Deaconess Rivercrest Home
Old Road to Nine Acre Corner
Interviewed September 8, 1993
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Sponsored by the New England Deaconess Association.
Click here for audio in .mp3 format
My father came to Concord in 1930 from Ware, and we came in 1932. My father was a station agent at the West Concord railroad station. There was a lot of activity at that station in West Concord because it was the crossroads of the New Haven Railroad, which came from Framingham to Lowell, and the Boston & Maine, which came from Boston to Troy, New York. That's where they met other trains and went all over the country. There was quite a gang at the station. I learned a lot from them because I used to go down there with my father and many men were there at the station at that time. There was a station agent and a freight agent and a ticket agent. It was very busy. Those times were the days of the steam trains. There was also a New Haven crew there which was run by Mr. John Shaughnessy. Mr. Shaughnessy took care of the New Haven tracks and Mr. Frank Ahearn was the signal man for the Boston & Maine. There was also a tower there, and this tower directed traffic because of the crossover. They had to control the trains that were coming in and going out. Wayne Lawrence and a Mr. Hicks, who had a son who worked for the town of Concord, were the two men in the tower. The nearest two towers to that were in Waltham and Ayer. My father had a lot to do with the shipping because they had a freight house. Concord did not have a freight house, but West Concord did. There was a lot of shipping at that time because of the Allen Chair Company, and the businesses around there that did a lot of shipping, such as Palmer Moving Company. They did a lot of shipping out of Allen Chair. Damon's woodworking, which was behind the present post office, made a lot of fences and trellises, and they shipped them to Sears Roebuck.
The train station was such a vital place because most everyone met there sometime during the day to talk over news and find out what went on in town. I enjoyed it because I found out a lot of things that I would never find out anywhere else in town, such as who was in business, who wasn't doing business, who was going out, and who was coming in. We had a few old timers who used to hang around like old man Palmer, who was the father of John Palmer who owned Palmer Moving Company. Also at that time, there weren't any crossing signals for the people to cross the tracks. So they had these crossing tenders who sat in these little huts, and when they heard a train coming, they would run out and hold up a sign. There was a crossing tender at Baker Avenue, one at West Concord, who was Mulcahy who planted flowers around the hut and everyone used to remark how nice it looked, and one at Conant Street. The one at Conant Street was a very bad crossing. Down on Conant Street in those days was a man that ran a sand bag. The sand was used for molding in foundries, and it was the only place you could get that sand at that time.
There still is a remnant of the original train track which is a crossover called a frog. The funny thing about it is, if you looked at it, it would scare you sometimes because when the train hit it, it would bob up and down. When that was taken out after the New Haven took up the tracks going to Framingham, it was put in the little park that's right beside the train station in West Concord next to Carr's shopping center. I bet a lot of people don't know what that thing is.
My father was a telegrapher. I used to ask him to teach me and he used to say he truthfully didn't know "a" from "b", he was so used to using it, it was automatic. He had a funny telegraph machine because he broke his fingers playing baseball, and so he had a man make him a stand up telegraph machine and he could do it then. I've been trying to find that telegraph machine for the last 25 years. I knew where it went at one time. It went to Enfield, New Hampshire, but I've never been able to find who bought it after that, because I'd like to get it because it's one of a kind.
There was a lot of conversation by telegraph between the stations and the agents especially in the winter when there was a lot of snow. The snow removal in those days was hard work by shovel mostly. They had to shovel switches out. There was a lot of demand for the telegraph because of the freight. They would be checking the trains to find out what kind of load it had on it and where it was going, and they would check back and forth. It's not like today where everything would go to a central station. Now that Fort Devens is closed, that is going to be a national train station where they are going to piggy back the trucks from there and ship all over the country.
After I went through school, I couldn't decide what I wanted to do. There weren't too many jobs around then so I worked for the First National for two or three years. In those days we had three chain stores in West Concord. We had the First National on Commonwealth Avenue, we had the Economy Store which changed to Stop & Shop and we also had an A&P. For that many people it would seem like a lot of grocery stores. Slowly they went out. The A&P went out first, then the Economy was bought by Stop & Shop and they went to Concord, and then the First National went out.
