Massachusetts to support us in this campaign, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I appeal to you because this is the only kind of fight worth getting into, the kind of fight where the victory is worth winning and where the struggle is difficult. Here in Massachusetts, as elsewhere, we have against us the enormous preponderance of the forces that win victory in ordinary political contests.

Upon the conclusion of the Colonel's remarks, the motorcade began to proceed, but was impeded by the crowd, surging towards Roosevelt, anxious to shake his hand. The Gazette reported "for a minute it appeared that an accident could not be averted." Fortunately, no such accident occurred. Because Roosevelt had not been anticipated to arrive until after noon, workers from the George E. Keith Company shoe plant on Sumner Avenue had only begun trekking over the Center Street railroad bridge at noon when they came upon the departing hero, who graciously stopped and shook nearly 100 hands. Roosevelt then departed for Taunton, escorted by Spanish-American War veterans and Mayor Fish of the city.

Two days later, on Monday, April 29, one day before the primary, President Taft arrived in a special train in Middleborough at 12:30 to speak before a crowd estimated at 2,000. It is extremely doubtful that Taft would have stopped in town had it not been for Roosevelt's presence a few days earlier. Despite the large crowd, the president was, according to the Gazette, "rather coolly received, there being but a faint cheer." Taft was introduced to the crowd by Town Republican Committee Chairman George W. Stetson. Still reeling from an address made by Roosevelt on April 3 in Louisville, Kentucky, making much of the Republican bosses' support for Taft, the president was clearly on the defensive in Middleborough:

Ladies and Gentlemen. I am very sorry to take up your time to listen to a voice nearly gone. I come here from a strong sense of duty. It does not make any real difference to me whether I am re-elected President or not so far as my comfort and happiness and reputation are concerned. I fancy, after having had three years' experience in the Presidency, I could find softer and easier places than that, and I am willing to trust to the future for vindication of my name from the aspersions upon it ... (but) if I permit attacks unfounded upon me, I go back on those whom I am leading in that cause (of progress).
Therefore, I have come here, I cannot help it, and I have got to look into your eyes and tell you the truth as near as know it.

It is said that all the bosses are supporting me. I deny it. Mr. Roosevelt and I are exactly alike in certain respects, a good deal of human nature in both of us and when we are running for office we do not examine the clothes or the hair or previous condition of anybody that tenders support. But the only way by which he can make true the statement that all the bosses are supporting me and none of the bosses are supporting him but are opposed to him is to give a new definition to "bosses" and that is that every man in politics that is against him is a boss and every man that is for him is a leader.

Following the speech, the train left for Boston amidst cheers as Taft waved a flag. One ironic side note to the Middleborough speech did not bode well for Taft. Upon Taft's arrival, a local man decided to welcome the president with a cheer. "Three cheers for Ted Roosevelt!," he cried. Realizing his gaffe, he quickly corrected himself, "I mean President Taft." Taft, within earshot, remained unruffled. Smiling, he told the would-be cheerleader in his stentorian tone, "Don't make that mistake tomorrow."

Apparently, many Middleborough voters did make just that "mistake," for the primary vote in Middleborough heavily favored Roosevelt. The primary was called to order promptly at 6 a.m. by clerk Chester E. Weston and "voting was immediately in order." Of 635 Middleborough Republicans voting, 406 gave their preferential vote to Roosevelt, 184 to Taft and a dismal 5 to La Follette. The town also voted nearly 3-1 for the slate of Roosevelt delegates.

Of all 13 primaries, the Massachusetts contest witnessed the closest race between Roosevelt and Taft. Taft took 86,722 Massachusetts votes, followed by Roosevelt's 83,099 and La Follette's 2,058. The popular vote notwithstanding, the Massachusetts outcome was indecisive for, though Taft won the preferential by slightly more than 3,500 (technically making him the victor), Roosevelt's slate of 8 at-large delegates trounced Taft's slate by some 8,000 votes. Roosevelt, perhaps a little disparagingly, wrote his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts: "Well, isn't the outcome in Massachusetts comic? Apparently there were about 80,000 people who preferred Taft, about 80,000 who preferred me and from three to five thousand who, in an involved way, thought they would vote both for Taft and me!"

The final primary was held the first week of June. Of the 13, Roosevelt won nine, losing Wisconsin and North Dakota to La Follette and his native New York and Massachusetts to Taft. As a consequence, Roosevelt received 278 delegates, Taft 48 and La Follette 36.

Because of his victory in the primaries, Roosevelt could joke about the skewed Massachusetts results, but the Massachusetts outcome would cause further clamor at the Republican convention held in Chicago, June 18-22. At Chicago, Taft hoped his control of the National Committee and the southern delegations (whose states did not hold primaries) would offset Roosevelt's popularity.

The first order of convention business was to elect a temporary chairman and the Massachusetts delegation split evenly between Taft-backed Elihu Root and Wisconsin Governor Francis E. McGovern, whose backing by Roosevelt was a concession to appease the La Follette forces. Root squeaked by, 558-501, with the vote of each delegate being taken individually. The close vote set the tone for the remainder of the convention, which the Taft forces intended to dominate by denying Roosevelt's disputation of the credentials of some 250 Taft delegates, and which the Roosevelt forces were determined to keep in turmoil.

During the frequent lulls in convention activity, the New Jersey delegation would rise on cue and begin cheering for Roosevelt. T. R.'s young cousin Nicholas Roosevelt would later recall how the New Jersey delegation would generally be followed by the Massachusetts delegation which, in a cheer led by historian and Harvard professor Albert Bushnell Hart, would shout: "Massachusetts 18! Massachusetts 18! Massachusetts 18! Roosevelt first, last and all the time!" (the 18 referring to the state's number of electoral votes).

On Saturday, June22, nominating began with Taft being nominated by fellow Ohioan Warren G. Harding who, by calling Taft "the greatest progressive of the age," must surely have made Roosevelt apoplectic. The only other name place in nomination was that of La Follette.

Though most Roosevelt delegates abstained from voting at the direction of Roosevelt, there were no serious problems until the vote of the Massachusetts delegation was called. The chairman of the delegation responded that the commonwealth "casts all 18 votes for Taft with 18 abstentions." When the tally was questioned, a roll of the individual Massachusetts delegates was called, the first being Frederick Fosdick, pledged to Roosevelt.

Fosdick: Present, but I refuse to vote. (cheering)
Root (silencing the crowd and leaning from the platform): You have been sent here by your state to vote. If you refuse to do your duty, your alternate will be called upon.
Fosdick: No man on God's earth can make me vote in this convention.

Root then made good his threat and called upon Fosdick's alternate who, due to the contradictory primary results in Massachusetts, happened to be a Taft man. Root continued through the Massachusetts delegation, calling each alternate, whereby Taft succeeded in gaining two votes.

Though the convention was not stopped following the interruption, Roosevelt was livid over the Massachusetts outcome. In the July 6 issue of The Outlook, an irate T. R. labelled his former friend and Secretary of State Root a "modern Autolycus, the snapper-up of unconsidered trifles" who "publicly raped at the last moment (two delegates) from Massachusetts."

Roosevelt refused to consider a compromise candidate such as associate Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes (who would lose to Wilson in 1916) or Missouri Governor Herbert S. Hadley. Said Roosevelt: "I'll name the compromise candidate. He'll be me. I'll name the compromise platform. It will be our platform." Subsequently, Taft won the nomination with 561 votes to Roosevelt's 107, La Follette's 41, Iowa Senator Cummins' 17 and Hughes' 2. However, 344 Roosevelt delegates had abstained from voting.

A week later, the Democratic National Convention was convened in Baltimore and today is notable for being as inharmonious as the Republican Convention of the previous week. In contention for the nomination were House Speaker "Champ" Clark of Missouri, New Jersey reform Governor Woodrow Wilson, Senator Judson Harmon of Ohio and House Majority Leader Oscar Underwood of Alabama. Later in the balloting, the name of Massachusetts Governor Eugene N. Foss, to whom the majority of Massachusetts delegates were pledged, was put forth, but the momentum had already begun to swing towards Wilson, who was selected on the 46th ballot. The selection of Wilson relieved many delegates who had from the start been opposed to Clark, embarrassed by his testimonial for Electric Bitters: "It seemed that all the organs in my body were out of order, but three bottles of Electric Bitters made me all right."

The following month, Roosevelt formally bolted the Republican Party to form the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party which took its nickname from the Colonel's statement that he was "as fit as a bull moose." The Progressive platform called for workmen's compensation, minimum wages for women, the establishment of a federal regulatory commission in industry and the prohibition of child labor. The party was financed, in part, by George W. Perkins, a partner in the House of Morgan, who became known as the "Dough Moose." Taft, too, had financial difficulties. When the Republican National Committee made it known that it once again expected the President's elder half-brother Charley to pick up the tab, Charley Taft protested, "I am not made of money!"

When it was suggested that Taft and Roosevelt cooperate to prevent a Democratic victory, T. R. responded, "I hold that Mr. Taft stole the nomination, and I do not feel like arbitrating with a pickpocket as to whether or not he shall keep my watch."

