Milton Borden was interviewed by Anne Kennison in June of 1976. He spoke about his childhood and experiences with living in a small town.
In my younger days, what stands out in Westport was what some people call them—tramps, and some people call them hoboes.
I was about five years old in 1908. In fact, they used to come down and travel from town to town—Little Compton, Dartmouth, and Westport; and I was very much interested because, at that time there was what they used to call the “town farm,” because in the law, they had to be put up to two or three days at a time—if they stayed any longer, they were forced to work. They never got any money.
What was the Westport Town Farm? That’s where they stayed and they had little places where they stayed. The caretakers ran it and it was paid for by the town. The people that ran it were the kings of the town—paid the people who took care.
The shed was where the tramps lived. The difference between the tramps and the hoboes was that the hoboes were classed a little higher. After I got a little older, I could tell the difference myself. You could tell the difference between the two – they could always tell the difference.
Time hasn’t changed anything. Today there’s people on the road who you might call tramps.
You asked where I went to school. I went to the West Side School, twenty-two pupils with individual seats, five across and four down, first graders, and second graders when you got to the back row.
Of course, they had the girls’ door and the boys’ door. When they played, the boys had the north side of the school and the girls had the south side, but the teacher couldn’t see that and said, “You might as well play together,” and we did from then.
We walked to school; you couldn’t come any more than one or two miles because on the Main Road, just below that, was two schoolhouses. There were more schoolhouses than there is now.
We knew a lot of people in town. We traveled to the “Point,” the “Horseneck,” and, of course Rhode Island was near.
There was a little pond across from the schoolhouse—that’s where we went to skate. The pond wasn’t deep enough to swim in. In those days, the winters weren’t like now. They lasted longer, the snows. There would be no school four or five days at a time. Then the Town would have to plow us out. There used to be four seasons. Today, spring and summer go all together. I saw the Westport River frozen clear down to the opening of the harbor. We’d have five or six weeks at a time when it was below zero and we’d have oxen on the rivers.
Of course, the “Fair” was a feature. It was on the town landing, and on the landing, there was a wheelwright shop.
People went shopping at a store at the Point and at the Head where the post office is now. That was Central Village. That barn was Abe Potter’s barn and it was also a grocery store.
You could ride a bicycle around then. In fact, I rode a motorcycle around then.
This jackknife is from Abe Potter’s store. In fact, one night not too long ago, I was called down to Acoaxet Chapel to talk about it. I lost it, and the first person that saw me gave it back to me. It had been used roughly and cracked.
My motorcycle, you asked about it, it was a Pope-Put. You’d put it under an apple tree and get off. All the roads were dirt. The Drift Road from the Head to the Point and the Main Road was better than the others; there was more traffic on it.
You asked about people coming down in the summer. Oh yes! And Cadman’s Neck then was a very summer resort place. There was a meetinghouse there, and there used to be about a hundred people every summer. The summer people had a camp meeting place and so did Smith Mills. In fact, I carted vegetables around there when I was a young kiddo. I worked on Frank Potter’s strawberry farm and for Will Brightman. I sold them carting them around. I’d go into Fall River and New Bedford. Will Brightman and Frank Potter use to race to get the biggest strawberries. Nine strawberries would fill a basket. I would give you all you wanted to eat. Yes, they were as big as golf balls. They were good! They tried to get an early berry, a mid-season one and a late one.
There were a good many farmers in Westport, took their vegetables to Fall River and New Bedford. There were chickens raised too. I had a chicken place once myself—over a thousand. The best of my trade was in Newport during the yacht race, chickens and eggs both.
The produce down there was ripe much earlier. They are noted for that. The soil seems to be much richer—the sweet corn. I don’t know how true it is, the soil seems to call for a lot of protein. I don’t know how true it is, but the Indians had small gardens with seaweed and fish and shells. The Indians used to live on seafood and wild birds and used all that seaweed. They really nourished the soil. That is true—whereas today, it’s all commercially fertilized. Seaweed is a beautiful thing.
Yes, in the fall, you’d see people going down to the beach with baskets to get it.
I used to fish for fun on the bridge. I’d get what was running—lovely perch and a few eels and oysters. In Westport, then, you could make your living fishing; you could get a peck or a bushel.
Eeling and oystering is how I met my wife. I was selling eels when I met her. I sold them that at the Grange once and I never lived it down.
The Grange was founded by the farmers’ that’s what it stood for, and the Grange Fairs. The Brockton Fair used to be the biggest fair around. It was a country fair, not the commercial fair like they do now.
On this small scale (of the Westport Fair), they used to have horse pulling, and oxen pulling. They had what they used to call a stone drag. It was all according to the size of the horses. Of course, they gave out ribbons. People in them days used to come from far and near.
Of course, there’s a lot more people now. Yes, that’s right. In the old days, there used to be only about a hundred and twenty-five people on Drift Road, and now there’s about five hundred. That’s where the Indians were, right from the Fireside down. There’s a group there and another group on Cadman’s Neck. Six camps around here, as I know—at the Smith’s Farm. ‘Course I love arrowheads.
Indian burial ground—I’ve seen the stones. They were just regular fieldstones.
As a child, I used to spend a lot of time just roaming around. I love to find water hole springs—it’s good drinking water. If you follow the brooks, you will find springs, and in one place on Drift Road, there are fifteen springs.
In fact, I had a good friend at Cadman’s Neck. He and I found fifteen brooks that come from Westport Head down to the Point.
There are fewer animals here now because there are so many people, and because of disease and hunters. We had deer right here in our back yard.
