The Cranberry King
by Jim Gould
For a hundred years, from 1878 to 1980, Makepeace dominated the cranberry production of Marstons Mills. The founder of the company, Abel Makepeace, known as “the Cranberry King” first invested in bogs in Marstons Mills in 1875, and lived here briefly.
The pioneer local families the Joneses, Hamblins, Crockers, Hinckleys and Fullers continued to thrive on their smaller holdings totaling nearly 100 acres.
From about 1860 into the 1820s, in the last week of September, school was suspended, and everyone, including the teacher, went to Newtown to pick cranberries. Pay was two or three cents per quart, so that one could bring home a couple of dollars after picking 100 quarts in a day. Alonzo Hamblin held a record of 196 quarts in 1881.
But there were not enough local pickers for the crop, so teamsters would bring wagon loads of workers from as far as Orleans. Many were Cape Verdeans from Harwich. Whole families camped out by the bogs in the Indian Summer weather. In later years Makepeace provided a barracks on River Road that became the Men’s Club.
After picking came screening to sort the berries for quality. This was mainly work of skilled local women, aided in the twentieth century by sorting machines.
Picking too, became mechanized with the introduction of Daniel Lumbert’s invention of the snap-machine in 1883, when Franklin Bassett was able to pick 384 quarts. Motor-driven picking machines introduced before World War II were widely used after the war. Only at the end of the Makepeace era, in 1978, did the current wet picking method replace the traditional dry picking.
During the winter bogs were re-sanded by men who took sand in wheelbarrows from the bordering borrow-pits, which were the source in a neighboring hillside. Joseph D. Thomas’s book “Cranberry Harvest” (Spinner Press, 1990) tells Manuel Roderick’s story of A. D. Makepeace’s comment to him as he was carting sand, “Good Morning, small load”, to which he replied “Good Morning, small pay.” Mr. Roderick got a raise a week later.
After his investment in the Newtown bogs in the 1870s, Makepeace found even larger swamps on the mainland, such as the Wankinko Bog in Wareham, where his brother-in-law Stephen Hamblin died at age 30 while he was building it.
In 1980 the Makepeace company sold all of its Cape Cod bogs. Many in Newtown were taken over and operated by John Hamblin, who now owns over 30 acres in Newtown in addition to 7.3 acres of his brother’s bogs. He also cares for many more acres for other owners.
The principal types of berries grown today are Early Blacks and Stevens.
Cranberries are still a major source of income in Marstons Mills, after 150 years.