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Dropkick Murphy’s at Bellows Farm

While the Dropkick Murphys are a fine group, I’ve always been more interested in the name of the band itself. Members have always told that they took the name from a supposed detox center, owned and operated by a former wrestler by the name of John “Dropkick” Murphy. The Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr has salted his columns with mentions of the place for years— generally in reference to the Kennedys—well before the existence of the band of the same name. E.g.:

“And how would you like to be Joe Kennedy? Here’s your uncle, looking more like an escapee from Dropkick Murphy’s every day, and he says he’s going to run again in 1994? ”

- Howie Carr. Boston Herald. October 28, 1991

So while the name of the place is fairly well-known (around Boston anyway) its actual existence has remained somewhat more legendary.

Bellows Farm Sanitarium

The Bellows Farm Sanitarium aka “Dropkick” Murphy’s. Located at 40 Davis Road in Acton. Originally the Ebenezer Davis house. Since torn down.

Several places mention that its official name was “Bellows Farm” located in Acton, Massachusetts. There is now a road called “Bellows Farm Road” in Acton on or near the original property.

Map of part of Acton

Bellows Farm Road near Neshoba Brook in Acton, Massachusetts

A Massachusetts court case from 1973 (2 years after the facility closed) mentions Murphy:

“This is a bill in equity under G. L. c. 231A, seeking a declaration whether certain amendments to the zoning by-law of the town of Acton (town) apply to a parcel of land (locus) owned by the plaintiffs Bellows Farms, Inc. and John E. Murphy and on which the plaintiff Donald P. O’Grady has contracted to build 402 apartment units. The defendants are the town, its building inspector and the members of its board of selectmen.”

BELLOWS FARMS, INC. & OTHERS vs. BUILDING INSPECTOR OF ACTON & OTHERS. April 4, 1973 - November 7, 1973.

This land is along the Nashoba Brook in Acton which is mentioned in an article on fishing in Massachusetts from the New York Times:

We visited a spot in Boston (Jamaica Pond); then he gave me an hour on Neshoba Brook (on a stretch open to the public and owned by Dropick Murphy, a former wrestler) where I caught two brook trout.

“Wood Field and Stream” New York Times. May 9, 1968.

Finally there is this small advertisement for the facility a year after it opened (the only one I could find anywhere)

Bellows Farm Ad

The New York Times. July 5, 1942.

$25 per week works out to be about $325 per week in 2009 dollars, which isn’t exactly cheap. Legends of the place being some last stop for end of the line winos might be a bit misplaced.

Dropkick Murphy was an actual wrestler. Here is small clip from back when The New York Times actually used to report on professional wrestling:

Dropkick Murphy Ad

The New York Times. Jun 26, 1938.

Dropkick Murphy

Dropkick Murphy vs. Jim Maloney, September 22, 1939

» Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009 | Comments (26) | Permanent Link
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Comments

In 1963 my family and I were living in apartments built and owned by John “Dropkick” Murphy, on Rte 2 or 2a, I forget which, in Acton. I was then working in Bedford, Mass. We called him John, and he was one of the nicest gentlemen I ever met. He always brought champaigne on Christmas Eve, sometimes took all the children in the apartment complex to the Ringling Bro. circus at the Garden, build a sled ramp for the kids, etc. The rehab farm was still used, and sometimes John gave some of his customers odd jobs around the apartments. We left Acton in 1965, so I haven’t seen the apartment site since then-I guess it’s changed. The Dropkick Murphey singing group should post some information on John Murphy on it’s website, since I think they would have liked John Murphy and vice versa.

» Posted by Clarence Townsend on May 10, 2009 05:43 PM

Indeed “Dropkick” Murphy was a pro-wrestler in
promoter Paul Bowser’s stable in Boston, MA. The venue for all Bowser’s events was the old Boston
Arena on St. Botolph Street. Murphy also had a
doctorate in Podiatry. I saw him wrestle numerous times in Boston as a kid in the mid-40’s. He was
a slick wrestler who was almost always on the
second bill. I remember him wrestling to a draw
with Leo Numa (real name Axel Anderson). His dry
out tank in Acton was truly legendary…a book should written about Murphy’s life.

