Joe Palumbo
737 Lexington Road

Age 86

Interviewed April 4, 2005.

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Joe Palumbo--Palumbo Farms since 1925 has been under cultivation, until the 2005 growing season.
--Father Antonio dug and cleaned ditches by hand to cultivate the land.
--Early irrigation efforts and methods of raising truck vegetables.
--Celery used to be bleached for consumer use.
--Use of German Prisoners of War during World War II
--Farming at the Asparagus Farm on Bedford St., on the Andy Boy Farm where Nashawtuc Country Club is, and along Monument St. at the Peverill Petersen farm.
--The farmers of the East Quarter
--House and farm owned by the National Park Service- bitter feelings towards.
--Threats to take by eminent domain in the early 1960s.
--Frank took lifetime tenancy.
--Park treatment of Lexington Rd. neighbors Eddie Nowalk, Mrs. Albano.
--Problem with beavers is making it difficult to lease the land.
--Brother Frank died 1995, Joe now retired.
--Lexington Road ice cream and clamshack stands and restaurants including the Willow Pond.

This is the first year the Palumbo farms will not be able to be cultivated. The beavers are one thing and with the high water we've got here, there is no sense in trying to grow vegetables on wet land. And I'm of retirement age anyway. You see the field across the street that is loaded with water. Well, that's the way the land is. What's the sense in going out there and breaking your fanny in trying to grow something.

My brother died about 10 years ago. And I said oh, the heck with it. I had equipment that was used to spray. Mr. Allen Nelson was interested in raising corn and he asked me if I wanted to sell the equipment. So I sold some of the equipment to him. Then he wanted me to go to work for him. So I did help him out part time during the corn season, picking the corn. He's on Parker Street in Acton. He's mostly in the flower business and has a couple of greenhouses. He calls his farm Cucurbit Farm. Cucurbit means anything that grows on a vine, pumpkins, pickles, squash, etc. That's what he was in at one time. His son works for the Concord Fire Department, and he helped his dad in the evening.

The beavers have become a major problem. We had hearings here a couple or three times with Tom Hayes and the Mill Brook Association. I was sitting at a meeting one day with a couple of women and the speaker was talking about beavers and Tommy Hayes got up and mentioned my name. I was the first one in Concord to apply for permission to trap the beavers. The woman sitting next to me asked, "Are you Mr. Palumbo?" And I said, "Yes." She said, "Well, I'm against what you people are doing. But now I'm beginning to change my mind." So I said, "What happened?" She said, "Well, I've got them in my backyard now. What can I do?" And I said, "You can do like I do, fight them." Dan Monahan was here then and I told him the environmental people are the greatest people in the world, they're doing a good job. But the only thing is they do it all on paper. I said, "Why don't they come down here and see what the beavers are doing to my property?" Finally Tommy Hayes got up and was talking and people started asking questions about the leg trap. Tommy said it doesn't work. He had a couple of pictures, and he started passing the pictures around of a couple of beavers with their legs off and they were rebuilding. So I said, "What are you going to do for us?" That meeting was over. Tommy called me up and said they were having a meeting tomorrow, so let's go. So they had some kind of hearing and we finally won. We could trap them and shoot them That's how we got that far with them. We didn't gain anything because a beaver is a tough, tough little guy. You can kill the family, they can leave the territory, and you can break the damns today, but tomorrow morning they're going to have them rebuilt. And they know how to build. Everything is locked in with one another, and it's hard to break them up. We had an outfit from Amherst that came around and had these dams that were built with screens and whatnot to keep them from going in. The mill brook- runs behind the fire department and they had a dam out back. And Eric Nelson, who works for the fire department, used to go out there and break up the dams. The fire department said, "Oh, you can't do that." Then one day the water was coming in the fire station, and they called the people from Amherst and it costs them $350 to get rid of the beavers.

I can say the beavers are a problem, but it's our own fault by letting them come in from Canada. Years ago you could trap them with no problem at all. But today you can't touch them. Now we're beginning to see all the animals are coming in, the coyotes, the deer and it's due to us, we're taking their territories to build houses and this and that.

My house and farm are owned by the National Park Service. The park service came in here in the early 1960s, and said if you don't sell, we'll take it by eminent domain. I found out that the government couldn't take it by eminent domain. At least, that's what I heard. I don't know how true that is. They say they can't force you out. But they made an offer and if you're not satisfied with the offer and want more money, they try to get you down. I think they offered my brother $65,000 for the house and the land. At that time he was quite friendly with his friends in Waltham in the building business, and they said you should get $85,000 for what you've got. He never got the $85,000. He got what they wanted, and that was it. Eddie Nowalk who lived at the neighboring farm had cows and he sold the cows. Eddie got kind of sick and his mother wasn't too well, and the park came up and the guy who was doing the negotiation, he said if you don't sell, we'll come in by eminent domain. Eddie said you can't do that. The guy said, "I'll get you forced out of the house." A lawyer from Lincoln wrote to Washington and the guy was fired. You don't threaten people. (Domenic Inferrera refused to sell).

