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Winchester Archives Oral History Project Stephen Wilson

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Interviewed by Charlene Band on June 20, 2012

 This article is from the Town Archive, and it's a story about a man who was brought up near Wright-Locke Farm back in the 1940s.

I met Steve Wilson by chance while we were both visiting Wright-Locke Farm. We began a conversation that quickly led to his connection to the farm. I learned that Steve, from the time he was a young boy of about 4 years, worked on the farm under the supervision of Wendell and Chester Locke. During the time he worked on the farm he developed a close relationship with the Locke brothers that spanned sixteen years. Through the Locke brothers, Steve met members of the Hamilton family and a friendship based on mutual respect and love of the farm evolved. The farm was eventually sold to the Hamilton family in 1974. Steve, having been introduced to the Hamilton family members by the Locke brothers, came to know Curtis and Bertha Hamilton and their children, and he befriended them as well. The following captures Steve’s memories of working on the farm and his relationships with the Locke brothers and Hamilton family members.

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Steve, where were you born?

I was born in Winchester Hospital on June 4, 1943, and my parents brought me home to this house on Dunster Lane. My father built this house in 1936.

Are you married?

While I was at Norwich University, I met and married my college girlfriend. After I left Norwich and started teaching, we had our son Lorne, and our daughter Sarah. We lived in an apartment in Woburn while we saved enough money to buy a house in Franklin, MA. We really wanted to buy a house in Winchester, but it was just too expensive. My wife was a wonderful stay-at-home mom, and with only my teaching salary and part-time work, we couldn’t afford it. While living in Franklin, we saved enough money to buy a house on Thornberry Road in Winchester. My children first went to Vinson-Owen School. My daughter was then a student at Winchester High School. My son went to Lexington Christian Academy. My wife and I divorced in 1980 and I started a new life with Laurel Lane. Both of my children live in California. My son lives in Laguna Beach, and my daughter lives in Newport Beach. Sarah is a professional business woman and she and her husband work in the hi-tech industry. They have two boys – Jakie and Will. They’re four years old. My son is also in the hi-tech business and his wife is a stay-at-home mom. They have a little daughter named Gracie. Laurel and I love to go and visit all of them. The towns where my son and daughter live are right next to each other and they spend a lot of time together. Our families are very close, and we’re all very happy.

I know you have always been very busy with so many of your different interests. What do you enjoy about them?

I have always been very active in sports programs, golf, and my church. I still follow the high school and college hockey teams and, especially in the past few years, the Boston Bruins. The one thing I truly enjoy is working on my rental properties in Connecticut and Maine. I do whatever it takes to maintain the buildings. The house in Connecticut is a 1711 farmhouse. My son purchased the property and the two of us restored it. Given the current housing market, he decided to sell it. It was heartbreaking for us because we had put so much time and effort into repairing and restoring it. This farmhouse is the oldest house in Pomfret, Connecticut. It was first owned by John Grosvenor and his wife Esther. They lived in the Roxbury section of Boston. In 1680 they bought 800 acres in Connecticut from a land investment company who had divided the land into 12 parcels. Mr. Grosvenor was the first person to build a sizable home.  His son, Thomas, was in the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 early in the years of the American Revolutionary War. Given the historical importance of Bunker Hill and his role in the war, the home has been published in many historical documents. My son and I, with the help of experts, worked for almost 5 years on restoring the house. Once my son and I started the project, we realized it was a challenge financially as the cost of restoration would be about three or four times the cost of renovating a newer house. The biggest problem one faces when it comes to restoring historical buildings is the funding and the work and enthusiasm required.

Was all of the work that you and your son had dedicated to restoring the house documented?

Yes, it was.

Let’s go back to your family background. What were your parents’ names?

My father’s name was Howard and my mother’s name was Muriel. My dad lived on Brand Street in Arlington, and my mother grew up at 56 Dunster Lane in Winchester. My parents met one day when my mother was walking down Park Avenue Extension to Arlington Heights. Park Avenue Extension was a dirt path at that time. My dad and his friends were digging a water line for his father’s house on Brand Street. My mother was walking along with her girlfriends and the men whistled at them. The girls just kept walking right by, chuckling and laughing the way teenagers do. After a while, my mother and father became friends, then became sweethearts, and then married.

What a sweet story …

We kids got such a kick out of listening to my mother tell this story. When they were married in 1933, they moved to 50 Dunster Lane, a duplex next to her house. The owner of this two-family house, Dr. Sheridan, rented half of the house to my parents for $20 a month. They noticed a corner lot on Dunster Lane owned by a Mr. Arthur Anderson. He owned the land at the end of Dunster Lane and it was adjacent to the Locke’s farm property. My parents loved the lot so much they wanted to buy it. It took four years for them to pay for the land before they could go to the Cooperative Bank and get a mortgage to build a house for their family.

