Interviewed August 8, 2000
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Click here for audio in .mp3 format
Also present at the taping are Mary's husband Thomas (Fred) Brown and neighbor Carol Dwyer of 245 Main Street for whom Mary is a favorite long-time Concordian.
The house at 66 Belknap Street was built around 1899. The house next door (east) was built about 1902 for the McWalters. The house at 66 Belknap was built for Thomas Joseph Powers (born in Ireland - Tramore near Waterford) and his wife Katherine Agnes Dempsey, who was born in Concord and grew up in the house at 1 Grant Street, Concord.
This house was ready to be moved into in 1900. It's looks quite moved into, doesn't it? My father had this house built. The house next door here (at 64 Belknap Street) was built approximately two years after this one in 1902 for the McWalter family. That was Dave McWalter's grandfather. He was the first Maurice McWalter and was both a lawyer and an insurance agent. His son Maurice became a lawyer and associate judge. And then he had a boy Mac who is a lawyer. One son became an insurance agent, and one son became a lawyer and then a judge.
My parents Thomas Powers and Agnes Dempsey were married at St. Bernard's Church. My mother's father was Terrence Dempsey who had a brother and they came from Ireland to Concord.
My mother and Mrs. McWalter were about the same age and were very close. Mrs. McWalter moved in two years after my family. They visited together just about every day. I grew up before there were many automobiles around here. John Whitney lived across the street, and they had roomers, and one of the roomers who was a physical education teacher had a car. It was a Model T or something. The McWalters had a car. Madeline McGuire lived in the coach house which is now Belknap House on Main Street, and she had a car.
It was wonderful to grow up in a neighborhood like this. The street makes a turn down by David Little's house. He was such a wonderful person.
I used to collect for all the causes like scarlet fever. It was a big problem in those days. You had a sign on the door. We had just been to Boston the day before I got scarlet fever, and I had bought a world atlas as a present for my cousins. The doctor said that had to go out of the house and down to Waltham or Waverly where the contagious disease place was. Anything that might have a germ had to go out of the house. My doctor was Dr. Hutchinson. He lived in the white house where the Clymers live on Main Street and Carol Dwyer lives next door. I never was a sickly child but I did have problems with my bowels when I was younger and he being so handy recommended pig paste, so I grew up on pig paste. My mother made it and I ate it.
I think my father and mother went to Dr. Titcomb who was on Sudbury Road on the opposite side of the street from the library. John Mutty (owned Mutty & Terrill Buick on Walden Street) was a businessman who lived in a couple of buildings that were in back and they were either houses or huge sheds that were made into a house. But before that he had lived in Daniel Chester French's studio on Sudbury Road.
Lake Walden was a great resort place. I didn't go to Lake Walden until I was in school. I took swimming lessons there, and we had to take the bus from the train station to go to Walden. We all had a crush on Harry Bumpers who was the bus driver. The terminus was Harvard Square. Later on when I was a teacher I had his daughter Joanne Bumpers in one of my classes up in Maine. I never did walk around the lake. Everybody seemed to say have you walked around the lake yet, but I never did. A lot of people came from the city to spend the day at Walden. They had bathhouses down there and they had state police barracks across the street.
My father was a great walker. He walked constantly. He was a postmaster on the railroad. His train ran between Boston North Station to Troy, New York. He was clerk in charge and he used to go right through here so my mother could wave to him. One day she cooked up a nice lunch and put it in a dish and the youngest McWalter, Mardy (Margaret), was around, and she asked her to take it over to Mr. Powers when the train came in. The train came in and Mardy went around the corner by the stores and the train left. A couple of minutes later Mardy came around the corner again with the dish still in her hand. The train was just too big for her to get close to, so I guess we all had an extra piece of pork chop. At that time they used the trains to deliver and pick up mail. My father boarded up there in Troy with a nice widow, an older woman and her boy, and they lived near a nice park. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was there, and my father got to know a lot of the boys. He would work one week and then the next week he would be at home preparing for an exam. They were constantly adding new stations and new mailing places. He got to know all the postmasters in the towns where the train went through.
My father took a small mortgage from Judge Keyes who lived on Main Street where Rev. Greeley lived. But he paid him back as quickly as he could. Judge Keyes and his wife were invited to my parents 25th anniversary party in the backyard. Judge Keyes told somebody in the group that Tom Powers was the only one that he had done business with that paid his mortgage back within a year.
