Passion for Marlborough's history drives Paul Brodeur
By Joyce DeWallace
Marlborough – Today Marlborough is a busy commercial and political center located at the crossroads of New England. Back in 1656, it was a wilderness area of the English colony ruled by Native Americans. Pioneer inhabitants of Sudbury petitioned the General Court for the land they wanted to settle, which eventually became the town of Marlborough.
Talk to local historian Paul Brodeur, and the ensuing years come alive as he tells “the rest of the story.”
Brodeur majored in history at Worcester State College, but his professional life took a different route. He worked as a project manager, process engineer, computer manager and then his current retirement job, as a driver for the Busy Bee Transportation Services.
In the late 1990s, Brodeur's interest in history was rekindled by John Buczek, head of the Babe Ruth Baseball League, where Brodeur was coaching. Buczek had amassed a large collection of information, including maps and photographs, on the history of Marlborough. Brodeur became an active member of the Marlborough Historical Society, serving as a trustee for the last three years, and started seriously digging into the city's early years.
He started with his own Hayden Street neighborhood.
“The Ward Park was my front yard, and when you went out to play, all the kids gathered there,” Brodeur said.
He learned that although the physical dimensions are the same, the park, originally built in 1924, has undergone many transformations. Through the 1960s it was the only place to play tennis; the original courts were installed in the 1930s. American Legion baseball was big for a while; now the park holds a modern play area and basketball courts, along with the original track.
His research led him to develop a presentation called, “The History of Ward Park and the Four Little Empires of Hayden Meadow.” In his talk, he breaks down the history of the area between the historic road first known as The Great Trail, later as the King's Highway, then the Boston Post Road (Route 20), and Fairmount Hill into four chronological periods.
The first covers the initial displacement of the Native Americans and the founding of the town in 1660 through the Revolutionary War. The second outlines the development of agriculture and apple orchards, the growth of the neighborhood and its farms in the 1800s. The industrial development of Fairmount Hill, the incorporation as a city in 1890, and the numerous shoe factories that thrived in what Brodeur calls “the industrial empire of Samuel Boyd,” constitute the third. The last section details the national champion American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps and the record-setting Shamrock Football Team, which thrived in Marlborough and used Ward Park as their practice field.
“I think Marlborough really reflects the American experience to a very high degree,” Brodeur said. “During the King Philip's War, it was one of the few towns in America invaded and decimated by the Indians. Many Marlborough citizens were killed in the French and Indian Wars in the 1700s. Several Marlborough natives played important roles in both the Revolutionary War and Shay's Rebellion.”
Agriculture thrived, then was replaced by manufacturing, which led to an intricate trolley system and railroads crisscrossing the region. Now Marlborough, nearing 40,000 in population, has a mix of industrial, commercial and residential development.
Brodeur likes to rattle off facts.
“A guy from Marlborough invented the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Dr. John Rock grew up in our neighborhood and had an important role running the clinical trials for the birth control pill. There are more hotel rooms here than in Worcester.”
As for historic buildings and sites, Brodeur is not impressed.
“We like to take buildings down – there's nothing left. The oldest building from 1680 is the Peter Rice House, now the home of the Historic Society. The John Brown Bell [now housed in a special tower built on Union Common on Main Street] is arguably the most important Civil War-era artifact north of Gettysburg.”
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