How much did it cost for the land and to build their house?

The land cost $700. The bank wanted to loan my father $7,000 to build the house. This was after the land was paid for. My father told them he could build the house for $3,500. So my father and mother took out an eleven year mortgage for $3,500. Over the years, just for fun, we would go down to the bank and tell the employees how inexpensive a mortgage was in the 1930s. When my parents passed away in 1993 and their estate was settled, I bought this house on Dunster Lane from my brothers.

My dad’s family had a teamster business in Somerville and Cambridge. In 1909 or 1910, my dad’s family in Somerville moved to Turkey Hill on Brand Street in Arlington. They had a little camp that they built up there, and they would go there in the summer by horse and wagon. The wagon would leave Somerville and drive up Massachusetts Avenue through Forest Street and finally arrive at Brand Street.

What was the nature of the teamsters business?

The teamsters were the gentlemen who drove the teams of horses and wagons. They were involved in transporting materials and supplies all around Boston. My great-grandfather had six sons and a daughter, and they were all in that business.

Do you have siblings?

Yes, I have an older brother, Howard. He was born in 1935. Georgina was the second born, and I was the third. Philip is my younger brother. We all grew up on Dunster Lane.

What was this area like before so many houses were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s?

Before that time Ridge Street, Hutchinson Road and Dunster Lane already existed. In the 1950s Lockeland, Pepperhill and Johnson Road were created. I used to deliver Sunday papers to houses on Ridge Street, Henry Street, James Street, etc. My older brother started to deliver papers in the 1940s and my siblings and I had that same paper route in our family for more than twenty years. I had a chance to meet and talk to every single person who lived in the old neighborhood. The corner house that you see at the corner of Ridge and Hutchinson? That was built on the land where Mrs. Kidder’s house used to be. Her house had to be the old Hutchinson farmhouse. It was a beautiful old Colonial. It was an old, old farmhouse before it was demolished and they built the existing house. All of these old farmhouses always needed to be painted and repaired, but any money the family had went into other things that were needed for farming. Werner Carlson’s[1] father built all of the houses on Henry and James Streets. We were all very good friends. In fact my older brother, Howard, is the same age as Werner. He was Werner’s best man at his wedding. In was nice for the children to grow up in such a lovely neighborhood. Werner had two brothers – Oscar and Carl – and a sister named Betty.

Your friend Werner told me one of his brothers used to skin skunks.

That was Oscar. He was one of my good friends as well. He was a very, very funny man. One day our mother told us a story about how he told the bus driver to let all of the kids out at the farm road, but the driver had a hard time. So Oscar told him to just drive over the farmland. Of course the bus got stuck on the horse path and it had to be towed. The kids were laughing so much! That had to be in the twenties. All of the kids used to go trapping and hunting pheasants and rabbits. We had a good relationship with the Lawson family across the street. Mr. Lawson had all of his hunting rifles lined up on his porch and he taught everyone in the neighborhood the proper and safety use of a weapon that could be used for hunting. He was an influential person in our lives, as were the Locke brothers. The kids learned a lot from all of these gentlemen.

Did Mr. Lawson have a farm?

No, they just lived across the street. You have to remember this was all farmland. The Lawson family didn’t own a farm, but they had chickens and a couple of pigs. My family had chickens, and we raised rabbits too.

The Locke Brothers[2]

What are some of your memories about Wright-Locke Farm?

My first memory would be in 1947, when Locke’s farm shut down as an operating farm that grew vegetables to sell at the market. Two of the Locke brothers, Harry and Ellis, sold the farm to their brothers Wendell and Chester. Wendell and Chester ran that farm and did whatever needed to be done to survive. They had a few milking cows and two work horses. In his interview, Werner Carlson mentioned a horse named Joe. Joe eventually passed away, and Jim was the last  work horse on the farm. We used Jim all the time for the various projects we were involved in, such as haying, removing vegetables from the squash house, and picking up firewood and stones. Wendell had a big rock pile in front of Ridge Street where Pepper Hill Road is now. I’m not sure if the brothers sold milk, but there were people who went to the farm to get raw milk for their families.

How many cows did the Locke brothers have?

The most I ever saw was four. Every day at 3:30 or 3:45 p.m., Wendell would say “go get the cows up in the apple orchard”. That was the pasture land. I spent all of my time at the farm from the time I was four years old until I was eighteen years old.

Obviously, you weren’t working on the farm when you were as young as four!

