Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
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This house that I live in now was acquired by my parents in 1918 right after they were married. It has stayed in the family, although I lived on Shirley Street for ten years when I first got married. Then I bought this house from my brother and sisters in the late 1960s. The Chases owned the house before my parents. Harold Chase was born in this house. He later moved to Prairie Street. Harold was a big conservation person in Concord, probably one of the original. He was part of establishing the Town Forest on Walden Street and the Rifle Range, near Ministerial Drive.
This house was built by William Wood, master builder, who was the master builder for the White Row on Commonwealth Avenue for the people who worked at the reformatory. He built this house and the one across the street. These were the last ones he built, and he lived in the other one here on West Street.
My parents were John and Margaret Condon, and I have five sisters and one brother. They were Mary, Dot, Peggy, Claire, Ann and my brother Jack.
Growing up here was very rural, not many automobiles, and Main Street or Route 62 out here was a dirt road. The Hudson-Marlboro trolley went all the way from Arlington to Bedford to Concord and through West Concord into Maynard. I don't remember too much about that. West Concord was known as Concord Junction then.
On a hot day we walked down to Warner's Pond to swim. The beach was established by Charlie Hamilton who was a guard at the reformatory. He was responsible for getting some of his men under him over at the reformatory to bring sand in and create a nice beach with a raft. We had a lot of nice times there. We also could get a boat there either from the Windheim's, who still live down there now, or Carr's. I think you could get a row boat for an afternoon for 25 or 50 cents, and you could go fishing. Warner's Pond is almost right in the center of West Concord. The Pail Factory bridge on Commonwealth Avenue is where the dam is, and as you go up Commonwealth Avenue heading toward the rotary would be Warner's Pond behind those houses on the left.
I was a boy scout in troop 33. We were fortunate enough to have some scout masters like Jim Denton, Harold Chase and Horace Fletcher. The island on Warner's Pond is still called Scout Island. In fact as I understand it, it is still owned by the boy scouts. The town owns the pond and the land around it, but the boy scouts still own the island. So a lot of camping was done there. We made a couple of row boats up at Damon's with Dick and Henry Harmon. Dick Damon was a school friend of mine. Henry Harmon lived on Warner's Pond and he was a good carpenter. Winslow Damon was affiliated with the scouts as well.
Rideout Playground was the place we played. We had teams for sports. Some guys who were in college would work at the playground in the summer and form a lot of teams for sports. Tom Hanley and Bernie Meaghan were two of them. Bernie created a lot of sports. He was later a high school coach. There was a kind of friendly rivalry between Rideout and Emerson Playground. There were always ballgames. Of course you didn't have buses in those days so transportation was a big thing at that time. Somehow we got to other towns like Bedford to play.
Route 2 was being built in the early 1930s. The road used to come down toward the rotary and right down Elm Street into the center of town. But then they built the rotary and Route 2 and branched off toward Lincoln. It was certainly there during the 1938 hurricane. I can recall a dirt or gravel type road in the early days. The highway also provided some employment for people. The big thing was water. Everybody always needed water. They had these water tanks and the water boy would get a couple of pails and get the water for the men using picks and shovels.
West Concord was like their own village right here. I think the first big grocery store came into Concord Center, First National Store, but otherwise we had everything here. And, Maynard was the shopping center. We also had a separate post office and a separate zip code for a while. Before they built the new post office the old zip code was on the front of the building. Later West Concord became a sub-station of Concord which may have been between 1965 and 1970 and the zip code was changed to one. The post office in West Concord was very active in the days of the blueine company.
I went to Harvey Wheeler School in West Concord for all eight grades. I went to Concord High in 1937. I'm not sure how many students were in the high school. It's hard to imagine, but you knew everybody.
