Hopedale offers no Utopia, just lots of charm

By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 12/08/2001

HOPEDALE - In 1841, 200 people formed a religious commune in Hopedale. "It was one of the first Utopian experiments in the country," said the town's historian, Zeke Hammond. "It was led by Reverend Adin Ballou, and it lasted about 15 years."


Incorporated: 1886
Area: 5.32 square miles
Population: 6,000
Tax rate: Residential $15.40, commercial $24.36
Government: Board of Selectmen
Distance from Boston: 31 miles
Median house price: $257,450
Schools: 1 elementary, 1 middle, 1 high school
Nearest hospital: Milford

 More information on Hopedale from Boston.com's Your Town section.

The Universalist group chose "the Dale," a Blackstone Valley town, as its home, and streets were named after the ideals they hoped to find there. Social, Freedom, Peace, and Hope streets still exist. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

After the religious community dispersed, in 1856, the Draper family, which had been its primary supporter, acquired just about everything in town. In the years that followed, the Drapers put Hopedale on the map as one of the world's leading manufacturers of textile looms.

Today, long brick buildings that were occupied until the 1980s are vacant. Town coordinator Allan Klepper said the 1.7 million square feet of available space makes it the largest block of commercial space in Central Massachusetts.

"Portions of the mill that can't be rehabbed are currently being torn down, but that will still leave 1.2 million square feet available for mixed use," Klepper said. "We'd like to see some light industry come into town and maybe even use some of the space for housing. The buildings could also be used as an educational facility."

Mill history aside, Hopedale possesses a unique if somewhat elusive charm. Realtor Virginia Larkin, of Prudential Larkin Realty in nearby Milford, said the town continues to attract people because "Hopedale is so quaint and charming it looks more like a scene from a movie set."

When traveling into town on Adin Road, visitors are treated to an architectural paradise. Large Victorian, Second Empire, Colonial, and other style homes that once belonged to mill executives line the street, which leads to the town center.

On Hopedale Street, which runs through the downtown area, there is a collection of beautiful historic buildings, including a Richardsonian Romanesque Town Hall and library, and a Gothic Revival Unitarian church. The town has applied for historic district status for the area.

At the end of Hopedale Street is a scenic town park, complete with ballfields, and across the way is Hopedale Pond, on Mill River. The stately Draper buildings occupy a couple of city blocks and serve as a reminder of the town's history. The former Draper administration building, now Draper Place, is an assisted-living facility. Side streets in the area have numerous Dutch Colonial duplexes that were once homes to mill workers.

The Draper family maintained complete control over the town for 113 years, providing jobs and housing for hundreds of families.

Hammond said his father, Leon Hammond, worked as a toolmaker at the mills for years, and Hammond Jr. grew up in Draper housing. In 1968, when Draper decided to relocate to the South, the International Rockwell Co. acquired the mill and kept it operating until 1978, when all operations ceased.

"Here was a town that had always been cared for by the Draper family, and suddenly it had to stand on its own two feet," Hammond said. "They were benevolent dictators, and the town had a love-hate relationship with them for years. We nearly went bankrupt, and at one point we had the highest tax rate in the state, at over $20 per thousand. Surrounding towns offered to partner with us to form a regional school system, but Hopedale refused."

The residential tax rate is $15.40 now, and Klepper said that a $15 million high school improvement project was completed last year.

"We need many things, including a new fire station, sewers, and infrastructure work, but valuation has gone up as well, and we think we're going to be just fine," he said.

Hopedale has a population of just 6,000, and a recent build-out analysis projected that the population will never exceed 7,000.

Larkin said there is little real estate for sale in town A good way to get a foot in the door, he suggested, is to purchase a half-duplex for about $170,000. "You'd end up paying $1,200 or more to rent one, so why not buy, and keep your eyes open for something to come up for sale in town," she said.

Prices at Harmony Hill, a small subdivision of four-bedroom Colonial, range from about $389,000 to $450,000, and two-bedroom condominiums can often be found at Laurelwood (across the street from Hopedale Country Club) for $180,000 to $240,000.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 12/08/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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