The 1912 presidential election in Middleborough was basically a repetition of the primary. Though Roosevelt won Middleborough, he lost the state to Wilson. Of 1,358 votes in Middleborough's two precincts, Roosevelt received 545 votes; Wilson sneaked into second place with 378 votes ahead of Taft with 360 votes. Roosevelt, however, was unable to carry the state and, in fact, finished third behind Taft. In total, Wilson won 40 states, Roosevelt six and Taft two.

Whether it was favoritism for Roosevelt or a genuine progressive Republican impulse in Middleborough, the town favored Progressive Party candidates in 7 of 13 races on the ballot in 1912, giving progressive candidates the town's first vote for president, governor, lieutenant governor secretary of state, state treasurer, 2nd Plymouth District senator (Alvin C. Howes of Middleborough) and Plymouth County commissioner (Lyman P. Thomas of Middleborough).

However, in the long run, progressive Republicanism fared badly, both in Middleborough and the nation as a whole. Though the 1913 elections saw Middleborough give its first place vote to eight progressives in 13 races, it was beginning to lose influence to the Republican Party which began to re-absorb its lost members. In fact, in a three-way race in 1913 for the 7th Plymouth District between Middleborough residents Charles N. Atwood (R), Stephen O'Hara (D) and Lyman P. Thomas (P), Thomas finished third, an indication of progressivism's waning appeal. Running for the same position in 1914, Thomas was the only Progressive candidate on the ballot not to be relegated to a third place finish by the Middleborough voters. In fact, the 1914 elections saw few Progressives run and they even failed to contest the gubernatorial race. Many Bull Moose Progressives not rejoining the Republican Party in 1914 found solace in such candidates as progressive-minded David I. Walsh, the successful-Democratic candidate for governor in 1914 and 1915.

Roosevelt's declination of the 1916 Progressive presidential nomination and his endorsement of fence-straddling Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes effectively mended the breach between Republicans and Bull Moose Progressives. In the 1916 elections, Middleborough voted overwhelmingly for Hughes, who received 743 votes to Wilson's 476. The Democratic share of the 1916 Middleborough vote, however, was nearly 35% greater that the Democratic share in 1912, while the Republican share was down 12.5% from the combined Republican-Progressive share of 1912, an indication that many Middleborough Bull Moose Progressives had moved to the Democratic Party by 1916.

In a fitting epitaph for Bull Moose Progressivism, Roosevelt wrote James R. Garfield, son of President Garfield and Roosevelt's secretary of the interior: "We have fought the good fight, we have kept the faith and have nothing to regret."

Click here to hear Roosevelt's "Progressive Covenant with the People" address. Photograph and audio recording courtesy of the Library of Congress. Captioned by Michael J. Maddigan.

Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, oil on canvas, 1903

"Progressive Fallacies", unidentified political cartoon, 1912
In this cartoon from the 1912 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt has usurped the progressive mantle from Wisconsin senator Robert M. LaFollette who sits sulking on a nearby sofa. Roosevelt is accompanied on the piano by Miss Insurgency, who's contention that Roosevelt sings better than LaFollette was refelctive of the Republican rank and file's view of the former President.

Theodore Roosevelt campaigning, photograph, 1912, courtesy Library of Congress

William Howard Taft, photograph, 1908, courtesy Library of Congress

William Howard Taft, Middleborough, MA, halftone from a photograph taken April 27, 1912
Standing to the left of Taft is George W. Stetson, Middleborough Town Republican Committee Chairman.

"Floor-Manager Taft" by Edward Windsor Kemble, Harper's Weekly, February 12, 1912, pp. 14-15
In this political cartoon, Roosevelt tries to do the "Grizzly Bear" with the "dear old lady" otherwise known as the Republican Party. The cartoon is indicative of the disruption Roosevelt caused in the 1912 Republican campaign.

1912 Presidential Vote by County courtesy
Plymouth and Barnstable Counties had the highest percentage of votes in Massachusetts for Roosevelt.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rum and Cokes and Cattle Rustling, 1944

The Pratt Farm’s pure-bred Guernsey herd was the source of at least one humorous anecdote, though surely no one was laughing at the time the incident occurred during World War II. On August 22, 1944, a two-year-old pure-bred Guernsey heifer valued at $175 was stolen from Ernest S. Pratt’s East Main Street pasture and sold in the Brighton cattle market at Boston for $45.75 by two local youths. Pratt was called to testify, in order “to ascertain his attitude. Mr. Pratt said he had no desire to cause any hardship, but because of the conditions and the black market he thought the defendants should be dealt with severely enough to discourage such practices.” Judge Callan of the Fourth District Court in Middleborough agreed, telling the perpetrators that “they got together on stealing, they can get together on settling for it,” and ordered the pair to make restitution to Pratt who indicated that “the heifer meant more to him than the money” but acknowledged that “probably it had been disposed of.” One of the two defendants “briefly from the dock, blamed rum cokes for the affair.”

"Cuba Libre!" by Kenn Wilson, April 17, 2008, and republished under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 25, 2010

19th Century Carriage-Making

“Middleboro is said to be one of the best places in Massachusetts to go for a good, substantial, fashionable carriage, covered or open, business or fancy.” [Middleboro Gazette, April 28, 1860] Clearly, 19th century Middleborough had a reputation for fine workmanship in the area of carriage-making.

In 1855, Middleborough had 7 manufacturers of “coaches, chaises, wagons, sleighs and other vehicles” which produced $7,230 worth of vehicles. The total was impressive when compared to Middleborough’s other leading industries, placing carriage-making fifth in value of output behind boots and shoes, shovels, straw bonnets and hats, and cotton cloth during the mid-19th century. Business remained strong in the local industry during the period. In June, 1858, the report that William F. Jones was having a stage built by Lincoln & Son on Wareham Street, for use on the run between West Barnstable and Cotuit prompted the Namasket Gazette to report, “By the way, our carriage establishments are doing a good business this season.” [Namasket Gazette, June 26, 1858] (The value and number of Middleborough-produced vehicles, however, paled in comparison to those of Amesbury, Massachusetts, a leading carriage-making center which produced over a quarter million dollars worth of carriages in the same year).

Despite the locally impressive value of carriages, wagons and sleighs produced at this time in Middleborough, carriage manufacturing was a small industry dominated by small operations conducted by one or at most two individuals, the total number of residents employed in the industry in 1855 being but 8. Many of these carriage makers were simply wheelwrights who had expanded their business to produce carriage and wagon bodies which were relatively easy to build compared to wheels. Most of the vehicles manufactured by these men were produced for the home market, being sold and used in Middleborough. (At this time, many towns like Middleborough also had carriage makers producing for their own residents). Nonetheless, the local industry also supported subsidiary industries in both carriage trimming (whereby carriage bodies were completed with interior fittings) and carriage painting in which the exteriors were painted, including ornamental lettering on delivery wagons.

Many of these industries maintained both close physical as well as business ties. Carriages produced by Lothrop Shurtleff on Peirce Street were frequently finished by William Shiverick and Shiverick’s successor Francis W. Burgess (who operated a Peirce Street shop as well) and were painted by Charles Rogers who own shop was also nearby.

Nineteenth Century Carriage and Wagon Manufacturers in Middleborough:
Lewis Lincoln & Son (active 1840s-1900s)
Shurtleff & Pickens (Lothrop Shurtleff, Philo H. Pickens; active 1850s)
Lothrop Shurtleff (active 1850-60s)
Philo H. Pickens (active 1860s)
J. B. Dodge (active 1850s)
L. R. Hewins (active 1850s)
Luther S. Bailey, Station Street (active 1880s)
Bailey & Soule, Center Street (active 1880s)
Arad Bryant, Plymouth Street near the Green (active 1880s)
T. E. Kinder, Wareham Street (active 1880s)
J. H. Marvell, Miller Street (active 1880s)
B. C. Ryder, Station Street (active 1880s)
Otis Snow, Summer Street (active 1880s)
William E. Vaughan, North and School Streets (late 1800s)

Carriage Trimmers:
William Shiverick
Francis W. Burgess
Swift & Rogers

Carriage Painters:
Rogers & Sparrow
Charles Rogers
Jacob G. Sparrow
Hartley A. Sparrow
S. S. Swett
Rodney E. Southworth

T. E. Kinder, Carriage Maker, advertisement, Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. (Needham, MA: Local Directory Publishing Company, 1884), p. 39.

Namasket Gazette
Statistical Information Relating to Certain Branches of Industry in Massachusetts for the year Ending June 1, 1855.
Boston, MA: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1856. (William White, printer).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jenney Coal

A century ago, home heating involved, most frequently, the purchase of coal and wood. One of the largest local dealers in coal was James L. Jenney who established a coal and wood business on Vine Street in 1865. Later known as Jenney Coal, the firm frequently held lucrative contracts to supply Middleborough's schools and public buildings with coal. Local coal dealers like Jenney, however, were sometimes hampered by shortages of coal on which occasions wood became an important alternative fuel. Increasingly, as oil-burning furnaces replaced older coal-fired models, coal became less important as a fuel for homeowners. Not surprisingly, the firm later moved into the home heating oil business in the mid-20th century.

