Posted on July 23, 2014 by Jenny ONeill
John Swartz was interviewed by Mary Giles on September 19, 1976. He spoke about the Village Commons and his farm.
I was born in Dartmouth, just across the road from Westport at 79 Division Road.
Both of my parents were born in St. Johns, Azores. They weren’t married there; they were married here. My father came here when he was 16, and my mother was 17.
She worked for Mr. Gifford, I don’t know which Mr. Gifford. I never saw the man, he was before my time. The name of the place where he worked was “Riverside” on the Horseneck Road. They worked there quite a few years and then they got married there and then they moved to Dartmouth. I don’t know what year that was. I was born there in 1909. They lived in Dartmouth for 20 years before I was born. I was born on Division Road and lived there for 28 years.
I moved to Westport because of my business. My wife’s name is Evelyn and I was 28 years old when I married. I was in the ice business at that time, from that I went to ice and oil for 20 some years, then I started in the construction business and then, of course, in 1947 I took over the package store. I’m still in it. There wasn’t a package store; I started it, along with the ice and oil business.
We did develop the “Village Commons,” but we sold it December 4, 1976 to Jack Dolan. He wanted it real bad, and if anyone wants anything real bad, he can have it, which means that they will pay a lot for it. There was another man that wanted it before him. Jack didn’t want the other man to buy it, he wanted to buy it. Jack Dolan is the one who runs the hardware store.
My family came to this country because my father was a whaler. He was a young man and the boat came this way, and he was going to try to get here and stay here.
My father talked a lot about whaling, but I didn’t pay much attention. I don’t know the name of the boat he came in. I know he was out a year without coming to land, and then when he got here, he wanted to stay.
You say you think of me as warm hearted and kind, as a businessman I don’t try to be too tough.
I happened to get into ice, gasoline and construction, not just because of opportunity, I saw people doing something like that and I said, “Well, I’ve got to do something like that.” And I liked it.
I went to school in Westport always, high school too. My son-in-law, my son and I all had the idea of the Village Commons, I wanted to get in the village and it’s doing very good up there. Mr. Dolan plans to add to it. Two other people are coming there, and some doctor, he mentioned the name, but I can’t remember. Now there’s a restaurant, a bank, a gift shop, a dress shop, a hairdresser, a cleaning place and us (package store).
I didn’t want to sell, but my son-in-law and my son wanted to. I think they did because of the time involved. I work from eight in the morning ‘til nine at night every day but Sunday, and I still take care of lawns. I had to mow now four lawns this morning. I don’t like to hang around, my father was the same way.
I had 10 brothers and sisters, but they’ve all passed away. I was the youngest son; my sister lives on Division Road in the family homestead.
When my father died, I was 12, so I didn’t get too much out of his whaling stories.
In them times we had to behave, but the children today don’t seem to do it.
Well, when I got married, my mother was very sick and I said, “I’ve got to do something to kind of fulfill all these things,” and that’s the reason. Every day I could work, I would do it. For 10 years I held two jobs. I worked on the police force every night for 10 years and had my business just the same. Of course, when I got the package store, I had to get out of the police force.
Even now, I haven’t got a license for the whole 12 months of the year.
There has to be a reason, they’ve issued others since.
I don’t pull strings. When I go, I want to have my mind clear.
Evelyn worked here steady for 19 years in the daytime and then at night I’d be here.
You’ve had a very prosperous construction business for a long time.
I started it in 1940. My son now owns it, since last year when I gave it to him. We’ve built quite a few of the roads here in town. I have records, but my accountant has them now. We’ve not built highways, but in the town roads, we were just carting the gravel. I have a gravel pit of my own and we buy it from the Boans. The gravel we brought up to the Friends Meeting was from the Boan farm.
After Evelyn had her stroke, it was over two years before she could function normally. I had nurses around the clock. Our doctors were Dr. Piccinini and Dr. Kirkaldy.
As a child, I started to work with my father on the farm on Division Road. He had 18 cows and he raised a lot of vegetables to sell down at the beach. I used to go down to sell at the beach myself. I first started with a horse and wagon, East and West Beaches, both. I knew Mabel Crosby, she used to take vegetables down to the beach with a horse and wagon too. When I first started, I was eight years old. She was much older than I was. I overlapped for a few years with her. There was three different people selling down there, and we had a really good business, all before the 1938 Hurricane. After that, we used to go to Cadman’s Neck and other places like that, there were enough people who stayed there in the summer.
In the winters, we cut stove wood at home on the farm. Supporting himself, a wife and ten children, a lot of times it was not easy going, but we managed all right. Mother did a lot of canning, and she used to wash clothes for people. She had 18 washings down on the beach, and I delivered them on a bicycle. She washed and ironed too; she was over 60 when she did that. Her name was Theresa; that’s why my daughter’s name is Theresa. She lived to be 74; she lived on the same farm all her life.
At first, it was hard to find people to rent in the Village Commons. For one thing, it cost a lot of money, and now they want more of it. The doctor, who’s coming, his place is already built. He’s going to practice medicine in general I can’t think of his name. The little restaurant is doing wonderful. It makes a difference if you eat out of a can or not, they put up some very good meals.
I have two more lawns to mow this afternoon, my own and the one for my little place down at the beach. I never have time to get down there.
We’re doing three macadam roads right not, one at Horseneck Road and two at Small’s Village down near the beach, near the restaurant.
In the winter season, John does all his own mechanic work on the trucks, so he can weld as well as built roads. It’s a good thing he can.
Up to a day a month ago, my accountant told me we had $387,000 tied up in equipment. We’ve grown so much and so fast, that’s why we need new schools and that is costly.
When I look back on it, I think my experience here in the Westport Schools was very good. Of course, it’s changing now, because everything is different, very different, they’re having all kinds of problems in the schools.
I went to Town Meeting up to two years ago. I don’t want to go any more because you get upset.
I don’t think I should express myself about this lagoon, being in business with this stuff. (In answer to a question about a special Town Meeting.)
Well, if you’re going to spend money, do it so it’s going to last forever, not for a year or two. Because of plans for the future relating to Fall River, and now we want to spend about $80,000 on a temporary solution.
If I had my records, which I have all of them, I could tell you how many of Westport’s Road I’ve built.