Westville, NH, Recollections of the 1930's
This exhibit features an article written by Robert J. Gablosky in September 1993.
Bob is a member of the Plaistow Historical Society and his contributions over the years
have helped preserve and celebrate Plaistow's history.
His recollections of growing up in Westville, NH provide a rich account of
I would like to introduce myself and give you a brief account of my background.
My name is Robert J. Gablosky, presently of 94 Rosemont St., Haverhill,
Massachusetts. I just turned 65 on Sunday September 12, having been born at Hale
Hospital, Haverhill, MA. in 1928. I am one of five children in my family.
At the time of my birth, my family was living in Westville, NH. We lived there
through 1942 when my parents, Arthur and Blanche bought a house on Emily St., in
Haverhill. My father was a heeler in Haverhill shoe factories. The move to
Haverhill brought him closer to his work.
The steady work in shoe factories in Haverhill hired my grandparents, Oscar and
Anna LaVoie, to Westville from Canada, where work was scarce at the turn of the
century. My grandparents lived in a cottage house on Westville Road, across from
a large cow pasture, next to the Boston and Maine railroad tracks. The house,
number 34, still stands today, but without its garage and several sheds that
housed chickens, pigs, ducks, rabbits and a horse. Next to their home is a large
three family house, known as the Coulombe Block.
My grandfather, at one time, ran a brickyard in that field across from his
house. Bricks from this brickyard were used to build the old Holy Angels Church,
just one hundred years ago, in 1893.
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|Holy Angels Church, May 1948|
The church, where a gas station and a garage now sit, just north of the railroad
bridge on Route 125, was demolished around 1964 when the new Holy Angels church
was built at its present location on the Haverhill-Plaistow state line, on
My family lived for a while in the so called Coulombe block, and moved when I
was a young boy, to a house a little farther away, on what is now Old Westville
Rd., next to Caillouette's Pond in the back of the Westville Market. It was that
section of road that was dead-ended in connection with the construction of the
original railroad bridge in Westville.
Reconstruction this year of the Westville railroad bridge recalls for me the
days of old time Westville and the changes that has taken place there,
especially in recent years.
The old Westville bridge, as it was known, had to be rebuilt because of its
deterioration since its construction in the mid 30s. The new bridge was widened
to accommodate the increased volume of traffic in that area.
Construction of the old bridge was a major undertaking by the state in those days
because it involved dead-ending of the Westville Road on each side of the
railroad tracks. From Main Street, Plaistow, the new Westville Road veered left
at the railroad, picking up an old tote road through the woods and coming out
south of the new bridge next to the LaBranche house, by the barber shop.
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|Westville Railroad Bridge, August 1944|
Up until that time, several young men had been killed when their cars were
struck by trains at the railroad crossing on the old Westville Road. The last
person to die there was George Yawnitz, brother of Katie Rowell, a member of
this association and now of Atkinson, NH.
His car was dragged several hundred
feet by a fast moving, northbound train, after having been hit during a March
snowstorm. There was very little protection for motorists at that crossing, to
my recollection. There was one pole there from which a large pendulum swung out
from an arm atop the pole. That and the clanging of a bell were the only warning
to motorists that a train was bearing down on its way through the town.
I can recall the tote road through the Westville woods. During the winter I went
there with my grandfather on an old sleigh pulled by one of his horses. My
grandfather would spend the day culling trees and hauling the wood home to keep
our houses warm during the cold winter months. I went with him to keep him
company and help him in any way that I could. It is in these same woods that two
housing complexes were developed and are presently known as Westview Park
Across the railroad tracks from this area, on that dead-ended Old Westville
Road, once stood a blacksmith shop, operated by Joe Boucher. People from all
around that area came to his shop to have metal forged or their horses shod. He
was one of the few blacksmiths around. The shop was later demolished after Mr.
Across from the blacksmith shop and next to the house where I lived, was a house
in which the Martin family resided. During the summers, Mr. Martin was known to
have grown his own tobacco which he processed and actually used for his own
In my home, we had no central heating, running water, or indoor bathroom
facilities, we didn't even have a furnace in our cellar. Our bathroom needs were
met in an outhouse, attached to the rear of the garage next to our home. My
father never had a car or a driver's license, so our garage was used for storage
and for a shop in which he repaired bicycles. In the winter months we heated
only one room, the kitchen, in our five room house. We slept in freezing cold
bedrooms under several layers of comforters.