James L. Jenney Coal and Wood, receipt, 1910
The receipt, signed by Jenney himself, was for the purchase of coal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Muttock Winter View, c. 1895

Winter Scene at Muttock, photograph, c. 1895
This view taken from near the junction of Nemasket and Spring Streets looks across the Nemasket River to the former ruins of the Washburn shovel works at Muttock, the site now occupied by Oliver Mill Park. The trestle bridge in the right background served the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad. Built in 1892, it was replaced in 1912 with a single span cement arch bridge.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Les Familles Québécois, 1900

One of the important emigrant groups in New England history were the French Canadians who came to the region during the last decades of the nineteenth century. By 1900, just over one hundred Middleborough residents claimed a French Canadian birth according to census takers that year who were meticulous about recording births as “Canada Fr.”, “Canada Eng.”, “Canada Scotch” and even “Canada Irish”. Though, in fact, a greater number of Middleborough’s citizens at the time of the 1900 Federal census had been born in Nova Scotia, the French Canadians have historically commanded greater attention from scholars and historians.

A myriad of factors prompted late nineteenth century emigration from Québec, but especially a deepening agricultural crisis marked by overpopulation, debt, infertile soils and declining agricultural productivity. Though industries in greater Montréal provided a possible alternative to a rural life marked by drudgery and poverty, wages there were lower and employment opportunities scarcer than in New England where factory jobs beckoned, particularly during the periods 1865-73 and 1890-94.

In Québec emigration was regarded as disastrous, and those first emigrants who did leave were uncharitably characterized as lacking patriotism, their departure regarded as undermining the place of the Francophones within the Canadian confederation. "Laissez-les partir, c’est la racaille qui s’en va" (“Let them go, it’s the riff-raff that are leaving”) was the harsh judgment of one French Canadian leader. Eventually however, the sheer magnitude of French Canadian emigration would prompt a reassessment of those who had left (and were continuing to leave in unprecedented numbers) and a more critical analysis of the realities of rural life in Québec.

In Middleborough, the first wave of French Canadians (many of them single men) arrived during the 1870s and 80s and took jobs as wood cutters in the local lumbering industry. One such immigrant was Charles LeGarde who was employed as a logger at South Middleborough where he eventually settled. Records indicate that these earliest French Canadians, known simply as “French”, were responsible for a considerable part of the timber felling in the local lumber industry. During the winter of 1887-88, the large amount of cord wood and logs cut at Lakeville by French Canadian lumbermen was noted by the Old Colony Memorial.

Several other references to the “French” at Middleborough indicate their presence and, specifically, their role in harvesting timber. One such reference indicates that these Canadian woodcutters resided in cabins situated upon the woodlots of South Middleborough rather than with families in the community, and the majority of these men probably proved to be itinerant, never staying in one location long.

A second wave of emigration around 1890 brought more permanent residents, and the majority of Middleborough’s earliest Québécois families arrived during the succeeding years. Among them were the Boutins who, like LeGarde, settled at South Middleborough.

Many Canadian emigrants arrived through l’émigration en chaîne whereby a member of a family would emigrate, find a suitable location in which to settle, then send for additional family members, thereby minimizing the cultural shock which otherwise would have been felt. Adelard Boutin arrived in 1887 from St. Isidore, Québec, and found work as a day laborer on farms at South Middleborough before sending for his younger brother, Joseph, who came two years later in 1889, eventually finding work as a section hand on the Old Colony Railroad.

By 1900, Middleborough’s small French Canadian community was centered about Everett and Arch Streets (one large boarding house at 30 Arch Street accommodated a large number of Québécois), in the Star Mill neighborhood, and at South Middleborough, though its relatively limited numbers prevented the formation of a compact ethnic neighborhood.

Locally, French Canadian immigrants found employment as railroad workers (Leo Courteney, Philip Imbault), shoe factory operatives (Louis Chartier, Charles Commeau, David Morin, Jean B. St. Laurent, Henry Manseau), farmers (Freeman Levellie [Lavalley], John Lacombe), day laborers (Joseph Commeau, Zenas Auger, Maurice Fournier) and saw mill operatives (Fred Charrette). Many like my great grandfather Ovila Rémillard came from Québec to work in the Star Mill, a manufacturer of woolen cloth, where young French Canadians were employed as weavers (Charles Rue, John Brambeault, John Samochat, Emile Caron, and siblings Phillip Duber, Angeline Duber, and Lucy Duber) and older men and young girls as wool carders (Paul Benoit). Louis Laflamme held a more prestigious job as a loom fixer at the mill, while his wife, Adele, was engaged as a weaver.

In Middleborough, the cultural assimilation of the Canadian immigrants occurred both immediately and rapidly, largely due to the small number of French Canadians locally. While in many nearby cities such as New Bedford, Woonsocket and Fall River (the third largest French Canadian city after Montréal and Québec), the great number of French Canadians permitted the Québécois to retain their language through French language newspapers, cultural organizations and churches, and form ethnic neighborhoods, in smaller communities such as Middleborough, the French were compelled to assimilate more quickly, a process which allowed them to avoid the stigmatization which characterized the French Canadian experience elsewhere, but which undermined their rich cultural heritage.

One organization which tended to promote cultural assimilation locally was Sacred Heart Church which previously had been dominated by Irish Catholics. Through Sacred Heart, French Canadian communicants came into regular contact with religiously like-minded though culturally diverse fellow residents. While many of the French in places like Fall River married other French and continued to do so for generations, in Middleborough, French Canadian emigrants frequently married outside their own ethnic group early on, frequently finding partners at church-related functions.

Other assimilating forces included bilingual landlords and the public school system. Census records from 1900 indicate that upon their arrival in Middleborough, many of the French Canadians could not speak, read or write English. Frequently, these French speakers took accommodations with English-speaking French Canadians like Adelard Boutin who lodged three of his French-speaking co-workers in his South Middleborough home. Through these landlords, the French Canadians frequently learned English and American ways. Boutin, in fact, was the sole member of the household able to speak English. Yet his children would be educated in the South Middleborough school and become fluent in English, thereby demonstrating the “Americanizing” influence which local public schools held over local French Canadian children who, unlike some of their peers elsewhere did not have the option of an education in their native tongue.

Within a generation after 1900, local French Canadians had readily assimilated into the local community, becoming an integral part of the Middleborough. No longer referred to as “French”, the French Canadians had become Americans.

Région du Richelieu, Carte de la Vallée du Richelieu, map, 1923
Many of Middleborough's French Candian immigrants came from the region surrounding Montréal, an area depicted in this map dating from the early twentieth century.

For more on French Canadian emigration to America, visit the informative site on Québec history hosted by Marianopolis College, Montréal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Julius Thompson's Odometer, 1854

Generally well known in Middleborough is the Thompson family of painters including Cephas Thompson (1775-1856) and three of his children: Cephas Giovanni, Jerome and Marietta. Generally less well known is Cephas Thompson’s youngest child, Julius, who pursued a life of science rather than art.

Julius always seems to have been somewhat different from his siblings. He was a half-brother to the remaining Thompson children, being the only child of Cephas and his second wife Lucy (Thompson) Thompson, and was the only Thompson child educated at Middleborough’s Peirce Academy, the others being schooled at Bridgewater..

Yet, like his siblings, Julius, undoubtedly drew (and was encouraged to draw) as a child, but his drawings likely proved less artistic than technical. While the others were painting, Julius no doubt was tinkering with gears and mechanical devices in the barn on the family’s River Street farm. Julius did however engage in the more technical aspects of the family’s work, assisting in grinding and preparing paints with his father who recorded in his journal in May, 1843, that the two were occupied in making Ultramarine Blue.

Julius’ interest in mechanics and science assuredly derived from his father. As George Decas has revealed, Cephas Thompson had a definite mechanical skill, and it was later said of the elder Thompson that “his inventive and mechanical genius were of superior order.”

Throughout the 1840s, particularly, when Julius was still residing on the Middleborough farm, Cephas Thompson was most actively engaged in developing inventions. Decas’ account of Thompson’s many developments includes a “Delineating Machine” in 1806, a rolling machine to level ground in 1827, a “Phrenological Machine” in 1834, brimstone matches in 1838, “asphaltum varnish” in 1842, a “filtring frame” in 1843, “Brown Red” paint and a paint color mill in 1844, “Alumina” in 1848, “Citron lake” paint in 1850, a paint dryer in 1853, and a “shaking machine” possibly to mix paint in 1856. No doubt, Julius was involved in many aspects of this work.

Julius also worked independently upon projects of his own, the most noted of which he developed in the years immediately following his 1848 marriage to Bathsheba Thomas Warren: the Thompson Odometer, patented in 1854.

At the time Thompson applied for patent protection for his invention, the prestigious Scientific American took notice of it, and explained to its readers just what the device was. “The odometer is an instrument for telling the distance or space of ground over which a vehicle – such as a wagon or carriage – has traveled….Such instruments have been long known, but from some defects in their operation, do not seem to have come into general use.”

As noted by the journal, at the time Thompson perfected his odometer, such devices were not new. As early as 15 B. C., the Roman engineer Vitruvius had developed a rudimentary device to measure distance traveled. In 1847, William Clayton and Orson Pratt, Mormon trekkers from Missouri to Utah wished to record the distance traveled by their group and so developed the “roadometer” which was built by Appleton Milo Harmon, a member of the group, of wooden cogs. Similarly, Samuel McKeen of Nova Scotia invented a prototype of an odometer which measured distance traveled through recording the revolutions of a wagon’s wheel. However, these early odometers were unwieldy, technically deficient or both.

