Age 76 & 80
Interviewed November 8, 1993
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Winthrop - We moved here to Monument Street in 1922 and I was just 9 years old. As I remember it, Monument Street was a dirt road pretty much from the Carlisle border down to about Carr Road across from Fenn School. It was paved from there on into town. We lived in what was known as the Robb farm house. This has been considerably added onto today, but it was a lovely old house built about 1800 with the farm buildings attached to it. We simply rented it from Mr. Robb. I remember we paid $30 a month which I thought was a reasonable measure at that time. In relation to our home now, it is about a quarter of a mile towards town on Monument Street at the foot of Punkatasset Hill. That was where we grew up. The house is still there and occupied by a member of the Robb family.
My father had worked with Stone & Webster, which had been founded by Mr. Robb, so he continued to work for Stone & Webster for the first few years we were here and then he retired in about 1932. Stone & Webster was a construction engineering firm. My father's specialty was information service. He started and established the research library and ran that for them for the years we were in Concord.
Mrs. Robb had beautiful gardens. The gardener in charge of the flowers was Pietro Antonangelli and he'd come over from Italy as his cousins did, the DiCicco family. They also worked for Mrs. Robb and ran the farm part of it. Mrs. Robb had some horses and a couple of cows. She owned a lot of land around there. It was a farm and we simply occupied the farm house. It had nothing to do with the farm except it was pleasant to grow up on the farm.
Mrs. Robb encouraged the public to see her flowers. She had a little sign right at the opening on the wall on Monument Street that said "Glad to have you walk through the garden." So people would constantly stop there and walk through and leave little notes thanking her. That went on for many years.
The big farm in the area was the Gordon Hutchins farm which is still being run as a farm. At least part of the land is. Gordon Hutchins had about 600 acres at least half of which was farmed in one way or another, primarily with cattle and apple orchards. So we were lucky enough to have all that land behind our house owned either by the Robbs or the Hutchins or the Emerson family and probably all told, it was two or three square miles of land in behind there that is still pretty much undisturbed. It is either still owned by the families or it has been turned over to the town.
The Hutchins farm had about 40-50 dairy cows and he sold his milk and cream up and down Monument Street primarily. There were several other farms in Concord at that time all selling by truck to the people. You got your milk delivered directly from the dairy. I would say about half of his activities were dairy farming and the other half apple farming. He had to raise all his food, his silage for the cows, so he had vast corn fields around too. Much of the land you see around here that is now open was all devoted to corn in those days. Also he needed to refrigerate his milk and so he cut ice down on Punkatasset Pond which he owned. That was a major operation. He had an ice house down there where he stored all his ice. He always cut it in such a way that any boys or children on the hill could skate on the pond. The area that he had cut out and he usually cut out a sizeable rink to make it good to play hockey on.
My family never owned a car so we did an awful lot of walking. We hiked all through these woods. In fact, I remember one time with the Blaisdell family, who lived on the hill and had several boys, and myself and my brother took a 26 mile hike all around. We went over to Carlisle and over to Westford and back. So we enjoyed a lot of hiking. The other activities during the winter was a great deal of skiing or rather tobogganing rather than skiing, skiing was just coming in, sledding and tobogganing both at Punkatasset Hill and on the north slope of the hill and then on the slopes across the road from the old Hutchins house on the southern slope going down to the river. There was a great deal of sledding there. In those days of course bicycling was very popular. It was fairly safe because there were fewer cars then. In the springtime we picked a lot of strawberries. The Lawrences had big strawberry farms up at the end of Monument Street, and they hired a lot of boys to come up and help pick strawberries. You got 3 cents a box. I remember my first day it took me about three hours to pick 13 boxes and I got 39 cents for it and I thought that was pretty good. The first money that I earned.
We did some trapping. My brother was particularly good at trapping. I had a sort of partnership with a man called Raymond Blaisdell to trap together. I remember trapping mostly raccoon. The Blaisdell family seemed to like raccoon to eat so I got the skin and Raymond and the family got the carcass and they ate it. I got about $5 for the skin. My brother was much more successful. In those days the main trapping was muskrats. You didn't get very much for muskrat but if you were lucky you might get a mink. My brother did get one mink for which he got $20, which was a king's ransom in those days. I think he retired after that.