My father was a grocer here in West Concord. In 1918 he was called for the war, but he didn't have to go. After he came back, he opened a grocery store at that time down in the center right next to the 5 & 10. Then at the time of the depression he finally had to give up the store and he had a meat cart. He drove a panel truck around, opened the back doors and had all his meats and dairy products, and went house to house. He did that until 1937 when he applied and received the second liquor license in Concord, and he opened up the store on Commonwealth Avenue where it still is today. The initial fee for a liquor store license in those days was $300. I'm not sure how many thousands it is today, but it remained at $300 for quite a number of years. It got to be a big deal to the selectmen and the townspeople when they increased the fees for licenses. Up until at least about 1950, it just remained like that. Your business was in those days more for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Come January you didn't do any business. My father would close up for a while and go to Florida. A lot of the merchants did that. How they did it, I don't know. It's amazing when you think of it.
When my father passed on in 1956, my brother and I took over the business. We sold the store in 1995. I worked there part time from right after the war when I got out of the service. In those early days the Allen Chair Company, Whitney Coal, Damon with the woodworking plant in back, the reformatory workers, when everybody got through work, they came down into town and a lot of them came into the store, the so-called regulars and got their supplies. In those days it was in the package and you took it home, and that's how the stores got known as package stores. A lot different than it is today. People's drinking habits have changed a lot. In the early days, there were only a few different kinds of wines that sold. Top shelf was Harvey's Bristol CrÃ¨me, very expensive and very nice to serve in the home, but the lesser wines were the sherrys, ports, maybe a little marsala. The extent of wines is not like today. New York State came in first with the wines which were very good, and then in the 1960s and 1970s the wineries in California were starting and now there are imports. In the early days, scotch and bourbon were favorite drinks. In the really early times the Flintlock drink was a favorite at the Colonial Inn. It was a mixed bourbon drink. They may still have it on their menu.
Women wouldn't come into the store except on rare occasions. That all changed in the late ‘40s after the war and into the ‘50s.
My uncle, James J. Mansfield went into World War I. He was my mother's brother and worked at the reformatory. I didn't know him but I understand he was quite a gentleman. He was the first soldier to be killed in World War I from Concord. He lived on Bedford Street. So my grandmother was the first Gold Star mother and had the Gold Star in the window. We grew up with that. In fact, my name is James Mansfield Condon, named after him. We were always brought up with that — the flag always hung down on the farm on Bedford Street near St. Bernard's Cemetery. The James Mansfield American Legion Post was at one time very, very active and was named after him.
Fred Childs, Freddie as everyone called him, lived on Lexington Road and he ran an Inn. But he also ran dance classes at the Girl Scout House on Walden Street. He would have so many girls and not too many guys who wanted to go to dance classes. But somehow he convinced some mothers like mine to have their sons go the Friday night dances at the Scout House. It turned out to be a lot of fun. The girls even today can tell you how we acted and even what we wore.
Bartelomeo's had a fruit store where the 5 & 10 is now and a candy store and sold ice cream. The Mandrioli brothers ran an identical store on the other end of Commonwealth Ave. just about where they are now. Actually they started where the 99 Restaurant is now. There were many grocery stores. In addition to my father's, there was First National and Young's. There were barber shops — Joe Mazzeo's, John Progue??? and Charlie Lombardo's. He was in our building. Prendegast Brothers had a grocery store and Benny's grocery was right next door to them. The West Concord Drug Store was there. Otis Whitney's father first started the drug store and then Glen Swett bought it. There was Adams & Bridges grocery and C.J. Hay's Shoe Store and R. J. Roddy ran a hardware store all underneath the Elmore Hotel, and the Kiwanis Hall was upstairs. The Association Building which they took down was over the post office. And there were many small shops that I recall — a men's shop, a dentist named Davis. Tootie's restaurant came later. He was known for his Italian food. They had their special nights. Then later on there was LaHiff and they were in the sandwich/lunch business, but I don't think women went in there. Hogan's Spa burned down but that was a candy store and they had sandwiches and lunch that they served the teachers at Harvey Wheeler School. That was where the seafood store is now. Then Hogan's got a beer and wine license sometime in the 1940s and the teachers had to stop going there.
