by J. A. Buxton
Chapter VII - From the Year 1910 On
After the excitement of the celebration had departed, West Brookfield once more settled down to go on in its usual, peaceful way of life.
In the spring of 1921, a war memorial was erected and dedicated to the dead from West Brookfield who had died in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. The names of the dead were recorded upon three bronze tablets, which, in turn, were located on a triangular foundation.
One of the heroes of World War II from the town of West Brookfield was Robert Allen Gladding, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace L. Gladding of 18 Cottage Street. Robert Gladding lost his life on July 21, 1944 at Guam where he was a squad leader. He was the recipient of an American Defense Service Medal, American Defense Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Purple Heart, and Victory Medal.
Once, years ago, there used to be trolley cars going through the town of West Brookfield. The tracks ran from Brookfield, through West Brookfield, and split up into two tracks, one going to Warren and the other going to Ware. A side track went down to the train station on Front Street. This track was later torn up, but the other tracks are still under the present roads. People who wanted to go to the town of Ware rode to West Brookfield from Springfield since the train connection wasn’t too good at Ware. From the train in West Brookfield, the people rode on buggies to Ware.
As a result of the trolley cars, an amusement park was built in West Brookfield. It was located on the Ware Road near the Lake Wickaboag dam; the amusement park was a popular summer resort.
Around the year 1950, it was evident that a new elementary school was needed. At the town meetings and special meetings, the town inhabitants argued the pro’s and con’s of erecting the school. After a hard verbal fight, the voters decided to build the school on the east side of the North Brookfield Road near the Wigwam Road.
A building committee was chosen, and the men who were on this committee were the following:
Carlton Rose---Superintendent of Schools
At two o’clock on Sunday afternoon, December 25, 1951, the ground was broken for the new elementary school. One day in 1952, about half way through the school year, a mass movement took place. From the Milk Street school and the School Street school came the school children, each carrying their own books. Excited, the children hurried to their new school, glad to be out of the older ones.
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The new school consisted of 12 classrooms, a gym, and various smaller rooms. By 1958, this school, too, was overcrowded. It was one room short, resulting in the combing of grades to accommodate the school population. It was obvious that with the large classes coming up through the lower grades, the school would be short one room more each year for the next three years. The kindergarten was crowded into two small rooms, which were never meant to be classrooms, and the lack of space caused the discontinuance of home economics and manual training.
Thus, it was apparent that another school was needed. West Brookfield alone couldn’t afford to build another school, so the idea of a regional high school was entered into discussion with Warren. Warren also needed a new high school, so it was thought that the idea of a regional high school would be a good idea.
There are many advantages of building a two-town regional high school. The students of both towns would have the use of a full-time gym, auditorium, library, cafeteria, and an attractive, modern, complete school with a full range of course of study and faculty equal to the best in the state. Furthermore, the towns wouldn’t have to pay the full cost of a new school; the state would pay for about 60.96 percent of the cost of the building and equipment, and West Brookfield and Warren would have to pay only 39.04 percent.
The new school idea was turned down by the towns after special meetings had failed to convince the voters that a new school was necessary. The subject of this regional high school might come up in later years, but, for now, the schools are to remain crowded.
In 1954, the Catholic church in West Brookfield was re-built. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church is a beautiful, white building with buttresses on each side. A white statue of Jesus is located on the front lawn of the church; at night, the statue is spotlighted and is a wonderful sight to see.
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On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 21, 1955, Hurricane Diane caused the worst cloudburst in the history of southern New England. The rain continued to fall until Friday afternoon, and the flood crest was reached on Saturday. Although there were serious results in Worcester, there was small damage in West Brookfield. For a few days, however, the town was completely blocked in by flooded roads. All the main roads leading out of the town were covered with water, and the only way a person could get out of town was by driving over a few mud-clogged, dirt roads. Milk and bread trucks stopped at the top of the hill near Howard’s Drive-In, and the mild and bread was ferried across the water by boats. People rushed to the stores in the morning, but were often disappointed when they found that ordinary foods were all gone. Refrigeration in stores stopped so that dry ice had to be used. Frozen foods started to spoil. Finally, the water receded and disappeared; life returned to normal.
In 1953, Helen E. Gilbert died in Los Angeles, California. In her will, she left $100,000 for a library in West Brookfield. Her father had once lived in West Brookfield, but Helen Gilbert had lived in Los Angeles for years. As yet, the plans for the spending of the money haven’t been made public, but it is expected that they will be soon.
On June 29, 1958, tragedy struck in West Brookfield. The people of the town were settled down for a quiet evening wherever they lived, when the siren rang about 10:00. It rang four times—a drowning! Abut 1:00 the next morning, the body of Francis W. Russell was found in about nine feet of water off the Town Beach on the south side of the lake, approximately ten feet from the raft toward which he and his three companions were swimming when the drowning took place. Around 350 people watched the dragging of the lake for the body.
For days after this disaster, people drove down to the lake to see the spot where the boy had drowned, but soon West Brookfield became calm and peaceful again.