Harold Wood was interviewed by Mary Giles on November 17, 1976. He spoke about his childhood, his career as a teacher, and his time on the Board of Selectmen.
This is an interview with Harold Wood in which the interviewer sought to learn how it is that he gives to much energy and thought to the community of Westport when so many people can’t seem to make it to Town Meeting.
I was born here in Westport on November 2, 1909. I lived in Central Village. My father was a farmer; he had a slaughterhouse and he was very active in town affairs. He was a town surveyor, a member of the School Committee and in later years he was a member of the Board of Health. Maybe, from him I observed and became interested myself.
The old homestead is right across from the Post Office at Central Village. The farm and slaughterhouse are still operated by my nephew. It was my father’s wish that the property remain in the family and I hope it does for many years.
We have some very desirable land up on Sodom Road and Adamsville Road that could be developed, but hopefully it will remain a farm.
Interviewer—“I hope that it won’t be long before it becomes more profitable for people to farm. Today farmers are having a pretty hard time aren’t they?”
Yes, they are. There’s not much control over what price they get for what they have to sell, but the things that they have to buy, such as farm machinery and labor costs, the rates skyrocket and put a real burden on the farmer.
I think eventually the government will do something to keep the farmer in business because the open space is one of our most valuable resources.
Two of my sisters became teachers and though we were a family of ten, five of the younger children had a chance to further their education beyond the secondary level. I eventually went away to school. I went to Prep School up in Maine for one year. Main Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine, and then from there to what was then Massachusetts Agricultural College. It was interesting to have Amherst College and Massachusetts Agricultural College in the same town at one time. I think the University now has 25,000 to 30,000 people. Amherst, of course, is more exclusive.
I graduated from Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1934. By then it was no longer an agricultural college—it was a State College and eventually it became the University of Massachusetts.
That year (1934) was not the most favorable time to go out and find a job. One opportunity I had, which I didn’t take and sometimes I wonder whether I shouldn’t have, was to go to Australia. At that time they were interested in getting people with some agricultural knowledge in Australia and I could have gone down there for two years. I worked for my father that first year out of college and then I started teaching.
Interviewer: “Janice Field, who owns the little antique shop over here, tells me that you were one of her teachers at the Factory School.”
Yes, that was in September of 1935, my first year of teaching. The following year I went to the Milton Earle School, which was the high school at that time. We had an enrollment of about 100 students in grades nine through twelve. Norman L. Gifford was my Principal. He was my English teacher when I was in high school in Westport.
Another interesting thing—I started in first grade at the Macomber Corner School, which is now a house. It was on Sodom Road and was a one-room school with one teacher and eight grades.
I would spend my free time trying to get to the water—the drinking water. The older boys would go down to the spring. Of course, we had a huge wood stove in the center of the schoolroom.
In 1918 they built what is now the Milton Earle School and I went there in the second grade and I stayed right through the next eleven years. As the school population increased, they would take out the lower grades and put them in a one-room or two-room school and I just came along at the right time so that I never had to take a school bus. I could walk to school and go home to lunch. That was quite unusual, I think. I think of the comparison with others who had to walk long distances, as far as the Main Road to the Drift Road in deep snow.
My sister drove a pair of horses to a wagon—what in those days was probably called a school bus—and she used to come from Brattles Corner up Sodom Road to Adamsville Road and to the school at the Village. The youngsters would often times, on cold days, get out and run alongside the wagon to keep warm.
Interviewer—“According to John Hart, the winters were much more severe in those days. He says he cut ice.”
Well, my father had an icehouse—another venture he had—and I don’t remember a year in which we didn’t have ice at least 12 inches thick. We’d fill that (the icehouse) every year. In the summer, we’d peddle it down along Drift Road and Main Road and Bill Tripp had his meat market up there, and then when Westport put in electricity, refrigerators put us out of the ice business. Then the iceman was a thing of the past.
I taught school 37 years altogether-as teacher and principal. I coached football for four years—four or five. There’d be a hundred youngsters in school and thirty of them would be out for football. We won the League Championship in 1940. We beat Dartmouth. We were great rivals at that time. I think that was the only time that we ever beat Dartmouth. I still have the newspaper accounts and pictures of that and we had a reunion of that team about six or eight years ago.
Bill Pierce was one of my star players. Jim wasn’t as rugged as Bill, but he had great possibilities as a baseball player. I don’t think Jim ever knew this, but his mother came over and asked me if I would discourage Jim from playing football. She was afraid that he would get hurt and jeopardize his baseball. Both those boys were pretty athletic and talented boys with real desire, which is important if you are going to succeed in that field.
Interviewer—“ After all those years of teaching and coaching and being Principal, you were Superintendent weren’t you?”
I just filled in for a year. The Superintendent passed away and I filled in for him for approximately a year. I never had any real desire to be Superintendent. I was more interested in the youngsters and less in that.