Some of the other families on Monument Street included the Petersen family who lived where the Fenn School is now. Curtis and Larry Petersen were more my brother's age. The boys I associated with were the Tracey boys. Mrs. Tracey ran a hair dressing business in the center of town. Her husband had died and she raised her three children, two boys and a girl, in an apartment over the present book store. The two Tracey boys were my age and we came up here, and we spent an awful lot of time down at the pond, either swimming or skating or fishing. They had a spillway there that provided a lot of entertainment for boys, damming up the spillway and seeing it release and see what damage it could do in the process. It was a good place to grow up.
Scouting was popular. I went off to boarding school myself just about the time I became a scout so I was only a scout for maybe a year or so. It was very, very popular. The scout troop met every Friday night down at the Episcopal Church in Concord in the same area where it is now. I do remember particularly the Lawrences. I always admired them because I think it was Gill Lawrence that got to be an Eagle Scout and that was the top of the line.
When I was growing up the Laughlins didn't move up here until just before the war. They built that house just before the war. Prior to that time they lived on Nashawtuc Hill. The Peverill Petersen farm was nearby but there were no boys my age, so I didn't know them.
The Macalaster School was a private elementary school that went up through the eighth grade. They sent boys from there on to other preparatory schools and up to college. I don't think it was a boarding school. They may have had a few boarders but it was primarily a day school. It was located right across from the Robb house on the opposite side from where we lived on the current site where the Urban family now lives. I don't know how old the school was, but it burned the year that we came, in the winter time. I think it was 1923 that it burned to the ground. I was very disappointed because my family refused to wake me up, so I never saw the fire.
Monument Street would not have been called the area for the wealthy. I think the Robbs obviously had a lot of money but I think that they were the only ones at that time that you would consider really wealthy. The Hutchins family were well-to-do but they were not considered wealthy. It was like the Lawrences and the Petersens who had established their farms and had been farming for many years. When we arrived that was the kind of town it was, dirt road and Mr. Lawrence provided the transportation for all of us boys and girls to go to public school.
My boyhood experiences have made me desire to see open land preserved. I think it's most important that we continue to do that because, of course, Massachusetts compared to the rest of the country is getting closed in but there is still an awful lot of open land and we can do a lot to preserve it. The town should be very much aware of that, and I think the town has been aware of that in trying to pick up land before it gets built on. The way they have done it is to give a tax break to people who will not build on that land. That's happened to the Hutchins property here. This land that we live on now cannot be built on by an agreement with the Bemis family never to construct on that land. Once that agreement is made, it can't be built on.
I got interested in birding when I was young. The Blaisdell boys, Raymond in particular, were interested in birds and Raymond introduced me to the birds of that time, and that got me started in birding and we've kept it up ever since. This is a wonderful place do that, unlimited woods in behind particularly in springtime with the migratory birds going through.
We're members of the Concord Land Conservation Trust and we've always been a part of the Audubon Society which is also interested in preserving open land.
Barbara - In 1986 at the town meeting we were able to provide the wherewithall to pursue preserving the Heywood meadow, which is that wonderful corner right in the center of town. That all came about because of the Sellers property coming on the market and was bought up by a developer and that corner was a piece of it, although the rest of it was all across the street and up in back of and part of the hill. At one point it was thought that those two lots would be given to the town but that didn't turn out to be feasible for the developer so he put a handsome price tag on that corner. There were a group of very caring, concerned people sort of an ad hoc committee or some such thing that worked together and went to the town and made a proposal to them that if they would pay half of the cost of the land that we would raise the other half. That was quite a staggering experience because the money involved was $400,000 for those two lots. We guaranteed that we would raise $200,000 and the town should match it. We got the message from many people that nobody felt very threatened by that because it was such a large sum, but we were very pleased that after working on that for about four months, we went to town meeting and no one was happier or more pleased than our ad hoc committee.
We became a very close knit group because it was a very short period of time to raise that money and we found that it began to snowball. If you get one big snowball rolling, it's amazing how quickly other people will join in. We had gifts from all over the world. Not too many out of the country but there were some. People who had lived in Concord before had heard about it and it just began to catch on. It was a real grass roots movement.
It makes me realize that the center of the town, although much of it has been filled in with housing and much of the open land has been intruded in many places, there is still a wonderful sense of what I saw when I first came here in 1945 as a bride. I think that seemed to be the last big opportunity in the center of town to conserve green space, and so even today I never drive by it that I don't look at it. It is under the care of the Department of Natural Resources of the town. We really feel that it should not be manicured and turned into some kind of park. It should have as much of a natural setting as it can, and I think it is holding to that very well. So that was a very great experience.