Mrs. Keyes had an electric car. One day my mother and I were walking downtown and we were about where the library is now, and Mrs. Keyes came along and she sort of slowed down and asked if we would like to ride the rest of the way, so we did. So we felt pretty snooty getting into the electric car.
There were several blocks of stores here, and my mother got her meat at Whitney Market which was at the farther end of this first block. The other side of the railroad tracks was called Back of the Depot. The Italians were over there. They said the Irish people built the railroads and the Italians built the roads. My mother was born over there but way down almost to Sudbury Road. They had a beautiful house. Her father died when he was only 38 leaving a wife and seven children and one to come. My Aunt Rose was born three months after her father died, so she didn't ever have a father around. Belknap Street was called High Street in my mother's time. Next door to my mother's house were the Harringtons who also had eight children. The cattle show grounds were up at the end of the street. That was not there in my time, mostly in my mother's time.
I marched with the Girl Scouts. We had our meetings at the old Ripley School which is now the Hunt Gymnasium. I was a kindergartner in the Emerson building across the street and I was the teacher's pet. They'd have reading periods and she'd say now children I'm going to sit up in this chair and you're going to be comfortable at your desk and we're going to have reading hour. Then she would beckon me and put me on her lap. Imagine doing that now. You'd be fired. I mean if a teacher touches a child now. Different times.
My disability was to laugh or giggle. One day we had a sub and I giggled too long, and so she said, "Out, young lady." So I had to go out the door and stand in the kind of disagreeable school smell in the hall. She shut the door. But who came in the hall but Wells Hall the superintendent of schools, and my father was on the school board. He looked at me and said, "Mary, what are you doing out here?" I couldn't talk because I had tape around my mouth. He asked if the teacher put that on. He said, "I don't think we're going to see too much of her from now on." He said, "Take my hand" and we went into the room and the teacher's face kind of dropped. He said he was bringing the child back into the classroom and she won't be going out there again.
Wells Hall lived near Emerson Hospital. He had a big family and I used to play with the kids that lived next door to him. They used to invite me up to dinner and one of my joys was climbing around their hen house out in the back yard and playing games out there. There was only the little cottage at the hospital at that time. They were just putting up the nurses' home.
I taught at Emerson Playground one year and I taught at Harvey Wheeler three years in the summer time in the recreation program. I used to take the kids on picnics. I'm thinking now you wouldn't dare take 10 or 12 kids with you and go wandering off into the woods or fields. We would go up on Commonwealth Avenue and up on Annursnac Hill. In those days you got to know everybody.
My father used to do a lot of shoveling and he'd always make a snowhouse for me. It would really be almost as high as this room and he'd make a door. I think the winters were much harder then. Behind our house we had a nice open area of land. We have a picture showing my father standing by a cow and the cow had been grazing in the field. My Uncle Bill lived on Grant Street and he had a huge garden and a hen house with hens and squab. When they knew I was going to come over to see them, they'd give me a lunch before we'd go play or walk in the field which is now all those houses off Sudbury Road. My Uncle Bill used to take me to see if we could find Indian heads in that area. That area went way out to the river.
My husband lived right next to the river on Main Street by the boathouse.
I worked at the Alcott House off and on over 40 years. A man who was the curator at the Fruitlands in Harvard and his wife and daughter went to England and were in a restaurant. They saw a family sitting at a table near them and they heard them say, we just got back from America and it was so nice, we saw this and that. You know we went to the Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott and we had a very interesting tour guide. And the family overhearing this said that definitely sounds like Mary Brown. They told how they enjoyed their trip here and how they enjoyed Mary Brown. One day I had a group of sisters and one of them had on a lovely necklace and when we were through, I mentioned how pretty the necklace was. She took off the necklace and gave it to me. She said she wanted me to have it because they liked the tour so well.
I met Kathryn Hepburn. Her niece was at the School of Philosophy giving a reading one Sunday afternoon and Kathryn had come along for the ride. She was sitting in there because she probably had heard it all before. So I got through with my tour and I came back in and we had quite a chat. I never forgave Kathryn for the mess she made of Spencer Tracey's life. Of course it takes two to tangle but I never really forgave her for that.