Shoe manufacturer gave Grafton an enduring gift

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Shoe manufacturer gave Grafton an enduring gift
The Grafton mansion of wealthy shoe manufacturer Charles Nelson, who left the house and its acreage to the town. (Photo/Courtesy of the Grafton Historical Society)

GRAFTON – If you are from New England, you may already be aware of the early successes here during the industrial revolution. They were possible because of those who were innovative enough to build and operate lucrative businesses and help develop communities in the area. During that time, there were many noteworthy characters to be remembered.
Business was booming in many small New England towns.

Grafton is notably known for its role in the shoe industry during the 1800s. Shoe manufacturing was run in homes with a lot of tedious work, done by hand. These “at home” businesses could not compete with the machinery used by places such as the Jasper S. Nelson Company in North Grafton.

Like many business owners, the Nelsons (Jasper, the father, then later Charles, the son) would provide housing and recreation for the employees working in their factories. The Nelsons’ property was about 18 acres of land on Route 140 in Grafton and bordering Shrewsbury. You likely drive by this amazing property hundreds of times, especially if you make a point to visit the Art Bradish Snack Bar when it’s open, just across the street.

The land, as you see it now, is a park where the residents of Grafton enjoy playing sports, playing at the playground and/or using the Nelson Park Library. Now, knowing that this beautiful piece of property was once owned by a wealthy shoe manufacturer, you may be wondering how the town acquired this land.

Charles Nelson was a wealthy shoe manufacturer who married his bookkeeper, Annie Nelson. The couple settled on the Nelson property in a beautiful mansion. The couple would soon realize that they would not be able to have any children of their own.

Charles and Annie were caring and giving people who needed to share their love somehow. They were known within the community for being extremely giving with their large abundance of wealth. Stories have been told that they would give homes to employees who were faithful paying their rent over time.

After Charles died, Annie took over the estate. She would eventually remarry after Charles’ death to a man named Ralph Wesson. Annie was suspicious that Mr. Wesson was after the property, but Mr. Wesson would wind up putting thousands of dollars of his own money into the property’s upkeep.

In 1934, Annie passed away, resulting in the reading of her late husband Charles’ will by 1935. The will of Charles Nelson exposed a bombshell. The 18 acres of the Nelson property would become the property of the town of Grafton, in memory of his late father, Jasper Nelson.

The will indicated that this land be used for the children of Grafton to use, which remains to this day. This news must have come to Mr. Wesson’s horror, as he probably assumed he would inherit the massive estate, but such is life. One door closes for someone, a door will open for another.

How many of you have an almost 100-year-old gift that you can still enjoy to this very day? The town of Grafton was so fortunate to obtain this property from a generous family. The story of this bountiful gift should be told and retold and forever remembered.

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