If you start where the fire house is now, next to that was one of the first garages around and that was owned by Ben Derby Jr. Then we go up Main Street and after you cross the New Haven crossing, there was a business that sold cars, Vialle's. Next to that was Carter Furniture. I knew the old Mr. Carter. He was a piano tuner. Mrs. Carter ran the store with her son Robert until she died at 105, and her son still runs it. Across the street was a market. There was a wooden school, the West Concord School, then the Harvey Wheeler School was built and they tore the old wooden school down. Then there was the West Concord Union Church. My wife Kathryn's grandfather, Jeremiah Sheehan, gave $1,000 to help build the West Concord Union Church. On the corner of Commonwealth Avenue was Mandrioli's, the old Mandrioli's, John & Mike. They owned a fruit store right there on the corner. Later on they built a building across the street in front of the railroad station which is where they are now. Next to them was a barber shop run by John Crowe. Just about everybody got their hair cut there because he was a such a character to talk to. Next to the barber shop was the A&P. Going up the street a little way was a furnace man, then next to him was a meat market run by a man named Fradd. A fellow by the name of John Reilly ran it with him until he died. Farther up the street was an Economy Store run by Benny Benson, and next to him was the Prendergast brothers, John and Tom. They ran a market there too where Condon's package store is now. Next to them was a three-story building and in it was a candy store. They were the only people left after the fire house burned down, which happened just before I came here. Then the candy store moved down the street. Up around the corner on Church Street was the Catholic church.
Back down at the railroad crossing where I mentioned Mulcahy ran the gate house, across the tracks was the Hay Shoe Store with the old man Hay at that time. That was a great gathering place. The old man used to pick up shoes in all the towns going into Boston and he'd buy leather for shoes and he'd deliver the shoes. So when he was going into Boston on Wednesday afternoons, he would take four or five of us with him. I was working at the First National at that time, and we got Wednesday afternoons off. That went on for years; they took kids back and forth with them. Next to him was Adams & Bridges, which was a big grocery store. A lot of local men worked in there. Next to them was a hardware store, if you could call it a hardware store. It was an odd place, they sold all the stuff to farmers, glass and putty and all that kind of thing. It was run by a man by the name of Lyons. That was in the building that later became the Elmwood Hotel run by a man named Guy Elms and his wife. There was also a pool room in there where Dr. Pickard used to hang out. In fact, he called it his office. He would wait until a husband would call him to tell him there was a baby going to be born. He would say "How long between the pains? Ten minutes, well, then we can play another game of snooker." Then he would go out to his car and he could never get the darn thing started, so we would go out and give him a push up to the railroad crossing and then he could on from there. After that was a building that was a barber shop run by Joe Mazzeo. Farther down on that side of the street was a laundry run by Mr. Megin, the father of the high school coach, Bernie Megin. In the same building was a little garage run by Krist Andersen, who was a selectman in Concord for a long time and just passed away not long ago.
Now across the street was a garage which was a congregating place for the young teenagers run by Winnie Chaple. He used to keep track of where the kids were in school and what they did. He kept pictures on the wall. Behind that was the Concord Shoddy Mill which was run by Dan Hayes. They tore up old rags and made shoddy and sent it off to be processed.
Then there was nothing for a little bit and then you came to a fruit store that was run by Bartelomeo. He had a flock of kids. He worked for United Fruit in Boston, but the mother ran the store and brought up all the kids. Then there was a clothing store. Next to that was the post office and that was run by old Ben Derby. Then after you cross over the B&M tracks, going toward where the fire station is now was the Ben Derby farm, which is where the West Concord Shopping Center is now. Beyond that was Mr. Wheeler's harness factory and that was where they made harnesses for World War I, the Amish people, and for Sears Roebuck. That didn't close until after I was here quite a while. Then there was nothing to the corner of Baker Avenue. Up Baker Avenue there was a place that made chemicals for farms, etc. that was run by Bill Ellis. After he left there, Andy Boy took over. They were a California company. They took over some farming and they ran the farms down on Nine Acre Corner now where the Nashawtuc County Club is. They raised celery there and they shipped it all over the country. They were there for quite a while. There was nothing else up that road until Dr. Russell and Dr. Tucker built an animal hospital and later the Elks built a hall up there.
My wife's grandfather owned everything on Baker Avenue on the right side all the way down where Concord Greene is. He also owned all the land from there up across Route 2 to the McGrath farm up on Barrett's Mill Road. He had eleven kids and they kept busy. He had a huge farm. The land near the crossing on Baker Avenue was sold to Ed Comeau. He was quite a guy. He was from Nova Scotia and he had a business where he would move houses. He could move houses without disturbing anything. I saw him move a house in Littleton with four fireplaces in it, and he moved it across two ponds.
