William "Jack" Mattison
105 Mattison Drive
Interviewed October 29, 1997
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Just two days ago on October 27 a special Town Meeting with a tremendous turnout was held and the Mattison land consisting of 43 acres was overwhelmingly voted to be purchased. When my three brothers and I decided that we would like to sell the land and with the stock market ever increasing, we decided we would like to sell instead of holding land. There are some problems in holding land such as your insurance problems, liability problems, and we made a decision about a year ago. When we put it on the market in April or May, there were a number of developers very interested. In fact I had 22 different firms talk to me. I had half of dozen solid, solid offers and at that point the neighborhood became interested, Marion Thornton became interested and they found the Trust for Public Lands, who came onto the scene.
Being a former farmer and loving to see open land, I entertained the Trust for Public Lands offer to try to negotiate with me to find an equitable price for the land, which we reached in July or August and at that particular time I wanted to get it over with quick. They wanted me to wait until the spring Town Meeting, and I felt if we negotiated a price now and then wait until spring Town Meeting, the price might change drastically so I wanted them to take it immediately. There were three appraisals that I received - one on January 1, 1997, another one June 1, 1997 and the last one October 1, 1997, the price went from $3.1 million all the way up to the last one that has not come in but it is between $3.9 and $4.1 million. So the value of the land is still increasing. We came in at the price of $3.1 million which was the January appraisal. In fact the town had an appraisal and they came in with $3.4 million, so even a conservative appraisal shows that the value of the land is fast increasing. We made the agreement and I hope that the money will come through within a couple of months, and hopefully the market will stay low so I can put the money in the stock market.
The $3.1 million that the Town voted on was actually reduced somewhat because of private fundraising. The Town's portion of $3.15 million, the actual figure, was originally supposed to be $1.75 million and because.... Well, there were three aspects of the figure, the town's money, the state of Massachusetts was coming in with $400,000 and private donations of a million dollars would make up $3.15 million. As private donations came in at well over a million dollars, therefore at Town Meeting we heard the figure at $1.41 million as being the town's share as opposed to $1.75 million. So that's how much the private fundraisers had gained on it.
The Trust for Public Lands is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, California. They have offices throughout the country and help organizations such as the Concord Land Conservation Trust buy up land. They do charge for their service which enables them to maintain their office and pay the salaries of people such as Badge Blackett, who I have to say did a heck of a job in organizing the troops to not only raise the money needed from public funds but to organize it so that the townspeople got behind it as a whole. It was an overwhelmingly unanimous vote. There must have been 90% yes. I didn't see many people wave their "no." It was a good feeling that the town really wanted to get behind this project.
This is considered a debt override so the townspeople on November 4, next Tuesday, go to the polls and by majority vote solidify the Town Meeting vote. A lot of people including my sister, Martha, worked for months putting this together as did a group of neighbors that worked with her and then it kind of spread out throughout the town with conservation minded people. One thing I might say is that the Trust for Public Lands as I mentioned earlier does charge and the charge is $200,000. There is a difference between the $3.15 million base said that I was receiving and the $2.95 million that I actually am receiving, which was by agreement. That is the actual income to me is $2.95 million.
The Concord Land Conservation Trust helped the group fundraise. One of the things that made it a lot easier for the fundraising is that a donor came in and gave them matching funds up to $500,000 so that the first half a million dollars they raised was matched to make it $1 million. That is an anonymous donor, I have no idea who it is, so the first half million was easy. On top of that they almost came up with another million so that it went well over the $1 million goal, so that's how it ended up.
Over the years all of us, and when I say us I mean farmers and former farmers, have to rotate the crops to keep a healthy soil. The soil gets a little thin, you've got to put on some kind of cover crop that will make it hold together a little better so you don't have the dust bowl effect so you can grow corn and then change to alfalfa or I remember somebody mentioning on that particular field, this 43 acres, asparagus was grown. There were patches of asparagus, in fact when you grow asparagus once, it always comes back a little bit. Then it was pastured and strawberries were grown on part of it, and right now they're growing big vegetable gardens. I have Tony Scimone farming part of the land, about six or seven acres. Tony is intensely farming those acres with squash, tomatoes, beans, peas and whatever he thinks is proper at the time. So if you rotate your crops you keep a healthy soil and if you work it correctly you'll have that land forever. It's a great feeling. Now when we talk about the Nine Acre Corner area, of course, it was probably one of the largest asparagus growing regions if not in the country but in New England. Outside the Connecticut River Valley and Florida, Nine Acre Corner produced vegetables for eastern Massachusetts exclusively. That ran all the way from where Nashawtuc Country Club is through Steve Verrill's farm and up the street through our farm. In fact my father grew asparagus the first few years they were here and probably through the Second World War. That's one of the back-breaking jobs of the world is cutting asparagus. I'm glad we got rid of the asparagus actually.
