Elsie Kennedy
Old Mill Road

Age: 72

InterviewedMay 9, 1977

Concord Oral History Program
Interviewed by Renee Garrelick.

Elise KennedyConcordians took for granted having the reformatory and its inmates in the area. It has always been there. If there was an escape, we were totally unconcerned. So we had no fear of having it here. I think probably previous to my being aware of it, way back as Laurence Richardson's notes will tell, there was a little more social exchange between the townspeople and the reformatory.

The men that worked there were really quite outstanding in the neighborhood in this part of town. Somehow, I feel, the closeness of the two ends of town was not apparent at that time, but I did feel that many of the men who worked at the reformatory definitely had a part with their families in contributing to the life in West Concord.

My father worked for the reformatory raising pigs. They raised the meat for many of the state institutions. It was really very interesting, he always maintained that pigs didn't really want to be dirty. When there was a new family of piglets, the children in my family when down with my dad to see the piglets. At that time the working part of the reformatory was known as the old stockade, which is practically abandoned now. At that time there were the cow barns, the pig area, and the large stable of horses used for farming and driving. There was a lot of pride and interest in the work that the men did at that time.

Something that troubles me today is the lack of care of the physical facilities of the reformatory. The grounds used to be eye- catching, beautifully cared for, the houses were kept in good repair, and today I feel the state houses are really no credit to the community. From my point of view with the labor that is available, it would seem that it could be possible to use that labor to the advantage of the prisoner and the community to take much better physcial care of the reformatory.

When I was growing up, I think there was an apparent distinction between West Concord and Concord Center mainly because of the physical separation. Access to the center of Concord from West Concord was by the old trolley cars because there were very few autombiles in the area.

The children that went to Concord High School from West Concord had to either walk down Elm Street to the high school or walk the center of the junction and take the trolley car to school. We had to pay our own fare. When I went to high school, I had no feeling of the separateness or separatism between the two ends of town. I've always had the feeling that lack of interest in the town affairs of those people that lived in West Concord other than about a half dozen families, such as the Damons, Farrans, Sheehans, Comeaus may have contributed to that feeling. Many of the people in West Concord did live in state owned property and perhaps did not have the feeling of ownership so they were not directly affected with the tax bills of Concord.

I was working in the blueine factory during school vacation in the summer when there was a great deal concerning womens rights in the newspapers. The papers at that time cost a penny each. I can still remember when they went to two pennies each because I delivered papers and the increase in cost reduced our customers by about 50%. This would have been about 1916.

I remember a discussion at that time about womens rights among a group of us that were working at the blueine, which was a big manufacturing company that employed a good per cent of the people in West Concord. It was always summer work for those of us when we were old enough to get a work permit. I had a bit of an in there because I had an aunt that was one of the bosses. It did provide work for the high school age group particularly the girls. In this discussion what stands out in my mind was some of the nineteen-year olds saying that if women had the vote, they probably wouldn't want any more babies because it would put them out of shape. That comment stayed with me all these years.

I enjoyed being a businesswomen on the Milldam. I enjoyed the contact with the people. It surely gave me an insight into the problems of the businessman in Concord. I'm a great believer in business property hopefully being owned locally because there can be better control on the rent. If rents go up, the customers automatically get charged more.

I did mostly the bookkeeping and my husband ran the contracting business. If fact he's the artistic one, the store was really his baby. We started the Paint Pot after my husband came out of the service in 1945. The building we rented on the Milldam was ideal because we had a basement that we used for our contracting business and we rented the shed out back for our trucks.

At one time because of other circumstances, we decided we best utilize the upstairs of the Paint Pot for living quarters. We had purchased a boat and it would give us more time to spend on the boat. As I would look out the south windows where there is now a parking lot, there was a lovely green meadow with some beautiful, big elm trees standing there as they did all around Concord. It was sort of an oasis in the center of town.

At the time the League of Women Voters was being formed, I was interested but either care of the family or activities in the business kept me from joining. The first presidents I remember when I did take part were Ad Cabot and Lucy Richardson.

I attended a state meeting with two others, Ad Cabot and Kate Teele concerning our water resources. At that time Kate was working very hard to establish an interest in our water. She had the foresight to see the attention we should be paying to water. Water was also my main love and interest. At that meeting it was judged that I go to the planning meeting. At that time the communities close to Boston were very much aware of the urban problems and how they were developing and beginning to feel that the suburbs did have a responsibility. I filled in for the former chairman of the planning study which was done through the state because of my interest in land use and similar problems.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) was the result of the league's study in regional planning. It was a successful study and I have many good members of the committee.

I can still remember walking up Commonwealth Avenue and having Mrs. Rodney Pratt, who was interested in the workings of the Red Cross, approach me and tell me that she was about to start a Red Cross swimming program that summer, and would I like to help her. In 1925, I had just graduated from physical education school, and naturally responded to the idea of starting a Red Cross program.

