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A Bit of Holliston's History

by Paul Saulnier
October 18, 2015

Town Historian Joanne Hulbert entertained guests at the Historical Society with tales on the well-known and not-so-well known bits of Holliston's historical trivia.

Hulbert conducted this session with a twist: members of the audiance were asked to read from papers covering events from the past, both notable and notorious.

Abner Morse was born in 1793 in what was then Medway, but is now a corner of Holliston, on ground fertile with local and family traditions. The old Wennakeening, or Winthrop Pond, where the ancient Morse homestead bordered, was a popular fishing ground long before an Indian village was established there, close by the original house built by Abner’s great grandfather, in 1727. The last of the Nipmucs in Holliston, Old Hendrick, did not leave the area until Abner was an adult. Born on historic soil and hearing the tales of early pioneer hardships was a foundation for his future historical research.

March 16, 1900 – The following from last week’s Commercial Bulletin is rather severe on our neighboring towns of Hopkinton and Holliston:  “The long expected happened at Hopkinton.  Fire took place there Thursday morning early, and four business blocks and the town hall were completely destroyed.  The loss will be about $80,000.  The fire fighting apparatus of the town is of the most primitive character and it has been long a byword among the special agents as a place to let severely alone.  George Kendall, now U.S. manager of the National of Ireland, once characterized three places for a fire insurance underwriter to give the go-by:  Holliston, Hopkinton, and Hell.  Holliston has in the past amply demonstrated its right to be included in this category and now Hopkinton has thoroughly vindicated its inclusion.”


Deputy S. F. Twitchell was taped on the door of a vacant house near Mr. Bullard’s residence:

“Mr. Henry Bullard - Sir I came over to summon you to court tomorrow morning (Saturday).  Will you consider this a summons and come over in the first train?  It is very important.  I find no one at home but the cat.  I am writing this by moonlight.  Hope you can read it.  I can’t.”

                                                              S.F. Twitchell

       Humphrey Sullivan served the town in  many capacities.  In 1887 he was a constable, and his natural penchant for keeping statistics brings out the following:  during a six month span in 1887, he made five liquor seizures, he arrested 17 for drunkenness, ten for lewdness, two for assault, four for disturbing the peace, six for selling liquor, and two for keeping a house of ill fame.

July 29, 1887 – It is a matter of regret that we chronicle the fact that Constables Giblin and Mahoney were yesterday arrested on a charge of drunkenness by Special Officers Wilson and Sullivan.  It was a case of the “Specials scooping the Regulars.”

May 9, 1891 – Parents who have children attending No. 4 School, would do well to investigate how the children return from school. Nearly every afternoon, as school is dismissed just at train time, the children run back and forth over the track ahead of the engine, daring each other to be the “last one over.” A little girl not over ten years old has been seen to cross the track about ten feet ahead of the engine.  This recklessness ought to be stopped before any fatal accident occurs.

Opening of the Milford Branch Railroad. – On Saturday morning the Directors of the Worcester Railroad, with a company of invited guests, left the city to celebrate the opening of the Milford Branch Railroad. This Branch leaves the Worcester road at Framingham, 21 miles from Boston, and runs in a southerly direction through Holliston to Milford, 12 miles. The road is quite straight, with curves only of a large radius; and a considerable part of the way is quite level, the highest grade being about 35 feet to the mile.

The country along the line is not particularly interesting, the road passing many miles of almost unbroken forest, in places almost as wild as the interior of New Hampshire can furnish. Some five or six miles from Framingham it passes over a beautiful and substantial stone bridge, of about 150 feet in length, supported by eight arches of solid masonry. The village of Holliston, with its handsome Church and Academy and its neat white bouses, is just beytond. Here was a large gathering of men and women, accompanied by a band of music, ready to welcome the arrival of the cars, and to accompany the Boston party to Milford.