Thompson’s odometer corrected these problems. Thompson developed a way to transfer the motion of the wheel to the odometer by means of a stationary weight which Scientific American termed “an ingenious contrivance for the purpose.” Thompson’s patent claim explained that “the nature of the improvement of this odometer consists in the peculiar means employed for communicating the motion from the wheel of the vehicle to the working parts of the implement, viz., by having a cylindrical weight placed within its case, said weight being detached, and from its gravity remaining stationary (not revolving with the wheel) and thereby giving motion to the working parts, as the wheel revolves.” Essentially, as the case, attached to the hub turned, the weight, though remaining in a fixed position, turned as well, transferring the revolution of the wheel to the odometer’s ratcheted dials.

On October 31, 1854, Thompson received a patent for his odometer. He was thirty years old, coincidentally the same age his father was when he received his first patent for his delineating machine of 1806.

Thompson tried unsuccessfully to capitalize upon his odometer patent, offering to sell territorial rights to its manufacture. The odometer was touted as being easily mounted to one of a wagon’s outer hubs in twenty minutes time. Dials on the device would be set to zero by aligning them with a mark incised on the case. “I have tried it thoroughly on a carriage wheel”, said Thompson of his odometer, “and find it all that can be desired. It will not get out of order; is safe to indicate, and cannot be interfered with by those who hire the carriage.”

Thompson claimed a number of advantages which his odometer had over others: “the working parts are perfectly protected from dust and moisture, and the operation is sure. The device is simple, but not liable to get out of repair, and may be applied to any vehicle in use.”

It is not readily apparent how successful Thompson was in marketing his invention, but the indication is that sales were sluggish. With the development of photography in the early 1850s, Julius found an interest which combined the family tradition of art with the technological advances of science and he became a professional daguerreotypist. Ironically, it was the success of early daguerreotypists like Thompson that ultimately led to a decline in the livelihood of his family, portrait painting. “In this respect, Julius played a unique role among the Thompson children,” notes Decas.

Nevertheless, Thompson never fully stopped inventing. He later would receive Patent 35,377 for an advanced screwdriver in 1862 and, not surprisingly given his occupation, Patent 44,678 for improvements to an apparatus for drying photographic plates in 1864. At the time of these latter two inventions, Thompson was residing in Taunton. In later life, he appears to have left both inventing and photography behind. He became a dentist.

"Thompson's Odometer", Scientific American, Volume 10, Number 17, page 134.
Julius Thompson’s odometer as it appeared in his patent application of 1854 (the part marked “D” is the stationary weight which revolutionized odometer design at the time and which Scientific American termed “ingenious”). The odometer which most likely was developed on his family’s farm on River Street in Middleborough, failed to bring Thompson much in the way of financial rewards, though it attracted significant attention at the time.

Scientific American, "The Odometer", Vol. 10, No. 4, October7, 1854; "Odometers", Vol. 10, No. 9, November 11, 1854; "Thompson's Improved Odometer" [advertisement], Vol. 10, No. 14, December 16, 1854; and "Thompson's Odometer", Vol. 10, No. 17, page 134, January 6, 1855

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Key Theatre

The Key Theatre was a short-lived motion picture theater which operated on the upper floor of the American Building on South Main Street near the Four Corners.

In 1912 when the American Building was remodeled, a theater for motion pictures was created on the upper floor in the space formerly occupied by the American Hall and later a roller polo rink. At that time, Ivan Rogers and Eldoretta Cushing Bourne transfered their Star Theatre motion picture business from Center Street to the new theater which they named the Lyric and which opened in May, 1912. Three years later, an entirely modern motion picture house known as the Park Theatre was constructed and opened on Nickerson Avenue opposite the Town Hall, providing formidable competition for the Lyric. Following 1917, when the Lyric Theatre’s manager left to assume charge of the Park, the Lyric closed. Many years later, in the late 1930s, an effort was made to revive the Lyric as a motion picture house as indicated by Mertie E. Romaine in her History of the Town of Middleboro:

“An attempt was made by the Middleboro Amusement Company to reopen the Lyric Theatre, changing the name to Key Theatre, but the venture was ill timed, as the town could not, or would not, support two theatres, and the Key Theatre soon closed.” [Romaine:336] Also contributing to the short life of the Key Theatre was the fact that it seems primarily to have run less expensive pictures as opposed to the bigger Hollywood productions which were featured at the Park Theatre.

Movie posters advertising both the Lyric and Key Theatres do survive. Those for the Key were economical featuring only text which was printed in primary colors in a bold, easily read font on inexpensive poster board. Given the fact that features changed a number of times each week at the Key Theatre, there was little need (and few funds) to produce lavishly illustrated advertisements such as those employed by the Park Theatre.

Key Theatre, Middleborough, MA, advertising poster, January, 1940

This surviving poster from the Key Theatre dates from the second week of January, 1940. Featured films during the week included the Bob Hope-Paulette Goddard remake of the silent film classic The Cat and the Canary (1939); Bad Boy (1939), an inexpensively produced crime drama; Men with Wings (1938), an action vehicle starring Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland; Thanks for the Memory (1938), a Bob Hope comedy from which he took his signature song; Lady of the Tropics (1939), a romantic feature from MGM starring Hedy Lemarr and Robert Taylor; and Colorado Sunset (1939), a western starring Gene Autry and "Buster" Crabbe.

Click on the movie poster to view a clip from The Cat and the Canary with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard

Click on the movie poster for a clip from Lady of the Tropics with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Taylor

Or click on the title to watch Bad Boy in its entirety.

The Ocean House

Located on the west shore of the mill pond at Wareham Street was once a ramshackle building known around 1900 as the “Ocean House”, possibly as a satiric barb aimed at luxury hotels which were then in vogue at the seaside. For local Middleborough children, this was their oceanside alternative. The Ocean House proved popular with neighborhood children who would dive from its open windows into the mill pond below. This activity ended, however, following the tragic 1905 death of six year old Wallace Spooner who while engaged in diving from the building struck his head upon a stone wall, fell into the river and drowned. Nothing, however, was done with the property until 1908 when the Middleborough Board of Health condemned the structure which was demolished two years later in spring of 1910.

The “Ocean house,” a blot on the landscape by the river side for many years, is no more, and all the lumber has been cleaned up. The beneficial change which has resulted would well repay one a trip to the Wareham street bridge. All the old tumble-down structures are now out of the way, and the appearance in that locality is materially improved. [Middleboro Gazette, "Middleboro: Ocean House 'a blot'", May 6, 1910, page 4].

"Wareham Street Bridge, Middleboro, Mass.", John H. Frank, publisher, postcard, c. 1905
While the subject of this turn-of-the-century picture postcard was the Wareham Street dam, a portion of the so-called Ocean House may be seen at the far left. Its situation directly above the mill pond explains its attractiveness to local children who would dive into the pond below. (Behind the Ocean House may be seen the Municipal Light Plant which still stands on Wareham Street though its smokestack is long gone).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Smith's Shoe Store

Smith's Shoe Store operated briefly in 1922-23 on Center Street. The Smith firm appears to have suceeded to the business of George H. Keedwell & Son which retailed boots and shoes, and was noted for also selling damaged samples and cancellations from the Leonard, Shaw & Dean shoe manufactory in Middleborough for which Kenneth B. Keedwell had formerly worked. Smith's seems to have operated for one year only. On March 16, 1923, it was advertising an "Assignment Sale" and there appears to be no further record of the business.

Smith's Shoe Store, advertisement from Middleboro Guide (Middleborough, MA: H. W. Blackburn, 1923)

I'm Missing My Followers

Over the past week, the followers listed in the sidebar and their avatars have disappeared. This appears to be a somewhat common problem with Blogger. I hope to have this situation corrected shortly. I truly appreciate all of the readers who follow Recollecting Nemasket and thank you for your interest in Middleborough and Lakeville history!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Then & Now: Doane Block, South Main Street

July, 1973

May, 2006
Doane Block, July 19, 1973
At the time this photograph was taken, Shurtleff Hardware (which had occupied the building since 1938 when it acquired both the building and the Doane hardware business) had itself closed its doors, and the building was for sale as indicated by the sign in the vacant storefront.

Doane Block, May 27, 2006, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan
For a period of time following the departure of the Shurtleff business, the building was occupied by Corsini Auto Parts. It is presently tenanted by the Hometown Mortgage Company.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mercy Otis Warren Satirizes Peter Oliver

Among the most vilified of men in colonial Massachusetts was Judge Peter Oliver (1713-91) who served as Chief Justice of Massachusetts between 1772 and 1775 and who split his residence between Middleborough and Boston. Oliver's staunch Loyalism increasingly placed him at odds with much of the public following 1765 and public resentment of Oliver was fueled by Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) who satirized Oliver and his associates in a series of political plays in the early 1770s.