Jim Powers, Pete Mandrioli and myself formed this little corporation and we bought little buildings and so forth and one of them was where Hogan's Spa was located. It burned down one night probably around 1960. There was a parcel of land left there and the Hudson National Bank showed some interest in coming to West Concord with space for the drive-up window which we did. They came in 1970 and stayed about 18-19 years. Then they bought their own property where they are now on Baker Avenue and became Community National Bank.
Dan Hayes owned a lot of property on Main Street. He owned part of the old powder mill. He and Glen Swett bought all that vacant land up there. Slowly but surely they would sell off lots particularly on Route 62. A lot of working people around town could buy a lot from Dan for about $1,000 in those days and build a modest home. Then he graduated a little bit up to Thoreau Hills. He sold that land and then in the end Frank Panetta bought the rest of his land about 20-25 years ago and built all those nice homes up there. He was responsible for building the Musketaquid Club which is a nice club up in the woods. He owned the Concord Garnett Mills in West Concord. I think they took the raw wool that had been cured with oil and cleansed it and then it went out to the mills to be spun into cloth. That was right near where the Edwardson and Soberg gas station and the bakery is now.
Concord Woodworking was first up by Damonmill on the corner of Water Street and Main Street. They manufactured a lot of garden fencing and furniture and painted it up pretty. Then that burned down and they had this big tract of land behind the post office and that's where they put in a big complex. They made the first snow fencing. John Damon's father started the mill and John took over after his father died. They did a lot of work for Sears Roebuck. They made all their furniture. Eventually they moved up to Londonderry, Vermont.
I went to Our Lady's Church here in West Concord. We were altar boys. That was a big part of our life. The church was very active, as it is now. They had penny sales and all sorts of things in back of the church by Harvey Wheeler School. They had the annual dinners and so forth. Most everybody on the street went there. We were married there. The church comes up to its centennial next May.
Each section of West Concord had its own neighborhood. The reformatory area was one section. Each section had a name too like pirates, eagles, etc., again for baseball and football games. Crest Street was the Sheehans area. They owned the Comeau property which is now Concord Greene. Up here on Central Street, Main Street was another area. Then you had the Cousins Field area. Bob Cousins owned that. They had greenhouses and grew mostly carnations. They supplied the Boston flower market and even cruise ships.
The railroad was very important in this area. There weren't many automobiles so if you went to Boston, you took the train and went directly into Boston. At the other crossing you could go from here to Framingham. The two tracks created the junction. We never went to Framingham much. But once you got into North Station, you could get anywhere even up to Hampton Beach in the summer. Of course the freight came in. All the businesses had freight brought in. There were always freight cars down there. Then they finally took away all that freight yard area, that freed up a lot of nice land. But that was the way business was done in those days. The last big land area was where they built General Radio. When they took the tracks off Route 2 that sort of killed all that.
In about 1973 there was a real rebirth of pride in West Concord as a cohesive community. The Junction Function was a real celebration of that. In those days you didn't have Christmas lights everywhere. The town didn't have the money. So the merchants got together and not only bought the lights they strung across the street but they also put them up. Out of that we'd get together and have a Christmas dance or party. That was when it was revived — the Village Improvement Association which hadn't done anything since the 1930s. For about 15 years we were pretty active. We had a parade every year and we had bean suppers and dances at Harvey Wheeler. There were a little historical tours done by Bob Carter and Marian Wheeler which were nicely done and well attended. When we sort of faded into the sunset, the younger people took over and they've done a wonderful job on the West Concord Festival.
In the 1960s I served on the Recreation Commission. It was not what it is today. We had the swimming lessons at Walden Pond and that was when the big battle went on to close Walden. The county commissioners were in charge, and Concord got squeezed up for a couple of years, where we used to have the whole beach. Eventually the state took over and practically closed it down. The swimming lessons went to Warner's Pond one year and then went to Whites Pond. Then when Walden was rehabbed, I think Concord went back for a short while. That was a big thing as well as the playgrounds. I was on the commission with Elsie Kennedy, Eddie Madison, and Roger Fenn. The playgrounds were the big things — which was Emerson in Concord center and Rideout.