In a way I did. One day, when they were haying up on Pepper Hill, I went over to give a clump of hay to the horses. Wendell was very angry and he told my brother to “keep those kids away from those horses!” I guess that was my first introduction to working on the farm. During the summer, I would help rake up the hay. Wendell would arrive on the hay wagon and we would pitch the hay up to him. Then we went up to the hay barn and we would lift the hay up to the rafters. There was a big metal holder in the floor that would allow someone to drop the hay down to the animals. The space on the side facing the house was for hay. The left side was for horses, cows, calves, and a little bit of room for some more hay. That barn was specifically used for the animals, hay, and a few wagons that were stored next to the work area. One of my jobs was to clean the horse stalls. Today people keep their horses in an open stall. Back then, they were kept in straight stalls. Cleaning the barns was a huge job for farmers for hundreds of years. The cow manure piles would be almost high enough to reach half way up the side of the barn.

Were the cows kept in the space under the barn?

Chester, Wendell’s brother, was blind. When Chester wasn’t ready to milk the cows, they would just be moved to the space under the barn. When Wendell told Chester it was time to milk the cows, he would lift the rail up and the cows would walk right into the barn.  Chester would milk those cows twice a day. There were two cows and sometimes a calf. That space under the barn wasn’t usually where the animals were kept for any length of time.

One thing I’m curious about is the name of the wash house. Everyone seems to call it the squash house. When was the name changed to a squash house?

The upstairs of the building was used to store hubbard and butternut squash. Once the price of squash was right, it would be taken to the market. The wooden tub that used to be on the floor of the squash house is where the squash and other vegetables would be washed before they went to market. So “squash” and “wash” have similar meanings. Everyone knew what everyone else was talking about. I know the old wash tub can’t be used anymore because it doesn’t meet health board requirement. What I would have done is have a stainless steel liner installed in the old washtub to keep the historical importance. It doesn’t matter if it can’t be functionally used, but why not keep it?

Do you know when hubbard squash was introduced?

The only thing I know is there were tons grown up there. My dad tried to grow it around our house, but it took up too much room and it just didn’t work. The temperature and storage have to be just right. The Locke brothers were known for the hubbard squash they grew and sold at the Boston market. The family was highly respected for the quality of their vegetables and the way they did business. The business that was done at the Boston market was unbelievable. Farmers, vendors, wholesalers and buyers came from everywhere you can imagine.

What were the Locke brothers like?

The contrast between Wendell and Chester … you would never think they were brothers. I had a closer relationship with Wendell the entire time I worked on the farm. I thought of him as a second father. He was on the farm constantly, and I would help him out. We had very good rapport. Chester was a kind, pleasant, and handsome man. He was far more sophisticated, far more educated, and all of his likes and dislikes were very refined. Wendell, on the other hand, was just a regular person. Every couple of years, Chester would go down to the Belden and Snow store on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, and he would buy a beautiful straw hat. It had velvet inside and he paid a lot of money for it. He also had felt hats. He enjoyed dressing up and looking very sharp.

Did it seem unusual for a farmer to pay so much attention to his appearance?

Exactly, and Chester did not appear to be a working farmer. For Wendell, we would go the Army/Navy store and buy farmer’s overalls. He would wear his clothes until the knees were gone and the waist was gone. Sometimes his hat would be worn out, his gloves would be worn out, and his coat would be worn out, but he would just wear whatever clothing he had to do his work. If I walked up to the farm now and saw Wendell wearing clean khakis and a clean shirt, I would know he would be going down to Arlington Heights. I have to say the Locke brothers took very good care of the equipment, the farm buildings, and their property. Everything was always well maintained. They were very conscientious farmers and I think they had one of the best farms in the area. I can look back and say “I’m really proud to have met these gentlemen” and I am grateful for the experiences I had working on the farm.

Wendell was deaf and Chester was blind. How did Wendell deal with his hearing loss? How did Chester cope with his blindness?

Wendell could read lips. He could understand what people were saying to him. He did wear a hearing aid on the weekend and he would turn it on when he had visitors. He had a lot of good friends. A funny thing about Wendell. If someone wanted to buy something, he had no problem in understanding what they wanted. He sold rocks, stones, firewood, and just knew what people wanted to buy. After working with Wendell and Chester, that experience has taught me how to connect with people who have difficulties in some way, such as a speech impediment, learning the English language, or physical handicaps. This experience was useful in my profession. It really helped me to grow up from a little boy to a teenager and then an adult.

Did the Locke brothers go to school?

That’s something I wanted to tell you about. The Locke brothers were more sophisticated and educated than the majority of farmers in the area. Wendell read the newspaper every day. In addition to many other things, he knew a lot of history. He never spent much money on his apparel and his gloves. He was an old Yankee and he would wear his clothes until they couldn’t be mended and just fell apart. At Christmas I would buy him a new pair of gloves. He accepted the gift, but I never saw him wear them. He wanted to save them. Wendell was the cook, the bottle washer, and the housekeeper. We kids would sit with Chester while he was milking the cows and listen to him talk. He would let us watch him, but he never let us milk the cows. That was a chore he enjoyed.

The brothers must have been very close.