West Concord was a self-sufficient town. When I came here in 1932, if you said you came from West Concord you really did come from West Concord, you didn't come from Concord. In other words, it was like another world. They had their own baseball teams, they had their own celebrations, and everybody knew everybody else and did things for everybody else. It seems West Concord always was on their own, but there was a lot of good feelings in the town. Most of the guys who worked at the prison were Concord people. You had the white row and the green row houses in which the prison officers lived for about $10 or $15 a month. I knew most of them because I was in the insurance business in 1938 and they were all my clients. There was a lot of farming done at the prison. They raised pigs. They made pipes, big conduits, they made mattresses, and they made all the desks for teachers, not the school desks but the teachers' desks. Of course, as time went on they were hurting other businesses so they gradually stopped. That prison was like a fortress. I went through that place many a night with Major Dee. He ran the place with an iron fist. He knew everybody in there and their problems. I can remember one time in particular there was a heck of a riot in there. Of course, everybody gathered outside They weren't going to give in, they were all out in the yard and they were going to stay there and cause a lot of problems. Major Dee went out into the yard and he said "Now, let's make it fair. I'll take you on one at a time." He walked out through the crowd and not a one of them challenged them. Then after Major Dee died, Mr. Dolan, Bill Dolan's father, took over and Bill, who is the treasurer at the Deaconess, lived in the prison. After Mr. Dolan left, Mr. O'Grady came in. Then they all became political hacks.
In Concord itself everybody seemed to have a maid. The Buttricks had a big family, there were lots of them. I didn't know many of them, but I did know Madie Buttrick. She lived on Monument Street and she had a beautiful house. Every spring she would have a sign up for people to come in and enjoy the garden. She had three or four gardeners, a chauffeur and cooks. On Mondays in Concord you could hardly get a parking place because all the chauffeurs would be in town doing the shopping. Thursdays was the day off for all the maids or "kitchen canaries" as we called them. They would all flock to the station and take the train into Boston.
There was another Buttrick who lived in the house that is now used by the park service, the big brick house. They were a nice family. They were the first family that I remember that had a swimming pool. I knew them very well because one of them had been one of my clients. I used to swim up there in the afternoon. The woman who ran the house told me one time Mrs. Buttrick came into the kitchen and there was an Irish girl working there and they were having strawberries and whipped cream, and Mrs. Buttrick says "Now I know why we get all the small strawberries, you people are eating all the big ones." They had beautiful gardens there.
Now to the New England Deaconess, I'll give you a little background from our 100th anniversary booklet. At the Methodist Episcopal General Conference in 1888, Mrs. Lucy Ryder Myer of Chicago made such an earnest and impressive plea for Deaconesses that the Conference incorporated the Order as part of its denominational system. The work which resembled a Protestant sisterhood filled a great need, and Deaconess Homes were initiated in various cities.
The following spring the New England Conference met in Worcester, and it was voted to institute this work. A Committee was appointed to do the planning and report at the next Annual Conference. Things moved rapidly, and Articles of Agreement for the New England Deaconess Home and Training School were signed on June 21, 1889, and on November 1, 1889, the Incorporation was consummated. On March 28, 1900 the name of the Corporation was changed to New England Deaconess Association. The chronicles of those early days read like whole volumes of the "Acts of the Apostles." The poor and the lonely were visited, sick people cared for, neglected children bathed, clothed and fed and brought in touch with agencies which could provide permanent homes for them.
New England Methodist churches and individuals gave support to this new movement. The medical profession provided instruction to the young women in the Training School and upon graduation these Deaconesses were sent to other cities to help in organizing other groups for similar work throughout New England pleaded for these trained workers. To fulfill the urgent need for a hospital facility, the Association in Boston acquired the house next door. Therefore, on February 5, 1896, the Deaconess Hospital of Boston was formally dedicated. There were fifteen beds, no elevators, narrow halls, and stairways; expressmen had to be called in to carry the patients to and from the operating room; but, there were able and consecrated nurses, and the Divine Blessing seemed to smile upon the work from the beginning -- thus, the early days of the prestigious Deaconess Hospital in Boston.
Sometime in 1910 Mr. Charles W. Emerson of Concord, a nephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson, brought his wife to the Hospital. He was not able to get the proper treatment in Concord for her illness, and while Deaconess doctors did their best, it was a hopeless endeavor. Mr. Emerson was constantly at her side, and he was given a room to be close to her until she passed away on December 7, 1910. He returned sometime later and talked with Mr. Hildreth, saying that he was so impressed with the care and attention given to his wife that he would like to make a gift of 100 acres of land overlooking the Sudbury River in Concord with enough money to build a cottage hospital so the people of Concord and surrounding towns would not have to go to Boston. Therefore, on November 15, 1911, the Deaconess Cottage Hospital was opened, and it was an instant success -- every bed taken. Subsequently, a Mrs. Wheeler of Concord provided funds to build an annex to alleviate the crowded conditions. Up until 1924 the Deaconess ran the Hospital. At that time it was turned over to the citizens of Concord with a substantial amount of land. Records showed that those patients who could pay were charged $1.00 a day. The services of nurses were performed by Deaconesses at no charge. The local doctors were most generous with their help, and the Concord and surrounding churches gave liberally with gifts and food.
