Mrs. Walter Shaw, Jr. (Helen)
275 Nashawtuc Road

Age 75

Interviewed November 30, 1977

Concord Oral History Program.
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Walter and Helen ShawI came to Concord from Brookline, Massachusetts in 1926, and my father-in-law, Mr. Walter Shaw, Sr., lived on Nashawtuc Hill. He was kind enough to buy a piece of land so that my husband and I could build next door to him.

In 1888, Mr. William Wheeler bought all of Nashawtuc Hill and all the flat land around it between the Assabet River and the Sudbury River. I've been told that Nashawtuc means hill between the rivers in Indian. This piece of land he joined to Main Street by building Nashawtuc Bridge and the reservoir on top of the hill. He was the engineer of the project. For a while he ran a dairy farm on the flat land below the hill on the west side. He built a house on the south side a short distance from the top of the hill. From then on he began to sell off the lots to various people.

One of the first sold was to Mr. James, who lived on the corner just opposite the Wheelers. Most of the early lots liked the southern exposure.

About the fourth house to be built was by Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Blanchard. Then my father-in-law's house was the adjoining property and two other lots, one became the Nashawtuc ski or coasting hill. My house is the lot beyond the coasting hill.

The coasting hill was a very popular spot and Mr. Shaw, Sr. used to patrol it carefully. He built two ski jumps, one a little easier than the other. All the young people of town used to come and learn how to ski and jump. My husband was also very keen about ski jumping, that was his real love. In order to make the hill a safer place for the young to coast there, Mr. Shaw, Sr. cleared some of the early plantings that Mr. Wheeler had put in that had become pretty substantial trees.

As the years developed, gradually the hill became the one place in town where the young could use any kind of equipment they wanted such as the saucers and toboggans that they use now with great speed. Some of the young mothers have begun to call it Nashawtuc Hell and don't dare allow their children to go there unless they are supervised.

Mr. Shaw, Jr. gave this hill to the land trust in December, 1961. I think he felt that if it was out of his hands, he had no further responsibility for accidents that might occur there. That was one of the reasons he did it, but also he loved to keep open spaces and he believed that his father made this great contribution to the town that it would be a nice thing to do in his memory.

Mr. Shaw's mother was a Hutchins, and her family came from Punkatasset Farm which was on Punkatasset Hill on the other side of town. Mr. Shaw's uncle, Gordon Hutchins, known to all as "Unc" was very firm that his coasting hill was used only for skiing, toboggans and sleds were forbidden. It became a very amusing thing between Mr. Shaw and his uncle. Playfully they would kid each other as to whether it was proper or not to allow coasters. The result was that Nashawtuc Hill became deluged with the sleds and toboggans and saucers to the point that there was no chance for skiers unless they came when the snow was too deep for the coasters.

I have been told by my husband that he was given a silver mug after his birth by Mrs. Wheeler, who was very fond of children. He was called the "Hill baby" and believed to have been the first white baby born on Nashawtuc Hill, the others having been Indian. The road that surrounds the bottom of the hill is named after Squaw Sachem.

In the early days, he told me, they used to bobsled on the road from the top of the hill and would see who could get to the bridge. Even after automobiles were allowed, the town after a good snowstorm would not allow cars and would put up a sign indicating "no cars allowed today" so that the children could still use the road as a coasting area.

Speaking of automobiles, Mr. Shaw, Sr. was one of the first people in town to have an automobile. It must have seemed that when he was driving about 15 or 20 miles an hour that he was going very fast. Judge Prescott Keyes, who lived at the foot of Nashawtuc Hill at Main Street, was so angry that.this man drove his car by so fast that one day after he had gone, Judge Keyes put a long rope across the street from one tree to another to catch Mr. Shaw whenever he returned. It did not catch Mr. Shaw but it caught an Italian gardner, who was riding his bicycle and didn't see it. He was injured quite badly, I think it broke his leg. But it was Mr. Shaw that went to the Italian and helped pay his medical bills, and told him he could sue the Judge if he wanted to, but he decided against that.

One other episode of automobiles, because Mrs. Wheeler, who was a very lovely lady, was very fond of children and gave childrens' birthday parties and really enjoyed them. She had a sister, Miss Hubbard, who came to live with her after Mr. Wheeler died. She had an electric car and I think it was one of the only ones that I recall. She kept it until she died long after the Stanley Steamers and others came into being.

The growth and development of this hill have been very much a part of Concord, and I think, at this moment, I am perhaps the only one who has lived in the same home here for so many years.

I was a graduate of the school of social work at Simmons College, and when I came to town, things of this sort interested me very much. I was asked to go on the Concord Female Charitable Society board in 1928, 29, or 30. I was rather concerned that this organization was doing what we called "lady bountiful" type of social work, but that was because it had been church oriented. It was started in 1814 by a group of ladies connected with the First Parish Church, who wanted to help the poor families of town to dress their children properly so that they could go to church. Gradually it became more and more widely spread throughout the town doing other kinds of things, supplying food and clothing, giving Christmas and Thanksgiving baskets. The records are on view at the library and they are very fascinating reading, all in beautiful handwriting.