My family bought the Williams Farm on Williams Road in 1935. I was born in 1936 and my memories go back to just before 1940. When I was four years old I remember seeing things happen on the farm. My parents were Bill and Betty Mattison. They are both deceased. My father died in 1972 and my mother died in 1982. There were six children and I'm the oldest. I came back from college in 1959 and took over the farm at that point and ran it until we sold out in 1986. We started early on as I mentioned with asparagus and we grew some sweet corn, but we liked dairy farming more than market gardening. We grew a lot of potatoes but back during the war if you could make a dollar here, make a dollar there, you did it. It was shortly after the war that we got into dairy farming exclusively. When your dairy herd increased, you took up more of the available land for growing crops for the cattle. There was no market gardening after 1946. I remember building a new barn in 1946 which housed 50 head, so we went from a little barn where we were milking 20 head up to 50 head, so that was more than doubling our milk production. We concentrated on dairying from then on. The breed was Ayrshire and that was what Ayrshire Lane up off Mattison Drive is named for. A lot of the people wondered what that meant. But Ayrshires are kind of a middle of the road breed. They produce almost as much milk as the Holstein and almost as much butter fat as a Guernsey, so they are right in the middle. We always thought they were the best breed but one of the reasons we got into raising registered Ayrshires was that we were looking for a breed association that didn't have so many members that you just became a number. We wanted to work with the people and know the people and in fact, it may have been Ruth and Caleb Wheeler, who I believe had Ayrshires before we did, who talked my parents into going into Ayrshires. The Wheelers were on Virginia Road. In fact they called their farm Thoreau Farm. We spent many times hauling cattle around New England back in the ‘40s and early ‘50s with the Wheelers to shows, fairs, sales and whatever. Also all of us at one time or another ran for office with the Ayrshire Breeders Association which was located in Brandon, Vermont. My mother was the director of the association for four or five years and I ran and in fact I lost my first election so I never became a director of the association but I worked with the association for many, many years on a lot of promotional events throughout the country. Our farm was known as Arrowhead Ayrshire Farm. In fact there was a sign hanging in front of the property that said Arrowhead Ayrshires, and it showed two cows and an oak tree and it was stamped out of sheet metal and made by a Mr. Webster, who was head of stamping pressing, foundry, horseshoeing and a lot of other things at the prison. That's what he taught at the Concord Reformatory. In fact on the side he always did the shoeing of our horses especially when we didn't roam down to Concord Center to Mr. Moreau's blacksmith shop near where the Stop & Shop was and Crosby's is now. Many times we had to drive a team of horses down there or whatever else we needed work on. Of course this was during World War II because I remember it was hard to get gasoline. We didn't drive the car or truck as much as we would like to, we still used horses a lot. Mr. Moreau was there until the bowling alley moved in which must have been about 1955 or 1956. I think I was away at college.
At the height of our dairy farming we had well over 200 cows, probably about 225. At one time we're milking 125 and you always have young animals and bulls for breeding purposes, so it was probably 225 animals. Economics says you have to get bigger, you have to produce more milk to stay in the business, so we went to a free stall operation shortly after Steve Verrill went to a free stall operation. Free stall meaning the cows don't stand in one place in a stanchion, they're free to go anywhere they want, they can eat anytime they want, and they can roam around and go lay down if they feel like it. When it's milking time they line up at the door and wait to be milked so instead of going to the cow to milk, the cow comes to the milker. Also one person milking could milk six cows at a time as opposed to in a stanchion barn two or three at a time is the maximum, so you really double the work that one person can do.
Back in the ‘40s I remember the other dairy farms around included Verrills, the Wheeler farm very close to Verrills, and Fred Jones had Old Acres dairy. His land is the 43 acres that we've just been talking about earlier. We bought that land from the Jones family in 1972. Moving up on Virginia Road, Caleb and Ruth Wheeler and then the Nowalk Farm on Lexington Road and then there were family dairy farms all over the place. I remember counting as a middle school or early high school project the number of farms in Concord. We counted whoever had a cow was a farm, and we counted about 40. Forty people owning a cow and this would be in let's say 1950. I would guess by 1960 it was down to about 6 farms. That's how fast it went because milk delivery changed, the supermarkets were coming in at that time, and made it very convenient to go down and buy the milk as opposed to going out and having to milk the cow twice a day so cows went out of style as a family pet or a food source. As did after the war the victory garden. It became less and less visible or viable. People still have gardens but not like they used to.
