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Many here lived high off the hog

Joshua Holden Bennett
JOSHUA HOLDEN BENNETT once ran the General Walker farm across the common from the Town Hall. This is the manure wagon he drove these about 1930.


The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, September 11, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 012)

Many here lived high off the hog

Pork once played an important role in Burlington’s economy. Every farmer in the area raised a few hogs, and many families who planted but a few vegetables for home use also had a pig or two in the back yard with the chickens. But Burlington had some very large pig farms in the early 1900s. The Connors Brothers raised hogs where the R.C.A. plant is now. The Sousa farm on Peach Orchard Road raised a goodly number. Reed Ham Works on Cambridge Street was the town’s biggest company until Route 128 brought high tech in the 1950s.

The raising of hogs on a large scale was started by John Cummings, a prominent and wealthy tanner in Woburn and president of the National Shawmut Bank of Boston. He owned the original Cummings property on South Bedford Street, assessed in 1799 to Joshua Cummings, and also the extensive Blanchard property. By 1900, the Cummings holdings in Burlington alone consisted of 295 acres, three houses, four barns, one stable, three piggeries and nine other buildings. The farm was an active business, raising cabbage, cauliflower, other vegetables and even alfalfa, which is not a typical New England plant. But the most profitable part of that whole operation was the raising of hogs.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Mary Hall Cummings continued to conduct the farm as a profitable enterprise. She was an excellent businesswoman and also a good farmer. She employed about 30 people, most of whom lived on the farm, had a herd of 35 cows whose milk was sold in Woburn, and raised enough hogs to fill four piggeries, the largest of which measured 225 feet in length. Huge four-horse wagons were kept busy hauling in garbage from Medford and Cambridge. That meant 25 horses. They also carted litter and grain and spread manure on the many growing acres. The hogs were not slaughtered there, but were carted alive to a Brighton abattoir.

The John Norden farm on Winter Street at the bottom of Peach Orchard Hill produced hundreds of pigs. During an odd phase of the New Deal in Depression years, a number of Burlington farmers were paid thousands of dollars to destroy their livestock to help raise the price of pork. The old Bennett place on Francis Wyman Road, then run by a fellow by the name of Randall, bred and sold hogs. Webb Bennett earlier had run the last four-horse team carrying garbage to that farm. Henry Rogers raised some pigs on land now occupied by the Knights of Columbus.

Pattison Brothers on Middlesex Street raised a few, as did Frank Smith off Terrace Hall Avenue. McIntire housed pigs in the old barn on Cambridge Street now occupied by the White Construction Co. and in the field behind it. Stylianos “Joe” Rahanis had pigs rooting where youngsters play today. And John and Harry Breen raised hundreds of hogs where Burlington’s high school and its playing fields are now. The last piggery in town belonged to John McCarthy, whose pigs advertised their presence to noses of St. Malachy parishioners until recently.

McCarthy piggery
McCarthy farm, now McCarthy Drive, across from St. Malachy Parish on Bedford Street.

But the biggest operation ever was that of Walter F. Murphy on Center Street. It began in 1926 by Minot Percy, who built eight breeder houses about where the town’ elder housing is now. Murphy took over in 1933, drawing on his experience with uncle Jack Scammel, who had a piggery on Russell Street in Woburn. Murphy was soon raising some 3,500 hogs on Center Street under the name of the Breezy Hill Livestock Breeders Association. Murphy bought and sold on commission and took pigs from all over. He soon had a fleet of trucks working out of the Burlington yards.

He then built a slaughterhouse in an old cement block garage, installed a de-hairing machine and built a big freezer. During the war, 300 hogs a day were slaughtered here. The freezer could store 350 dressed carcasses. The Brighton Stockyard called Murphy when they needed hogs, and Murphy supplied packing houses in both Boston and Somerville. By the time he died, Murphy owned other farms in Lincoln and Woburn, kept a large number of trucks on the go, paid wages to 40 men and was doing an extremely lucrative business.

Murphy was born in Arlington in 1900, remained a single man all his life. He died suddenly in 1949. Joe Galipeau, a Murphy employee before running the Flying Saucer eatery, always felt that Murphy was psychic because he said to him when he left for the hospital, “Take care of things Joe. I may not be back.” He died at 3 o’clock that same afternoon. Since he did his own bookkeeping, it was doubly difficult to follow in his footsteps. The business lasted only two more years.Working for Walter Murphy were several well known men. Joshua Bennett, long time local assessor and son of a long line of farmers, drove a truck for him. His brother, Charles Bennett, one-time moderator, also worked for him for a time.