Certain people along Lexington Road have life tenancy and others only 25 years like the Albanos, Nowalk, Perry and four or five in Lincoln are the same way. Mr. Beede in Lincoln was a sea captain who lives on the hill. Oh, he hates the park service. We had a meeting at his place where Channel 5's "Chronicle" program came out. He sold to the park, but they had to do what he wanted to. The path came right in back of his house. He said I want an 8-foot fence all around so no one can disturb me. He wouldn't sell so they put the fence up. Of course, they had the house next door which they bought from Charlie Payne's children. They fixed that house all over and spent a $1 million dollars on it. All new windows, new heating system, fixed up inside, and it is empty. I can count five houses that are empty right now. The government doesn't help us, but we've got to help them. I don't think that's right.

Mrs. Albano had to leave. She wanted an extension and they wouldn't give her an extension. When Nowalk did sell, his daughter moved back in and she got a year extension on the farm. She fixed the house up inside and then they kicked her out. There's nobody living there now. They just don't care. I've got a friend of mine trying to lease the Albano place. He's in the landscape business and he's got no place to put his equipment. That property has a nice big garage in back, oh, no the park has all their equipment to park. The same up the street. They take the things from Liberty Street and park them there. They could have made some money there. Now they're begging for money. They're going to get it all right, but not from us.

My dad came in 1925 from Watertown, New York. He had to clean the ditches. When we came here in February 1926, there was skating all over our farm. That's no lie. The kids that lived up the street here came running down to skate here. I don't know why dad bought here. He must have been drunk or something. I think there was supposed to be a total of 17 acres, but they included the wooded area which you don't own, the woods. The park was charging me for 17 acres, but I got it down to 10.

So we had to dig the ditches all by hand. We had relatives that lived in Lawrence and we had an uncle that was a mason and one that was a contractor, so on the weekends everyone was out there. Somebody thought we were having a party. Party, hell, everybody came here to work. It's no party.

We made a framework of planks of 12" to 18" high and we had a sash, a window with little plates of glass on it, and we made the hotbed by tying one end so that the water would run off and we'd start all our seedlings in there. Then we used to get the help from Waltham, women Italian immigrants. They were the greatest workers. We'd pay them $2.25 a day. We'd pick them up in the morning, give them lunch, and take them back. They were all women. We knew them through somebody who lived in Waltham who were friends of the family. They wanted to work on the farm and they were great.

My father died in 1933 in an accident in the barn. I tore the barn down about 25 years ago. They built the barn with 2 x 4s and scrap lumber they got at sawmills. They didn't have any money to buy the good lumber. It stood up quite a while. It stood up until the hurricane of '38, but it was loaded with hay at the time. It swayed but it didn't fall down. By the front door, he made a little platform in the barn where the hayloft was so he could get more hay in. One day he couldn't get the wagon in to unload the hay and he said he would take the partition down. Grandpa and Grandma on my mother's side were living with us in the summertime and Grandpa said I should help my dad, but when I got to the barn, there he laid. I don't think the beam hit him; I think a nail or spike went through. In those days, nobody was around. But a neighbor just came around in his 1929 Dodge to say hi, and so he put dad in his back seat and took him to Emerson Hospital. But he died. I was 11 or 12 years old. They said I didn't talk for two days. My dad's name was Antonio. And my mother's name was Francesca Puccia. They were from Sicily and were neighbors over there.

At that time we used for irrigation what was called a skinner pipe. It was galvanized pipe with all little holes and spouts in them, and we took them in the field and we had to disconnect and move them around. We used to grow radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, green beans, scallions. Then we started getting into quite a bit of iceberg lettuce. We did pretty good with iceberg lettuce. We decided to get a couple of crops you could specialize in and you get your name built up in that. We used to raise quite a bit of lettuce. Then we had celery. We got a couple of blue ribbons for celery and carrots. In 1941 we won a celery contest from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. We got two ribbons, and we got another one after that.

Years ago celery was bleached and to me it always had a little more flavor than the green celery. California decided to bleach their own. They'd plant them close together. These were 36 inch rows and then they were 15 inches apart and as they grew, they were grown close together and blanch themselves out. Then the disease started coming in and they decided to give them more air. They had to have air. So when they gave them more air, they didn't bleach and started coming in green. Now we use the green.

We got out of the celery business and then we had carrots. We grew those in back of Asparagus Farm on Bedford Street, then we had land at the Will Davis farm at Nine Acre Corner, then we had that strip at Verrills. We were raising carrots and parsnips. That was more of a spring crop. Parsnips are sweeter in the spring. Where Nashawtuc Country Club is now, we had both sides of the street there. We used to have the Andy Boy farm. My brother worked for them part time when the war (World War II) started.