During the years I taught, I guess I taught about everything. Really, my specialty was mostly Math and Science, Chemistry and Physics. Some people have a fear that they (Science courses) are going to be difficult and have conditioned themselves to thinking that it’s going to be hard, so it is hard.
I retired in 1972, and I was really lost for two or three months. After school started, I didn’t seem to really know what to do. I went down to the Town Hall to get a hunting license the first of January and a person who came in said, “If you want something to do, why don’t you run for Selectman?”
I had mentioned this sometime before to my wife and she didn’t think too much of the idea, but anyway they took out the nomination papers and it was about three or four days later when someone came in to the Earle School where my wife was still teaching and said to her, “I see Harold has taken out nominations papers.” So, I had some explaining to do. She really didn’t expect to hear it from someone else; she expected to hear it from me. I wasn’t even sure that I would go through with it, but it was a real experience to have the opportunity to get involved in something in town other than the schools.
Interviewer—“Your reputation is that of a dedicated, calm, honest, sincere person.”
But it’s really time consuming. I didn’t really feel that I could do the job justice. I pushed for an executive secretary. This is the only town of any size that didn’t have an executive secretary. They now have an administrative assistant and I now feel that the town will find his services really invaluable. If you do the research and the legwork that should be done before you make decisions, it’s very time consuming. I wanted to be free so that if I wanted to take a trip or go somewhere for a month, I wouldn’t feel that I was cheating the town by going. I had a back problem and I was out for five or six weeks. Of course, I was right in town.
There was some town business practically every day. I was retired and freer. I’m not criticizing the other members of the Board—they just couldn’t do it. Charlie Costa, for instance, runs a dairy farm that requires a lot of time. He’ll find that his administrative assistant will be a lot of help to him. It was really interesting.
The following two or three paragraphs concern a proposed “lagoon’ for disposal of Westport’s sewage.
When I was on the Board, we received a notice that they (Fall River) was going to cut us off—that was a year last June—June 26—that was to be the deadline. They weren’t going to accept it after that date. Of course, this is really a Board of Health problem. The Selectmen got involved in it at several meetings. The first meeting I went to, I did not expect to have to say anything. The towns of Somerset, Swansea and Tiverton—were all there—and they called on me first. At that time the town didn’t really know where to turn. The Board of Health was taking some criticism and I was really happy to see the Rev. Shannon from Westport Point commend the Board for the hard work they had put into it.
Maybe their heart isn’t in it, but it’s their problem and they’re seeking solutions. If the solution isn’t what we would like to see, I don’t think we can criticize the Board. No one sees a solution yet but I think the solution is to put pressure on Fall River, where they’re getting this Federal money to build a plant with the capacity to take care of the surrounding towns. I heard that Fall River was supposed to share their facilities with Westport, but I don’t know that there’s anything in writing that will stand up. I think that is the solution. Fall River has extended the deadline on several occasions. This is through the efforts of the Board of Health. Finally, I guess they just said, “This is it” and it’s not entirely their fault because their plant just doesn’t have the capacity to take care of it. It’s just one of those unfortunate things. I’m not in favor of the lagoon and I’m not in favor of the location. I suggested a location. My wife wouldn’t like this, but way up in the woods just South of my house is a path they call the Drift Way. It comes out either on Sodom Road or Charlotte White Road-or it used to. I imagine if you get up there a ways, it’s pretty well filled in. A few years ago a fellow came over and bought several acres and was going to build a soccer field. When you go by, you can see the sign. He had three or four games up there, but it’s way in the woods and parking facilities are poor. I thought that maybe for a temporary thing it might solve the problem (site for the lagoon) but it wasn’t followed through so I didn’t push it. I’m sure my wife wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t think anyone would be happy to have it near them.
You ask me what I’d like to change about Westport. Well, of course, if I had my way I’d like to regress about 35 or 40 years and have the Westport that I knew then—not so many people, not the problems we have here today. I mean the whole package. The youngsters—thirty-five or forty years ago—in fact, fifteen or twenty years ago—you could work with youngsters more easily than you can work with them today. They had different values. Well, the parents had different values. I can remember years ago when the first generation of Portuguese farmers were here, if I had any problem with a youngster, all I’d have to do was go to the home and say, “Manny, the boy isn’t behaving himself,” and that was the end of that. He’d come back to school and we’d have no more problems. Today, you know, if you just shake a finger at a youngster, you’re liable to end up in court.
But I know that’s not possible (regressing) but I do think that we need a change in the form of government. We have about 7,000 registered voters and sometimes unless there is a special issue, there will be just ten or fifteen people coming to Town Meeting. But there’s a danger in some of these things—special section putting through things that may be good for them but not good for the town as a whole. They packed the meetings even in the old days. I can remember when they built a sidewalk along Sanford Road. They brought them down in school buses, and then after that the issue was settled. It isn’t good for the town to operate that way. But they have their troubles with representative town government too. Getting the representatives to show up. At least this way, when you’ve got something to say—even if you haven’t got anything to say—you can get up and say something. Oh, I don’t know. At least you can listen.