Archive 2008 - 2019

Childlife and Play Specialty - A Holliston Business (Part II)

by Shirley White Nelson

*This story is part two of a two part series. For part one, click here.

For years, my father did all the work himself; the design of the sets, their construction and painting, and the deliveries in and on top of his car. By this time, our family was living on Highland Street in Holliston, and our yard was full of new playthings, such as a rocking boat, a space trolley (a ride on a wire from tree to tree), a trampoline, and hollow blocks big enough to build a pretend house. Childlife was never just a business. Arnold White believed in his product as one that promoted healthy play of many kinds.

Following World War II, Childlife became a national leader in wooden jungle-end swing sets. As orders increased from schools and homes, construction was farmed out to other Holliston artisans, though the assembly continued in our own garage.

The office was our dining room, where my dad designed catalogues and typed letters, and with my mother’s help answered the constantly ringing telephone. From time to time, other family members joined the office staff or helped with sales and deliveries.

Before long, the White grandchildren were testing the equipment in the yard, and soon it would be the great-grandchildren, along with changing flocks of kids from the neighborhood.

In 1964, the business was incorporated as Childlife and Play Specialties (now plural), with entrepreneur Richmond Werner and Holliston attorney Joseph L. Shea as members of the corporation. For a while yet it remained a home industry. The delivery of orders, throughout the Northeast and beyond, still consisted of one private car, by now a station wagon, with a whole swing set tied on the top.

In this manner one day, my father transported the product to Washington D.C., to the family of President John F. Kennedy, and set it up himself on the White House lawn for Caroline and John-John. Other customers included the families of Robert Kennedy and Elliot Richardson.

At age 80, Arnold White retired. The company continued to grow and thrive under Richard Werner, first at 1640 Washington St. and then at 55 Whitney St. in Holliston. Finally, in 2005, the company was dissolved.

"My thanks to all those who have responded.  My father would be very pleased."  Shirley Nelson

Comments (5)

Hi Shirley. Our space trolley was damaged a few years ago. It had been used constantly for many years. Our grand children were grown by then so Dave put the remains in his shop. Last week our son Nick decided to try to fix it because we now have great grandchildren. Just for fun I decided to google Arnold and found your wonderful photos and text !!! Brought back memories. Dave passed way in January 2015. He is much missed but we continue our Sunday breakfasts with our wonderful family. If you ever come to Holliaton you will find us here. Our daughter Lucy visited Shiloh on a recent trip to Maine. Fondly, Grace

Grace hoag | 2016-08-15 17:27:23

Thanks for this delightful trip down memory lane. My family arrived in Holliston in the early 70's and ended up in Regency Drive--at the time a pretty unpleasant place to to be. But my father treated my two little girls to a Childlife swing set and it was a magnet to just about every child in the complex. And stood up wonderfully to the non-stop use. It came with us to Maple Dell Lane a year later and was enjoyed by the kids on that street for years. A grand product, durable, creative, safe, and loved by every kid who played on it. Never a splinter, never a fall. So many wonderful combinations of climbing, swinging, and sliding were possible. A great part of Holliston's history.

Peggy Robertson | 2016-08-04 07:54:38

Thank you for this article. We loved our Childlife swing set. I felt that the sets offered challenges as the kids grew which other sets just didn't have. Sorry to hear that the company has folded.

Leslie Dooley | 2016-08-04 07:53:45

I lived on Prospect Street in Holliston from 1958. I have find memories as one if the neighbourhood kids playing on the equipment at the Highland Street house. Mr. White was always very nice.

Tenna Foale | 2016-08-04 05:56:32

Thank you for sharing your story and pictures!

Andrea Adams | 2016-08-04 05:28:17