Mrs. Henry Smith was president of the Society when I went on the board. She had been president for about twenty years. It was the custom for one good soul to take on the job of president and remain with it forever it seemed. When she died, I was asked to be president of the board. Public welfare was already taking care of the general relief families and the aid to dependent children families, where there is a question whether the father is deserting the family, and old age assistance.

The first step was to change the name to something that didn't use the words charity and female because we were helping families. We finally at an annual meeting voted to call it the Concord Friendly Aid Society. There were still a number of people who complained but it was done. We set up a new set of by-laws which went into effect in the early forties. Gradually this organization went from the Concord Friendly Aid Society to the Concord Family Service, and it now does excellent family counseling and is one of the greatest members of the Concord Community Chest, and probably gets one of the largest amounts budgeted for it.

During my service on the Friendly Aid, I decided it would be nice to have a housing survey made. I had been a member of the League of Women Voters and I thought they weren't doing very much in those early days in Concord except give you a little bit of current events and history and what the government was trying to do here or there, so I resigned. But I was asked by Mrs. Lenox Lindsay, who was president of the league, to please come back into the group. I expressed my opinion that the league should take care of some of the local needs of the town that were interesting for all of us to know more about. So I went back on the League and asked them to make a survey of the housing because I knew there was some very bad housing particularly in West Concord. This was headed up by one of the board members, Mrs. Stanton Garfield.

The result of the survey was to expose a landlord that came from Wellesley named Conant, who owned six houses in West Concord where there had been no repairing of leaky roofs or plumbing and much of the condition of the homes was substandard. We brought this gentleman to court and he was subdued and very unhappy about it but blamed it on the fact that he could do nothing during the war years. But he finally did.

After the by-laws were changed for the Friendly Aid Society, we could no longer be president for more than two consecutive terms of two years each so I was through as a member of board. A member of the League of Women Voters asked me if I would run for the board of public welfare. I had never thought of running for public office, but I finally said I would. I didn't have to do much running; they did a lot for me. The result of the election was that the incumbent, Mr. Donald Smith, beat me by about 150 votes and I wasn't surprised. He was born in this town, I am not an old Concordian because I wasn't born here. He was a very fine gentlemen.

In the middle of that year, about 1955, one of the members of the public welfare board had to leave town, and the selectmen asked me if I would take his place. So I was on that board until it was dissolved because of a new state program.

While I was on the board, Mr. Ted Nelson, the town manager, asked if I would serve on the council for the aging. He had been told by the governor that he should have such a council in Concord so in 1959, the council for the aging made a survey enclosed in everybody's light bill -- "Questionnaire - Are you over 65? Would you be interested in housing? Is you income under $2500 if you are alone or under $3000 if you are a couple? If housing were built would you move in? etc."

The result of the survey had over one hundred applicants indicating they were interested in housing. We followed these up with the public welfare agent, Mr. Harry Martin, who knew most of the names of the people who applied because he was responsible for old age assistance. Out of this one hundred or more, we boiled it down to about 75 cases that felt they would be interested and needed housing. It took a great deal of effort on our behalf to persuade the town fathers that there was such a need. At town meeting, on the floor of the meeting, the chairman of the selectmen turned against us, having previously been in accord with us and this was very upsetting. However, the town voted in our favor.

In 1961, the Housing Authority was established and I was asked to serve on that board. In 1964 we were finally able to start the Everett Gardens. Leading up to this, we did research on whether the housing should be state housing or federal housing, since there didn't seem to be a wealthy enough establishment in Concord to privately support it. We finally decided on state housing and got involved with the State Housing Commission. They expected the town to give some land for this purpose but much to their amazement, the town said they would sell a piece of property to the Authority that they couldn't afford to give away land.

We first looked at the Hugh Cargill estate which was owned by the town and under the auspices of the public welfare department because of the fact it had been left as a poor farm. Because there was no sewage disposal or lines for power and so forth, the state turned it down. We then looked at some property on Everett Street, which had been the public works storage area for trucks and snow removal equipment, and this is where we decided to buy. At first the town wanted something like $14,000 for it but finally came down to $9,000, which the state paid grudgingly. That is where Everett Gardens was established with 32 units.

During World War II, there were a series of spotting towers in the area to spot enemy airplanes and Nashawtuc Hill was chosen for one of those towers. At the time you could see for miles around the hill and it was exactly four miles due west of Hanscom Field, which was a military airfield at the time having been established in 1941. The towers were manned 24 hours a day on 3-hour shifts. There was a direct line to headquarters in Boston, and every plane that the spotter saw was reported to the headquarters with it's compass direction from the tower and what direction it was flying if he could tell.

These towers were placed on hills all around the coastline, and the ones in Massachusetts went as far west as Peterborough, NH. We took a course in learning the different types of planes, our own and enemy planes. I'm sure that we all felt that we were doing something helpful toward the war effort. There was no such thing as radar in those days so we were a substitute.

One winter, either 1942 or 43, was terribly cold and we had a small pot-bellied stove in the tower which was very welcome I can assure you. I think the night shift must have been rather a lonesome one but I had a morning shift. Fortunately I had a nurse for my five children that I could leave home for that length of time. It was a very leveling experience and the group of workers became great friends. I can remember a number of people who were on a first name basis with me who used to call me, very politely, Mrs. Shaw. I think, of course, war does that sort of thing.

Helen Shaw

Text and images mounted 8 June 2013. RCWH.