During the war, there were some German prisoners at the Andy Boy farm. Andy Boy used to farm it and that's how they got the prisoners working there. When I came back, the prisoners were all gone. Andy Boy had the prisoners and Mr. Wheeler had them at Nine Acre Corner. He had them for potatoes and cabbage, the hard crops. (Joe Palumbo shows a snapshot of the prisoners of war at the Lexington Road Palumbo Farms).

In the East Quarter, as this section used to be called, there were the McHughs, the Burkes, the Magurns, the Amendolias, and Scimones. On Virginia Road the Kenneys, Jim Breen grew rhubarb, Anderson had pigs, and the Algeos cows at Pine Tree Farm. And of course Joe Dee owned quite a bit of that ground back there at Asparagus Farm on Bedford Street. He used to work for a guy named Prescott. When Prescott died, he took over the land, bought it and farmed it. But old Joe Dee was kind of a conniver.

In the early 1960s, we started to grow corn. Raising corn started up at Nine Acre Corner at Brighams and Rollie Eldridge. We were farming up in that area at the time, and they were in the corn business but we weren't. But Rollie was kind of an odd ball and finally they gave up growing corn. We were up there one day and just talking, and they asked why we didn't raise corn? They had people coming from Braintree and Ipswich picking up sweet corn. So we decided to try it. We stayed with corn until we quit farming. I sold corn to Idlewild Farm, A. Russo in Watertown, and twice a week I went to Stop & Shop and Star Market. I was working 18 hours a day then. We also grew corn on Monument Street at the Petersen farm. Old Peverill Peterson said to me, "Why don't you farm my land?" And I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, I kicked Kenney out. He hasn't paid me rent twice in 10 years." So we went up there, and we had the Concord River for water. It was great.

Most of the guys were roadside stand people, and they had farms. Many of them started raising corn. Spence farm over in Woburn had land in Tewksbury and they started raising corn. It started to cut into our business and it started downhill then. I can remember the trucks would be lined up in the morning from all over wanting fresh corn. Stop & Shop and Star Market were doing great and all of a sudden Star Market wanted to give me $6.00 instead of $8.00. They wanted to cut it down. I had to pack it and truck it, and when you went there you had to unload your own truck. They wouldn't touch it. Corn season starts about July 22 but doesn't last that long. Now they start shipping in Florida corn. So we gave it up. No sense beating ourselves, and my brother was 10 years older than me.

My house here was a schoolhouse. I have a picture somewhere. The path down there at the park where the brook goes across, it has 1886 stamped on the stone. So my house is from that era. Years ago there was a farm stand right in front of the house. When we moved there, there was a little stand or a shed and it ended up at the Willow Pond Kitchen. There used to be a gas pump out in front that you had to pump by hand, and they sold hot dogs and ice cream and chocolate. My older sisters ran it for a little while then they decided they didn't want to any more so they just shut it down. I think the gas tanks are still underground there.

McManus ice cream was next door and the Burke's had that over there. When the Burke's got out it, McManus rented it. That was there for quite a while. Then when McManus slowed down was about the time Howard Johnson's got in the business. Then Fitzpatrick opened a restaurant and they had a beer license too. They called it the Farmside Grill. Of course, war broke out and everything changed. Ross Ransom took it over and he was a baker in some restaurant over in Carlisle years ago, Ross, he didn't have a liquor license then, but I guess there was an opening in the town for another license and he got it. And that became the Willow Pond Kitchen. And it got pretty famous too. That had a lot of history. They shouldn't have knocked it down. I had a guy come and ring my doorbell one day. He said, "What the hell happened to the Kitchen? I come from California once a year to Boston and people told me to go to the Kitchen. And now it's gone." But everything changes.

The town should consult the farmers before they buy some of the land in town. The farmers know the land. The town bought the Amendolia land on Old Bedford Road last year and they never should have bought it. It has drainage problems. There's ledge there. There's all ledge under my land. There's quite a bit of ledge on old Bedford Road. I know the Burke's pumped water out, the house across the street pumped water out, others up the street all pumped water out when it rained.

When we used to raise celery, we didn't use town water to wash off the celery, we used water from the ground because it's cold water and it helps takes the heat out of the vegetables. We had a guy come down here and he was drilling and drilling and said there was only ledge down there, he wasn't going any further. He said he would move out 20 more feet and try another hole. No way, it was all ledge. I told him there was good surface water there. He put two wells together for us with two-inch pipes and we had surface water. That's how we washed the celery and carrots. When you pick vegetables in the heat, there's a lot of heat in them and you try to take the heat out of them. After we did all that, then they came out with these hydrocoolers. I didn't have one of those. In California and all of those places, every crop they raise they pack in the coolers to take the heat out. That way it has shelf life when it comes to its destination.

Years ago at Faneuil Hall market, one of the brokers wanted lettuce and it was a hot muggy day. I told him he didn't want today's, it won't last. No, he said to bring it in he would take care of it. He put it on the street on hot cobblestones. He called up and said it all melted. So he had to dump it because they had no refrigeration then on the street.

Palumbo farmhouse

Joe Palumbo

Text and images mounted 8 May 2013. RCWH.