Interviewed September 25, 1997
Memories of the sights and sounds and commercial life of the Thoreau Street Depot and life in the neighborhood "Back of the Depot."
Francis Magurn - This was the railroad waiting room and was quite popular. This was run by a superintendent and two or three fellows. The main office of telegraphy was here, Western Union. They were the sole communication up and down the railroads in the ‘20s. They had telephones but all the messages, all the freight, and all the railroad news went back and forth on the telegraph wires here. The telephone operator used to intrigue me. I've always lived on Hubbard Street or Sudbury Road. There was a center here with stores and shops such as meat markets, everything was here. In those days there were no supermarkets. Mother would send me to Frank Cutler's store. Across the street here were two stores. On the right was Bartolomeos for years and Frank Cutler was where the Concord Package Store is. He was like a little grocery store. He carried a little bit of everything. The next little couple of stores was J.H. Whitney, which was for many years, the sole supply of meat. There was also Byron's store. They supplemented each other. What one didn't carry, the other did carry, but they were primarily groceries and provisions. Right here would have been a livery, McManus Livery. I don't remember who was here first but McManus took over in the late ‘20s. Later there was a Chevrolet dealership here for many years. Even McManus had put a bowling alley in here. Then as you get to the corner of Sudbury Road, DeNormandie Dairy was there in the late ‘20s. I can remember when this was all a big field on both sides going down Sudbury Road.
The telegraph office would have been on the train side. The main office of the Railway Express was here where Coggins is now. Everything was shipped by train then in that era. Express office here, newspaper office here, McGuire's newspapers, and he carried not only newspapers but periodicals. Bear in mind a lot of people in those waiting rooms were good customers. Where else could you buy the paper and this and that. He had a very good business. He kept several boys delivering papers. I had the route down on Monument Street to the Old North Bridge. I ran that for a couple of years, and finally after a few cold winters you grew up and into high school and you stopped that, but it provided a couple of dollars and that was a lot of money then. You could buy a new car for several hundred dollars. A bicycle would cost $18 or $20, so a few dollars a week guaranteed was pretty good. The paper cost three cents.
The Railway Express shipping clerk was on the other side of this building, and everything that came in went through here. He was like a receiving clerk. If people didn't pick things up during the day, it was stored here. You can't imagine all the activity here. There were 15 or 20 terminal positions around here Â¾ the Express office, McGuire and all his paper boys, the station agent and two or three assistants, then the ticket office in the inside.
On the side there was a semaphore station up here where you can see the tracks coming from both directions. The fellow who used to control the signals was in that building there and would signal from on top. Of course, trains didn't travel that fast then. The amount of baggage and freight all along these platforms you couldn't believe. As I say, in that period of time, the railroad was the central supplier and the central meeting place for everything. Everything was shipped by rail. My father was on the railroad from about 1912 to the ‘70s, almost 50 years and he saw it all. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service. In those days, every train had a baggage car and a mail car. Every single station picked up the mail. It was delivered to them from the post offices and then they had to sort it before the next station, throw it into a bag and make the connections. As a matter of fact, they had to practice delivering to slots at home on their off time. Al still has one of those little cubby holes.
Of course, there was a little gate house down there. They had a gate house at either end. Hand cranked and even these fellows were full time. There was a lot of employment when I look back connected with running the railroad and all the various businesses around it.
They had a siding that used to run right beside that and they used to dump grain there. It was a big business if the railroad put a siding in. That was quite popular in West Concord all up and down the line. The other thing was all the coal that was brought in here. That was intriguing to watch the trains go chugging down to switch down there behind the Stop & Shop. That little sandwich stop was the weighing station for the fellow that ran the coal yard. Today I think you can still see the outline of the scale. There were two ways of doing it. Tear and going weight - tear meant you drove right in, tipped the weight and when the coal came out, subtract that from the total and there's your bill.
This was a thriving place. In the mid and late ‘20s we were intrigued by railroads. Actually we used to get a ride on the steam trains. We used to go down behind the Stop & Shop, switch it and bring the coal up and dump it into the bins. That was a big thrill. Of course, today you wouldn't be allowed to do it. But I did get a ride when I was 12 or 13. My father was running the Boston to Albany route three round trips a week and I rode a steam locomotive. This was strictly in the days when you spoke to somebody and say well, if you are a good boy, you can do this.
Wilson Lumber was here and then a big freight storage area was here. All these buildings had like a long piazza with an incline so you could run trucks up and load up. To see them take automobiles out of freight was exciting. I always remember my uncle bought a 1926 or 1927 Plymouth and the day it was delivered here.