Soon after passing Holliston the cars entered a cut of nearly half a mile in length, and, in places, thirty or forty feet in depth. This has proved the most serious obstacle with which the company have had to contend in constructing this Branch; for, though the material of the hill was earth, it was of a character more difficult to remove than rock itself. In the centre of this cut is a tunnel of about one hundred feet in length, of remarkable neat and substantial workmanship, which supports a carriage road which passes over it. There are, also, several rock cuts of considerable extent, through which the road passes before reaching Milford.                        American Traveler (Boston),  pg. 2, July 8, 1848.


April 9, 1827

At a factory in Holliston, Mass.      A few days since, Miss Nancy Larkin, aged 15, accidently got her hand into a machine denominated the Picker, and before she was able to extricate herself, her arm was literally torn to pieces nearly to the shoulder. The unfortunate female importuned for her mangled limb to be amputated, and she sustained the operation with uncommon fortitude, almost without a groan. The citizens of Holliston, and the people employed in the neighboring factories, immediately filled a subscription of 300 dollars, and placed it in the hands of a worthy gentleman, to be used at his discretion to assist her education, and the balance to be paid her when she shall arrive at twenty-one. This noble act of generosity and sympathy is worthy of all praise, and will be a memorable example in all similar cases.   The Essex Register,  pg.2.

Editor Daily News:  I desire, in no formal phrases, to express gratitude to my neighbors and other friends who rushed to my aid and stood nobly by me, when my barn was burning.  They did their best to save me from being left homeless, when the hand of tragic fate was close upon me.

          To the fire department of West Medway I also owe much.  They came without any summons or appeal from me (there was no one to send), and were wise, energetic, kindly.  This experience shows with startling clearness who my friends are, and where they can be found.

          The Holliston assessors taxed me last year $4.88 on a quarter of an acre (never taxed before), as belonging to that town, making the value of the entire average of “Breezy Meadows” farm amount to over $50,000, without valuation of buildings!

            In September of 1890, the first labor strike to hit Holliston was begun by the machine girls at Mowry's Straw Shop on Elm Street. The issues involved wage cuts, which management stated were necessary due to sagging wholesale prices, due to the flooding of the markets by cheap imported straw hats. Another factor affecting retail trade was the changing fashions of the time, which caused the straw hat industry to experience a significant drop in demand.

        In response to the strike, Mowry advertised for 50 new girls to replace those who walked. He also stated that there would be an average of 4% decrease on the dollar paid out in wages, which the firm stated was necessary due to the lower price at which they were obligated to sell their product. In an attempt to improve sales, Mr. Mowry made a business trip to New York. Meanwhile, at the Holliston factory, owing to the labor troubles, a large lot of goods were shipped to Foxboro where a manufacturer would finish the sewing before sending them to market.

        The straw machine girls who were out on strike advertised in a Boston newspaper to urging all operators to keep away from Holliston until the labor troubles were settled.

        On October 10, 1890, the machine girls returned to work after being out on strike for two weeks. They accepted the firm's offer of a reduction of 5% from last year's wages. During the strike, Mowry had received an offer to move the company to another town, which probably would have happened if they hadn't returned to work, they were told.

April 30, 1881.     About eleven o’clock Saturday night State Detective Bean, assisted by Deputy Sheriff Hastings of Framingham, and Officers Baker and Crowley of this town, raided on several saloons in town capturing some of the contraband at Mrs. Mahoney’s, Phil Murphy’s and Martin Maharr’s.  Later in the evening Peter Mehan, for imbibing too much ardent, was incarcerated in the lockup.  In the next cell Officer Baker deposited a bottle of whiskey the result of one of his raids, and the next morning Lockup-keeper Giblin not knowing the whiskey was there changed Mehan to this cell . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . and of course Peter would not allow such a good opportunity for a drink to pass unimproved so he appropriated the contents, and officer Baker is minus proof of the seizure and the two dollars for the legal return.

As always, Hulbert's look back into Holliston's history was both informative and entertaining.


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