When I first came to Concord, I became involved with the Concord Family Service. That was very interesting. When I first was asked to participate on the board, it was called the Concord Friendly Aid Society. Before that it was known as the Concord Female Charitable Society. The name was changed to the Concord Friendly Aid in 1944. It was pretty much a group of caring women that had been carrying on a tradition of sharing concerns for people in the town. In 1944, just before I came and I didn't join the board until 1947 but nevertheless I was aware of what was going on, they had requests from the school nurse, the public welfare, and various concerned people. Fortunately they had some money left to them, so they had some flexibility in how they could spend it. In 1944 they bought 3,789 quarts of milk for families that needed food supplements and then they also provided 7,135 half pints of milk in the public schools. That is a fairly large amount of money to be concerned with. Most of this information came from the school nurse and the public welfare and other organizations that had been established in the town. They also bought fuel, and they sent children to scout camps and that sort of thing. But then about 1947 it became very evident that the professional social workers were becoming a very effective group of people in working in small communities, so we decided we'd better open an office and have a formalized program so people could find us. At that point they appointed Kathryn Norwood to be a part time social worker. She had her training in social work but she only had the office open two days a week because that was all we could afford. That has pyramided into a very vibrant and vital organization today. We are very pleased that something of that nature could develop into such a professional group, and it is now known as the Concord Family Service. It developed into quite an active staff. You can see where they are today. Although most communities have had problems of one sort or another and people willing to work on them, it has become a very professional kind of situation now because there is so much more available for helping people. I even got to be president of it for three years. In 1956 the name was changed to Concord Family Service, which is now a better description of what they are doing. They've expanded into all the towns around too because problems aren't restricted by boundaries by any means.
I became associated with Marie Arnold, Mrs. Horace L. Arnold, in the real estate business about 1955. She was brought into the real estate business in an association that had been really put together at the height of the depression. It was a small office giving personal service, and I was very fortunate to work with her for ten years. Then when she retired in 1965, she handed the business over to me and it was an extraordinary experience because in all the years that that office had been operating, no one had ever had a written contract, no one had anything but a friendly relationship. We were able to work together and support each other so to speak and it was an unusual relationship and very gratifying. When I first went with Mrs. Arnold, I went to her house over on Simon Willard Road. She had a permit from the Board of Appeals allowing her to have a small office in a residential area. Then when she handed the business over to me, I had a similar situation right here at 842 Monument Street. We had a building here that was partly garage and partly storage and we put a bay on it and that was my office. I had that office from 1965 until the time I retired in 1981. It served a wonderful purpose because by the time customers found us, they'd seen half of Concord, so we didn't have to tell them about it.
When we started, most of our agreements were with a hand shake more or less, but they became more formalized particularly when any of our clients consulted their lawyers, then all the details would be all on paper. In terms of working with paper, everybody stood behind their commitments and we had a wonderful working relationship with the mortgage officers in the local banks, too. They felt that we had done a good job in presenting them with a good customer, and they seemed to be willing to go ahead and work with them, so we just had an extremely pleasant time. I think it was partly due to the fact that the town was smaller and there was considerably less pressure on the town. But then, of course, when you got into the '70s and the '80s, the magnitude of the business was rapidly multiplying. So many of the farms that Winnie had been talking about had been opened up for development, and that meant that many more units were available to be bought and sold then we had ever seen earlier on. I've often thought about the foresight of our town fathers. We've always had wonderful people who have volunteered their time to work for the town in public office. I often think back about the time that Graydon Smith, Tom Flint, and Frank Johnson and that group of people -- they did a very good study of the town and realized that zoning had to come in. We had not had much in the way of zoning up until that time. In fact I think the first zoning act was in 1948, which is amazing that it had gone that long without it. They worked out a plan that would be practical in helping the town grow in an orderly fashion. One of the first things they did was to establish zoning units, not only land units, but also the conditions of the lands. For instance, there are three rivers in Concord, and those rivers have a great deal of wetlands adjacent to them. They are slow moving rivers so that means there is a lot of marshland. They developed protective ordinances to keep that land from ever being built on, so we had floodplain zoning, wetland zoning, area zoning, and as a result of that, Concord has been very fortunate to grow in an orderly fashion.
Being in the real estate business I saw the growth and development of the town firsthand. You're always ambivalent when you're in the selling position or as an agent for somebody because you know what you'd like to see the town do, but the deals you get into don't necessarily follow in that line of thought. You can be quite educational and quite helpful when you're working with people and perhaps spread some of those thoughts to some of the people who would like to misuse the land. I found myself in that role, which is not always a popular role you can be sure. It's been an interesting and gratifying experience to be in that business in this nice town.