William Pierce was interviewed by Mary Giles on September 29, 1976. He spoke about his childhood and his farm.
William (Bill) Pierce has lived most of this life on Pine Hill Road near his family homestead. He and his brother, Jim, raise strawberries and blueberries commercially.
When we were children, most of the time we worked on the farm. We had some little wooden toys, but most of the time, we were outside playing with whatever we could find to play with, and, of course, there’s a brook that runs through our farm, and we spent a lot of time around that brook.
Your wife told me that you had a pet pig that you played with.
Of course, this was after we were married. We had one (pig) that we raised that was quite tame, and, of course, my boys were small and we used to let the feller out of there, and if we went down river crabbing or fishing or something or other, the pig would come down there and we’d become pretty active putting her back in the _______.
I was the former deputy chief (Westport Police Department). I just retired. I think you have me mixed up with my brother. My brother, Jim, and I always had pet animals. There’s a great decrease in animal life since I was a boy and times have changed. Deer, there were a lot of deer when I was a boy. We used to see them on the farm all of the time. There used to be a lot of hawks. Like right now, we like hawks ‘cause they keep the other little birds out from eating the blueberries. I haven’t had to put any kinds of tents over the blueberries. Some use to have a problem. We’ve had half a dozen hawks that were there most of the time, and they kept the birds out.
The first school I went to was the little school on Horseneck Road, South Westport School, a one-room school with three grades. I enjoyed it very much, I liked that school, everybody went to that school, maybe ten or a dozen were in that class down there. There was one teacher, and she had three grades. At first, we walked to school, and then later on, the bus did come. If it was terribly cold weather, sometimes my mother or father would take us down, but usually we walked.
I haven’t always farmed or been Deputy Police Chief, but I’ve always had a garden. ‘Course I went to high school and then I went off playing professional baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics ‘til I went in the service. I was in the Infantry and went to Europe in the European Theater Operation, and I was over there a long time. I was a first Sergeant. I volunteered for the Army when I just turned 21.
My father was a farmer all his life, and I had worked on the farm with him all the time.
I graduated from high school, now the Milton Earle School, at 18. At that point, I went off to play baseball in Philadelphia. All the boys were interested in sports. I went to Philadelphia. ‘Course, Connie Mack was the manager and owner of the Athletics. I was farmed out to a team called the Newport News in Virginia, which was owned by the Philadelphia Athletics. I played there two seasons and then the war was starting, and I then went in the service. I got hurt in my arm; I broke my right arm after being a pitcher with my left, I did play, I did play after I came home, I did play locally.
By locally, you mean in Westport?
No, no – New Bedford and Fall River. They had leagues, good leagues; some of their ball games there would have 8, 9 or 10,000 people at a ball game. Today, you go to a ball game and there’s nobody there, but there was a great interest in local sports years ago.
Other sports that I played in, I was captain of the football team that won the championship in Westport, won every game. I played on the first basketball team Westport ever had. I watch football and basketball on TV. I’m interested I sports.
Of course, when I came back, I was married to Edna Slocum, Dartmouth. I was married before the service; when I went away, we had one child. I met my Edna at a Westport dance. We went together about a year before we were married.
Westport was 100 percent behind the war (World War II). We figured we had a job to do, and even the people who stayed home worked running the farms and worked in defense plants. They were doing everything possible to back up the men on the front. Well, when I first came home, I got a job at Moss Twist Drill in New Bedford in the Industrial Engineering Department, and I worked there for some time, then in 1950, I came on the Police Department. June 23, 1950 is when I started in the Police Department. That was as a Reserve. All through the years, you had to start as a Reserve, that would be part time, and then when they wanted a full time, you’d start as a patrolman, if you did good, and was lucky, then you’d be promoted. ‘Course, I retired this past July as Deputy Chief of Police, to go into farming part time. I’m not doing anything else in retirement. I want some time when I can go hunting and fishing. I’ve fished a great deal, mostly shell fishing, oystering, quahoging, in the river mostly. I never did any lobstering, my brother Jim did. We went seining, my brother Jim and I had a bid seine, and we used to seine for white perch, primarily Herring in the spring.