On our farm we never pasteurized or homogenized or did anything to the milk. We sold it to a dairy and we started out selling it to Old Acres which was Fred Jones. Fred sold out in the late ‘60s I guess. We then started selling to DeNormandie & Verrill who had the dairy down at Thoreau Street and Sudbury Road. We sold to them until they stopped their operation as such and did more selling of ice cream and not doing too much of the standardization, pasteurization, whatever. From there we went to Blue Ribbon Dairy which was located in Bedford. I believe Blue Ribbon is still operating as a dairy selling the milk to institutions, schools, hospitals and such. There was an organization that came out of the sort of chaos that was starting and that was Agway, a big milk cooperative. Today we hear about Cabot Farms in Vermont. Then it was Agway establishing itself as a distributor of whole milk products to smaller dairies. So they became a central clearing house. Along with them was Hood and Garelick, which is in Franklin, so those were the big three in this area. They came with a tank truck and picked up the milk every day. We used to sell milk to Fred Jones and the Concord Dairy in 20-quart and 40-quart jugs that we kept cool until they either picked it up or we delivered it to them. The last tank I had was a 1500 gallon stainless steel refrigerated holding tank that they backed up with their truck and drained the milk. It was a completely new operation and it also became very expensive in that we always had the milk jugs washed by whoever we were selling the milk to, they were their jugs, they'd empty them, they'd wash them and send the empties back to us. We all of a sudden then found ourselves having to increase our hot water capacity from an 80 gallon tank when all you had to do was wash a couple of milking machines, but now we had a quarter of a mile of pipe line, six or eight milking machines to sterilize and wash, and plus this tank that had to be washed every time it was emptied, and the chemical supplies were becoming outlandishly expensive as opposed to a few years before. I've talked to Steve Verrill about this many times, that due to that and the regulations put on the dairyman it became almost impossible to continue producing milk and making it pay for itself. We laughingly called ourselves a non-profit organization. We didn't want it that way but that's the way it worked, and that was tough when you couldn't make enough money to give yourself a decent salary. That led to the end in the early ‘80s. I don't know where you can find a cow in the town of Concord now. Steve may have a few and Nowalk Farms may have a couple over there. But Steve was the last dairy farmer in Concord until his auction in 1990.
We were able to work with a very small crew after we got out of market gardening. As you can imagine potatoes, asparagus and whatever we grew took a lot of people to pick every day and then we employed a lot of high school kids. After we got into the mechanized operation, where we had baled hay and I went to the large bales which weighed a half a ton a piece, there was three to four of us tops. One person was milking the cows regularly and then somebody else would fill in on his day off and three of us doing all the cleaning of barns and the field work. So it was a very small crew as opposed to back in the ‘40s and ‘50s where hand labor was more prevalent, less machine work. In the ‘60s and ‘70s we had two balers and five tractors, we had two tractor trailers that were hauling hay. In 1965 to 1968 we had to start renting fields all over town. Not that we didn't earlier, but we started baling and trucking in hay from as far away as the far side of Sudbury and Framingham, up into Westford, wherever you could find a decent sized field, we'd try and rent it to grow hay and bale it. So we had two tractor trailers and during haying season they would be working home at the farm and at other times when they weren't needed on the farm, we'd lease them out and for many years we hauled for Acorn Structures, which is modular houses that is now part of Deck House. We also hauled fertilizer for Agway for years and years. So we could make use of the trucks more than just during for farming. Later on we bought some extra trailers and we would truck livestock all over the country but more in the winter than the summer so it didn't conflict with the growing season, haying season and corn harvesting season.
In the old days back in the ‘40s, the part I remember the most is farming with a team of horses and baling hay in places such as where Whittemore Street is now and all through where Riverdale Road and Southfield Road are. That was all Victory Lee stables in there, and they had way more hay then the horses that Mary Abbott owned so that we would come in and mow all the hay there. There are many a times that I drive by now and I don't know where those fields were exactly but there were some big fields where all those houses are now. Another place is if you drive up Main Street across into Maynard on both sides of the road, the old powder mill, we baled a lot of hay up in there. During World War II, I can remember many a time we'd leave the horses up there for the night to save the trip back when they were mowing hay with horses. You would always hear something was blowing up at the powder mill and my father was jumping in the truck and going to make sure the horses hadn't run away or been killed. There were a lot of explosions coming out of that powder mill back in those days.
It was fun because in those days I can remember watching the horses when I was about six or seven years old and then when I was about nine or ten I would drive a team of horses back to the farm with a load of hay from the powder mill over the back roads. Now this is Old Pickard Road or Old Marlboro Road. We didn't know them by those names back then, it was the back roads - gravel roads, one vehicle wide. The horses knew the way better than I did. We would start right from there and it would take about an hour and a half to get home. By the time I got home my father and whoever the hired man was then would have the truck loaded with hay and we would all get home about the same time because they could come faster than I could. I'm always amazed at how much we got done with a team of horses and one tractor. It was a great time.
