Development of the Riverdale/Southfield Road Neighborhood

Ruth Hayward, Age 57
Marian Hayward, Age 92
57 Riverdale Road

Ruth Larsen, Age 85
67 Riverdale Road

Rosemary Cogswell, Age 79
70 Riverdale Road

Interviewed November 25, 2002

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

The Riverdale/Southfield Road neighborhood was one of the first post-World War II developments in Concord. The interview is taking place at the Hayward home at 57 Riverdale Road.

Ruth Hayward — The Riverdale Road subdivision was application number 15 to the Town of Concord. It was developed by Laurence and Barbara Clark. There appeared to be three sections of it that were developed. In addition, there is an abutting division called the Southfield subdivision which was application number 25 and that was done by Fred Wheeler. Part of it abuts Riverdale Road so that in the early stages of development, housing was built on both sides, both from the Wheeler property and from the Clark property. The actual developer was Laurence Clark, but there obviously was a very close working relationship with Fred Wheeler who was the abutting landowner.

Ervin Monsen was the actual builder of the house and he worked with an architect named Harold Wright. What they appeared to have done is that they would buy one of the lots from Clark, then design basically a center entrance Cape with a small breezeway with the kitchen in back of it with a garage. The first three houses that were built, as far as I can tell from the applications for the permits, listed them as the architects and builders. They used basically that design and then they made minor changes in each house so they weren't exact cookie cutters of each other. They were center-entranced Capes with sort of an open living and dining room that went the width of the house. They are basically a two-bedroom house, a large room that was living room and dining room, and a kitchen. That was very true with all the houses when people came here, with the exception of the house at 36 Riverdale. That house was originally a Royal Barry Wills design. It was a two-story Garrison house built by two brothers called Whidden. That was built in June 1950 and the first owners there were John and Mary Coughlin????

Our subdivision was built in 1948 through 1949. Riverdale Road was approved in 1949. After that things took off on both sides. Wheeler began selling lots because people were buying by 1950. Monsen was going down the south side or our side of the road, and he was building his houses. It appeared that people would buy a lot and then build either on speculation or for somebody or on occasion sometimes people would buy and build themselves. There seems to be some variation when you look at the building codes.

The road itself went down to what is now the junction of Riverdale Circle and Garden Road. As he went along, then there was a second development that Clark did. Essentially he continued Riverdale Road and extended it down almost to the river. Then he built what is now Riverdale Circle and he built houses on the south side on Riverdale, and what is now Pilgrim Road. I should modify that and say he established and sold lots in these places. As far as I can tell, he personally did not do any building. He was in the real estate business not the building business.

By then, Caleb Wheeler had sold Fred Wheeler property and Fred expanded his subdivision. He had a chunk of land that we now know as Southfield Road. It was the part of Southfield that goes to where the road curves and all the way to Riverdale Road and then around the back of Magurn's house and then back to Southfield, and included all of Southfield Circle. Eventually, Clark then came and finished off his development because he owned the land that ran between Wheeler and the river. When he did that, then Southfield was extended further south and went down and made the loop that comes around and joins at the junction of Pilgrim and Riverdale. It's amazing as you look through the building records, how many houses and lots were sold singly and built singly. I didn't realize that until I got to dig through those files.

This map I'm showing you right now is the Concord aerial photography map based on 1960. As you look at the map and use your creative imagination, we're probably talking about 30 to 50 acres that were developed in the whole area.

Marian Hayward — Somebody told us there were a few houses in Concord, and my husband was in the service and was going to retire. He wanted to look in Concord because he didn't want to go into Boston. As I remember at the time we looked all that had been built were occupied, and I didn't see another one except for this one. I think it was finished in 1949 and we bought in 1950. [couldn't make out a lot of this] When we were looking, the realtor showing it to us said he bought his house from the builder, and he said you could probably contact him and buy it from him and save yourself a few dollars. So we went to find the builder and went through the house and of course he gave us the price of $11,000 or $11,500. Apparently somebody was looking at the house and we just got their first.

Ruth Larsen — We were the other people looking at the house. We had been talking to the agent and the agent had accepted something but somehow hadn't gotten around to telling the builder so there was a little disconnect in communication.

Marian Haywood — Periodically she reminds me that I bought her house. It was certainly not done purposely, it was all above board. It was just the way it happened. I think it's a fun story.

