Monday, October 18, 2010

Shadow Lake Orchards, 1895

Orville K. Gerrish Estate, Bedford Street, Lakeville, MA, photograph, 1904
The home and outbuildings of Orville K. Gerrish near Loon Pond are pictured as they appeared about the time of Gerrish's retirement from horticultural work.  In 1889, Gerrish had purchased 113 acres between Bedford Street, Precinct Street and Loon Pond on which he established a fruit tree nursey with over 100,000 specimens.  Many of the trees were peach trees, and in 1895, the New York Tribune made note of Gerrish's eforts to revive peach cultivation in Massachusetts.

In the early 1890s, Orville K. Gerrish established a large scale tree nursery on land adjoining Loon Pond in Lakeville on the site now occupied by the former Ted Williams Camp. Acquiring 113 acres between Bedford Street, Precinct Street and Loon Pond on March 12, 1889, from Horatio N. Sampson and the Washburn family, Gerrish laid out an extensive peach orchard which he operated for several years. Gerrish’s was a model operation, with carefully tended specimens, and modern innovations, including a windmill which pumped pond water to the nursery.

Gerrish had been born in 1841 at Sumner, Maine, to farmer Nathaniel Gerrish, from whom he learned the rudiments of farming. The younger Gerrish later focused upon nursery work, both in Maine, and (for a short period of time) at Geneva, New York. As can be discerned from his comments to the New York Tribune in 1895, Gerrish was a well educated man with an inquisitive mind. In the late 1880s, he was engaged not only as a dealer in nursery stock at Portland, Maine, but as a lawyer as well.

By 1895, the scope of Gerrish’s Lakeville nursery was enormous as indicated by the following description carried in the Middleboro Gazette on September 13 of that year. The article, itself, was taken from the New York Tribune which had taken note of Gerrish’s nursery as well as his effort help revive peach culture in Massachusetts.

The time was when Massachusetts raised great quantities of peaches, and everybody had plenty, as now is the case of pears. Then came a blight, and the industry failed, and the trees almost entirely disappeared, and it came to be believed that this was finally and forever.

But a better day appears to be at hand, and the prospect is that Massachusetts will become again a peach producing State. The man who has made this turn in the tide is named Orville K. Gerrish, and the house is in Lakeville, one of the southernmost towns in Plymouth County. His place is called the “Shadow Lake Orchards,” from a lonely little lake nearby. Mr. Gerrish is a native of Maine, and a nurseryman of twenty-eight years practical experience at Geneva, in western central New York. On a hundred acres of poor soil on which nothing but bayberry bushes, briars, wild ferns and weeds grew for many years he has now large orchards of thrifty, bearing peach trees and blocks of nursery trees – apple, peach and plum – to the number of 100,000 or more. Mr. Gerrish says he believes he has triumphed over natural climate obstacles and by the simplest and most inexpensive of methods. His system briefly stated, is to avoid forcing the growth of his trees, thereby making tender wood; to avoid long-bodied trees on which the early spring sun may shine, causing the sap to rise too soon, and to plant his trees close together. These seem to be the cardinal principles of a plan designed to combat the severe frost of winter.

“I planted small, one-year-old, low headed trees, using no fertilizer of any kind about tree roots, and removed no limbs from the trees except bruised and dead ones. Immediately after planting, a mixture of potash and ground bone, in equal parts, was spread about the trees, which was all the dressing they received the first year. Since, they have been similarly dressed about twice each year with unleached ashes about the tree as the limbs expand, so as to keep a space cultivated and fertilized about as far as the limbs extend. I do no other cultivating after the first two years, than that which can be done with hoes, hoeing about the trees, clearing weeds, and grubbing the earth before fertilizing. Potash, an element which seems to be nearly exhausted in this soil, is essential to the peach tree, and must be supplied. I think unleached ashes is almost perfect fertilizer for the peach, and believe that people who burn wood for cooking, etc., could if they have ground, cultivate a few peach trees and, with the judicious use of ashes from stoves applied to the trees, easily supply themselves with peaches and have a surplus for market.

