Originally published in the Spring 1985 Framingham Historical & Natural History Society Newsletter by Dr. Bruce Brown (1917-2010)
Nostalgia is an inevitable accompaniment of growing older, an entertaining asset considering all the other debits of aging. It can be startling to contemplate the “old days”, particularly if you still live in the same community where the “old days” occurred. This is my lot. Gradually I have accepted the fact that a radical transformation has taken place in the hometown that nurtured me during the years of five to fourteen. Those years by chance coincided with the decade of the Twenties. Now that is not very far in the past, but what a change has been wrought in Framingham Centre.
My family lived on State Street on Normal Hill, so named because of the Normal School which was situated on this elevation. There have been several changes in the name of this institution over the years. It was originally established in the nineteenth century. Normal School yielded to Framingham Teachers College, which in turn gave way to the modern terminology, Framingham State College. Old town maps refer to Normal Hill as Bare Hill, but I have never heard it referred to as such. What was Normal Hill like in the Twenties? It was traversed north to south by State Street off which several roads branched. The major one, Maynard Road, ran down a steep portion to the west. One of its major purposes then was to serve as a rapid route to the railroad station at the bottom of the hill. This depot represented a major means of commuting to the outside world from the Centre area. My bachelor uncle, a Boston lawyer, lived with my parents and Monday through Friday travelled to Boston from this station. My father, who routinely visited the Lowell Bleachery on Fridays, accomplished this task via the Centre depot. The train stop was a popular haven for the young. You met parents and relatives there; you bought gum and candy from penny machines; and you watched the station master with his green eyeshade who both sold the tickets and presided over the mysterious clicking of the telegraph. The arrival of any train at such close proximity was a thrill, particularly if you received a friendly wave from the engineer, fireman or both.
Maynard Road had a sidewalk which ran from top to bottom of the hill. It was constructed of compressed cinders or clinkers from the coal furnaces of the Normal School. There was an uncontrollable urge to run on this track when going down to meet somebody at the train. Sometimes one’s acceleration exceeded one’s balance and painful cinder abrasions on palms, and during the summer, bare knees were the result. In the winter, sledding and even bobsledding were ideally suited to Maynard Road’s pitch; the only accepted danger being the occasional car that might be working its way up the hill. Peril was avoided by stationing a lookout at the corner where Church Street entered Maynard Road.
Normal Hill was not developed as a residential area until the turn of the century. Maps of Framingham drawn in the 1890s show Bare Hall occupied by the Normal School and the Episcopal Church on the corner of Church Street and Maynard Road and little else. My father’s family lived on Auburn Street off the Centre Common from the 1860s until the early 1900s, when a fire ravaged their house and adjoining barn. Rather than rebuild, they moved to a recently constructed house on State Street in the new residential area.
The east side of Normal Hill, however, did not participate in the building boom. This was attested by the fact that we shucked our corn at the back of the family property and threw the husks over the barbed wire fence to Eldridge Barber’s cows. At that time all the east side of Normal Hill was pasture for grazing or haying. By the end of the Twenties this pasture land had been sold to developers, and natural the road that replaced the barbed wire fence at the back of the property was called Barber Road.
In its original state “the back of the hill” supported a veritable goldmine of activities. Given the right conditions, tobogganing and sledding were superb; even the early toe-strap skis put in an occasional appearance. At the bottom of the pastureland was Duck Pond, created by surface water draining from the eastern face of Normal Hill. As a recreational asset, this water surpassed even the pasture, though it might more honestly be described as a wet swamp rather than a true pond. It was not more than three feet deep at its most fathomless section. This was very reassuring to parents. As it was not spring or stream fed, it froze early and rapidly. This was where we skated, sometimes on rubber ice during the early freezing but ideally on a good solid surface unsullied by snow. A large elm had fallen conveniently along the western shore of Duck Pond. This made an ideal seat for putting on skates and, in a different season, the launching of rafts. As true hockey enthusiasts we wouldn’t let a little snow stop us, so we frequently employed shovels to clear off a section for the shinny games. Ordinarily somebody’s shoes were used as goals but one winter, I recall, we constructed some real professional nets. These were made of chicken wire nailed to a wooden frame and were we proud of them! Police officer Ralston and his family lived near Duck Pond at the corner of Franklin and Maple Street. Bob Ralston, now head of the Framingham Tree Department, was a charter member of the hockey group. I well remember one bitter day when the Ralston family rescued one of the players, Chester Thompson, and thawed out his every cold feet by putting them in the warm kitchen oven. It worked well and was he appreciative!
Duck Pond supported no fish, as far as I know, but was perfect for frog breeding. One of the first signs of spring was hearing the hylas peeping as you lay in bed trying to go to sleep. Although they were never seen by me, some large snapping turtles were later caught in Duck Pond. Had I known these creatures lurked in the muddy bottom, the rafting trips might not have been undertaken so blithely. Today, what was Duck Pond is a playground at the corner of Maples and Franklin Streets. A sharp eye will notice that it is below grade, the only remaining evidence of its former life as a natural water playground.
 Framingham State College became Framingham State University in October 2011
 Lowell Bleachery was a textile mill, http://lowelllandtrust.org/greenwayclassroom/history/industrialization.htm