Yes, they were. They took care of each other. You know what really amazed me about Locke farm? The Locke’s were so self-sufficient. They had their own plumbing, threading, fittings, tools, and everything else that was needed for irrigation. Virtually everything that was needed to repair wagons, cars – they had it all right there. The wash house was heated in the winter. There was a chute for firewood right in front of the door. Wendell would throw the wood into the boiler just to maintain the temperature and prevent freezing. He would do that diligently and there were never any problems with freezing. He worked so hard and his work was so meticulous.

Howard, my older brother, graduated from Winchester High School in 1954. There was one scholarship to Essex Agricultural School. The scholarship was awarded to my brother. Maybe because they called us “farmers” up here on the hill! In 1956, my brother asked Wendell if he could work at the farm. Wendell liked my brother and told him he could use any of the equipment he needed. Wendell didn’t charge him anything. At that time produce such as squash, tomatoes, and beans were grown. My brother would fill the trailer and pick-up truck and take some of the produce to the market in Boston and sell it. It wasn’t on a big scale, because the acreage was only three acres. Hubbard squash would be harvested in the fall. After they were picked, they were stored in the squash house. They were kept in bins and I know some of the bins are still in the squash house. When the price was right, it would be time to sell the squash. As a young boy, I enjoyed seeing all of the farmers who were selling produce in the area around Faneuil Hall. A number of these farmers were working as employees because they wanted to get off of the farm. In the late 1950s, it seemed no one in this area wanted to continue to farm.

I heard there were some differences between Wendell, Chester and their siblings.

I can tell you about that. Wendell and Chester were totally different from their brothers. After World War II, the farming business in New England couldn’t compete with growers in, for example, California who were shipping produce to this area. Farmland in New England was becoming more valuable as real estate, and land was sold and divided for housing developments. Eventually the Locke farm was no longer a family supported farm. There was some controversy when the Locke family divided the property and sold some of the farmland. Wendell told me that after the land was divided, part of it was sold to the town in the early 1950s for $40,000. That land was used to build the fire station and create Mullen Field. Wendell and Chester chose to remain on the farm. Harry, their older brother, left the farm. He didn’t want any part of it. Along with their siblings, he sold his interest in the farm to Wendell and Chester. Wendell and Chester didn’t have wives or children. I guess they had nowhere to go, so they just remained on the farm and kept it going the best they could. There probably was some tension and jealousy among the Locke family members after Wendell and Chester took it over. Wendell and Chester probably weren’t the best friends of their brothers. Real estate prices were doubling and tripling and quadrupling. When Wendell and Chester sold the farm to the Hamilton family, their brothers probably felt they had been cheated because the Hamilton’s didn’t, in their opinion, pay much for that farm.

The Locke brothers were financially secure and lived modestly. They didn’t marry so they didn’t have children. What happened to their money after they died?

No, they didn’t marry. They were so generous in allowing other people, without payment, to use their land to grow crops. Even now, the majority of farmers may own a lot of land, but that doesn’t mean they’re wealthy. You may or may not know this. In 1954 or 1955, the farmhouse was broken into during the night. Wendell and Chester were at home at the time. I found out afterwards one of the criminals used to live right next door to me. He was involved with a group of boys, probably 14 or 15 years old, who lived in downtown Winchester, and he must have told them the Locke brothers had a lot of money in their house. When these kids broke into the house, Chester kept asking “who’s in here, who’s in here?” Chester was seriously beaten. It was just a horrible thing for all of us to just think that someone would break in and rob a house that was owned and occupied by a deaf person and a blind person. And then to beat one of them? How low can a person be to do such a thing? At the time no one knew who the criminals were. Billy Sullivan, an older teenager who lived on Dunster Lane, found out who the kids were through the grapevine. He grabbed those kids and dragged them to the police station.

This was a horrible treatment of two gentlemen who just wanted to live quietly. Both Susan and Cynthia Hamilton have told me there were some tough kids in this neighborhood.

Yes, there were some. I wouldn’t say there was a lot of crime. The criminal who influenced the gang that broke into the brother’s house had moved from Medford to Winchester. He wasn’t like the kids who grew up around here at all. He was a city street kid. I don’t know if the brothers had a lot of money, but I can guarantee you there were fine antiques and equipment, and they would be very valuable. However, the sulky that is still in the barn did not belong to the Locke’s. It was owned by Curtis Hamilton. A sleigh was driven by Curtis Hamilton, and that also didn’t belong to the Locke’s. Wendell and Chester owned a market wagon that has “Locke Brothers” painted on it. It was built by a fellow named Charles Gott who lived in Arlington. That’s the wagon the Locke brothers would take into the market in Boston to sell produce. Wendell would drive. He would very proudly back the wagon into a prominent position in the farmer’s market. The wagon was sold to the Hamilton family, and they eventually sold the wagon back to the Gott family and it ended up in New Hampshire. The Gott’s ran out of storage space, and now the wagon is back in the barn. I’m really happy about that.