“I planted most of the trees ten feet apart each way, and they have succeeded better than those planted farther apart in all respects. Hence I would not plant farther apart than ten feet. The branches grow together so as to cover the ground, shading it, preventing the weeds from growing and causing it also to retain moisture longer, and therefore better withstand dry weather. The low head is desirable for several reasons. It obviates exposure of a long trunk or body to the sun in the winter and spring, when thawing weather is liable to be followed by sudden freezing and injury. It prevents injury by winds which might result to all trees, and it certainly is a great advantage in gathering fruit. Since convenient roadways are left among the trees fertilizer can easily be carried from cart to trees. From my experience close planting and low heads are conducive to success in peach culture.”

This in brief, is the account, which we have condensed from the New York Tribune, of a success achieved only a few miles south of us, which deserves the attention of every tiller of the soil in southeastern Massachusetts. Our County Fair people should make a special point of this; for if our county could grow its own peaches, that would be a great improvement.

At the time this article was published, peach cultivation was a hotly debated topic in Massachusetts agricultural circles. While some like the Tribune blamed the decline in the commonwealth’s peach production on “blight”, others like J. H. Hale who spoke before the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture in December, 1892, attributed it to an increasing lack of snow on the ground during the winter which had previously provided a protective seasonal blanketing for the trees. Hale also remarked that peach cultivation required patience, noting the example of a man who cut down his peach trees only a few years after planting when they did not produce the crops he expected. “If a man has no more spunk than that, he ought not to plant peach trees in Massachusetts”, stated Hale. Hale nonetheless recommended peach cultivation, though with a caution. “If you go into peach culture, you must not expect to get a crop every year, because the frost will catch you every now and then; but when you get a crop what fun you will have, and how your neighbors will say, ‘How lucky you are!’”

By 1905, Gerrish had retired, and he enjoyed his new free time by traveling abroad. In 1922, Gerrish’s widow Alice sold the nursery which was owned and operated as a summer camp by Boston Council, Boy Scouts of America (1923 -1957) and as the Ted Williams Camp and Lakeville Baseball Camp.

J. H. Hale, “Fruit Growing in Massachusetts”, Fortieth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, Together with the Tenth Annual Report of the State Agricultural Experiment Station. Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1892.

Middleboro Gazette, “Massachusetts Peaches Again”, September 13, 1895, page 2.

Plymouth County Registry of Deeds 571:502; 576:104; 854:399; 932:132; 1406:117; 1431:411; 1542:338; 2613:66; 2704:403

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Burning of Alden, Walker & Wilde, 1904

Alden, Walker & Wilde Manufactory Ruins, newspaper halftone of original October, 1904 photograph.
The view depicts the aftermath of the October 4, 1904, fire which largely destroyed the Alden, Walker & Wilde shoe manufactory on Clifford Street.  Visible to the left is a portion of the Clifford Street facade.  The building's north side (facing towards Wareham Street) occupies the center of the photograph with the Jenks Building just out of the camera's range on the right.  The amount of water and the fact that the fire department's hoses remain along Clifford Street (foreground) indicate that the photograph was taken on the day of the fire.

On October 4, 1904, what was described as the worst fire in Middleborough in over 20 years virtually destroyed the shoe manufactory of Alden, Walker & Wilde on Clifford Street and compelled the firm to remove from town. Built in 1875, the manufactory building ruined in the blaze had initially been occupied by the Domestic Needle Works and its successors, and later by the W. H. Schlueter & Company, before being acquired by Alden, Walker & Wilde.

Organized in 1900 by Arthur H. Alden, George W. Walker and William H. Wilde who had formerly been associated with Hathaway, Soule & Harrington, an earlier shoe manufacturing firm in Middleborough,  Alden, Walker & Wilde rapidly became one of the principal shoe producers in town. At the time of the 1904 fire, the firm employed some 100 hands to manufacture high quality men’s dress shoes and was reportedly paying high wages.

During the early morning of the October 4th, Eldred R. Waters who resided around the corner on Wareham Street was the first to notice the fire which originated in the rear of the building. “He rushed to the road, crying ‘fire’ and soon residents of the dwellings surrounding responded and an alarm was pulled in.” Due to some unspecified malfunctioning of the alarm, however, there was a delay in the fire department’s response, a delay which would ultimately prove “costly.”

The fire spread through the wood frame building rapidly, fueled by the shoes, leather and paper packing boxes within. “Floors dropped under the weight of the shafting and heavy machinery, sections of the building and roof fell off, the firemen narrowly escaping injury."