Between the Oliver and Otis families there existed a long-standing political rivalry partially stemming from the 1761 appointment of Thomas Hutchinson (the father of Oliver's daughter-in-law) as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court over Warren's father, James Otis, Sr., an act which created a lasting enmity between the two families

No friend to the Olivers, Warren proved how cutting satire could be as she lampooned her victims. Warren's later biographer, Alice Brown, sympathized to a degree with the Loyalists as honest men who simply sought to do their duty to God and King. Yet it should be recalled that Loyalists, too, engaged in similar harshly satiric and biting attacks upon their opponents and Peter Oliver in particular was (and remains) well known for his condescending attitudes towards those with whom he disagreed.

In The Adulator (1773), Warren's principal characters are based upon Oliver, Oliver's brother Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver, and Hutchinson (by then Governor of Massachusetts). The names which Warren gives are suggestive. Hutchinson is "Rapatio", Andrew Oliver is "Limput" and Peter Oliver is "Hazelrod", hazel rods being notorious weapons of corporal punishment.

Though in The Adulator, Peter Oliver figures as a lesser character, Warren reserves some of her best words for him. In the following passage, "Limput" (Andrew Oliver) addresses his brother "Hazelrod" (Peter Oliver):

My friend, my brother, or still dearer name,
Thou firm abettor of my grand design!
Thou now canst cover what the world call crimes.
We'll then securely crush the scoundrell mob,
And Claudia-like, the citizens ride o'er
And execute what Nero durst not so
(Act IV, sc. iii)

In the play, Warren further describes "Hazelrod" as "highly pleasing to the creatures of arbitrary power, and equally disgusting to every man of virtue."

As the Revolutionary fervor grew in Boston through the mid-1770s, life became increasingly unbearable for the most visible Loyalists like Hutchinson who went into exile in 1774. With Hutchinson's removal to England, negative attention increasingly focused upon Peter Oliver as the most prominent of the Massachusetts Loyalists and it is not surprising that he came to figure prominently as the main character in Warren's The Group (1775), again in the personification of "Hazelrod", through which Warren has him speak the following:

Resolv'd more rapidly to gain my point,
I mounted high in justice's sacred seat,
With flowing robes, and head equip'd without,
A heart unfeeling and a stubborn soul,
As qualify'd as e'er a Jefferies was;
Save in the knotty rudiments of law,
The smallest requisite for modern times,
When wisdom, law, and justice are supply'd
By swords, dragoons, and ministerial nods,
Sanctions most sacred in the Pander's creed,
I sold my country for a splendid bribe.
Now let her sink—and all the dire alarms
Of war, confusion, pestilence, and blood,
And tenfold mis'ry be her future doom—
Let civil discord lift her sword on high,
Nay, sheath its hilt e'en in my brother's blood;
It ne'er shall move the purpose of my soul;
Tho' once I trembled at a thought so bold;
By Philalethes's arguments, convinc'd,
We may live Demons, as we die like brutes,
I give my tears, and conscience to the winds.

(Act I, sc. i)

While today some have argued that The Group remains but a "literary curiosity", in its day it, along with Warren's other work, was politically important. The connection between Warren's characters and the people whom they represented was fairly transparent, at least among the Revolutionary community. Proud of his wife's abilities, James Warren shared her work with others including John Adams, and it came to be rapidly disseminated throughout the community which at times deprecatingly referred to the real-life characters by the pseudonyms created for them by Warren. Samuel Adams on one occasion made report that "Rapatio is now gone to Middleboro to consult his Brother Hazelrod".

Warren's work was also politically persuasive, and it helped fuel the public hatred of Peter Oliver. "To an inflamed patriotism it must have been a vivid delight to find the enemies of peace held up bleeding under the eye of the day, to hear some one voice the hot rancor of every heart and say what all patriots would fain have said themselves had they been clever enough."

"Mercy Otis Warren (Mrs. James Warren)", portrait by John Singleton Copley, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, oil on canvas, 1763
Intelligent, well-educated, witty and charming, Mercy Otis Warren was an important author, well known for both her anti-Loyalist plays of the 1770s, as well as her later perceptive History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution (1805). She reserved a special dislike for Peter Oliver.

Alice Brown.
Mercy Warren. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896.
Mercy Otis Warren.
The Adulateur: A Tragedy as it is now acted in Upper Servia. Boston: 1773. Reprint: Tarrytown, NY: William Abbatt, 1918.
Mercy Otis Warren.
The Group, a Farce. Jamaica. Reprinted Philadelphia: James Humphreys, Jr., 1775. Facsimile ed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Swift Company Cold Storage Warehouse & Packing House

One of the more unusual structures ever built in Middleborough was the cold storage warehouse constructed on the south side of Center Avenue by Swift & Company, the Chicago-based meat packer, in 1891 when that Company was rapidly developing a national market and distribution system for its products.

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Chicago meat-packing industry devoted its efforts to penetrating markets throughout the nation, a goal suddenly made possible through technological advances, including the development of the refrigerated rail car or “reefer”. Particularly prized by Chicago was the lucrative Eastern market and by 1881, Swift was shipping 3,000 carcasses weekly to Boston, the main distribution point for New England. Eventually, in order to further penetrate the market, Swift selected smaller, more local distribution points where wholesale cold storage warehouses were raised to facilitate the distribution of beef to retailers throughout the region.

One such distribution point was Middleborough. In August, 1887, it was reported that “an agent of the Swift Dressed Beef Company, of Chicago, has been looking around for a place to establish a refrigerator building at Middleboro, from which to supply that section of the state”. The president of the firm, Gustavus F. Swift, and his brother Edwin C. who headed up the company’s New England operations were previously familiar with Middleborough, both having been born and raised in Sagamore and having traveled through Middleborough by train numerous times. Undoubtedly, they were well aware of the importance of the town’s rail connections.

The site which the company settled upon in Middleborough was a lot owned by Peter and Charles P. Washburn which was situated upon the south side of the present Center Avenue adjacent to the Old Colony Railroad Freight House. The Washburns at the time operated a portion of their business from this lot upon which were located their hay scales. The lot had earlier been owned by Philander, William R. P. and Abiel Washburn who had acquired it through their father, General Abiel Washburn, who had first purchased the lot as part of a larger parcel in 1796.

Although the Swifts purchased the parcel in 1887, no action was taken towards the property’s use for another five years. In April, 1892, it finally was announced that “E. C. Swift & Co. of Chicago, the wholesale meat dealers, are to erect a large branch storehouse at Middleboro, this spring, near the freight depot.”

The two-story cold storage warehouse constructed by the company measured approximately 24 by 40 feet. What made the building unique was its hollow wall construction, a design feature noted for its insulating properties and one which was commonly employed in ice houses of the era, as well as its windows which consisted of three sashes. Like many such cold storage warehouses built for Swift at the time, the Middleborough building was indicative of that company’s rapid expansion during this period, and its increasing presence in New England.

Initially, there had been much resistance to Swift’s efforts to penetrate Eastern markets. Butchers and meat dealers feared increased competition from the Chicago-based meatpacking giant, while the consumers remained skeptical of the safety of beef slaughtered and dressed weeks earlier. While there is no record of the views of Middleborough slaughterers and butchers, they too most likely opposed Swift’s presence. Eventually, however, in Middleborough, as elsewhere, public concerns were overcome through Swift’s skillful advertising, coupled with the quality and low prices of its products.

For a generation, local grocery retailers and meat market operators in the vicinity purchased Swift products from the Middleborough warehouse. A 1904 valuation list referred to the plant as the “Market Building” owned by G. T. and E. C. Swift of Boston though the Swifts had transferred their individual titles in September, 1902, to Swift and Company. A non-descript, functional building, the warehouse did achieve a small degree of local notoriety in 1912 when the roof of the warehouse caught fire from sparks from a passing locomotive. What made the event notable was that it marked only the second time the Middleborough fire department had utilized its new “automobile firetruck.”

The beef warehouse was utilized for that purpose through the close of World War I. Some have maintained that the structure was not erected until 1917 by the Army Corps of Engineers to store beef destined for soldiers at Camp Joe Hooker in Lakeville. While the building clearly predated 1917, this view reflects the likelihood that the Army procured beef through Swift for soldiers then training at the camp during the war.

In 1919, if not earlier, Swift and Company closed its Middleborough operation, disposing of the warehouse in February, 1920, to the Colonial Casket Company of Middleborough, with the stipulation that the warehouse not be utilized “in any way for the purpose of carrying on of the wholesale meat business, for the period of ten years from the date hereof.”

The Colonial Casket Company did not long operate in the building. By 1932, it was occupied by the C. P. Washburn Company which was leasing it for use from the Casket Company for “general storage.” In August, 1940, the Middleborough Trust Company, holder of a mortgage from the Colonial Casket Company dated March 7, 1923, foreclosed upon the property when the company defaulted and the following year, in October, 1941, it was sold to C. P. Washburn, his wife Mary E. Washburn, and their sons C. P., Jr., William K., John A. and Stewart A. The Washburn Company continued to utilize the building to accommodate a portion of its building supply business, which operated a lumber yard and showroom across the railroad tracks on Vine Street. Because of its history, members of the Washburn family long referred to this building as the “Meat House”.

The former cold storage warehouse burned in 1996, and the vacant lot is now owned by the Town of Middleborough.

