By William L. Washburn — From an article in the Framingham News, May 12, 1933
I was twelve years old when my father moved from Worcester to South Framingham. This was in 1874.
We first occupied the Twitchell residence on Waverly Street. To me it was a fascinating place. Mr. Twitchell’s brother in the far west has sent him a number of animals, so in the back yard was wat might be called a small menagerie. In cages were two foxes, prairie dogs, a badger, and grazing at a rope’s end a young buffalo. A peacock had the run of the yard. The buffalo nearly got me once when I ventured too near it.
In the stable nearby Mr. Twitchell kept his race horses. “George H. Patchen” was one of them, a fine horse and fast. Mr. Woodward, who lived near, was the trainer.
In a little shop in the yard a young man named Sennott worked as a wheelwright. Opposite, on a side street, was a blacksmith shop and next to that the Volunteer Fire Company’s Hall, where was kept the hand engine. Fires in the village were rare. Once, at a midnight fire under the roof of Waverly Block, I was allowed to assist at the engine along with a dozen others, working the levers up and down. Water was drawn from a hogshead kept full from the railroad’s standpipe.
Framingham Centre was more aristocratic, with its bank, library, fine residences and shady streets. The south village, being the crossing point of two railroads, had a number of industries and, to my mind, a boy could have more fun there. Many citizens from both places had business in Boston, going in on the morning trains and returning at night to the quiet of their homes. An old-time stage coach ran between the two places.
The railroad station was always a busy place. Engines and tenders were beautifully decorated in gold and colors and bore names of prominent officials of the road. Pride was take in making the brass work shine like gold. Many a boy made a hobby of collecting names of engines just as boys collect postage stamps now. I had a secret ambition to ride on an engine and courted the favor of an engineer until the day I was allowed to ride as far as Farm Pond and back, sitting on the fireman’s seat and ringing the bell all the way.
In the station itself was a lunch counter presided over by Gus White and Jeff Hawkes. One of the things that served to put South Framingham on the map was the extra-large doughnuts sold there. They were made across the street at the hotel and almost made a whole meal for 5 cents. The station agent for several years was a tall red-whiskered Scot named Fox. He had a prejudice against allowing us boys to sell pond lilies to passengers and it took all our ingenuity to circumvent him. After getting up at five o’clock in the morning and making a raid to Nobscot Pond we had no desire to have the fruits of our enterprise left in our hands.
Older citizens will no doubt remember Jerry Casey, the flagmen at the crossing. He was a good natured Irishman who took his work seriously, as well he might, and reckless boys who tried to beat the approaching trains were scolded in choice brogue. All but two of the passenger trains stopped at the station. The exceptions were the crack expresses to and from Albany; magnificent trains with parlor cars and smart porters. They went through in a whirl of dust with Jerry on the job to see that nobody was hurt. I shall never forget the day in 1875 when the crepe-decorated funeral train taking the remains of Vice President Henry Wilson passed through en route to Natick.
There were no Italians or French Canadians living in town. At least I never knew of any. Railroad track hands were mostly Irish and received a dollar a day in wages.
The largest store in town was owned by Willard Howe who was also postmaster, located in Nobscot Block. It was a typical country store stocked with groceries, boots, shoes, dry goods, and hardware. In the front was the post office and after each mail there was the usual gossiping crowd.
Next to Mr. Howe’s, in the same block, was Dr. Rice’s drug store. Here was a branch of the public library. Selections of books came down from the Centre twice a week. Isaac Lombard was the other druggist, next to Waverly Block. He had a fine circulating library and boys feasted on those splendid books written by Elijah Kellogg, J.T. Trowbridge, Horatio Alger, Harry Castleman, and W.H. Thomas. For the girls were the works of Mary J. Holmes, Mrs. Southworth, E.P. Roe, and others.
Opposite Nobscot Block was Nelson Oaks’ grocery which occupied an extension of the South Framingham hotel building. Fred Oaks, his brother, was clerk; a tall, be-whiskered man who was a favorite with the customers.
Ginery [Simeon] Twitchell, besides keeping the hotel had many other interests. He had a farm out on the Holliston Road, a livery stable, and was one of the leading men of the village. Dan J. Conney had charge of the livery in the rear of the hotel, but later built his own stable across the tracks on Waverly Street. Dan was a clever Irishman and a general favorite. I owe my first horseback ride to him. I galloped back and forth on a country road for an hour and then proudly rode by my home only to be ordered by a frightened mother to take the horse right back to the stable!
Leading men of the village had club rooms in Nobscot Block where they met to play pool, whist or euchre. Poker was more of a southern game, and bridge unheard of. During the holidays they would have turkey raffles.
The Middlesex South Cattle Show always drew a big crowd. There was horse racing and exhibits of all kinds.
Starting with straw hats, the village industries grew from year to year. The Barbers had a fine straw shop as did he Richardson family. Girls from as far north as Maine would flock to town during the manufacturing season and earn good money. Mr. Eames, in Union Block, made wagons. Upstairs were the Gazette office and the J.C. Clark Printing Co. I hung around the Gazette office until Editor Vincent allowed me to learn “the case” and Foreman Davis, who was my Sunday school teacher, let me run the job press.
There was a picnic grove [Harmony Grove] that edged on Farm Pond that attracted excursions from other points. Mr. Stearns had the boating privilege, and I spent a good deal of time there rowing and sailing.
I wonder if the old swimming hole is still there, down the bank behind the round house? Those were the happy days when we raced each other swimming across the pong with a boat following us to pick up the exhausted. In all I spent four happy years in the village.