Middleborough Fire Chief Charles W. Kingman described the difficulty of the task in the report which he wrote subsequent to the fire:

Thirteenth alarm, October 4th, at 5.30 a. m., from boxes 34 and 35, for a fire in the shoe factory of Alden, Walker & Wilde, Clifford street. This was the largest fire the town has had since the burning of the Leonard & Barrows factory, some twenty years ago. Responded to by the entire Department. The building must have been burning for some time before it was discovered, as the two upper stories and roof were well under way when the Department arrived. It was at once seen that we had a hard fight before us. The extension ladder was at once raised to the roof of the Jenks building and Hose Companies 1, 2 and 6 and Chemical Engine were at once put to work, and with the help of a powerful stream from the Jenks factory, which is excellently equipped for fire fighting, the fire was confined to this one building. The Jenks building caught once on the end of the jet and was somewhat scorched by the intense heat. Hose 3 and 4 were held in reserve. Both pumps were used at the Pumping station, something that has not happened since the LeBaron Foundry fire in 1895, and after they were put on the pressure was very good.

“When the roof went through a big cloud of cinders arose, and as they dropped they fell on the residences of J. H. Moody and James Curley, on the opposite side of Clifford st. Lines of hose were immediately sent up on these buildings, and firemen remained on top of them to watch for a blaze. The sparks were also carried on Wareham st. to the blacksmith shop of T. F. Ford, and but for the prompt action of the firemen there might have been another blaze there.” The Jenks Building on the corner of Wareham and Clifford Streets which stood beside the Alden plant also suffered. The intensity of the heat shattered glass window panes and for a time it was thought that the rear portion of the building would be consumed as well.

When it became evident that the Alden, Walker & Wilde plant could not be saved, efforts were directed at removing as much of the finished product as possible, “some of which were packed in cases, some on the racks to be packed, while others were almost ready for the packing stage.” Also saved from the flames were Alden, Walker & Wilde’s records and the shoe samples which had only recently been produced and which were invaluable in convincing prospective buyers to place orders with the shoe firm. The shoes were placed in the custody of the fire police and were later removed to the vacant factory of C. W. Maxim.

Kingman’s report continues:

Although it was not long before the fire was under control, it was nearly 11.30 before it was entirely out. Good work was done by the Fire Police and volunteers in removing property from the building, and we were fortunate in having no wind. The boiler and engine and the books and samples were saved, and perhaps $1000 worth of shoes in a damaged condition. The Department certainly did good work, and we were very fortunate in that no one was injured and that a serious conflagration was averted. Loss, perhaps $35,000. Cause of fire unknown.

The burning of the building and its contents produced an enormous plume of black smoke which covered the southern portion of town, attracting the attention of curiosity seekers who “flocked” into town to see the devastation. What they saw was only a semblance of the manufactory which had previously stood there. The two upper floors were nearly totally destroyed.  And while the ground floor remained, it was heavily damaged by both smoke and water.  (Relatively unscathed was the one-story brick engine house at the rear of the building which stood until at least 1906).

Alden estimated the loss to be from $30,000 to $40,000, including $10,000 worth of sole leather alone which had been inside the plant. Only a portion of the loss was covered by insurance, and insurance agents themselves considered the building a total loss. Yet despite this discouraging assessment, immediately following the fire, the firm vowed to remain in Middleborough and rebuild.

The cause of the fire appears unknown to posterity, though the rapidity with which the blaze spread through the building was attributable in part to the lack of any fire apparatus or a watchman at the Alden, Walker & Wilde plant. Kingman's praise of the preparedness of the neighboring Jenks Building, in contrast to that of the Alden plant, may have in fact been intended as a subtle criticism of the latter firm.

Alden, Walker & Wilde Manufactory Ruins, photograph, October, 1904.
This view of the Alden, Walker & Wilde manufactory remains was probably taken some time before October 21, 1904, when a rainstorm toppled a portion of the ruins.  The site was subsequently fenced, although the ruined shell was permitted to stand for another month, minus the upper two floors.  What was left of the building was finally pulled down in early December.

The remains of the building stood for a number of weeks during which time workers were engaged in clearing the debris. The remaining sole and upper leather was purchased by speculators, and damaged shoes were sold as “bargain lots”. The machinery was crated up and removed by the United Shoe Machinery Company which shipped it to Winchester. In the meantime, the company had relocated to North Weymouth where it purchased the firm of Torrey, Curtis & Tirrell and to where the undamaged portion of the Middleborough plant was transferred.