I think Jim Powers' father hand tended the gate right here at this crossing here. Those little shanties had to be manned 24 hours. As a kid you would always stop by and the fellow would always have the coal stove going on a cold winter day, and the fellow would always have something to give you, a piece of candy or something. It was a slow life compared to today.
Steam trains always intrigued me but I never did get to run them. Like every boy growing up you either wanted to fly an airplane or run a train. We looked up to the locomotive engineers. I'm still a hobbyist of model railroads. I still have a Lionel set in the cellar to play with the grandchildren. They're intrigued with railroads. In the early days when they used to visit me, I have six of them, so with my model railroad set in the cellar I can simulate the old days.
There were a dual building where the entrance to Stop & Shop is now. A fellow ran a woodworking shop in one part and there was a blacksmith shop over to the right, the Moreau Brothers. Many days we used to watch them. They used to put steel rims on wheels, and they had a big fire out in the yard, and they would shrink it to put on the wooden wheel of the car. By the late ‘20s and early ‘30s the automobile really came in and everything started to change. The railroad started to go downhill. Trucks took over for transportation. The passenger service is still good. I can remember the railroads here went down to the bottom. Now they've come back.
Here on Byron Street. Tom McGann lived in the dual white house here. He had a blacksmith shop also. There was no trouble getting the work, people came to them. As soon as the motor transportation accelerated, they went out of business.
And of course, the depression came along in 1929 and ‘30. We were fortunate that my father had a job. Many people were out of work for a long period of time. As kids we didn't realize how lucky we were.
All these houses were here at that time. Some have been renovated but the style is still there. They were real working class families. There was real diversity then. We miss that in Concord today. Every single nationality contributed something and they got along fine. There were Irish and Italian and they played baseball together. My father owned the house on Hubbard Street where I'm living and he rented his house to a Jewish tailor, Sam Arkin. Sam lived there a couple of years. I remember the old rent was $55 a month.
There were a lot of children in this area. I came from a family of nine. Five or six children in a family was average in those days. I was born in 1914. At that time these streets were oil surfaced Â¾ after the gravel they put oil on and kept adding. The cattle show grounds used to be back here. When I came along, that time was fading out. There was a baseball field there and I remember the cattle show grounds structures were falling down. I was told there used to be a horse track and the old judges stand was falling down. As kids we played baseball here. There was a game every night on the cattle show grounds. We didn't have Emerson Playground like they have today. A lot of the fields on the periphery of the town were used for baseball. That was a big sport then. We started in February or March and played right through until September.
Now on the way to Belknap Street. This was the blacksmith shop and actually there was a fellow named Neeley that had a little harness shop in there at the same time. There were a few motor cars, but time wasn't of the essence then. Everybody wasn't watching the clock. We used to walk to the store just as a matter of fact. I remember Mrs. Thompson way up on Fairhaven Hill had a car but a lot of the time she would ride her bike to the local stores. People all around Hubbardville, you know a half or three quarters of a mile away, they walked to the stores to do their shopping. This was called "Back of the Depot."
You know we talk about the old asparagus league and they had a very good team from here called The Back of the Depot team. There was also Hubbardville, Herringville, Sleepy Hollow. They had a six team league, and they went at it every night of the week. Well, you see there wasn't any other diversions. Everybody didn't have a car.
Pat Carey - I was born in 1920 and I've lived here all my life. Primarily this old neighborhood, called "Behind the Depot," was comprised of Irish, Italians and Norwegians. There may have been a few French Canadian. But they all melded together and supported one another. We had our differences as far as culture, but if there ever was an emergency or anything came up, everyone would help out. There was a great comraderie as I remember growing up. All these houses along here were built by Mark Loftus and he was a man without a country. He was born on the high seas, and that was the time if you were born on the high seas, you had no country. Now, if the child is born on high seas, they take the nationality of their mother. We used to call him grandfather Loftus because he was well in his upper 90s when I was a youngster. When the railroad came in, he had built the house next door where he lived. Then this one was the next and he built that for his two nieces, then there was a house next to the Loftus house that he built that the DiCiccos lived in. Then they had that house moved up the street on rollers. I remember so vividly. You could see Mrs. DiCicco preparing the dinner as the house moved slowly up the street. Then the railroad evidently told Mr. Loftus that if he built a couple of other houses along closer to the railroad, these two houses out back here, he would get a gold pass from the B&M, which he had all his life.