I was also on the 1975 celebration committee. I had the sports in the '75 celebration. We had one big weekend just before the 19th of April. We had baseball games, a track meet and tennis. A lot of old timers were invited back and it was just a special day. It was a lot of fun.
My wife is very active in the West Concord Women's Club which celebrated its centennial this year. So we're both very active in this community.
Some other businesses I wanted to mention was mostly old 1781???. They're long gone but they were a big part of West Concord and herein this area a long time. They included the Findlay Manufacturing Co. which later became Bradford Furniture. Findlay took over the Allen Chair business and made desks and chairs. That was on Bradford Street. Also there was the Whitney Coal & Oil which was where Junction Square complex is now. Concord Garnett Co owned by Dan Hayes and J.R. Kelly Trucking who hauled all the wool out from Boston every night. Those were where the gas station and bakery is now. The Concord Foundry was an iron works business and they were right on Commonwealth Avenue at Winthrop Street. Then we come down into the avenue to Dom's Market run by Dom Ancio??. It was a little local market. He was there a long time. Across the street was the Home Products store which was started by the Beharrells and then the Moscarello family took it over. That was where Phillips Hardware is today. That was where Frank, Gerry and Joe Moscarello started. Now they're up on Route 62 at the Maynard line. Across the street the 5 & 10 was not where it is now. It was up near where the florist is now. Also Becker Auto Motor parts were there in that same building. Tombeno Brothers was where the 5 & 10 is now. That's where they started. They were there mostly through the ‘60s. Then up next to Hay Shoe Store was the Gail Mark Shop run by Mrs. Barron. That was there for quite a while. When Mrs. Barron died, Mrs. Hay bought it and ran it. Then we had the Concord Webbing Factory where Carolyn's Pecans is now. They employed a lot of women. Lloyd Cram from Acton ran that business. Then Boston Gas had come in and also Arcadian Utilities. He still has the sign out. It was run by Holly Holden and Jennie Holden who was his mother. Jennie made these wooden dryers made out of dowels. She was also quite a piano and organ player as well as the harp. Then we had the shanty at the railroad crossing. A fellow named George Turnbull was the gate keeper. The interesting thing about George was that he was an upholsterer and people would bring down things for him to work on. Then we go on down the street to Charles Lombardo Barber shop who was in our building.
Another thing I forgot to mention was the selective service or draft board. It was in West Concord since the 1940s. I think they went to Maynard in the 1970s but they were in our building for a number of years. Then we had Mrs. Gates's Breakfast & Lunch right across from Mandrioli's. Chicken Land Restaurant and Sons Barber Shop which was on the corner which is now Tim's. Prentiss & Park Electricians had two storefronts there. They were pretty big and they did the electrical work up at Nuclear Metals. We had The Yankee Trader which was a second hand shop in a big barn where the White Hen is now. Across the street was The Owl Shop which was also a second hand shop. Down the street we go to Carl and Frank Marine where the donut shop and pizza place is now. They sold marine products and motors. To back up a bit where the Gatehouse is a fellow named Watson owned that building and he lived there as well. Don Hall and his Christmas trees came in the late ‘50s and ‘60s and have been here ever since. They're a big part of the West Concord community every Christmas. Jennie Holden knew him from Maine and brought him here.
Then we had Ray Beatty's Concord Bottled Gas and he eventually ended up across from Damonmill on Main Street. Bill Hogan Insurance which I think is still under the same name, but it originally was Prendegast, and Bill bought it from Prendegast and now they're over the hardware store on Commonwealth Avenue.
I was talking to Bob Carter the other night and he's as bad as I am at remembering these names. Such as the guy who ran The Owl Shop, George who was also a printer, and we can't remember his last name. He was originally a printer and then opened The Owl Shop.
Charlie Lombardo's Barber Shop was where the Teacakes Shop is now. They went out and we fixed another place up for them. That block is known as the Condon Block as my father bought that from the Bartelomeo family in the 1950s.
I'm really happy to pass along this information about West Concord. Somebody may come back and look up where a relative ran a business here.