On October 21, a heavy rain and windstorm blew over one side of the remaining ruins and the danger of the remaining collapsing prompted Superintendent of Streets J. C. Chase to fence off the street around it. The following day, a force of men removed the remainder of the upper portion of the factory, leaving the hollow shell of the ground floor. In December, this too was finally leveled. What lumber could be salvaged was acquired by Charles B. Cobb for the construction of a storehouse.

Despite the fact that Alden, Walker & Wilde had relocated to Weymouth, rumors continued to circulate about Middleborough that the firm proposed returning to town and that local contractor B. F. Phinney had been engaged to construct a new manufactory for the firm. In early December Phinney denied any knowledge of such a plan. The company never returned to Middleborough.

“Annual Report of the Board of Engineers of the Fire Department” in Annual Reports of the Officers of the Middleboro Fire District, and the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Water Commissioners for the Year 1904. Middleboro: Middleboro Fire District, 1905.

Old Colony Memorial, “News Notes”, October 29, 1904, page 3.

Unidentified newspaper clippings, James H. Creedon collection, Middleborough Public Library,”Middleboro Has Bad Fire”, October 4, 1904; “Shoe Factory Burned”, October 4, 1904; October 17, 1904; “Middleboro”, October 22, 1904; “Middleboro”, October 23, 1904; “Middleboro”, December 3, 1904.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cranberry Harvest at South Middleborough, 1895

Cranberries 2, photograph by Shaw Girl, January 3, 2009,
republished under a Creative Commons license

South Middle-
borough was a relative late-
comer to cranberry culti-
vation, despite its suita-
bility for the crop. Cranberry bogs were noted in neighboring South Carver and North Rochester during the late 1870s, though it seems that it was another fifteen years before bogs were established at South Middleborough when there is a record of a force picking at South Middleborough in 1893. Certainly Nathaniel Shurtleff had bogs at nearby France (the area of Middleborough situated along France Street) contemporary with or predating those at South Middleborough; he was harvesting from them in the fall of 1897.

One of the earliest bogs in South Middleborough was that of Frank Short who purchased two adjoining tracts of land totaling forty-seven acres in 1894 and 1898 from John S. and John L. Benson, respectively located on the south side of Wareham Street at Houdlett’s Corner (the intersection of Wareham and Pine Streets). The latter twenty-five acre parcel of swampland was subsequently drained by Short and transformed into a cranberry bog.

At the time, though there were few bogs at South Middleborough, the community was active in the annual harvest. “The cranberry season will soon be here, and we hear of some of our neighbors who will move to the bog with their families to stop during the busy season”, noted the Middleboro Gazette’s South Middleborough correspondent in September, 1895. Ultimately, over 20 South Middleborough residents would engage in that fall’s harvest, as pickers, as screeners, and as overseers.

That same year, 21-year-old Boston University student Jennie Gammons, daughter of Ephraim H. Gammons of South Middleborough, who would later become a noted local correspondent and in the mid-20th century one of the oldest active newspaperwomen in the country, wrote the following evocative description of the cranberry harvest as known to South Middleborough pickers.

At this season of the year the cranberry industry is at its height and there is many a picturesque scene on the flat, low-lying meadow land, intersected by ditches, and surrounded by hilly woodland, rising higher and higher in the distance with its tall trees, blackened once by forest fires. A bit of dry, withered foliage is seen at the tops of the trees, and below, the bare, brownish trunk with a few leafless branches. All this serves as a foundation to the changing and lively picture which the cranberry bog presents to-day.

Just on the slightly raised edge is a roughly built screen house with no ornamentation, save a square many-paned window and a steep, back stairway, leading to a tiny doorway somewhere near the roof.

Down on the meadow, a motley crowd teeming with energy, men clad in patched, half worn unmentionables and neglige [sic] sweaters; women in fantastic attire, and crowned with immense sun hats; children with burned, freckled face, some times tear stained; infants are there, too, some seeming to enjoy the situation, while others are holding their mouths in position for a loud cry. Through all this there is a gleam of the six-quart tin pail, marked off with ridges, and known as the cranberry measure.