When the ice was safe on Caillouette's Pond next door, we would put on our ice
skates in our home and walked only a few feet to the pond to skate for hours at
a time. When we became cold, we'd walk the short distance to our home, warm our
feet in the oven of the kitchen stove and return to the pond to continue skating
until such time as we became cold again.
In those days, I can recall some rugged snowstorms with the snow, it seemed,
being several feet deep. The snow was so deep I can remember having to tunnel
through snow outside our front door. I can't remember any snowstorms as severe
in later years.
During the extreme cold months of January or February, when the ice on the pond
was at least a foot or more thick, Levi Caillouette, for whom the pond was
named, ran an ice cutting operation there. He harvested large cut up blocks of
ice and with the help of horses, slid the ice into an ice house at the far end
of the pond, just off route 125. The ice house has since been demolished.
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|Westville People, July 1939|
Mr. Caillouette had a truck and sold his ice during the warm weather months
throughout Westville and the surrounding area. He would go from house to house,
chopping pieces of ice at the rear of his truck, and with ice tongs he would
carry them into the homes, filling the top section of ice chests. A sizable
piece of ice would last about 4 or 5 days, depending on the weather. A large
block of ice cost 25 cents. This would just about fill the top section. Not many
people in those days had electric refrigerator.
That pond today has been cut in half with gravel to be used as a road to get to
a field on the other side, where a house was to be built. I'm told plans to
build there were abandoned, but the pond remains in two sections. when I was a
boy, we spent many hours fishing in that pond catching mostly horned pouts and
feeding them to our cats.
When the original Westville Bridge was built, Mike Guards' store, which was
known even earlier as Fecteaus' store, was displaced from its location next to
the railroad tracks, on the south side. Mike ran the business and his brother,
John, operated a post office in a corner of the store.
I recall that John used a tiny shanty across from the store, to await the trains
that were passing through. He was responsible for stopping traffic when the
trains passed through the crossing, by stepping out into the middle of the road
and holding up a round sign on a pole that had the word "stop" printed on both
sides. I don't ever recall any accident at that location, so his one man traffic
control operation must have been a success.
In running the post office, Johnny Guard, as he was known, would retrieve a
canvas bag, containing mail, after it was thrown from a train as it sped through
the crossing. we always considered it fun, running after the bag and taking it
to Johnny. To send outgoing mail. Johnny used the same bag which he hung from
the arm of a nearby metal post and which was grabbed by a protruding hook from a
speeding train as it went by. The trains stopped at Westville Crossing only to
pick up or leave off passengers. My father and others from Westville rode the
trains to Haverhill, to work in shoe shops, and would return home on the trains.
On many days however, my father walked home from Haverhill after a day's work
because he didn't have enough money for a bus or a train ride back to Westville.
When I was growing up in Westville, during the 30's, I had a paper route,
delivering the Haverhill Gazettes through the town. I remember I had about 28
customers and that took in just about every family in Westville. The paper cost
3 cents an edition, or 18 cents a week. a few customers gave me 20 cents, which
would represent a 2 cent tip. However, the housekeeper at Holy Angels church
rectory, down the street from the church, always gave me a quarter a week, which
I thought was a generous tip.
In those days the area of Westville was bounded generally from the west end of
Pine Street, up Route 125 to beyond the old Plaistow outdoor movie theater, to
the present Kelly's Corner, along East Road to just beyond the Holy Angels
Cemetery and along Westville Road to the bridge over Little River. Route 125
through Westville, in those days was known as Danville Road as far as Kelly's
Corner, where it turned North Main Street, Plaistow. To the older boys of the
late 30's, that section of Danville Road from the railroad tracks was called the
speedway. This was the straight section where those fellows who could afford
their first automobile had the opportuniiy to test the speed of their pride and
joy, usually a Model "A" Ford, or a Chevy Tudor.
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|Coulombe Block, 38 Westville Rd|
The old Westville School, built in 1890, was located on Route 125, across from
the entrance to the present Westville Road, at the bottom of a mound on top of
which sits the Purity Supreme Supermarket today. The school was a one room
building, with no running water, and was heated by a pot-bellied stove in the
rear. Four grades were taught there by one teacher, Miss Elizabeth McGagh. I
remember the school had a two-seater outhouse attached to the rear of the
building and that it was used by both boys and girls. I was in the fourth grade
there, in the spring of 1939, when a fire of suspicious origin nearly destroyed
the building, and we had to finish the school year at Pollard School, Plaistow.
The cause of the fire was never determined. There was no electricity in the rear
of the bulldng and that is the part of the school where the fire was confined.