Swift & Company Cold Storage Warehouse and Packing House, Center Avenue, Middleborough, MA, photograph, late 20th century
This view shows the northeast side of the warehouse from near the intersection of Cambridge Street and Center Avenue. Note the large bays which facilitated loading and off-loading.

Swift & Company Cold Storage Warehouse and Packing House, Center Avenue, Middleborough, MA, photograph, late 20th century
The southwest side of the Swift warehouse appears in the center of the photograph. Immediately on the left is the former Old Colony Railroad Freight House. The cupola of the C. P. Washburn Company's grain mill is recognizable at the left rear. Despite the building's use as a warehouse, it incorporated numerous windows, though each was triple glazed in order to help maintain the cool temperature within the building.

Swift & Company Cold Storage Warehouse and Packing House, Center Avenue, Middleborough, MA, photograph, late 20th century
The rear gables of the building facing the nearby railroad line are captured in this view. The louvered vents at the peak of the gable permitted warm air to escape the building.


Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", August 18, 1887, page 4, and April 16, 1892, page 4.
Plymouth County Deeds 85:36, 434:191, 550:393, 554:523, 867:24, 1346:5031
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.
Sanborn fire insurance maps, Middleborough, 1912 and 1932
"Valuations for the Town of Middleborough for the Year 1904" in Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1904. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1905.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Scene, Nemasket River

Winter Scene, Nemasket River, photograph, c. 1905

Monday, January 4, 2010

Muttock Bridge

The Muttock or Nemasket Street Bridge with its five dry-laid piers of granite bridged by enormous flat stone slabs is one of the largest slab bridges ever built in southeastern Massachusetts. The bridge was constructed to replace an earlier wooden bridge dating from 1818 which crossed the mill pond at Muttock. Following nearly forty years of use, this wooden bridge was in such a state of disrepair, that an 1856 town meeting voted to appoint a committee to investigate the construction of a new bridge. The result of the committee's action was the present Nemasket Street Bridge, construction of which commenced in 1857, and concluded two years later in 1859.

Building of the bridge was initially announced in the Middleboro Gazette under the heading "Largest Stone Bridge in Plymouth County."

Mr. Z. C. Fuller of Plympton, is building a bridge over Namasket River, at Namasket Village, 88 feet long and 34 wide, entirely of stone. It has five sluice ways, 8 feet wide. The water is ten feet deep at this place. The foundation was laid by putting in 300 tons of boulders, on which piers of split stone are laid. Very large stone slabs extend across the sluices, which are to be covered three feet with gravel. It will cost some $2000.

As built, the bridge ultimately had six sluiceways, and a wooden railing along either side of the top, as clearly seen in early photographs of the bridge. It was not until 1935 that the current fieldstone parapet walls were raised on the bridge, and the demarcation between the original stone and that of the later stone still can be clearly seen.

In 1934, the bridge was at the center of an embarrassing news item when leaks developed in the recent water line extension to Warrentown which ran across the bridge here at Muttock. In its first years of service, this water line was plagued by leaks, but the one which developed at the bridge on Nemasket Street, proved a "bad and long time leak" which ran into the river. According to the Brockton Enterprise, "The water leaked for weeks into the river before some one thought to look under the bridge .... When the pipes were laid plans were made to have them a sufficient depth from the top of the road to prevent freezing in Winter, but apparently no one looked under the bridge to see that the pipes were so deep that they were practically exposed under the bridge."

By this time, the bridge had also reached a condition so poor as to require regular repair work on an annual basis. As noted in the Middleborough Highway Department report for 1931: "As is usual each year some repairs were necessary on the stone bridge over the river on Nemasket Street." This deterioration progressed to the point where major rehabilitation of the bridge became neccessary in the late 1990s, Massachusetts Highway Department representatives stating at the time that "the bridge is starting to deteriorate pretty quickly."

In an effort to maintain the historic character and significance of the bridge, as well as its original appearance, the reconstruction created what MassHighway representatives characterized as "a bridge within a bridge." The existing fill between the surface of the roadway and the underlying slabs was first excavated. The central pier and the two slabs it supported were next removed. Three shafts were then sunk into the river bed, and upon these was placed a cap which in conjunction with the existing abuttments became the support structure for concrete beams which would carry a new roadway and which rested inside the area originally occupied by fill. The slabs were then replaced, as was the granite stonework from the original pier.

The focus of many of the public hearing comments at the time of the reconstruction was upon the Department's proposed replacement of the 1935 parapet walls with reinforced concrete walls faced with a fieldstone veneer. Despite indications that the public wished the existing walls to be taken down and reassembled, representatives of MassHighway were unwilling to concede this design element, arguing that safety concerns necessitated a proven safety wall.

Work was completed by fall, 1999, and the estimated pricetag for the revamped bridge was $800,000, four hundred times the original cost of construction.

Muttock Bridge, Middleborough, MA, photograph, December 30, 1907
This view depicts the rarely seen upstream side of the Muttock Bridge over the Nemasket River at Muttock in Middleborough.

Muttock Bridge Parapet Work, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1935
Dating probably from 1935, this snapshot depicts the replacement of the bridge's wooden railings with fieldstone walls along the sides of Muttock Bridge. Framing for the construction of the walls is in place, and the slab design of the bridge is clearly visible.

Muttock Bridge, Leighton & Valentine, color lithochrome postcard, c. 1905
Another view of the upstream side of Muttock Bridge is this colorful picture postcard from the turn of the last century.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Ice Industry

(A portion of the final section of the post below relating to the manner in which ice was harvested nearly a century ago was written by my late grandfather, Jim Maddigan, who like many residents of the Star Mill neighborhood worked on the Pratt Farm for a period of time).

In the past, in Middleborough and Lakeville, January and February meant the start of the annual ice harvest. During the 19th century, as increasingly fewer houses were equipped with root cellars or springhouses to prevent food spoilage, ice began to be harvested in commercial quantities for use in ice chests.

Yet, the commercial possibilities of the Middleborough and Lakeville ponds initially seem to have gone largely unnoticed within the two communities. In the late 1860s, when a proposed railroad line from Middleborough to New Bedford was surveyed, it was the New Bedford Standard, which first realized the potential for New Bedford becoming the largest ice market in the country, supplied by ice from Middleborough and Lakeville. The railroad was never built, and the wealth from Nemasket's ponds remained unexploited until 1881.

LeBaron Ice Company

In that year, John Baylies LeBaron (1845-1918) organized the John B. LeBaron Ice Company as a wholesale and retail business with his wife's brother Thomas J. Lovell. The two men are said to have realized the potential of the ice industry while fishing on Lake Assawompsett in December, 1880, a realization which prompted them to build Middleborough's first commercial ice house at Lakeside on Lake Assawompsett near the Lovell Farm.

Prior to that time, ice was commercially available in Middleborough typically only through "victuals" dealers like J. Scott Barden, Matthew Cushing and David Tucker who operated meat and fish markets which required ice to preserve their goods. Large quantities of ice were harvested - in 1876 Tucker harvested nearly 600 tons - and the excess was readily sold to the public.

The LeBaron Company tapped into the growing public demand for ice and prospered well enough to build a second ice house at Nevertouch Pond on the west side of Middleborough in 1883. Upon the 1884 death of his father John Burt LeBaron, owner of the LeBaron Foundry Company on Vine Street in Middleborough, LeBaron sold his interest in the ice company to another brother-in-law, Samuel S. Lovell, in order to take charge of the foundry with his own brother, Eugene P. LeBaron. Two years later, however, LeBaron sold his share of the foundry business to his brother, and reentered the ice business by purchasing the interests of Charles C. Thomas who operated at Clark's Springs off what is now Clark Street East.

LeBaron built a profitable business, purchasing smaller competitors throughout town, and by the turn of the century had five ice houses at Clark's Springs. In 1906, according to a report in the Middleboro Gazette, "J.B. Lebaron cut about three tons of ice at Clark's Springs the latter part of last week, making five hundred tons he has housed this winter." The subsequent winter, in 1907, he cut about one thousand tons in one week, an equivalent of a full acre of ice twelve inches thick.

The ice at Clark's Springs was harvested from a pond known as LeBaron's Ice Pond which, besides being the source of LeBaron's ice, was a popular ice skating venue in winter. In later years, the pond was substantially altered by loam removal by the Thomas Brothers Company, and it has since dried up. (A portion of the area is now largely occupied by the ramp for Route 495).

LeBaron ran a profitable business though one which was occasionally hampered by setbacks. The first was the so-called ice famine of 1890 during which local ponds failed to freeze. Finally, in March of that year with no prospects of producing ice locally, LeBaron, in conjunction with Robert H. White of the Brockton and Taunton Ice Companies, took a team of men and a railroad carload of lumber to Winchendon where they erected an ice house, and cut and stored an entire season's worth of ice which was shipped to the Middleborough depot as needed throughout the following summer. (Such "droughts" were a cause for common concern among ice dealers, so dependent were they upon the weather for their crop. In February, 1906, many local ice men were concerned about the prevailing warm weather. Fortunately for them, it broke, and they were able to harvest that winter).