Just go out in the woods and listen; you’ll hear the birds and the animals. If you see a raccoon in the daytime, don’t try to pick him up, because he’s sick—same way with skunks. I love skunks; a skunk is a very nice pet. In fact, I have about sixty skunks—they’re china ones—I save them. The skunk is a very scared animal. They’re not tame by any means. They are very lazy. You can pick them up by the tail, but don’t get in front of them—they’ll spray.
The foxes and weasels were very difficult for the farmers. On my chicken farm, I’ll go out and find a chicken alive, but its blood all drained out; whereas a raccoon, the same way. He will kill them, but not eat them. Skunks eat little grubs; but a woodchuck is very dangerous. They’re very smart. They’ll dig under, whereas a raccoon will climb; in fact, a raccoon because it will climb, is classified with a squirrel.
I’m a past master of the Grange and now classified as a permanent deputy. I’m past patron of the Eastern Star of New Bedford, past Noble Grand of the Odd fellows of Rhode Island. I’m not a veteran. I’m a Quaker. I wanted to go, but someone stopped me. At the time the Grange was organized, it was mostly the farmers, but now it’s mostly the family. It’s more social than it was years ago. It didn’t help me. I didn’t join ‘til 1948. When I first joined, I was very shy and now I can talk to anybody.
Mrs. Borden, you were born in Westport; you grew up on Route 177, just beyond Grundy’s?
Yes, it was a big gray house. There used to be a church right beside that furniture place. It was, I think, the fourth Christian Church. It was at Brownell’s Corner. When I was small, we had to go all the time. We always went, every Sunday to Sunday School and church. Every Sunday, when we were going to meeting, I’d have to lie down and take a nap in the afternoon. My father wasn’t a farmer; he was a carpenter. He used to work for different companies. He used to work at the Tripp Boat Yard, but he’s not related to them. He worked ‘till he was seventy-five. I’m not related to those Tripps. There are so many of them. Marion Sheeton, up at the Town Hall, is my sister. She lost her husband. He used to have the School Department and in the big barn, just before 177 and Old County Road and that gas station. The state took a lot of the land. When I was a little girl, I was the oldest of eight and I took care of the rest of them, and I’d clean, which I don’t do now.
(Milton Borden again)
In the evening, they’d get together and sing. My father had an organ and a piano and a Jew’s harp, a zythern, a banjo and a violin. We sang folk and popular songs as they’d come around and hymns. My family would get together and the neighbors used to gather around. When we got to be twelve or fourteen, we used to go to the Sunday School teacher a lot. We had May Basket parties a lot when I was small. One night, we had twenty-one May Baskets. They put fruit and candy and all kinds of stuff in them. They’d bring them to your doorstep and then run away. It was sort of like hide and seek. It was done all through May. Then, they had June boxes, but that didn’t go over too big. If you’d belong to the Grange, the box would go to the highest bidder. The May Baskets you would make; they were for your friends. We had house warmings like the Welcome Wagon comes around now. There used to be husking bees. They’d be quilting parties, mostly women.
They used to put scarecrows around Halloween and well, Thankgiving and Christmas were the two biggest days. We used to have the family for Thanksgiving, as many as twenty-five. A lot of my family lived in New Jersey. Everyone gathered from far and near for Thanksgiving dinner. Turkeys were plentiful in Westport, almost as many as hens. Then, we had geese and ducks and chickens too. For Thanksgiving we always had a turkey. I played Santa Claus for the Grange. I still have my sleigh in the garage now. Last year we had a baby that was born in the sleigh. I was down at the Fireside with the Senior Citizens with my sleigh; it’s on wheels, and they generally have someone pull me like a reindeer.
When I went to school, they only had eleven grades in Westport. I went to Westport Factory; then to New Bedford to that Benton’s Business School. Just before I was married, I used to stay in Fairhaven. I did twelve grades. I did two years in one during the eleven years. The majority of the boys through high school went right on the farm. Some went to college. There weren’t as many helpers here. The majority of the people were farmers. Some of the girls went into teaching. The boys had to work for their fathers. Everybody had a farm, against five hundred now.
For transportation, there was a covered wagon and at the last part of the year, they used to take the Sunday School children down to Horseneck for a swim—a big outing—a dirt road.
I started gong to Sunday School in Knotty Shingle. There was a little watering trough up there. A lot of children gave ten cents that was called the Westport Improvement Society.
I was brought up as a Quaker. That’s why I don’t smoke and don’t drink, and I was brought up to say “Good-night” and “Good Morning.”
Also, in Westport there are two water holes. One is on Route 88. The trees have grown around it, and the other is on Charlotte White Road on the east side between the Main Road and Route 88. All these holes, when you’re getting into the dangerous part, there is always a warning. You’d have to go out fifteen or twenty feet to get into it. I know one farmer—this water hole was on his place, and he went down in it and it was quite something. I don’t know how to express it. I know that there have been two or three cows lost up there.
Here’s a picture of where by grandfather and grandmother lived. It was made with good wood and all pegged inside.
Some people said, you build like an Eskimo. There’s a woman over in Little Compton that has our family tree book, and she said that there was Indian blood in me.
All the Bordens are related to each other. It’s history. I don’t mind. It’s long ago.
Here’s a picture. Look at those high lace shoes and that blouse. That’s a Buick, and that’s my father when he had hens. This is Lydia Brightman. There used to be a lot of Brightmans up at the Head.
Now you can see how little I was. This is my mother, and I was six months old. That’s when we lived down at Admasville.
I went to the World’s Fair in Flushing in 1934.
The Central Village Associated paid for the horse trough at the pump. The pump has always been there.
We’d go down to the mills and get the waste cotton in bales for the cows, to bed them down in.
There was a Factory Store and Factory houses, and the people that worked in the factory lived there.
n.b. Milton Borden grew up at the place that was the Town Farm or poorhouse. It eventually became the Dea Rest Home on Drift Road; it no longer exists in that capacity.