Down on the ground amid the green net-work of vines are the masses of deep red berried, oval in shape and slightly pointed at the end, and right here are the pickers with heads bent over, fingers flying, keeping time to the thump, thump, made by the berries falling into the empty pail, which, by means of handful after handful fills up at last.

Occasional shouts of laughter and loud voices are mingled with the hurried click, click of the scoopers, which compelled by human power, ply through the vines and quickly pull away the fruit. Section after section is lined out, crawled over, trampled down, and the contents carried away in medium sized barrels. The only resting time is at the noontide hour, and the dinner pail takes the place of the cranberry measure and the lunch, consisting of sandwiches, a good supply of pastry with a bit of fruit, as dessert, would seem a royal meal, but for the wasps, which come, uninvited, for their share of sweetmeats. In spite of the mid-day heat the laborers, with renewed vigor, begin the afternoon’s work, which wears away, and, as the sun sinks lower the shadows appear, while now and then a cool breeze fans the hot faces and brings fresh zeal, so that the very busiest time is toward nightfall. The more deft of the pickers “head down” the delinquent, lagging ones and the whole crowd comes together with a hurried scrambling and scrabbling, lest the sly ones skip away and leave behind a bountiful supply of underberries, visible through the torn away vines.

The sudden shout “Knock off’ re-echoes over the meadow and ends the daily toil. Then follows a scattering hither and thither, but the continued cramped position has rendered the limbs stiff, and almost all carry themselves in an ungraceful manner. While on the homeward way, the tired look of the faces gradually changes to a more serene expression and the eyes, blinded by the hot sun together with the steady downward gaze, become brighter, and the empty pails, swinging on their arms, as they go, bring that sense of relief which comes only when a day’s labor is finished. The harvest of dimes piles up into dollars, others making the necessary wherewithal for winter use, and compensates for the discomfort caused by the torn, sore fingers, aching limbs and weary bodies.

Middleboro Gazette, "South Middleboro", August 23, 1895, page 1; ibid., September 13, 1895, page 1; and "Cranberrying", October 4, 1895, page 1.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Annual Firemen's Ball

On May 9, 1893, the Middleborough Fireman’s Mutual Relief Association was organized with the aim of providing financial assistance to members who were injured in the line of duty. In order to raise funds for this purpose, the Association (the forerunner of the Middleboro Fireman’s Association) began sponsoring balls, the first Firemen’s Ball being held, most likely, in 1893.

Previously there had always been a large social component to the activities of the Middleborough Fire Department, including suppers and dances. Dances were held in the hall above the former central fire station on School Street, and occasionally became so rowdy that use of the hall had to be suspended.

The Firemen’s Balls were less raucous but more popular affairs. The balls were usually held in Middleborough Town Hall in February of each year and were attended by literally hundreds of guests. 700 participants alone were recorded as having attended the 1923 ball. Music, dancing and the finest refreshments from local vendors were featured at each ball which helped relieve the monotony of winter and made the Firemen’s Ball the most anticipated social event of each year. The 1922 ball was described as the “most brilliant of the season”.

While the funds raised by the balls were typically devoted to the use of the veterans and members of the Middleborough Fire Department, during World War I proceeds were donated to various war-related causes, including the soldiers at Fort Devens in 1918 and the Red Cross in 1919.

The Firemen’s Balls seem to have lapsed with the onset of the Depression, the last noted in the Middleboro Gazette being that of 1930.

Middleboro Firemen's Relief Association Annual Concert and Ball, dance card, 1913

Saturday, October 9, 2010

College Men Who Raise Ducks

In April, 1902, William W. Hall of Boston acquired 66 acres of the Elbridge Cushman farm on the west side of Main Street south of Stetson Street in Lakeville with the intention of establishing a duck farm.  Hall would operate the farm until 1913, initially in conjunction with his brother, Frank Y. Hall.  The Hall brothers and their duck farm attracted the attention of regional newspapers, largely for the reason that the brothers were both Harvard educated and the local press clearly found the thought of Ivy League farmers intriguing.  In August, 1904, one regional newspaper visited the farm and left the following description of its operation at the time. 

Frank Y. Hall, a graduate of Harvard, class of '98, a former football player and all-around athlete, and his brother, William W. Hall, who was educated at Harvard and Haverford college, a football player, coach and gymnast, have found a field of labor which, though it may be new to college-bred men, offers an exceptional opportunity to unite successfully educational training with practical labor.

