Archive 2008 - 2019

Braggville: Portrait of a Community's Past: Part 2

by Ken Lefebrve, Jr.

With three new stone cutting yards serving the railroads and the booming shoe industry, Braggville enjoyed a great prosperity of its own from the 1840s up through the Civil War era. The Bragg family name had become one of affluence, as much of the town land had been owned by them and their shoe-making business had been successful for many decades. When the great depression of 1837 hit, nearly all of the factories in the area failed and had to be closed down.  Many thought that the Braggs' business would be next. However, under Arial's youngest son, Melen Chamberlain Bragg, the shoe factories stayed open through the entire crisis. Melen Bragg's industrial and financial competence led him to be a lucrative businessman, known well throughout the Boston banks to the point that he could draw on any of them for any amount. The Braggs, though exceedingly wealthy, were well received by even the poorest citizens of their namesake village. They were known to be charitable on many accounts. One particular story of their goodwill still survives in Melen Bragg's obituary from the 1896 Boston Globe- "While riding one hot day, [Melen] became thirsty, and entered the first house he encountered, which happened to be a hut, the inside of which were painted, unmistakable signs of poverty. He asked for a glass of water, and when leaving he shoved a crisp $10 bill under a plate unknown to the any of the hungry inmates. That was but one instance of hundreds."

The Kampersal Dairy barn off Fisher Street.

Around this time, another of Arial's sons, a Mr. Appleton Bragg had amassed a considerable fortune as a broker in New York City, at one time purportedly controlling all supplies of sole leather in the country. When Arial's farm had become financially unmanageable, Appleton returned to the town and purchased much of his father's land, thereby relieving the situation. On this land he built workers' tenements to house the men and families of the shoe shops and cutting yards.  With what remained he erected a monument, albeit short-lived, that stands alone in this town's history. Against the advice of his associates, Appleton built an elaborate hotel south of the railroad tracks, between the former stone bridge and Hopping Brook. Little detail is given about the hotel other than that it was seen as a grand structure in the otherwise modest village. The hotel was built by the edge of a grove of trees, and although it was never a great success, it still managed to attract many picnickers from Boston via the new railroad. They would often come out for day-trips, sit out by the stream and occasionally enjoy the dance pavilion that had been built on the brook's opposite shores. It's a wonder that Appleton Bragg was as successful as he was, for it is said he often didn't make the best decisions. Although Ernest A. Bragg never explicitly states it, it seems to be implied that the man was a bit of a drinker (the village had an alcohol problem throughout much of its existence) and an impulsive one at that. One of his most conspicuous follies was his attempt to reroute the Hopping Brook through his hotel yard, in hopes of building a pond. Appleton made for a lousy engineer though, failing to realize that water does not in fact run uphill. He did however leave behind a large trench, which could be seen running parallel to the railroad tracks off of Fisher Street as late as 1958; the author is unaware if this rut is still extant today.

With the schoolhouse, stores, post office and railroad station long gone, nobody would suspect that this neighborhood intersection was once the downtown hub of the shoe industry.

Braggville would hit its cultural and economic peak by the end of the Civil War. With demand for shoes at an all-time high for Union army soldiers, the widespread use the village's pink granite and the construction of a schoolhouse, stores, the train depot, post office, hotel, sawmill (run by a George Adams) and several boot-shops, the village's future looked bright, with perhaps the potential to become a town all its own one day. This was not to be because, not long after the war's end, the hotel burned to the ground, and by the end of the 1870s two large boot shops had fires on the same night. Though the footwear industry survived in the smaller shops, this setback was significant all the same, as the northeast remained in a recession for much of the reconstruction period after the Civil War. The town also suffered numerous forest fires in those days, in part due to the business of the Shippee brothers who lived to the north of Adams street. They had bought up one of the former cutting yards in the 1870s and built kilns there for charcoal burning. Because of the demand for their business, much of the standing forest had to be chopped down to fuel these kilns, in turn causing the brooks to dry up. All of this combined with the ash and sparks of these furnaces led to many fires devastating Holliston's Cedar Swamp, parts of which (seen on the 1875 map) were simply renamed "Burnt Swamp" with their new desolation.