After Wendell and Chester sold the farm, where did they go?

Chester went to the Lexington Nursing Home on Route 2A, Lowell Street. I was away at college at the time Wendell left the farm, so I don’t know, to this day, where he went.

The Hamilton Family

How did the Locke brothers meet the Hamilton family?

Curtis Hamilton, who worked at the Cooperative Bank in Arlington, had a riding horse. He asked Wendell if it would be possible for him to rent one of the stalls. Wendell thought it over and he said “sure, that’s fine.” So Curtis brought his horse up and frequently went to the farm to groom and ride him. The horse was kept in the stall. As time went on, the Hamilton family befriended the Locke’s. Curtis would take his family to the farm after school and on weekends. The Hamilton’s spent a lot of time enjoying the farm. Curtis was kind to me as a young kid. He taught me all about horses and how to ride them. It was a big treat to be able to do that. The last time I saw Bertha was probably forty years ago.

Some people believe Curtis had a rifle and he would shoot anyone who was on his property! That must have just been a rumor.

In all the years I knew Curtis I found him to be a gentleman. How he took care of the farm was admirable. He may have said he would shoot people to keep them off the farm, but obviously he would never have done that! He just didn’t want people wandering around his farm. Wendell and Chester welcomed kids to the farm, but Curtis felt the farm belonged to him and his family only. Unlike the Locke brothers, Curtis didn’t want anyone on the farm unless he gave them permission. Perhaps it was because of insurance. People may have thought he was a very rigid and standoffish gentleman. That wasn’t my experience. I learned a lot from Curtis. A number of years ago, I was walking on the farm and saw Bertha and Curtis sitting outside the farmhouse. Bertha said “oh, I remember you, Steve. You were here all the time!” Curtis didn’t seem to recognize me. I told him that I had learned so many positive things from him while I was growing up, and that he was such a good role model for me. He asked “what did you learn from me?” I said “you told me I should go to college and that I should pursue business accomplishments.” The Hamilton’s were just a lovely family. The children were very well brought up and they were taught to be kind and sincere.

You’ve told me so many positive things about Curtis. I don’t believe many people really knew him.

Some people in town have told me they didn’t get along with Curtis very well. That just wasn’t true of me. They don’t know of all of the years the Locke brothers and the Hamilton family developed a strong relationship, and the brothers became part of the Hamilton family. The other members of the Locke family didn’t treat the brothers that way. I got along very well with Curtis. This is a good example of the kind of man Curtis was. On my fourteenth birthday, I was plowing the fields where the raspberries are now. I had a dog named Pepsi. Pepsi was following me but she suddenly ran across Ridge Street. She was probably chasing a rabbit. I heard a really loud screech of tires. I jumped off the tractor and ran to the road. Pepsi had been hit and was killed. Here it was my birthday and it began happily. I was then totally devastated because it was the last day of Pepsi’s life. The man who hit the dog was so sorry. I was crying my eyes out when I took the tractor back to the barn. Curtis drove up and asked me “what is the matter?” I told him “my dog was just killed right on the street and I have to go and pick her up”. He told me to hop in the car. He had an old Oldsmobile. He drove me home and told my mother he would take care of Pepsi. That meant a lot to me. Just another example of how Curtis was human. I’ve never forgotten that.

You have tears in your eyes just talking about this. I expect it is because you loved Pepsi so much, but also because Curtis was so kind to you and understood how you must have felt. You must have known Susan and Cynthia very well.

Susan is a very nice person. When I was in the eighth or ninth grade, I had a big crush on her! I really did. She’s very pretty, very intelligent, very outgoing, and very friendly. She has an absolutely beautiful smile. We used to work the horses together. Cindy had really dark hair and was always really bubbly. Clifford was a very handsome young man. Their baby brother, David, had red hair and was always filled with all kinds of fun. All of the Hamilton children were very happy, smiling kids. I spent many impressionable and positive years with the Hamilton family.

Do you know how much the Hamilton’s paid for the farm?

About $100,000. Some people are upset that the Hamilton’s made over $13 million when they sold the farm to the town given they had paid such a modest price when they purchased it. But people have to remember it was a business arrangement. Just like everyone else, when you sell your property you want to get the highest price you can.

How did the farm change after the Hamilton’s purchased it from the Locke brothers?

Mrs. Hamilton was the one who is responsible for changing the name of the farm to the Wright-Locke Farm to return the historical aspect of the farm. For the most part, as far as the Hamilton’s are concerned, we should thank them that the farm was kept in the same condition it was when they owned it. Even with all of the things that are going on, everyone will benefit from having access to the farm.

