Hopedale is on the southeastern edge of Worcester County and occupies the valley of the upper Mill River. Benjamin Albee set up a grist mill on the Mill River to grind settlers’ corn in 1669 in the first recorded settlement. Until the mid-19th century, the town followed the pattern of many communities with a combination of agriculture and small industry. But in 1842, Adin Ballou and his followers, idealists who wanted to combine biblical individualism with social responsibility and religious liberalism, purchased 600 acres in what is now downtown Hopedale to establish Fraternal Community Number One. Thirty houses, chapel and workshops were built on an architectural plan for the 170 people who joined in the social experiment, which combined farming with manufacturing, and took strong social stands on temperance, women’s rights and abolition.
Unfortunately, disagreements over how to administer the community ended in bankruptcy by 1856 and George and Ebenezer Draper, followers of Ballou, took over the property. The brothers made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery. By 1880 there were 400 patents held in Hopedale for textile machinery, 800 Draper employees and $1 million in sales. By 1892, with the advent of the Northrop Loom, Draper became the largest producer of textile machinery in the country. There were 78,000 Northrop looms sold in 1903 because they used less power and could be operated by untrained hands (which resulted in the textile industry abandoning New England and moving south). By World War I, the majority of the 400,000 looms in the United States had been made by Draper and the company was selling to China, Russia and Mexico.
The Drapers believed that good houses make good workers and created a model self-contained company town with one of the best collections of architecturally significant double houses in the country, built on hills and in valleys in garden settings which preserved the views. The company charged low rents, and provided high quality housing, impeccable maintenance and recreation opportunities. Workers left their handsomely designed duplex houses to walk to work at Hopedale Machine, or Northrop Loom, or Hopedale Elastic and left work to play in company parks or stroll along company streets. In addition, the Drapers donated the high school, playground and bandstand to the town and built roads, sidewalks, sewage systems and water and gas lines to service their 250 buildings of worker housing. Only one strike, in 1913, was ever recorded in Hopedale through the most turbulent eras of American labor unrest.
The Drapers’ secular, paternalistic industrial complex was highly successful, resulting in an integrated, planned community with innovative 19th and early 20th century employee housing, a central institutional complex and proprietors’ estates, all of which remain essentially intact.