Back in South Wareham: Natives of the forgotten village share their stories

Aug 27, 2020

In the middle of the last century, back before Route 195 cut through town and long before Wareham Crossing and Walmart were constructed, there was a little neighborhood known as South Wareham.

The neighborhood, located around the site of the current John W. Decas School, was in some ways its own, self-contained world — at least for the kids who grew up there.

Although now just a fond memory for the now-elderly Wareham residents who grew up in South Wareham, the character of the place and the fun had there is vivid. Some of those residents recently shared their recollections — and photos! — with Wareham Week. 

Most of the adults in the neighborhood worked at the Horseshoe Mill, or, later, at the Beaton’s Cranberry processing plant. 

Everyone shopped at Coyne’s general store, located just down the street, which featured barrels of candy and pickles along with meat and cigarettes and other essentials.

Younger kids went to school in the Legion Hall: first and second graders in one room and third and fourth graders in another. 

Many of the families in South Wareham were related, but those who grew up there described the neighborhood itself as feeling like one big family.

“Nobody had any money, but we had a lot of love,” remembered Marjorie Maloney, who grew up in the village with her six siblings. “The ones that are still here still get together. We’re still close.”

Maloney’s daughter, Lisa Clayton, said that listening to her mother reminisce with old friends has shown her how strong that connection is.

“Whenever I hear them talk, they have a bond that we don’t have,” Clayton said. “We have a high school bond, they have more than that. South Wareham people just seem like they were family.”

“We had a lively community,” said Elaine Smith, Maloney’s cousin. 

“You’ll find that anybody who lived in South Wareham loved it there,” said Eben Bumpus, who also grew up in South Wareham.

South Wareham stretched from Lincoln Hill to the bridge on Fearing Hill Road over the Weweantic River.

“I’m telling you, it was something,” said Bumpus. “Then they just took it off the map. When I die, they better put ‘Eben Bumpus from South Wareham.’”

When they were young, there were about 30 kids in the neighborhood who all hung out together and kept each other entertained — largely unsupervised.

“You weren’t afraid. Kids all went walking in the woods, and you could go fishing on your own. There was never the thought of somebody stealing your child, but they would have brought us back anyway,” Smith laughed.

The freshwater pond was a popular destination for neighborhood kids: They’d fish and swim in the summer, and ice skate with a bonfire in the winter. When they got older, Bumpus said it was a popular destination for kids to go parking.

“We always played kick the ball and baseball and things,” Smith said. “We formed our own teams, and we were out until dark. We played games at night outdoors, and entertained ourselves fishing and picking berries in the summer.”

Smith said that her family shared one toboggan in the winter, sitting in a stack of three with the littlest one at the top. 

“We used to walk from there all the way down to Wareham Center to go to the movies- ten twelve of us to the movies on Saturdays,” said Maloney. “That was a long walk. That was the only entertainment we had, walking to the movies on Saturday — where TD bank is, next to the drug store.”

A movie ticket cost 18 cents, so the kids would leave with a quarter in hand — enough for a ticket and some candy.

Bumpus said that one neighborhood man would pay a quarter to anyone who could collect a bucket of scrap metal that had fallen off the truck, making it a popular job. 

“Nobody had any money, but we didn’t know because we were all the same,” Maloney said. 

The pond and the Weweantic River were hot spots for fishermen from as far away as New Bedford, as it had a plentiful supply of smelt, herring, and eels. One man even had a small business renting out little boats for the day. 

Smith said that sometimes people could even catch herring with their hands. The fish was especially popular in South Wareham because it could be salted and easily preserved for the winter.

“They stunk awful when you cooked them but they tasted good,” she said.

Maloney’s family did a lot of gardening, cultivated apple and pear trees, and kept chickens.

“We didn’t know how healthy we lived,” she said. In those days, she said, it was embarrassing to eat seafood because it was poor man’s food.

There were many opportunities for enterprising children to make money. 

Beginning at around eight years old, many children would spend the month of August picking blueberries for the Beaton Cranberry Company. 

The truck would come by at 8 a.m. to pick the kids up — tuna sandwiches for lunch in hand — and bring them to a blueberry patch. 

The season’s work amounted to about $15, which was just enough to buy new clothes for back to school.

The girls would buy shoes, a skirt, a dress and a sweater. Instead of going to a store, they bought clothes out of the back of a station wagon driven over from New Bedford, Smith said.

Smith also remembered another station wagon vendor who was a particular favorite for many children. The vendor would come once a week to sell donuts, but no one ever knew when he would come.

“If you could save up a nickel, you could pick out a donut from the truck,” Smith said. 

Pickles from the barrel at Coyne’s store were another prized treat available for a nickel, Smith said. She added that some kids would even buy a pickle while waiting for the school bus in the morning. 

While the name “South Wareham” doesn’t appear on maps anymore, the former residents keep it alive. 

Bumpus married a woman from West Wareham, and, when they’re in bed and he wants a hug, he said he’ll ask her “Why don’t you come over to South Wareham? West Wareham is too far to go.”