The house directly across the street is the old Jenney home and it was originally a store, just a little general store. This was way before my time. Going up the street, before you get to the cattle show field, that was where the old Thoreau house was which has now burned down. Mrs. Castle lived in that house. The Hoseys had the double house just along side of it. The old Thoreau house was set in on the field and adjacent to that was originally the pencil factory. I remember when we were kids that was a great hideout for escaping from the prison because they would come there, and as kids, we used to bring them food, and they would wait to hop a freight train going west. There were a number of escapees then. Oh, we weren't afraid. Nothing bothered us.
Then there was the cattle show field where we used to have circuses. If I remember correctly, Ringley Brothers was there at one time, and an elephant died and is buried up there. They had to dig a huge hole. That whole area, that is now where Elsinore Street comes around and was built up after World War II, was the whole cattle show field. There was a bicycle track there. Remember Joe McGann? He was a bicyclist. They used to have real races. That was before I was a child but I remember the circus. There were some small circuses that would come because it was a siding on the railroad that they could park at, and they would march the animals up the street. I remember as a child too there was a barnstormer came in on one of those straight-winged aircraft and landed up on the cattle show field. He would take people up for a ride. Oh, I wanted in the worst way to go for a ride, but my father wouldn't let me go up. If he ever knew the millions of miles I have flown, he would turn over in his grave. My father was a painter. He had his own business with Johnny Hagerty.
Then of course the river at the end of the roadway was a great swimming hole for us. The kids used to try to fill in some of the sand because it was rather muddy, and we used to swim up there as kids. There was a rock farther out on the river that used to be our diving board. On Sunday nights when we were children we used to picnic up at the cattle show field. The grass was like silk. It was just beautiful. There was a spring up there. That was the best water you could ever drink. We used to bring a little dipper with us. We'd bring our sandwiches but we would drink the spring water for a beverage. I can still taste that wonderful water. When Macone bought up the land and started to put houses there, they capped the spring. I don't know what happened but it's not functioning. It's too bad, it has the best water in Concord.
Also, every spring there would be a brush fire in the cattle show field. I know my brother helped it. They used to play baseball up there and the quickest way to get everything ready was to just set fire to it. It was inevitable. You'd hear the little fire truck go up the street and here the place would be burning. Every single spring. It was regular maintenance, and of course, the firemen knew that too.
If you went down Grant Street and into Byron Street was McGann's blacksmith shop which was quite a gathering place. As kids we would use the old horseshoes and we had two stakes put out and play horseshoes. Everyone would gather around there and get the town gossip.
Herb Neeley's shop was where Wilson's Lumber Yard was. We used to play hide and seek in the lumber yard when we were kids. Down on Sudbury Road we had coal sheds and also there was a blacksmith shop which was Moreau's, but that was kind of off limits. Old Gus wasn't that hospitable to the populace.
This was a great neighborhood for children. We had the run of the street. Of course Grant Street had a little hill and we used to coast there in the wintertime all the way down to Sudbury Road. We were self-sufficient for our play time and all.
Priest's Cleaners is now where Byron had a grocery store and Whitney had a meat store then. Where the liquor store is now that was the Tuttle's grocery store and then John Bartolomeo had a store that sold ice cream, newspapers, some bread and things. Then you came to the stables, McManus's stables, and eventually when that came down, they had the bowling alley there. Benoit had a Chevrolet dealership there later. This would be pre-World War II time period. Donovan had the barn here that had horses. John Powers was the groom. It was popular to have stables spaced all over town.
The Railway Express office was where Coggins is now and they had a couple of storage barns and stored things until they were picked up. My father used to have paint sent to him. They would get these drums of oil and things like that. He'd go get the key from the Express office and go over to the barn and back up his Model T and take the things up to his shop up on Sudbury Road at the Hagertys.
My father had a riggers license and used to do the rigging. They would have to rig a big house like the Magurn house on Sudbury Road. They don't do that any more. They do it all by ladder. He would mix everything himself. He had a tremendous color sense.
This is a very old neighborhood. Originally Belknap was High Street and then when Ulysses S. Grant came to Concord for the centennial celebration, they wanted to name a street for him so they named Grant Street.
So many of the Irish people who came over from Ireland came to Concord because they had people here before. They didn't come through Ellis Island. They were sponsored. My great-great-aunt came in 1830 and was shipwrecked off of Marblehead and rode horseback to Concord to get married. Then everybody from our family came and they started off from here to go off to wherever they wanted.