 Fond Memories of the Farm

The farm, and everything I loved about it, is right here in my backyard. When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get away from the farm and go out into the world. Here I am back so close to the farm. I tell my older brother, who was very involved in the farm as well, and my children how lucky I am to have an opportunity to be on the farm again. When I’m eighty years old and need to use a cane, I will still be able to walk to the farm, sit on the squash house platform, and look over the farm. That’s amazing! For the people of Winchester to have the insight to save the farm from development is a fortunate thing.

My older brother and I had a farm stand right on Ridge Street for the three years we were farming there. My brother was a businessman as well as a farmer. He asked Werner Carlson to come up and help him build a stand using some two-by-fours with some canvas, a box and a bench. Werner and my brother were good friends. My brother called him “Wernie”. Everyone called him “Wernie”. No one called him Werner except someone who didn’t know him. We set it up on Ridge Street right in the middle of where the raspberry patch is now. We grew corn, tomatoes, butternut squash and beans. My brother would go to the market in Boston and purchase produce to sell at our farm stand. Neighbors and people just driving down Ridge Street and Lockeland Road would stop by to purchase produce. It was a good location. My job was to put all of the vegetables on the stand, sell the vegetables, and then put the vegetables that weren’t sold under the hay barn where it was cool at night. Then the same thing would be done the next day for the entire season. My older brother spent most of his time driving around in his car. It seemed to me that he never did any of the work! He stuck me with all of the work! But I loved every minute of it. To me it was a learning experience.

Why did you call Werner “Wernie”?

Probably because his dad was named Werner. We all called Wernie’s father Mr. Carlson and certainly not Werner. Mr. Carlson was another person I admired greatly. He worked so hard and he was a “stick-to-it” guy. He built so many of the houses around this neighborhood. When we were little kids, we used to just sit and watch him work. This was a busy area. My children used to cut through the farm, but they never knew what it was like to jump out of a hay loft, or pick apples, pick tomatoes, or to just be up there for the whole day and never want to go home. My kids never experienced any of that. My friends and I never went to summer camp. We didn’t need to. Everything we wanted was right here. I used to be on the farm every single day to do all kinds of things. Even to go skating on the pond. I haven’t put my skates on for thirty years. That farm was my life and I’ve now reached a point where I would totally enjoy just going back in time and be able to appreciate all of the things I had when I was a kid. By interviewing me and re-introducing me to the farm and how exciting it was to be a kid on the farm, I’m reminded that the farm was one of the most important parts of my life. There are so many things I could tell you, such as what it was like to sit up in the cupola after we’d finished work for the day. I would climb up the ladder in the hayloft to get up to the cupola and I would sit there looking over the farmland and just admire how beautiful the land was. In the winter, if the kids knew Wendell would be coming by, everyone would run up to his sleigh and hop on. He would wait for all of the kids to get on the sleigh and he would give us a ride. Afterwards, some of the kids would leave and some of us would ride back to the barn and help Wendell put the sleigh away.

Werner called the “squash house” the “wash house”.

It was either called the squash house or the wash house. The reason some people called it the wash house is because there was a huge wooden tub right in the middle of the cement platform in the building. On the right side facing the entrance, the Farmall tractor was always parked there. The left side was used by Wendell to park his fancy, beautiful, four-door, blue 1930 Packard automobile. He had inherited this car from his aunt. She also left him the 59 Dunster Lane house. Up until 1947, the seasonal farmers who worked for Wendell lived in that house and they could walk from that house to the farm. After 1947 he rented the house for some time and finally sold it. That house had a connection to the farm, and most people don’t know that. Wendell’s aunt was very fond of him because he was always very helpful to her and would do things like drive her around in the Packard. To start the car, we would take an iodine bottle with a string attached, drop it into the gas tank, pull the string out, lift up the hood, take the fuel pump glass off, dump the gas into it, screw it back on and, only if the battery was dead, use a crank to start the car. A really old antique farm truck was parked there, but it wasn’t used very much. Chester had a 1930 two-door coupe Nash that was parked in the garage. He would tell us stories about when he was able to drive that car, so obviously that was before he lost his sight. We could just sit with Chester and he would tell us all kinds of interesting stories. He was a gentleman, a scholar, and a very intelligent man. He would look straight ahead with his hand holding his chin and lips with his fingers. His hair was thick and white, and it was always combed over. He took care to make sure he was presentable, and he had some lovely friends who would visit him frequently. The Locke’s also had a veterinarian who would come to check the animals. The veterinarian was interested in buying all of the antiques in the house. From my observation of Wendell, he always had just a little bit of money but was always looking for opportunities to make some more money. The blacksmith used to come up to shoe the horses. The kids would just sit on the barrels all day long and just watch that man. It was fantastic to just meet all of the different people who came to the farm. My older brother would take Chester to the symphony and the Winchester Boat Club. Chester loved to be on the water and canoe. He also loved to skate on Locke’s Pond. After he finished milking the cows in the morning, he would take a daily walk from the farm up to the Lexington line and back again. When I went up to the farm, Chester would hear me and ask “Who is that?” I would tell him my name, and he would say “How are you today? It’s a beautiful day” and we would talk for a while before he continued his walk. He used a cane and if he found a stone that had fallen off the stone wall, he would do whatever was necessary to put the stone back into place. He knew that farm backwards and forwards. As far as I was concerned, that gentleman didn’t have a handicap at all. I never thought of him as handicapped.