We started at White Pond and we had about 50 pupils. A man came from the headquarters in Washington to help us set it up. There were two or three of us here in Concord that helped out. Then the program grew to the point that we didn't have enough room so we moved to Walden Pond. At that time time the Concord Red Cross chapter included Lincoln, Sudbury, Acton, and Carlisle, so we had children from all these communities.

I moved away from town in the '30s and when I came back, I was asked to take over the chairmanship. This was during the war and we were servicing about 500 children. We did have some problems with transportation. But it was a very satisfying, gratifying activity because as years go by I still people downtown that I had taught to swim.

Because of my interest and knowledge of it when it came time for the community to take over the swimming program, which was sometime in the '50s, I was asked to be on the Recreation Commission during the transition period. Apparently Red Cross policy has been to see a need and try to establish it in a community, then try to get the community to realize the need of it and take over the responsibility, as was done, I think, with the Visiting Nurse Associations across the country.

The establishment of Camp Thoreau came about because I knew the Pulises well, I knew Dorothy in scout work, and with having the property on Old Mill Road and the pond, we decided at that time that a day camp could really be a good activity for Concord. This would have been in 1948. We operated here on Old Mill Road for about three years where I did have to have a lot of construction work done on the pond, deepening and a new dam, etc., and it was left drained for about three years. Because I had a lot of illness in my family and business responsibilities, I had leased the camp to the Pulises. But because of the problems with the pond, they leased land over at White Pond and from there they went to their present location.

In regard to the pond, apparently New England is full of these ponds that have either been dammed for power or ice. According to an old water law book that I have read that if one owned property on which there was water on which ice formed, the ice belonged to the person over whose land it formed. I suppose because it was such a commodity many, many years ago. About 1850, as I understand it, the Hayward family owned much land in the second division part of Concord and dammed a pond which is approximately fifteen acres. It was following this on the second division brook watershed about 1900, I think Musketaquid Club was formed and built another dam and another pond above this, and about 1920, they formed two ponds. So we have a chain of three ponds on the second division brook watershed, which is about 545 acres total.

My husband purchased the old Finnish dance hall as a building to store the boats when we ran the South Bridge Boat House. The Concord Ice Company or Mr. Forbes on Barrett's Mill Road, was the last ice company to own the pond. John, my husband, and Charlie Comeau, who was the agent for the Musketaquid Club when John bought the hall, went over to Mr. Forbes to ask permission to demonstrate boats on the pond and Mr. Forbes asked him why he didn't purchase it. Very much to his surprise and everyone's surprise, he came home with the pond.

And on my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, because it was my interest and kind of work that I enjoy doing, he gave it to me. Eventually the geodetics survey office in Washington agreed in about 1975 that the name would be changed to Kennedy's pond in memory of John Haynes Kennedy and Allen Angus Kennedy, who ran a camp here back in the '50s.

Conservation has been a life-long interest of mine, and I think it might possibly be from the fact that I was born and brought up at the foot of Annursnac Hill on Barrett's Mill Road. In my childhood I could roam the fields and woods all down through that area. I lived near the Wright Farm. Bill Wright and I grew up together and had many happy days with the pony and cart on Barrett's Mill Road and Strawberry Hill Road, which was the area we were limited to. We had boundaries as to where we could go. I think possibly the fact that I was brought up so close to nature, my grandfather had a small farm, and I had a third-grade teacher, Miss Susie Wood, a little English lady who was very interested in the birds and the flowers. We had a contest every spring as to who could find the first of each variety of wildflower, and there was a great deal of competition between the children that lived out Laws Brook Road and those of us at the end of Barrett's Mill Road. We were closer to the fields and woods.

I feel those of us who did go to Miss Wood and form these interests in the birds and flowers formed a life time interest. Also realizing when we owned the South Bridge Boat House what we were already doing to damage our waters probably roused an interest in me and a feeling for protection of our natural resources.

I have happy memories of my school days. I attended the old West Concord school. From Thanksgiving to the spring vacation we had transportation from the outlying areas of town to school. McManus's Stable across from the Concord station provided the transportation. We had a barge with two horses like a covered wagon in the good weather and in the winter it was a big pung. It was great fun. It was pretty cold in the winter but we had straw on the floor supposedly to help keep our feet warm.

When I went to high school, I was already working hopefully toward my education. I didn't have a great deal of time for extra- curricular activities. My main regret knowing from the sixth grade that I wanted to study physical education was the fact that our facilities and our activities at that time in that field were practically nil particularly for the girls. And I see today in the papers all the opportunities for children with athletic desires, it's just marvelous.

Elise Kennedy

Text and images mounted 12th December 2012. RCWH.