Looking for something a bit different? Well, in a quiet way. Next time you’re off-Island with nowhere particularly to go you might try Hopedale. It’s a small town in the Mill River Valley near Milford. In fact it was once part of Milford, but had a very special history beginning around 1840.
A group of Unitarians (and peace advocates, women’s rights activists, abolitionists, temperance enthusiasts and Practical Christian Socialists) bought a 258-acre farm in “the Dale,” as the area was then called, where the Mill River takes a drop of 24 feet — just right for water-powered industry.
By the 1850s the town had over 200 residents, mostly employed making “temples,” like the cotton gin itself, an important device for the textile industry. New streets were laid out, including Hope, Freedom, Peace, Progress, Social, and Union. The Dale became Hopedale and was doubtless modeled on the influential socialistic community at New Harmony, Ind., (where an ancestor of the present writer lived in the 1820s, and where he learned the brewing trade and became a capitalist after all).
At Hopedale each member of the community signed a declaration, agreeing “never, under any pretext whatever, to kill, assault, beat, torture, rob, oppress, defraud, corrupt, slander, revile, injure, envy or hate any human being — even my worst enemy; never to serve in the army, navy or militia of any nation, state or chieftain; never to bring action at law, hold office, vote, join a posse, petition a legislature . . . .” and on and on. No betting, no drinking, no sin — no fun of any kind in fact! Everyone was to promote “the holiness and happiness of mankind, through divine assistance.” Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison came to speak, among others.
The town opposed a communistic arrangement, wherein people would own things in equal shares. Instead, they sold shares in the town: most could buy few shares or none, and a small group owned the rest. By 1856 one family, the Drapers, owned three-fourths of the town. When they took their marbles out of the game, Hopedale became a “company town,” under the control of the highly-profitable Draper loom-making business. So much for socialism.
The Drapers were benevolent owners, however, funding town buildings, forward-looking housing for workers, recreational areas and the Hopedale Parklands. Some parts of the factory buildings are gone now, but the great main structure of brick, with the mill-race rushing underneath, is still visible at the corner of Freedom and Progress Streets. (I think it is).
And it was Susan P. Draper who in 1898 bought in Italy and had shipped to Hopedale the Statue of Hope which stands outside the interesting town library. This exquisite piece of NeoClassicism is worth the visit. It is all in pure-white Carrara marble, the work of Waldo Story, an American sculptor working in Rome. The lovely figure of Hope is the centerpiece of a piazzetta with low walls, benches, scrolls, dolphins, a Medusa, a gryphon and a fountain. As to Hope herself, be sure the early Hopedalers would never for a minute have allowed her!
Edward Hewett is an artist who lives in Vineyard Haven and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.