Yet another setback for LeBaron was in August, 1900, when while constructing a new ice house at Clark's Springs, LeBaron and two other workers fell 25 feet when their staging collapsed, leaving LeBaron with "wounds on his arms and body and loosened teeth." Most seriously of all, however, was the disastrous fire of December 31, 1909, in which LeBaron lost all five of his Clark's Springs ice houses. Though the houses were empty at the time - the harvest had yet occurred - the loss was great. Undaunted by this setback, LeBaron rebuilt the business.

Following LeBaron's death in 1918, the business was operated by LeBaron's daughter, Hattie LeBaron, who upgraded the machinery, erected new houses and added the sale of fuel oil to the business in 1932. The company remained one of the two largest firms retailing ice in Middleborough (the other being the Ernest S. Pratt Company), and the quantity harvested by Miss LeBaron in 1930 - 3,000 tons - was an indication of how greatly the market for ice had increased over the preceding half century.

Miscellaneous Ice Companies

One of the means by which John B. LeBaron built his business was through the purchase of smaller ice firms in Middleborough like that of Charles C. Thomas. Several small firms operated at various times in Middleborough, taking advantage of the numerous ponds throughout the vicinity.

Another such dealer was John C. Chace, who in 1893, leased a piece of land and constructed an ice house on the upper pond at the back of the present Pratt Farm Conservation area on land then owned by the Weston family. The Chace business was sold successively to William Hayward of Halifax and then to LeBaron.

My grandfather Jim Maddigan later recalled the remnants of the Chace operation where “on the south side of the larger pond [at the Pratt Farm Conservation Area] there was an ice house, possibly erected and used in conjunction with the ice business of John C. Chace, a carpenter and builder, who leased the pond…. I can remember fishing in these ponds in the 1920s and at that time the ice house was old and weather-beaten to a point where it was unsafe to enter. Eventually it was blown down in a windstorm.” Likewise, Lyman Butler wrote in 1978 this same ice pond was used by Alcide and Edward Dubois who operated Dubois Brothers as a retail ice dealer for a short period from 1907 through 1920, probably having acquired it from LeBaron. In 1920, the pond and surrounding land was purchased by Ernest S. Pratt as it served as the headwaters of his own ice pond.

John McNally was another small ice dealer who sold ice at the turn of the last century. McNally in 1899 constructed an ice house at Clear Pond in Lakeville and harvested his ice there. Like many small-time ice dealers, McNally also retailed loam and gravel, and performed teaming work.

Later, in the 1920s, A. R. Salley and Scudder Brothers Coal Company also established short-lived ice operations.

Many local residents and businesses, however, saw no need of purchasing ice from these retail dealers as many were able to harvest enough of their own ice to supply their needs throughout the subsequent summer. Clifford R. Weld, W. F. Leland and Henry A. Wyman, owners of estates along Marion and Long Point Roads, had ice harvested for their own personal use and housed in private ice houses, while businesses such as the King Philip Tavern at Lakeville and Kinsman Brothers in Middleborough likewise secured their own supplies.

Ernest S. Pratt Company

Another noted Middleborough dealer in ice was Ernest S. Pratt (1885-1964). In December of 1908, the Ernest S. Pratt Company was formed to harvest and sell ice with Luther B. Pratt, Ernest S. Pratt and Henry E. Standish (Ernest Pratt’s father-in-law) as partners, and inauguration of the business was announced in the local newspaper the following month: “There is to be a new ice man in town next summer. Ernest S. Pratt is building an ice house near the Pratt homestead on East Main street, and will fill it with ice this winter.” In just a short period of time, the Pratt Company would become the leading competitor to the LeBaron Company in Middleborough.

To create an ice pond for the company, a concrete dam was constructed across Pratt’s Brook on the Pratt Farm and a sizable expanse of water impounded behind it on what had formerly been pasture. The springs which also fed this original ice pond were channeled by Ernest S. Pratt through subterranean clay pipes to ensure an unimpeded flow of pure spring water into the ice pond. The pipes used on the Pratt Farm, nearly an inch thick and measuring about a foot in diameter, were manufactured from vitrified clay with a salt glazing on both the interior and exterior to help protect the purity of the spring. Such pipes were favored in order not to contaminate water, as noted in 1881: “The use of earthen, glazed stone-ware pipe for aqueducts … is an excellent method to preserve the purity of the water.”

A large ice house was constructed on the edge of the pond in 1909 in order to house each winter’s harvest, and in 1911 when Arthur R. Coffin joined the company, an additional ice house was erected to facilitate the growth of the business. Paul Carter, a one-time employee of Pratt, later described the construction of the original 1909 ice house and the subsequent ones built near it. According to Carter, cedar posts were simply inserted upright into holes in the ground forming the perimeter of the ice house. Boards were then hung horizontally on opposite sides of the posts, forming an 18 inch deep hollow wall which was later filled with saw dust as insulation. “Then of course … a plate was put on top and the roof was put on… Rafters [were] put up and purlins every three feet… We used to use cedar shakes on the roof” which were produced on the farm. “It was a very simple structure,” concluded Carter. These ice houses were abandoned when a new ice house was constructed on Stony Brook, and were blown down during the 1944 hurricane.

A short time after 1911 the firm expanded by temporarily acquiring the ice harvesting privileges at Tispaquin Pond in Middleborough which were later held by A. R. Salley. Modern harvesting equipment including escalators, or conveyors, to haul the ice into the ice houses was also acquired. With the withdrawal of Coffin in April, 1915, and the deaths of Standish in 1926 and the elder Pratt in 1930, Ernest S. Pratt became the sole proprietor of the company.

Ice harvesting was a seasonal occupation, very much dependent upon the vagaries of nature. The harvest of 1928 was one example, with little ice being harvested prior to February. On St. Valentine’s Day, Pratt “secured some seven inches thick at Tispaquin Pond. It thawed so fast however that work was abandoned early in the afternoon, and the heavy rain [that] night put an end to operations for the present.” The local newspaper remained hopeful: “A March crop of ice is unusual but not impossible.”

The maintenance of pure water in the ice pond was critical to Pratt for the production of pure, clean ice, and one of the less savory tasks associated with maintaining pure clean ice was the trapping of animals, primarily muskrats, which might compromise the purity of each season’s harvest. Another issue, as related by Bob Hopkins, Paul Carter’s brother-in-law and also a former employee on the Pratt Farm, was the use of horses during the harvest, which might chose to relieve themselves on the ice. This reputedly irked Pratt who required his employees prevent the horses from heeding the call of nature. They remained at a loss as how to do so, and so did little, undoubtedly much to the annoyance of Pratt.

Despite these challenges, ice from the Pratt Farm was noted for its cleanliness and clarity, the Pratt Company’s advertising touting the fact that it was spring water ice, “harvested and delivered by modern and sanitary methods.” (The LeBaron Company, in 1930, was similarly advertising "safe ice").

In the 1930s, the growth of the Pratt Ice Company’s business as well as the physical deterioration of the existing ice houses on the farm warranted the creation of a new ice pond and the construction of a new ice house. The site chosen was located on Stony Brook on land adjoining the Pratt Farm which was acquired for the purpose in 1928. The entrance to these ice houses was about a quarter of a mile north of the Pratt House and barn, on the south side of East Main Street, though they could also be reached from the farm. The buildings were a little smaller than those at the farm, but the filling of the new ones was similar to the methods used at the older houses.

The first operation in preparing the Stony Brook site for the new pond and ice house was the clearing of the trees and brush from an area of about three acres around the confluence of Stony and Morey Brooks which formed the water source for the new pond. The location selected was ideal as it was surrounded by high ground on three sides, and a narrow space between the hills where the Stony Brook had its outlet, making a choice spot to build the dam. There was an opening left in the dam where planks could be lowered to control the level of the pond. The surrounding hills would also prove beneficial in limiting the exposure of the pond to the elements, thereby encouraging the quicker formation of ice upon the pond.

At the time, the so-called “large ice house” which measured 80 by 32 feet and stood on the bluff overlooking the ice pond below, with doors opening to the pond and Stony Brook Road, was constructed. A wall divided the house in half lengthwise, creating two large spaces. Because of this arrangement, it is frequently stated that Pratt had two houses here though in fact it was one large house. A wooden conveyor resting upon concrete footings ran perpendicular to the house and lifted the cakes of ice from the pond below into the house.

The late Lyman Butler recalled working in these new ice houses following World War II when he would occasionally help with the ice harvest, along with Arthur Wright.

Arthur and I were asked to work in the house, packing the cakes in neat lines, keeping a space between each row for air to circulate. Art and another man would most often be the pivot men and when the cake came off the chute they would take a pike and shove the cake to whoever the stacker was. I got the job more often as I was not quite as rugged. The ice cake would be sent sliding over the rows to the spot where it was to be placed. Then I would spin it with my pike to where it belonged. A pinch bar would be used to perfectly place the cake so the rows would be so as to look down through the bottom.

We would swap off jobs once in a while to give one another a break. Ralph Creamer was one of our gang nearly all the time we helped out there. We would get a bit behind at times and have to call out to stop the cakes coming in to us. Generally, two houses would be used at a time so operations would not be stopped.