Their business is raising ducks for the market, and as it is carried on along up-to-date lines, they have met with success.

This season, which is their second in the business, about 3000 young ducks were hatched out at their place in Middleboro.  Early in the year, and preferably before February, the first settings of eggs are placed in the incubators.  These are hatched out, and the young ducks are put into the long houses, which are heated by steam.

A continuous gentle heat is applied for four weeks, when the ducks are strong enough to live without it.  They are then moved to another house to make room for the new arrivals.

In about from 10 to 12 weeks after hatching the young ducks are big enough to send to market.  Just previous to killing they are fed plentifully and they fatten up.

The process of growing and killing the succeeding broods is kept up till nearly winter, when the last of the season's ducks are reserved for breeders.

These will commence to lay at New Years, and will supply the eggs for the hatch of the next year.

Of the eggs set about three-fourths will hatch and of these about 93 percent reach maturity.

The ducks weigh from five to seven pounds each, and when prepared or market will bring about from 15 to 17 cents a pound.  The feathers, a valuable by-product, now bring about 48 cents per pound.  The revenue from them is sufficient to pay the expenses of putting the grown fowl on the market.

The market for these choice ducks is good and the demand is constantly growing.

To care for ducks is no small task.  They need to be watered about five times daily, and the young ones must be fed four times each day.  As they grow older three times is sufficient.

The amount of food devoured by the hundreds of ducks now growing on the place is surprising.  Each week they consume two tons.  This is served them in quantities in proportion to their age.

Three large houses are now used in housing the ducks, but before next season two more large houses will be added.  They are built on the side of a hill, where the young ducks can get the benefit of the morning sun, as they run about in their yards.

Although the ducks are close beside a chain of lakes, they are not tempted by the water there, and never fly to the pond.  A brook which runs past their coops is in great demand with them, however.

The quacking of the ducks at night has been an annoyance which many duck farmers have sought to overcome, and on this place it has been practically eliminated.  Lanterns are hung out around the yard during the night, and the light has a comforting effect on the ducks, and keeps them quiet.

William W. Hall has been engaged in the duck business for three years.  He first worked a year at Weymouth, and later commenced the business for himself.  He is satisfied that a university education is helpful in his work.

Frank Y. Hall devotes fewer hours daily to the duck farm, his attention being taken up by other duties.  He is a member of the school committee of [Lakeville], besides serving as librarian of the public library.

The Hall farmhouse is one of the prettiest on the road from Middleboro to New Bedford.  It was formerly known as the Elbridge Cushman place.  There are large, well-appointed barns, and a large tract of land.

As noted in the article, Frank Y. Hall served as both a member of the Lakeville School Committee, as well as the town's first librarian.  In October, 1904, he resigned both of these positions in order to pursue newspaper work in Philadelphia for a time.  William W. Hall as also involved with the Lakeville Public Library, serving as a trustee.

William W. Hall continued to expand the duck farming operation, and by 1910 he was raising 10,000 ducks annually.  In 1913, Hall sold the farm to Frank H. Conklin who had previously entered into partnership with Hall and who would own and operate for the next 24 years.  In 1918, Conklin employed Merrill Sampson who would purchase the farm from Conklin in 1937.  The farmhouse with its elegant mansard-style roof still stands on Main Street, "one of the prettiest on the road".

Unidentifed newspaper clippings; August 7, 1904; October 21, 1904; November 4, 1904; James H. Creedon Collection, Middleborough Public Library, Middleborough, MA

Plymouth County Registry of Deeds

Friday, October 8, 2010

"A Daring Burglary", 1886

Perhaps the most notorious case of breaking and entering into a private residence in Middleborough history occurred over a century ago in 1886, a frightening incident marked by both its brutality and its "humanity".

The robbery occurred at the home of Hartley Wood (1811-89), the small Cape-style house which now stands on the corner of East Grove and Fairview Streets opposite the entrance to Middleborough High School, which the septuagenarian Wood shared in 1886 with his sister, Eleanor (1818-94), who was also of advanced years.

