Happy New Year

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As you raise a glass of your favorite beverage to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, think back on the previous year. Think back on 2010 and what it was like to live in Hopkinton. Life moved at pretty much the same pace for most of us. Looking back a year we can see some changes and clearly our town has moved forward. We’re all probably a little better for it.

Now, go back a hundred years or so. What did Hopkinton look like? What drove our town? How did we live and work? What did the citizens of Hopkinton have to look forward to as they toasted the New Year?

The early 1900’s were a time of major transition for our town. During the second half of the 1800’s a number of boot and shoe manufacturers had established factories in town. Much like other industries in the Northeast, these businesses provided housing and other benefits in exchange for stable employment and company loyalty. Life was good. People had money to spend and local businesses provided places to spend it. On a much smaller scale, the economy looked much like it does today.

However, major fires in the later part of the century shut down many of the factories and repeatedly destroyed Hopkinton Center. Factories located on or near Lake Whitehall were shuttered from fears that industrial pollution would spoil the drinking water supplied to the city of Boston. The final blow came in 1909 when fire destroyed the last remaining manufacturing sites. In 1910 the only remaining major shoe producer, The Imperial Shoe Mfg. Co., closed its doors for good

The industrial base that helped Hopkinton grow and prosper for more than 50 years was gone, having moved to other areas of the country. The local economy was devastated. The population growth was slowing and the skilled workers from the shoe trade were moving to Framingham and Brockton. Early 1900’s estimates of burned out and ruined buildings running from Chamberlain Street to the Milford line exceeded 100.

But, the town held together. Town records and registers from that time a century ago describe a town that was surviving, trying to cope with a vanished industrial base. In 1900 Hopkinton had a population of 2,623. By 1920 that figure had dropped to 2,289. Our town was down, but it wasn’t out.

Recognizing the scope of the problem and the need for action, a group of businessmen known as the Board of Trade began the process of restoring the financial heath of the town. The Board managed to sell a large vacant factory to a New York based company that turned the former shoe factory and firearms manufacturing site into an agricultural implement producer. Today, a day care center occupies that space.

Following their first business turnaround, the group, known today as the Chamber of Commerce, orchestrated the purchase of another sizable factory building.

This time a vacant shoe and boot factory on Hayden Rowe Street was offered up for sale. The building had survived all of the catastrophic fires and would get a second life as a silk manufacturing plant. The Hermina Silk Co. expected to employ 250 people once it opened, but the actual number of jobs was far less. The renovations made to the building also provided jobs for more than 50 tradesmen for many months.

Silk production lasted for only a few years, but the succession of large and small businesses occupying the former factory continues through today.

The comeback had started. The townspeople and the businesses they worked at and supported were slowly coming back. Industry, as the town knew it, would never return in the same shape and form. But, the remaining tired and weary industrial buildings were being recycled, brought back so they could contribute to a brighter economic future. By 1930 the town’s population had climbed back up to 2,563.

Fast forward a few decades, past two World Wars and the construction of two major highways on our borders. A new revolution of thought, ideas, and technology sustains our town and its people. Go ahead, raise that glass one more time to shoe leather and silicon chips.

Happy New Year!