Leon L. Riche, local insurance man and chairman of Draft Board 123, and Raymond L. Moulen, treasurer of the Triplex Machine Company, today became the owners of the 68-year-old basket-making firm of M.E. Ballou & Son, Becket. The deal was concluded today with the Berkshire Trust Company, administrator of the estate of the late Willis D. Ballou.

The Pittsfield buyers are not putting all their eggs into the basket industry, they disclosed today. They will continue to carry on their businesses locally but are drafting plans for expansion of the basket plant with the veteran foreman, Patrick H. Tobin, as general manager. The local men intimated today that they would seek a more widespread clientele and if possible would try to arrange for some government contract work.

The mill, which has employed as many as 100 men, has been operating with shifts varying from 10 to 25. There will be no change in the present personnel.

The announcement today that the basket business would continue in Becket drew a sigh of relief from hundreds of townspeople, who have been given much cause during the past three weeks for worry. There was a rumor that out-of-town interests would raze the plant and sell the machinery for junk, displacing the town's leading manufacturing industry and its several veteran employees.

The basket business was started in Becket 68 years ago by the late Hersey E. Tower, father of the present town clerk, M.D.E. Tower. After his death, M.E. Ballou, who had a short time before bought the basket business off the late Jerry Dwyer, purchased the Tower plant in 1888.

The Ballou firm suffered no small setback in the flood of 1927, when raging waters swept the main plant, grist mills and the homes of Willis D. and Joseph C. Ballou. The plant was rebuilt into one large building and the business continued. Joseph C. Ballou, who distinguished himself during the 1927 flood as a "Paul Revere" in warning residents about the flood, was in the business with his brother but withdrew to devote all his time to the lumber business.

Mr. Tobin has been directing the work of the basket business and has kept orders coming in fairly steady.

The Ballou baskets have found their way into some of the most important offices of the country. They feature stout canvas walls attached to iron frames.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.