Ruth Larsen — That's just the way it worked. We came after. We lived in Cambridge in a two-bedroom apartment with two children. My husband and I were anxiously hoping to buy a house. At that time they were advertising dream houses in Natick for $10,500. Well, we couldn't afford that much money. We were hoping they would come down in price, but of course they never did. So anyway Harold was watching the paper and he saw a house in Concord advertised. It was on Sudbury Road almost out to Route 2. We decided it was kind of nice. Mr. Monsen built it. We put a $20 deposit on it. Then afterwards my husband said he didn't like the roof of the porch and there was something he didn't like. He said, "I don't think we want to buy that." Of course, we lost our $20.00, which in those days was quite a bit. We kept driving around and we saw a "for sale" on this house here, Marian's house. That's why we looked at it. Fred Boyd's was the agent. So we contacted Mr. Boyd and he said, "Oh, yes, you go there and I'll come down with the key." When he arrived with the key, he said, "I'm sorry but the builder has promised it to somebody else." So he said, "Well, why don't you talk to Ervin Monsen and see if he'll build you a house. There's land around here. And I think he would be willing to build you a similar house." So we went looking for Ervin and he was working over on Potter Street. We talked to him and the house that we were going to get on Sudbury Road was the same pattern as our house. We told him what we would like so we signed the papers. In August 1950 he started building and the Korean War had started. He called me on Labor Day and I was heartbroken. He said, "I don't think I can go through with it. I can't get the materials, I can't do this, I can't do that." So we told Mr. Boyd and Mr. Parker who was the banker in Lexington. He said, "I know what the trouble is, he wants a little more money." So he said, "Maybe we could compromise. You add on $250 to your amount and Ervin will take $250 less." It worked and he went to work after that. The war went into the background. So we paid $11,900. That was more than $10,500 that we couldn't afford. But we moved in December 21 at 67 Riverdale. On Christmas Eve that year Marian's husband, Captain Hayward, came knocking at the front door dressed in his uniform welcoming us to the neighborhood. I thought that was pretty nice.

Rosemary Cogswell — My husband and I lived in Cambridge in an apartment and we had one child. It was harder to move the crib out into the living room because he came home at 11:30 at night, he was a newspaper man. We decided we'd like a home in the country. I wanted to live on Brattle Street, however we went to Lexington, Wayland and Woburn and Winchester looking because we knew Winchester was on the train line. Then he thought Concord was on the train line too so one day he came to Concord to look and went to Fred Boyd on Main Street. Fred showed him #70 which is a ranch style in the building process. He spoke to the builders who were there, Murphy and someone else whose name escapes me. Then he took him over to Old Marlboro Road where there was a house exactly like this one and the woman very graciously allowed him to go through. As it got a little further along he brought me out to see it, we were quite captivated. It had a nice backyard. So we paid $14,500 which was more than we could afford. This was in 1954. Our family started expanding so we built ourselves a house on Nut Meadow Crossing and moved out there in 1961. Then the children started leaving and the house got a little big and we were looking around for a smaller house to go back to. We looked here and there and we weren't too happy with them. Then my husband said "What do you think about asking Mrs. McKenney if she would be willing to sell?" She was always talking about going back to Maine when she retired from being a school teacher and principal. So I said well all she can say is no. So we went the next morning and spoke with her. And she said, "Why don't you let me sleep on it and I'll tell you tomorrow morning." And indeed she said, "Yes, you just gave me the push I needed." So the rest is history — we're back in our actual house, #70, we had before.

Ruth Hayward — Rosemary's house is part of the stretch of the Wheeler subdivision on that side of the road. On this side it was Clark's side. Clark ran his road right down the edge of the property and abutted right up to Wheeler less two feet which he retained for I think negotiating purposes. But the two of them eventually finished all the roads and they ran together.

Ruth Larsen — Over on Southfield Circle when they started building over there, my father and mother moved in because we were here and I was an only child and they wanted to be near. So his was the first house on the circle that was built. They came in 1952.

Ruth Hayward — When my family came, there was me and my brother and one of the things they discovered was that when you lived too far out in the country, you spent an awful lot of time playing bus. Bus somebody here, bus somebody there. One of the things they were looking for was a place to live where we could also walk to school. I came as a junior in high school and my brother came in sixth grade. He went to Peter Bulkeley and I went to the high school, which was what is now Emerson Umbrella on Stow Street. As a matter of fact I was in there this year. My class has its 50th reunion in October, and one of the things we got to do was to have an escorted tour through the old facilities.

It was the landscape when you walked to school. You walked down Sudbury Road and there were a lot of trees and old houses and you would go around the corner on Riverdale and all of a sudden, there was this blinding light. There were no trees and the houses were lined up here and there. I told Rosemary the other day that in the late 1950s, early 1960s, I was part of a working group that met in Chicago every couple of months, maybe three or four times a year, and flying home one time I realized that American had a flight that the flight pattern was almost over Concord that I could look down and I could see this familiar looking curved road and great big massive field, and all of a sudden on one side of this field was a barn and then all of a sudden I realized they were familiar looking houses all the appropriate colors lined up along side the barn that I realized I was looking down at the family homestead. I don't think you could see that now because of the trees, but then it was very pronounced. You knew exactly what it was.