The Old South Street bridge as it appears today. Now a part of the bike trail, this old landmark has been almost completely filled in with soil and leaves." 


By the early 20th century the railroad station had been torn down, and the post office long abandoned. At some point it seems the schoolhouse (later a community center) was demolished, and the only businesses that remained were the Ackerman Monument works and the Kampersal Diary. Braggville, as put by Ernest Bragg in 1958, was "to become an all but forgotten name in the future." The Bragg family still retained land in Holliston until around 1990 when the last of them, Lena E. Bragg, donated the Braggville cemetery to town. A quick review of the Little Green Book shows no Braggs listed in Holliston today. Lena, being unmarried, never had any children and the rest of the family seems to have long since dispersed to other towns and states. The fading headstones of the Rockland Street cemetery, the buried bridge on the railroad bike trail, the Kampersal's former dairy farm, and the neighborhood's timeworn maple trees remain the only witnesses to a long departed era of amblers and mills. All the same, the stories of that faded time press on.

The Braggville Cemetery of Rockland Street, as it appears today. Many members of the Bragg and Kimball families are buried here, the large obelisk on the left being a memorial for Arial Bragg.

You can read more about Arial Bragg, his life, businesses, as well as some poetry and philosophy in his memoirs, now available at the Internet Archives and Google Books (see Memoirs of Col. Arial Bragg). There are also several books on Braggville and Holliston's shoe industry by Ernest A. Bragg that can be found in some of the local libraries.

Special thanks to Hester Chesmore, librarian of the Holliston Historical Society for all her help and the historic photographs, and also to the interlibrary loan staff of the University of Massachusetts W.E.B. DuBois Library.

Ken Lefebvre, an alumnus of Holliston High School (Class of 2009), is currently enrolled as an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Although majoring in Environmental Science, he often finds much interest in the history of Holliston, Massachusetts and New England as a whole, particularly in its obscure details.


Comments (4)

I love this stuff.. I came across this researching a woman from Town that had 3 names. Marion Thayer Blood, Marion L Thayer and Marion L Taylor??????

David Marsh | 2015-02-05 09:43:06

Ken, great article. It's rare that the younger generation takes such a strong interest in the history (especially the obscure details)of this little old town. I'm the same way as you. We should talk over a coffee sometime if you are in town. I'm in the book! HHS Class of 1999

James Read | 2011-08-24 21:23:43

I was contacted by Margaret and Carol Bragg following a story I wrote on Braggville for the Holliston Patch last December. Though not residents of the area, they maintain New England homes as well as fond memories of the village named for their family.

Choo-Choo | 2011-08-22 21:46:04

I'm pleased to say a few additional details have come to light since writing this-- The hotel was named "Appleton House", after its financier, and was built sometime in the early-mid 1850s. The building burned down on July 20, 1860, in what was believed to be a deliberate act of arson. The fire started around 2 o'clock in the morning on the piazza (veranda) of the hotel and quickly spread and consumed the entire building. Milford and Holliston firefighters did manage however, to save the "commodious" stable that stood adjacent to the place, along with most of the hotel's furniture. At the time the story made a blurb on the front page of one New York paper. Appleton lost much as damages were between $12 and $15 thousand (approx $280-360k today), while the building was only insured for $2500 ($60k). Another note, its grove and pavilion, along the south bank of the Hopping Brook was known originally as the Orphean, but were renamed by residents who simply called it Appleton Grove. Ironically, considering the village's alcohol problem, several Milford churches and the Worcester-Middlesex Temperance Society were known to hold meetings there. One last detail, the Braggville train depot closed doors in March of 1919, with the post-office doing the same at the end of June. Apparently the postal salary was so small that many who offered to work there would also work 2-3 other part-time jobs, something that the post-office refused; it remains unknown when the schoolhouse was razed.

Ken Lefebvre | 2011-08-22 09:20:15