I have 10,012 bushes of blueberries. Well, all through the years I always had, no matter where I worked, I always had a garden, and we always planted strawberries. One day, I was talking to Andy Perry up here, and he said, ‘Bill, you ought to plant some blueberries. You can pick them if you can stand on two feet.’ So I said, ‘That’s a good idea,’ and it was about nine years ago that I started setting out blueberry bushes and then we kept adding and adding each year. Compared to the raspberries and strawberries, I think they are excellent. We plant about an acre of strawberries. The raspberries, I was bringing to Perry’s (fruit stand), today ripen twice. They’re ever bearers. They ripen about the middle of July the first time, and then they’ll go until there’s a killer frost. They’ll take a little white frost, but if there’s a killer frost, that’s it.
What makes you so successful with this, that you can invite people to come and pick?
‘Course, I’ve had strawberries for a long time, but I’ve only had ‘pick your own’ for the last several years. There are so many of the women that come, not particularly the men, that wanted to pick their own, and they said, ‘Bill, if you don’t let us pick, we’re going to hang you right up to that tree,’ so I decided to set one bed aside for the people that wanted to pick them themselves to see how it worked out, and it worked out pretty good, and they were very careful, ‘course, we don’t allow no children and there was just adults, this year, if they pick their own, they paid 60 cents a quarts.
Peter Kirkaldy has worked with us a good many years, and he’s one of the finest young boys around. Peter came about ten years ago, and he’s been here every year since. Peter knows just as much about bushes and blueberries as I do. He started because his father, Dr. Kirkaldy, wanted him to do something and he works ‘til it’s time to go back to school.
I always get up around 5:30 and I plowed that this morning. ‘Course, I’m going to plant winter rye in there. Where I had this, is going to be strawberries. Strawberries are only good for one year. I plow under a bed every year, and then plant a new bed every year. It’s a year and a half before a crop, there’s an awful lot of work, it’s all hand work, and if you don’t keep the strawberries immaculately clean, you’re not going to get nice berries.
I buy the plants from Maryland. I’ve tried all the varieties at one time or another, and I’ve come down to three that I like pretty well, ‘Red Glow,’ early variety, ‘Clesters,’ mid-season, and ‘Vespes’ late. The ‘Red Glow’ is the first one to ripen, it goes by the weather, like one year it may be the 7th of June, then another year the 15th, but it’s somewhere between the 7th and 15th of June. Clesters is a week or two after that, and the next (Vespers) a week or two later. By the end of July, the strawberries are pretty well gone.
Then the raspberries are starting. Raspberries will run two weeks. Blueberries will go to September, this year they went a little beyond. Then, the second crop of raspberries starts in the vicinity of September until the killer frost. We have picked even until November, but that’s very rare.
This year was about a normal year. It’s sad to say that farms are getting less and less in Westport. There’s getting so few farms. I think it costs so much for farming today, and you have to work so hard and the hours are long, and land is so expensive and taxes are so much that the farmer doesn’t get a tax break. I think they should – I think all open land left open should have a tax break. If they build it all up, we’ve got to have more schools, more problems.
The lagoon is the worse thing that could ever happen to a nice town like this. I feel that it will go into the river here, all the water courses come to the east into the river, and if you’re on the west, they come from the west into the river. I’m going to the Town Meeting, and if need be, I’ll speak. I think this is a real important decision, and of course, the decision is ‘get rid of that lagoon.’ With the problem unsolved, we’ve seemed to get along since last spring.
I enjoyed police work very much; it was an eight-hour plus day. Here in Westport, from the time I started, ‘til today, there’s an awful increase in crime. When I first started, it wasn’t too bad, and there were only a few men in the police department. If a home was broken into, and there wasn’t too, too many, it was always the kid around the corner somewhere, and of course, now they come from way off, such an increase. Drugs were never a problem when I first started, now it is a great problem. Domestic troubles are on the increase. Years ago, there weren’t as many accidents, because Route 88 wasn’t here. There wasn’t as many cars and the roads wasn’t as good, they were all narrow country roads, although we did have accidents, usually at the intersections, corners, etc., but they weren’t going at the great speeds, but we still did have some.
Does your wife work along with you?
She likes it. We have two big freezers, and then she cans, makes her own pickles, jellies and jams. Yes, she does, she loves to farm, because it affords you freedom. You are your own boss and what you eat, you’re eating the best, no preservatives. I think as a general rule, the farmers live to be pretty old, and all farm folks are good people, very good people, sincere and honest. It was very rare if you found a farmer in the criminal group, and usually the children were good children, usually because the father and mother and children were together. They were brought up to work and I think it makes a big difference.