Smith & Wesson Model No. 3
Schofield Revolver, late 19th century
Photo courtesy of Bob Adams
The Plymouth Old Colony Memorial reported the details of the crime: Eleanor Wood, "a sister of Hartley, who keeps house for him, had gone to bed, and Hartley, who sat by the stove, was overpowered by two men who presented pistols at his head. The burglars tied him and his sister, whom they dragged from the bed, and then ransacked the house at their leisure. They secured $77, and then covering their prisoners up with bed clothes as they lay on the floor and placing a pan of milk at the head of each they withdrew." Near midnight, Wood was able to free a hand and extricate a pocket knife which he used first to liberate himself, then his sister.

The men were “masked ... and wore paper caps” to disguise their identities. (A month following the incident, enamel cloth masks were discovered near Grove Street and were presumed to be the masks worn by the criminals).

The community was so galvanized by the attack upon two of its elderly residents that it offered a $500 reward for the conviction of the perpetrators, and employed private detectives to solve case.

Though it appears that the burglars were never tried for the crime, their identity and the details of that frightful evening became known when one of the two robbers confessed some three years following the incident while serving time in the New Jersey state prison for a similar crime. The robber - Ino Baum - had originally come to Middleborough in 1885 as a laborer on the East Grove Street pumping station, then under construction. At that time, East Grove Street east of the Nemasket River was a lonely road passing through pine woods, marked only by the home of Hartley Wood perched upon the crest of what was still then known as Waterman's Hill.

Idle remarks among the construction crew focused upon the distant house on the hill. Wrote Baum, "I had heard casually that they [the Woods] were stingy and distrustful and would not even trust their money to a bank, although they were rich." From this loose talk, Baum formulated his plan to one day return, and rob, the Woods.

Late in January, 1886, Baum returned to Middleborough in the company of Louis Price, described only as "an Italian," to implement his plan. The two men reached the Wood house unnoticed about 7 in the evening after having stolen a length of clothesline along the way. It was shortly after 9 when the two entered the house, oilcloth masks concealing their faces, with Baum leading the way. "We both had pistols in our hands when we entered the kitchen and I walked straight up towards Mr. Wood. He seemed thunderstruck with fear, and so was the dog, who never moved during the time we were in the house, but lay behind the stove as if dead."

Baum pushed Mr. Wood to his knees, at which point Price attempted to tie him. "When Mr. Wood saw our purpose was to bind him, he commenced to struggle violently and to call out 'What do you want? Do you mean to kill me?'

The ensuing struggle apparently roused Wood's sister who "seemed very much inclined to take a hand in the struggle, calling at the same time with all her might." Baum readily caught Miss Wood, though she continued to struggle, "trying to pull off my mask and to tear my clothes. I was reluctant to use force against her but she kept fighting till I was forced to trip her up and in falling she must have struck her face," sustaining a black eye.

Eventually, both Woods were bound and gagged, but not before Miss Wood could affirm "Oh! you, you'll meet your Judge; you'll meet your Judge."

The house was searched for the considerable sums the Woods were rumored to have kept there, but in this task the burglars were sorely disappointed. Though $200 was discovered, much of it had to be left behind as easily identified "marked or peculiar pieces of money." Also discovered were "a number of bank books and other valuable papers and a notice from the cashier of the local bank, notifying Mr. Wood that the deposits to his credit exceeded ... the amount the rules of the bank permitted to stand to the same name." Not only had the Woods deposited their money in the Middleboro Savings Bank, but to such an extent that the bank was obliged to refuse any additional deposits. In this, the Woods may have been motivated by an earlier 1875 robbery at their house in which $10 was removed from an upstairs room.

The chatter among workmen upon the Middleborough pumping station in 1885 which had provided the rationale for Baum's plan had been untrue.

"When I thought there was nothing more to be found I carried bedding to the kitchen and covered them and placed milk near them where they could reach it .... Before leaving I saw to it that the ropes were so that they might free themselves, after some time, if they made any exertions." Additionally, household goods were deliberately strewn about the front of the house and the front door left wide open in order to attract the attention of passersby in the morning should the Woods not be able to free themselves during the night.

The two men made their escape to Boston and, later, separately to New York where they lost contact with one another. Though Baum avowed that his accomplice Price "was no criminal," Baum, himself, continued to pursue his dubious life of crime which eventually caught up with him in New Jersey.

One wonders whether at the time of his New Jersey conviction Baum recalled the warnings of Miss Wood many months earlier that he would "meet his Judge"? And, so he did.