What do you remember of the pond?

That pond was so much a part of my life too. We had double sessions from 1956 to 1957 because they were remodeling what is now the now Lincoln School to adapt it to a junior high school. We finished school around 11:30 in the morning. In the winter, as soon as we got out of school, I would grab my skates and run right up to the pond. My younger brother, all of the neighborhood kids, the Arlington kids … that pond was packed after school, all day on Saturday and all day on Sunday. My first experience in skating was when my father gave me a pair of white skates. I went up to the pond with my sister to go skating. All of the kids started to laugh at me because I was wearing white skates. I told my dad people were laughing at me because I was wearing girl’s skates. When my dad realized just how much I loved to skate, he bought me black skates. I went on to play Winchester high school hockey, I played in college, and I coached Varsity hockey when I was teaching. Skating was a big part of my life and I skated almost every day.

I’ve heard that there is now so much duckweed it will soon become a “dead” pond because no light can filter through to the water below and fish and frogs can’t survive.

I have to tell you if the duckweed is taken care of, the entire community will be skating on that pond. The children, the mothers, the fathers, and the grandparents will all be able to enjoy one of the greatest activities a family can do together. Wendell gave me a crank phonograph that was in his garage. We took that phonograph up to the pond. At night we would play old records and skate. It was so much fun. All of the kids would laugh when they listened to those old records. We would have bonfires and so many people of all ages would be skating and just having a really great time. It was magnificent. If the ice was thin and some of us fell in, we would just go home, get dry pants and socks, and get right back out there. Everyone was supposed to take turns to cover the phonograph after everyone had stopped skating, but unfortunately the phonograph was eventually ruined because it was left outside. Wendell had at least two phonographs and, obviously, the one in better condition was kept in the house.

What do you remember about the Locke farm equipment?

Blue was the “Locke color”. The wheel barrels, the tools, the wagons, the barn doors … they were all painted blue. I have two implements from the farm – a pitch fork and a whip turner for removing hay around stone walls. They were painted in Locke blue and they have been in my possession for sixty years. One thing I wish I had asked Curtis Hamilton is if I could buy the old fashioned blue wheel barrel we used to clean manure out of the barn. Just this past weekend, I was walking down the hill and I met August Westner. I asked him where he was going and he said “I’m going up to the farm to do some work up there.” He told me he was working on the Farmall tractor. That old tractor was manufactured in 1947. I told him that when I was about 13 or 14 years old and working on the farm, I was using the Farmall to plow the field. I went over a bump and cracked either the rear right or left housing on the tractor. August said “it was the left rear housing and whoever did the housing welding did a suburb job”. I had to tell him I was the one who broke it in the first place!

Did the Locke brothers rent any of the property to other growers?

In the 1950s Busa Farms, in Lexington, wanted more land to grow celery. Anthony Busa approached Wendell and asked if he could rent some land on the farm for his celery crop. Wendell, being a business man, agreed to lease land to the Busa family. We learned a lot about Mr. Busa and his family. Mr. Busa and a gentleman by the name Mr. Ruma were very different people with very different backgrounds. The Busa family was from Lexington. Mr. Ruma and his family lived up on Agawam Road off of High Street. They owned, and still own, the Ruma Fruit and Vegetable Company. Mr. Ruma told Wendell he sold cabbage, cut up into coleslaw, to restaurants. He asked if he could use the squash house to prepare the cabbage so he could take it to restaurants on Friday nights and sell it. Wendell said “sure”. Then Mr. Ruma turned to me and asked if I would clean the cabbage. I said “sure, absolutely. I’ll take that job in a minute!”

Were you paid for that?

Yes, I was paid very well. You wouldn’t believe how much I was paid. I think he gave me $50 per week. On Friday mornings he would bring crates of cabbage. There was so much work involved in cleaning the cabbage I had to ask my high school friends to come up on Friday nights to help take the cabbage out of the crates, put it into the wash tub to soak it, core them, and place the cabbage in a clean crate. At the end of the evening we would have a pile of cabbage leaves as big as the living room in my house. On Saturday mornings Wendell would get the tip cart with the horse and we would go back up to the platform and shovel all of the cabbage leaves into the tip cart. We would then take it out to the area around the pond and dump the leaves into the compost pile where the fruit and vegetables that were bad were piled. The amount of rhubarb that grew there was unbelievable, and the kids would cut it, wash it, and sell it to people in the neighborhood. That’s how we earned a little bit of money.