The entire Mattison Farm was about 300 acres at our maximum size. We started out with 80 acres on Williams Road. The first purchase after that was the Crossley Farm which was on Old Marlboro Road at Harrington Avenue. It's still being farmed by the Rogers family and the South Meadow Ridge is at one end of it. We bought that in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s and farmed that. Then in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s we started farming the Jones Farm. In conjunction with that early on there was a farm over in Sudbury just across the line called the State Farm and that was a state nursery I believe and they had some hay fields there. The farmer right in front of them, Hazen Davis had a farm there. He milked about 30 cows. He and my father were almost partners, they bought their first hay baler together which was a step forward from loose hay. You could handle a lot more hay more quickly and easily then you could with loose hay. So we used to farm the state farm along with Hazen Davis. Fred Jones later bought the old state farm. The state decided they didn't want to grow any more roadside trees so Fred bought it and pulled the trees out and grew hay and corn there for many years. In fact I think Steve Verrill still farms part of it. Until we went further afield to find places to grow our hay and corn, we started very small.
Farmers are always looking for land to rent. The closer to the main farm the better because you can spend half your life hauling machinery up and down the street. Getting there with a truck that's one thing, but with a tractor with whatever planters, plows or harrows, it's a slow process and when you start getting more than five miles away from your base of operations, you're spending half your waking hours transporting machinery to and from distant fields. As I said we got two tractor trailers. We were forced to do that because we were getting so far away that we had to move equipment and so much hay in a day that we needed large capacity. I can remember bringing home maybe a ton of hay a day, loose hay. Later we were bringing home 50 tons and maybe more in a day. It became a big change and a big change in the way you did things. You have to have open space but it has to be close.
In 1986 we stopped the dairy operation and decided to sell some of the land. The first sale was 150 acres. It was mostly woodland and we sold it which is now Mattison Drive, Alford Drive, MacMillan Drive, Ayrshire Lane. That 150 produced about 40 houses in 1987. The town had an option to buy the land. The way I structured the sale I sold 150 acres but I restricted all the field frontage so that across the street from the main farm along Williams Road is still open fields just like there always was and along Old Road to Nine Acre Corner. We put most of the houses in the woods, off the fields, left the pond open, left the pastures open and the frontage fields open. Another 50 acres went the next year and that is now called South Meadow Ridge and that was a condo development all on the ridge, left all the fields open again, all the frontages open. The developers bidding on the 43 acres on Old Road to Nine Acre Corner knew that they couldn't touch the frontage. All the houses would have to be up on the hill and in the back, so the frontage would be left open. I try to leave the fields open so they can continue to be farmed in one way or another.
The town turned down the 150 acres in 1987. The selectmen turned it down. At that point nobody made a move. At that time the price was $5.3 million. I think I offered it to the town for $5 million. We might say and remind us all that the land is in Chapter 61A farmland under restriction so the taxes are reduced on the farmland so you're not paying house lot taxes, and that gives the town the first option on any sale of the land. When you do sell to the town, you have to give the town back the difference in taxes from what you paid and what you would have paid for five previous years. There is a formula and it all works out, and I think the town got back somewhere in the vicinity of $75,000 to take it out of Chapter 61A. I assume they didn't have the negotiating company like the Trust for Public Lands. They were probably not an organization ten years ago, but if they were, they certainly weren't working in this area then. So the 150 acres went for $5.3 million and the 50 acres went for just over $1 million.
I've moved within Concord. I'm now at the Milldam Square renting a condo there, and I'm building a house in Acton at Bellows Farm which many people remember in the old days as Drop Kick Murphy's sanitorium. It's a great little house. We're going from 7000 square feet down to under 3000 square feet which is a need for us because we also bought a house in Arizona so now I have two houses where I can spend the winter and the summer appropriately.
During my years in Concord at one point I served with Dr. Tucker on a study committee to see whether or not the town's use of DDT was appropriate. This was when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring came out. We found it was not appropriate and made the recommendation that has probably ended the use of a lot of pesticides in the town. From there I was moved on to the Natural Resources Committee for a while. I also served on the Finance Committee for a couple of years and then we ran into a minor problem of organizing the Board of Assessors to start a computerized appraisal. The Town Manager Paul Flynn asked me to serve on that as somebody who knew how open land should be appraised. There were three of us, Annabelle Shepherd, Wren McMains and I started that and that lasted six years. It was the beginning of our computerized appraisals. There were many other people involved in the later years but that was back in the ‘70s. Other organizations I have been a part of include The Rotary Club, a member for 36 years, and the Elks. I was a member of the Nashawtuc Country Club for a while and later joined the Concord Country Club and became president of the club, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.