The time and date of fire, was listed as 7 p.m. on May 17, 1939.
I recall that at one time, while attending the Westville School, there were 14
students in all four grades, with 13 of us being related. All students there,
after completing four grades, "graduated" and were transferred to the Pollard
School in Plaistow, to complete their education through grade eight. After that,
most students went to Haverhill High School, being transported by bus daily, at
their own discounted expense of 5 cents one way.
Westville people had considerable pride in their town, especially because it was
identified on travel maps since it had its own post office. And at one time,
before my youthful years there, the town had its own Town Hall, situated near the
rear of Mike Guards' old store when it was known, I believe, as "Fecteau's"
The building was relocated to an area on Route 125 at the corner of the old
Westville Road, where I lived. The name was changed to Westville Market, a name
that still exists today and one of the few places in town that identifies
Westville and which keeps its identily alive.
According to old photos I have seen, Route 125 was a dirt road in the 1930s and
beyond. I believe the beginning of the development of Route 125 through the town
of Westville stemmed from the establishment in the 1940's of the old Westville
Drive-In Theater, which lies abandoned and in disrepair. Neighbors along that
stretch of rood permitted the theater to be built by agreeing not to oppose its
construction in an area not permitted by zoning regulations. That was the start
of what we know today as the "Golden Strip" that has taken over nearly every
piece of properly along Route 125, from the Massachusetts state line to Kingston
Recollections of the old time Westville, in the 30's and 40's, would not be
complete without mention of the old swimming hole, in the rear of that large cow
pasture across from Joe Boucher's blacksmith shop. The swimming hole was part of
Little River, the unofficial dividing line between Westville and Plaistow. The
braver boys using the swimming hole practiced their diving skills from several
branches of a large tree that leaned over the water. More skilled divers were
seen to soar from near the top of the tree, perhaps more than 40 or 50 feet
high, and plunge into the deepest part of the pool below. There was an area
nearby which was ideal for sunbathing or just relaxing, if the cows and perhaps
a menacing bull weren't around. I can remember only one tragedy at the old
swimming hole and that was the drowning of a young girl named Rose Lobonte, who
lived in Westville.
During World War II, Westville joined the rest of the nation in practicing
wartime security measures. Several women, including my mother, Blanche, joined a
force of so-called air raid wardens, who would be assigned to various sections
of the town, making sure electric lights were turned off or covered, and seeing
to it that all window shades in the houses were pulled all the way down. The
wardens also made sure all people were off the streets after the air raid sirens
were sounded. At that time, the top half of automobile and truck headlights had
to be painted black to reduce glaring illumination that might be seen from the
sky at night, in case enemy planes approached.
The World War II Memorial, standing in the Plaistow Town Hall foyer honors those
men and women from Plaistow and Westville. There is no distinction as to which
section of town the veteran was from. The people of both villages were united as
one. We all struggled through that great strife with one thing in mind: Victory
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Westville, in those years was a typical New England village. Although its people
realized they were a part of the town of Plaistow, they more or less lived
pretty much by themselves, very independently. Westville then, was predominantly
Catholic while Plaistow was mostly comprised of Protestant families. That fact
may have contributed to the feeling of separation between the two sections. I
don't recall that it was ever an issue, but it was an existing situation and
everybody seemed to have gotten along well. You must remember that Plaistow did
not have a Catholic church and there was no Protestant church in Westville. That
situation still exists today.
The present Route 125 has become the major factor involving change to this
community, as businesses developed in almost every direction and on nearly every
piece of land along the way. It has virtually split the village in half.
The old Route 125 followed South Main Street, Plaistow to the center, then right
on Elm Street and Kingston Road to the Kingston line, connecting to what is now
the new Route 125.
The separation today between the Westville Village and Plaistow is not as
strong, or noticeable, as it once was when living in either section was a proud
part of the lives of their people. Westville, in those days, besides having its
own church, had two stores, Mike Guards' store which later became "Westville
Market" and "Caillouette's Store" near the old Holy Angels Church, its own post
office, the "Hotel Maplewood" and two barber shops, a blacksmith shop, a
swimming area, two dumps, a railroad line and a state road passing through it.
Today, however, Westville survives but not as it did in years past. Its village
status has faded and the feeling of being autonomous seems to be lacking, as
more and more businesses and housing complexes continue to develop or expand.
Westville, for may years, was a typical New England village. It no longer
appears to share that distinction. (The Westville Market closed shortly after
this article was written.)
Robert J. Gablosky
September 21, 1993