The high school at that time was not a regional. It was Concord High but students came from Bedford and some came from Lincoln. The Carlisle kids had always come to Concord. I don't think they came from any other place. We had the largest class and we were the 100th year class. I realized looking back at the yearbook. We had 131 students. That was fairly large for 1952. Most of them have done quite well. This is the first reunion I had gone to. Outside of the fact that I recognized people who didn't recognize me and people recognized me that I didn't recognize, it was the usual. It was fun. I was glad I went.

Marian Hayward — We had a nice blacksmith shop right down on Sudbury Road. I think it was Moreau. I was so sorry when that went because it just took some character away.

Ruth Hayward — What is now Chang An, that complex was Wilson Lumber. Most of our houses were built with supplies from Wilson Lumber. One of them at the time, I think it was Larry Kendall, told my father that.

Ruth Larsen — Because the lumber came from Wilson's, they were better built, but I think we had good builders. Ervin Monsen hired good builders. The houses below us we didn't think were quite as well built. There are little things you see in these houses…

Marian Larsen — Even when plumbers and workmen come in here, they say there is good plumbing in here. I didn't ask them, they just said that.

Ruth Hayward — There is not a plumber who has come into this house who has not at one time said oh, the real thing. So I think they did well.

Ruth Larsen — Wilson Lumber was part of a movie that was made here in Concord.

Ruth Hayward — The depot was a working depot. The railroad express office is where Bedford Farms is now. The waiting room existed then. It was fairly good sized for going into Boston. It wasn't closed in the way it is now. It was what you would think of as a proper train station. Where LaProvence is now was a Triple A market. The one that went up to Acton and that is now Donelan's. It was just a nice sized market. They carried wonderful meats. Where Friendly's was DeNormandie & Verrill had a dairy there. Fred Jones had a dairy too. And milk was delivered to the door. And I remember the bottles that in the winter would freeze and the top would raise up.

Rosemary Cogswell — With regard to the milk being delivered, we took from Fred Jones when we lived on Nut Meadow and one time when we got it, the cows had gotten into the onion patch and there was a different taste.

Ruth Larsen — Perhaps we haven't mentioned the stable that was out here.

Marian Hayward — We could see them out our kitchen window before the addition was there. We could see right out the window and the horses would peek out the windows. We would be sitting there eating our breakfast we could see them. What was that bird that used to come at that time too?

Ruth Hayward — It was one of the swallows, I think.

Marian Hayward — No, I don't think it was the swallow.

Ruth Hayward — I remember the swallows because they used to dive bomb the cat. The stable was called the Victory Lee Stables. At some point I think it was part of the French property. It would have been at the time when they owned what is now the Abbott house and the whole big chunk of land. It would have been Mary Abbott's father because at some point it obviously began to split up. When I went back and looked at some of the deeds, Weed must have been renting the stables. But around 1945 when Laurence Clark began to split off his holdings, there is a deed where he essentially legally passed to her. At one point it says Edith Weed with a "y" and one place it says Edith Weed with a "i" and another place it says Dorothy Weed and I think they are all one in the same person, because I remember her being called Dot.

There is an interesting thing where he gave her a right of way but it was sort of a temporary right of way, but then eventually they worked their way through so by the time he finally had his road and stuff designed and things, she had the access which is known as Victory Lee Road but was never an accepted road. She would have liked for the town to accept it but they didn't. For one thing it wasn't wide enough and another thing it just went directly out to this large piece of property. It was essentially a dirt road and that is what it is now. I found the note from the town attorney at the time and went back and did the search until about 1924 and you can see how it gradually became used as a road.

Ruth Larsen — It was a boarding stable and they had about 10 or 12 horses that they could board there which was rather nice.

Marian Hayward — Her husband had died and that's when she went into that. We used to see them riding and that was fun too. But usually they would rent them out to some of the camps in the summer time. Mrs. Weed was telling us one time that she said there were never more than 10 horses in there. She said that was as much as she could handle. She was pretty much a one-person operation.

Ruth Larsen — But then it changed.

Ruth Hayward — It got to the point where she thought she couldn't carry it any longer. She talked to dad at one point and tried to get him to buy it. He used to go out and catch the horses once in a while when they would get out. He liked to ride. The horse would get out sometimes in the yard here. But this past summer when the sheep were out here mowing down on the Abbott land, couple of them got out and were sort of wandering around out back here. They didn't stay very long.

