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Many Here Lived High off the Hog

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

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


Pork once played an important role in Burlington’s economy. Of course, 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 during the first 50 years of this century, at least 10 farms were raising hogs on a large scale, one slaughterhouse was doing a tremendous business and the Reed Ham Works was known far and wide.

The raising of hogs on a large scale was started, not by a Burlington man, but by John Cummings, a prominent and wealthy tanner in Woburn and president of the National Shawmut Bank of Boston. He not only owned the original Cummings property on South Bedford Street, assessed in 1799 to Joshua Cummings, but also had acquired the extensive Blanchard property in 1885.

By 1900 the Cummings holdings in this town 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 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 garbage from Medford and Cambridge, Twenty-five horses were required to do the work plus carting litter and grain or spreading manure on the many growing acres. The hogs were not slaughtered there, but were carted alive to the Brighton abattoir.

Mrs. Cummings had a running argument with the Burlington assessors for she felt that the town was charging her far too much in taxes. In 1900 the Cummings estates did pick up more than eight percent of the total town tax levy. But when she died the farm also died, as did revenues to the town, for she willed her property here to the City of Boston for the recreation of city people. The U.S. Government took some of it for a Nike missile site some years ago. That piece now is occupied by the Northeastern University Suburban Campus.

This writer and Joe Galipeau can remember at least a dozen active piggeries in Burlington in the 1930s and 40s. The Connors Brothers raised hogs where the R.C.A. plant is now. The Sousa farm on Peach Orchard Road raised a goodly number. The John Norden farm on Winter Street at the bottom of Peach Orchard Hill produced hundreds of them. (During the silly 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. Patterson 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 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 the parishioners of St. Malachy until but a short time ago.

But the biggest operation ever was that of Walter F. Murphy on Center Street. That enterprise was started about 1926 by Minot Percy, who built eight breeder houses about where a senior housing complex is now. This was bought by Murphy in 1933. Murphy was a livestock dealer who had learned his trade from an uncle, Jack Scammel, who had a business on Russell Street in Woburn. Murphy was soon raising some 3500 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, using an old cement-block garage as the basis, 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.

Walter F. Murphy was born in Arlington in 1900, remained a single man all his life. He died suddenly in 1949. Joe Galipeau 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 all his own bookkeeping it was doubly difficult to follow in his footsteps. The business lasted but another two 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. And Joe Galipeau, once owner and operator of a small lunchroom where Mr. Donut now stands, worked for Murphy for 12 years. Joe was born in St. Johnsbury, Vt. in 1907 and came to Woburn with his family while very young. He attended the Morse Street, Plympton and Hanson school there. He worked in the Boston Market, now the Quincy Market, for 12 years, spent five years driving for Winn Trucking of Woburn, 12 years for Murphy, several years for the Burlington Water Department and retired from the Recreation Department. He moved to Burlington in 1929, the year he married Margaret Bradley, a smiling and lighthearted girl from New York. The couple had five children and then 10 grandchildren. Joe lives on Fernglade Road with his daughter Stephanie.

Had Margaret lived, Joe would have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary two weeks ago last Friday.