Shortly after Mr. Emerson gave the Association the gift of land, it became quite evident that a place to live was urgently needed for the older ladies who gave their many years in the service of their churches and other charitable organizations. These included the Deaconess ladies who were not able to accumulate sufficient funds with which to purchase a home. For a second time, Mr. Emerson came to the rescue, and with Dr. Theodore Chamberlin plans were made with Mrs. Foucar and her daughter, Mrs. Marshall, to build a home with furnishings on out land with the most beautiful view facing the river. This pleased Mr. Emerson so much because he had previously planned to build a home on this land for himself and his bride. The record shows that he was heard to say how pleased Ralph Waldo Emerson would have been to know that his nephew was instrumental in making life a little brighter for so many people both in the hospital and in a new home. The Deaconess Home for Aged Women, was formally opened on November 3, 1913. The Deaconess Home for Aged Women was later changed in 1971 simply to Deaconess House.
In 1960 a home was built on the land for the executive director. The Boston office was closed, and all business of the Association was taken care of in Concord. Meanwhile it became very apparent that the Deaconess should now have health care available for not only their own residents, but also for those persons seeking a caring facility. In 1964 the first step in providing nursing care was completed with the dedication of Wing I. The new dining room, dietary facility, gift shop, offices, staff dining room, etc. were provided at that same time. When I first came here, everything was downstairs in the Deaconess House, the dining room, the cooking facilities, etc. I came here in 1938 to file claims for some of these Deaconess ladies who had insurance. A lot of them had come from China and the Philippines to work around here.
In 1967 the three Chamberlin Apartments were completed, which provided for 12 couples. In 1968 the second wing of our Health Care Unit was completed, followed the next year with the Seth Chamberlin House, a three-story facility for Level IV men and women -- the generous gift of Dr. Theodore Chamberlin. On the second floor is a beautiful solarium facing the river with a splendid view. Right now there is additional building going on for independent living units.
These ladies of the Deaconess Association were great ladies. They had worked with the poor, and they had never much themselves. I worked for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. for forty years. Now I'm at the Deaconess, and I'm director of special needs or special care. I work with Guy Morrison, the Executive Director. You might say anything that needs to be done that nobody else in here does, I do. I do all the banking, all the mailing, all the purchasing of small articles that are used in the place, and I do a lot of favors for people who can't find certain things they need.
I've been in the Concord Minutemen for about 30 years, when it was first started. There was always a charter for the Concord Minutemen, it never went out of existence, although it wasn't active. There were some men in those days like Otis Whitney, Ralph Haskell and Jason Korell, who decided they wanted to start another minuteman company. Dr. Francis McDonald, a pediatrician in town at the time, made a rule that we would only march at historical places or something that had to do with the history of the place. There was no going out to shopping centers or this or that. Then we got in with the National Park Service, and we volunteered our time on Saturdays and Sundays in the early fall to give demonstrations and put on parades. Then the Park Service decided to get difficult. They didn't want us to have the same kind of uniforms because they figured the original Minutemen were farmers and everyone dressed differently. But we decided we didn't want to do that. The wives made our first uniforms, and we had authentic muskets made that were like the "Brown Bess" way back. We all bought our own. It was a couple hundred bucks to buy the uniform we wore then.
Then we got invited to John Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. We weren't really very organized at that time and we had no uniforms because we had just started the group. So, we joined Acton's Minuteman company. We wore black pants, white shirts, black ties and a tricon. Huntley and Brinkley were broadcasting the inaugural parade and they commented "Who are these old men coming down the street?" It wasn't on the program. We did St. Augustine and we paraded in Miami in the Orange Bowl parade. That was a real experience. We had about 90 men that marched. I have to give a lot of credit to Bill Dolan who organized the whole trip. He was the only captain that had two terms. The old timers are gone now. Charlie Byron, Dr. McDonald, John Kennedy, and myself were the color guard for years. But we can't do it any longer. I stopped when I was about 70 years of old. Everybody was part of the Minutemen in the early days, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. It was a lot of fun.
Now it's all different. The group goes out on paid jobs now, and that's not what it was meant to be in the first place. I don't think it should be that way.
I have a lot of good memories. There were a lot of good guys in the town that I knew and followed along over the years who were good guys for the town.