Mrs. Weed sold the stable finally to Mary Abbott in 1959. Miss Abbott then decided to have a petition to get a permit to teach children to ride. That's when Nick Rodday set up the riding. The neighbors all agreed that this would be sort of nice and everybody would like the kids to learn to ride. I think Nick really wanted to do more. He wanted to be a bigger operation. So that when he expanded here, it really wasn't working. It was just not the place to do it. So to sort of pay quickly over things, he went out to Virginia Road where he had a much bigger facility and was able to do the sort of thing he wanted to.

Ruth Larsen — At one point he had 50 to 60 horses. It was really too much.

Ruth Hayward — It got to be too much and you had the attendant comings and goings. There's a wonderful thing that I'll include but Elsie ??? who lived in the red house at that time wrote a letter to the editor sort of thing sort of laying out all the concerns and frustrations and things that this all sort of generated.

Marian Hayward — Not everybody had such a story like that. I remember my dad and there wasn't any story that went along with it. It was just a plain, calm and peaceful place. We had a story every day.

Ruth Hayward — Mary Abbott sold or gave the land to the town for $1.00 in 1977. It went to the Natural Resources Commission, so that's where it's been ever since. Mary Abbott was certainly an independent personality. The pines in back of her house and there are differences of opinion as to where the pines went. But if go down and you look along the back of the Abbott/French house, you can see the line of ramrod straight pine trees which I think either her father or Judge French planted them around the time of the centennial, and they've always been referred to as the centennial pines. There are some around here. They are almost the same size but I don't know if they were planted around the same time.

I remember her. She boarded her horses here for a while. It was fun to watch her ride because she was an excellent horsewoman. She was one of these people who were brought up in a generation when you did not slouch in your chair, you obviously sat up straight in your chair, and the back was always perpendicular when she was riding. Or sometimes she would have a temporary gateway set up because she was training a horse to get in and out of the horse trailer, and she would put the horse and fix him in and then back the trailer up and drop the little walkway and his food was inside and to eat he had to walk inside. Then when he had his food he would have to back out. There was this little negotiating between the two of them.

Rosemary Cogswell — When we lived at #70 we could look out our picture window through Ruth's yard before her husband put up the tree and we could see Miss Abbott riding. It was wonderful.

Ruth Larsen — And that's where the asparagus grew too. I always called her Miss Weed, but Mrs. Weed used to go around with a paper bag and I didn't know what she was doing out there. Well, it was an asparagus farm way back and she was picking the asparagus. In the fall they used to bring people in from Jamaica to do the harvesting. It was all carrots, cabbages and whatever else back there before these other houses were built. This one particular year probably due to the Korean War, people couldn't come and they couldn't get the help to harvest, so all winter we smelt rotting cabbages.

Ruth Hayward — There is a little brook that runs between the Back of the Depot neighborhood and the Southfield Road neighborhood. It runs into the Sudbury River. That brook is sort of the dividing line between the Wheeler property and the Grant, Brook and Elsinore Street area, so it was not an area where you would just logically walk across or through the backyard. It was just sort of a natural barrier. So back of the depot would be Grant, Brook and Elsinore. There was a section of Elsinore that I think was developed after the war. The houses were newer and obviously a post-World War II era and in the area that used to be the fairgrounds.

I think it became obvious from really days that there was a high water table around here. No matter how nice the land looked, water lurked not too far under the surface. If everybody in the neighborhood didn't know, they discovered it very quickly. The reason there is a little hole in the concrete over in the corner where they hadn't finished it off was there for a purpose. The purpose was for a sump pump which I think all the houses in this area have. Those that didn't had to drill holes and put one in. Wet basements were a very common thing. Here and there people had failed septic systems because the water problems were there. I think that is one of the things that finally led to the sewers coming around in 1978.

Marian Hayward — In the beginning it seems to me some of the people went to the town to complain and the town said they were looking into it and the plan was to put in sewers. But the years went by. I think we were lucky it got done when it did. I didn't really have any problem at the time. I was alone because my husband had died. I seldom had any problem nor did my sump pump drain dry simply because I didn't use it that much.

Ruth Larsen — Going back to when we first had Mr. Monsen build our house, we looked at the one on Sudbury Road and up in the attic was a sump pump laying there. We kind of wondered what it was all about. He said it was just in case. He said we don't have water very often up here. But when we decided to have him build our house, he wanted us to buy a lot on Whittemore Street backing up to Route 2. He said you won't have any water problems up there. We decided we were too close to route 2. So we've had sump pumps and in 1954 after the hurricane Carol, we had 15 inches of water in the cellar. We didn't have electricity for a week.

Ruth Hayward — That was the time two storms came together and the electricity somehow survived the first storm but the second one, it did it in. I suspect it took most everything in town. But there was this long period and water came up. But it wasn't until 1978 that the town put the neighborhood on sewers.

Ruth Larsen, Marian Hayward, Ruth Hayward,  and Rosemary Cogswell.