How many kids were involved in this work, and what did you do with the money you earned?

Two or three of us were there all the time. Over the years, each kid would say “I lived on Dunster Lane, or Henry Street, or James Street, and I worked on the farm.” The farm was the central point for every young person. We had to cut through the farm and walk down High Street to get downtown. What did we do with the money? We went to the movies! We would also unload feed at Symmes Feed Store. That store was located where Saltmarsh Insurance and Town Pantry on Main Street are now. Wendell’s primary reason for doing so much work on the farm was to exercise Jim, the horse. It really wasn’t just to get the work done. There were two work horses at that time. In the farm’s haying days there were probably six work horses.

Did the kids work on other farms as well?

In my older brother’s era he, Bobby and Roy Lawson, Werner Carlson, Anthony and Ritchie Guerino, Jack Irwin, and some others would work on their family farms. Wendell didn’t need that many workers. During busy seasons, he would hire seasonal Italian workers who lived in the North End of Boston. They would take the bus to Arlington Heights and just walk up to the farm. In those days people who worked on farms in this area made ample money. One of the workers who lived in town was Johnny Rosetti. He was the Locke’s farmhand. His job was to cut up the firewood that would either be used on the farm or sold. He would also break up and pile rocks and stone. He was an older man. He must have been in his 70s. Imagine a 70 year-old man swinging a sledge hammer. If he didn’t think the scythe for cutting the hay was sharp enough he would stop, take a puff on his pipe, sharpen the scythe, and then go right back to his work. He worked so hard. He was just like a machine. He was another man I admired for his work ethic. I learned my work ethic on the farm from the Locke brothers and men like Johnny Rosetti, and my building ethic from Werner Carlson and his father.

I’m curious. Why would people buy rocks?

For stone walls. When Lockeland Road was created and homes were built, they needed rocks. It’s not like these days where developers are like termites. Rocks and stones aren’t readily available. If they wanted rocks or stone for landscaping, they had to buy it from farms. I don’t think Wendell and Chester made very much money from selling rocks and stone, but they did make a little bit of money.

Did John Rosetti buy part of the farm that was, until recently, owned by the Rosetti family?

Johnny Rosetti lived on Forest Street in Arlington. He had a grandson, Ralph, who would come up to the farm with his father and grandfather. I don’t know when or why the Locke’s either gave or sold part of the land to the Rosetti family.

Did one of the Rosetti family members marry into the Locke family? I believe there was a connection between the Locke’s and the Rosetti’s. There is a Locke family tomb on the property that was sold to the Rosetti’s.

Up until the 1940s or 1950s, that tomb was wide open. All of the kids around here knew that tomb was open. Being curious, the kids would look into the tomb. We could see there were bone fragments in there. The Locke’s tomb was a destination for kids from around here and from as far away as Boston. They would want to go to the “scary” tomb.

I understand that when the Rosetti’s sold their land to a developer several years ago there was an agreement with the Massachusetts Historical Commission that the tomb would be covered over and a plaque erected to honor the family members buried there. The developer, unfortunately, bulldozed and desecrated the tomb.

What happened to the headstone that was there?

I think it’s in the barn. Let’s the two of us go and take a look to see if it’s there.

The Locke’s tomb was always an abandoned piece of property that no one seemed to respect as a burial place. I expect that the latest time someone was buried there was in the 1800s.

Now that the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy is established and is responsible for preserving the farmland and developing and implementing plans to ensure the farm will be financially viable, what are your thoughts about how these objectives will be achieved?

There are so many people in Winchester who value the history of the farm, and the farm will continue to be an important asset to the town.

Let’s go back to you and your plans for the future. You’re very busy with the men’s group you belong to, the church, your travels and so on. What are some of the things that are most important to your life now?

The farm is again part of my life. Now that you are interviewing me I’m remembering all of the many things I loved about the farm. Once my affairs are in order, I would like to just walk up to the farm on a beautiful sunny day and sit on the platform of the squash house and look over at the farm. I would love to see all of the activities going on at the farm and just appreciate how the farm has been reinvented. Many days as a youth I would walk up to the farm and just hear the birds and crickets, feel the sun on my shoulders, and just admire how magnificent it is to be so close so to a property I love so much. You can never really go back in time. But the way the farm is being managed now, you can really see how the farm is again so vibrant. It’s a wonderful feeling to know it is right here in my neighborhood.

 [1] The oral history for Werner Carlson is on file in the Archives.

2 Chester Cleveland Locke (July 3, 1886 – April 30, 1974). Wendell Wyman Locke (January 6, 1889 – January 15, 1974).

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