This was real rugged work and we slept well after a day’s work. Inside the house it was quite a bit warmer than outside and we worked in our shirt sleeves much of the time. Ralph would sometimes bring in a bottle of wine in the afternoon and we would have a little nip which warmed us up inside. One day Ralph took a bit too much and got kind of unsure of his footing so when he was not looking we, I won’t say I, got the bottle and hid it until after work as we did not want him to slip and break a leg or something. He knew someone hid it and every minute he had a chance he looked everywhere but didn’t find it. After work we gave it back to him. We knew Ernest would not approve of anyone imbibing even a little wine while at work. I guess that some of the workmen on the pond had a nip now and again to fight off the cold.

Though some had creepers on the ice there was one fellow had a bottle in his hip pocket and he slipped and sat down on it. Needless to say the bottle broke but no blood ran, just the contents of the bottle. One man slipped and went in the water one day I was there and he went up to my house to dry out. I got him some dry clothes and he left his to dry. There were many such incidents happened over the time we worked for Ernest and the nearest thing to swearing he said was, “Gol dum it.”

Bob Hopkins also worked during these years harvesting ice for Pratt, recalling ice harvests that occupied about a dozen men, the process taking a couple of months for the houses to fill. Hopkins enjoyed the ice harvest, and like Butler recalled incidences of workers falling into the pond. Hopkins remembered “Pop” Gates falling in, going home to change his clothes and returning undaunted to resume work on the ice.

As electric and gas refrigerators gained in popularity, they were added to Pratt's stock, including so-called “coolerators.” Eventually, the New England winters began to get milder and it was difficult to harvest any appreciable quantity of ice. As early as 1931, harvests became noticeably smaller and the harvests of 1931-32 and 1932-33 were relatively dismal, prompting enthusiasm for the subsequent year’s crop.

For the past two days [January 3 and 4, 1934] the ice ponds of Ernest S. Pratt on East Main street have been the scene of bustling activities in the harvest of the first real good ice in three years and Mr. Pratt has employed 50 men in cutting and storing some fine clear nine and ten inch ice. The gang was in full swing Thursday when 1100 tons of this summer commodity were stored with a total of 1900 tons up to this morning. The men employed were taken from the unemployment list so that in addition to Mr. Pratt being able to get a very fine harvest he has made it possible to employ these men and put so much more money in circulation in town.
With a depreciable decline in the amount of ice able to be harvested annually and the increasing prevalence of electric refrigerators, Pratt’s business began to taper off during the early 1940s. Additionally, mechanically-produced ice began to replace natural ice during this period.

Though Pratt gave up ice harvesting in 1949, with Pratt supplying customers with ice purchased from a freezer plant at Taunton and stored in the ice houses here, as well as the small building near the farm office. Ultimately, Pratt retired from the ice business in 1954.

Shortly after the ice business was discontinued in 1954, the large ice house (or the “new ice house”, as it was commonly called) located on Pratt’s Brook burned to the ground September 12, 1954. “Sawdust insulation in the walls of the building fed the flames which soared upward and lit up the night with a bright orange radiance.” No attempt was made to save the building as the fire had progressed too far, and efforts were devoted, instead, to containing the flames. Wrote Lyman Butler: “… at the time the fire bug was so active in town, one night the ice houses down back of my house were torched and I was warned by telephone that there was a big fire nearby. There sure was and the two houses made a spectacular blaze and firemen kept engines nearby to keep embers from the fire from starting a fire on the dwellings nearby.”

The Ice Harvest

Like LeBaron, Pratt initially harvested his ice with a team of horses which plowed, scraped, and marked the ice, before a seasonal gang of men cut it with large handsaws.

The object of each year's ice harvest was clear, thick ice. Once frozen, the ice would be checked for thickness by boring holes with two inch augers. As it was necessary for the ice to be able to support the weight of the horses required in the harvest, the ice would not be cut until it reached, on avereage, a thickness of fifteen inches. There were occasions, though very rare, when horse, man and marker fell through the ice when the driver became careless and entered a section with underlying springs that kept the ice thin in that area.

If there were snow on the ice pond, the first operation was to clear the area about the ice houses and conveyors. Next came the main ice pond. The ice would be plowed by wide wooden-bladed horse-drawn scrapers, and the accumulated snow dumped by the side of the pond. Holes might also be drilled through the ice to allows water to rise through and absorb any remaining snow. “This would be considered ‘snow ice’”, Rose Standish Pratt later explained. “It was just as cold but did not look so clear.”

Next came the marking of the ice in order to provide uniformly sized sections measuring 22 by 44 inches. The pond was "lined," whereby a line was established between two points and the pond marked with grooves running both parallel and perpendicular to this sited line. Horses drew the guides and markers which created a cross-hatch of two-inch deep grooves.
This was later accomplished with the use of a saw rig powered by a small gasoline engine and drawn by a horse.

During extremely cold weather, these grooves would be filled with ice chips in order to prevent water from channelling into them and refreezing.

A horse-drawn snow-ice plane would scrape away any residual porous snow before the men cut along the established grooves with great one-handled large-toothed saws. The long handled saws, similar to the one-man cross-cut saws used in the woods, cut through the remaining four or five inches left after marking. In time, these handsaws were replaced with power equipment, Pratt introducing a gasoline-powered field saw during the 1922-23 season, which “greatly facilitated the harvesting of the crop.”

The ice would be cut into rafts generally consisting of several cakes each weighing approximately 200 pounds. These cut sections were pulled along on the open water created by the previous cutting by men with long pikes, and maneuvered to the bottom of the conveyor. At the conveyor, a workman on a suspended platform, many times with cold feet, used what was called a needle bar or ice chisel to break apart the cakes of ice along the score marks. These smaller cakes were then fed one by one onto the conveyor and started on their way up the long ramp to chutes that carried them into the ice houses. The conveyor consisted on an endless chain with wooden cross bars spaced about four feet apart and was powered by a gasoline motor through a network of reduction gears.

The coldest of any job was this role as switcher as the man generally stood in one location all day with very little exercise except directing the blocks of ice into each house.

There were three to four levels in the ice houses at which the cakes could be deposited from the conveyor onto slides that ran the entire length of the houses, each house containing smaller sections of slide which could be joined together by hand and used to carry the ice to different areas inside. A heavy curved steel diverter on the outside rails could be dropped into place at each of the ice houses at each level. As the ice came down the runways, sometimes quite rapidly, especially on the steeper sections of the chute, the cakes would be hooked with a long-handled pike and swung into position. This was a tricky operation and required the wearing of spiked shoes to prevent workmen from being dragged along behind the ice. An entire layer of ice was laid down before the second layer or floor was commenced.

When the first house was filled to the level of the lower exterior rails, the second level interior rails were set in place at the second exterior level and the filling and storing operation repeated. This procedure was followed for each house.

The top four layers of each stack would be placed in the opposite direction as the piles underneath in order to “bind” the stack. The stack was then covered with marsh hay as insulation. Following warm weather, the marsh grass and top layer of hay would become a sodden semi-frozen mess and it frequently was necessary to chip it away to access the blocks of ice below. The walls and roof of the ice house would be insulated with sawdust from local sawmills, as well as hay. Once filled, the ice house would be boarded and sealed until summer. The ice kept throughout the season, with shrinkage seldomly exceeding one foot throughout the course of the year.

East Grove Street Pumping Station and LeBaron Ice Houses, photograph, c. 1900
While the subject of this photograph was intended to be the East Grove Street Pumping Station of the Middlbeough waterworks, the LeBaron icehouses at Clark's Springs are clearly visible on the far side of the Nemasket River just behind the utility pole at the center of the photograph.

John C. Chace advertisement, from Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass. for 1895 (Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1895), p. 6.

John McNally advertisement, from Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass. 1904-5. (Boston, MA: Edward A. Jones, 1905), p. 22.

Ernest S. Pratt Company Ice House, East Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Rose Standish Pratt, c. 1914
Built in 1909, the large ice house and a second which was constructed in 1911 served the Pratt Company through the late 1920s when they were superseded by a new icehouse on Stony Brook. This icehouse blew down during a hurricane in 1944.

Ernest S. Pratt Company advertisement from Middleboro and Carver, Massachusetts Directory 1934 (North Hampton, NH: Crosby Publishing Co., Inc., 1934), p. 6.

Marking the Ice, Pratt Farm, East Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Rose Standish Pratt, early 20th century
The horse, protected against the cold with its woolen blanket, draws the narrow steel marker which lines the ice preparatory to cutting. The resulting evenly-spaced grid is apparent in the foreground.

Ernest S. Pratt with Power Saw, Pratt Farm, East Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Rose Standish Pratt, 1923
In 1923, Pratt added this gasoline-powered saw to his ice-harvesting eqipment which drastically reduced the effort needed to cut the ice, a task previously performed by hand.

Harvesting Ice, Pratt Farm, East Main Street, Middleborough, photograph by Rose Standish Pratt, early 20th century
The workman at the left is responsible for directing the cakes of ice into the conveyor. In the foreground is the debris left from clearing the ice at the base of the conveyor, as well as undersized and broken cakes.

Conveyor, Pratt Farm Icehouse, East Main Street, Middleborough, photograph by Rose Standish Pratt, early 20th century

James F. Maddigan, Jr., notes
Middleboro Gazette
Old Colony Memorial