» Posted by Larry Chapman on June 9, 2009 11:40 AM

OMG John E. Murphy Jr. was a very dear friend of mine for 7+ years (back in the day…(1977 -1984) and he was the absolute best….
I still miss him till this very day.

» Posted by Adele on July 2, 2009 12:36 AM

The Boston Globe had an article in a Sunday Edition(1972?) about the closeing of Dropkicks. Have not been able to find the article again.It was an adventure @ Bellow Farms

» Posted by Ron on August 15, 2009 11:45 PM

Most of my friends will be glad to know where the name of their favorite band comes from. Funny thing is I was actually listening to them when finding the article.

» Posted by Lawrence Rencontre on October 7, 2009 10:34 AM

You may like to look at this webpage - http://www.f4wonline.com/content/view/3216/124/
with several references to Dropkick Murphy wrestling in 1942.

» Posted by Murphy on November 30, 2009 01:00 PM

When I started in A.A. in the mid 1980’s in Boston, I would hear some of the “old-timers” talk about stays at Dropkick Murphy’s in Acton—it definitely was a farm/detox of sorts—sort of old-school—they spoke fondly of it—God bless Dropkick—(I’m still sober—God bless A.A.)— Bill M., Roslindale

» Posted by Bill M. on January 22, 2010 02:30 PM

I am so pleased to see all of this great information. I own Dropkick Murphys house and moved it in 1971 to it’s current (and only in my life time) resting place on Main Street. It was the first house on the right on Davis Road and was going tot be demolished to make room for the apartments. I only moved the main house and not the L with the kitchen or the big porch. I will provide more information in the near future.

» Posted by Dana on March 15, 2010 10:02 PM

My AA Sponser was a huge Irishman with over 35 years of Sobriety. He helped many people get sober. He died over a decade ago. His name was Big Jim. In his story he told of DKM’s. But he said that when he dried out that it was a small place actually over bar. I can still hear him talk about the beer fumes drifting up between the floor boards. My guess is that Murphy may have started out around Boston in a smaller place and expanded to nicer digs in Acton. Big Jim always spoke like Murphy was a Saint.

» Posted by Anonymous on May 5, 2010 06:15 PM

Here legendry Cape Cod saloon owner Bobby Byrne -
www.bobbybyrnes.com - recounts The Legend of Dropkick Murphy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QC2YxKbWuM&playnext_from=TL&videos=AL6LctOiWQg

» Posted by Cearbhall O Dalaigh on June 1, 2010 03:52 PM

If the grounds of that old farm could speak
for those that came-went and came again.
JM and his sons were fine people.

» Posted by Anonymous on March 3, 2011 11:47 AM

Dropkick was my uncle. I grew up from ages 2-9 on the farm. My cousin and I would walk the road and collect whiskey bottles that the drunks had stashed in the stone walls and hedges on their way in for rehab. John would pay my cousin and I anywhere from $1-$5 for each bottle we found!

» Posted by jeff allmon on April 5, 2011 09:17 AM

I worked for John “Dropkick” Murphy and his sons, John and Dave in the 1960’s as a dishwasher at Bellows Farm Sanitarium. BFS was what could be referred to as a “spin dry”, not a rehab….didn’t have rehabs back then. Alcoholics were dropped off at the Farm by their wives to “dry out”. Alcohol detox is one of the most dangerous so alkies were weaned off the booze with whiskey or in some cases a substance known as paraldahyde (put them in a near coma). It was a front seat window to this 16 year old kid of what alcoholism is…..I washed dishes, served meals, cleaned up puke, mopped floors and played a lot of pool. The residents were immediately put in red pajamas when they arrived which would tip off the local tavern owners when one escaped to the local bar for some refreshment. BFS was a legendary establishment and served some notable clients. John was a big, gregarious Irishman and always was strolling the grounds picking up his own bottles stashed on the road into the facility. The property was sold and develoiped a few years after I left…..

» Posted by Ed Matthews on August 13, 2011 07:14 PM

I drove cab in Boston from 69 to ‘72. I had at least one fare out to Dropkick Murphy’s in that period, so it was still open then. Somebody had called for a cab for one guy and I was the lucky driver who got the job. I picked up in the combat zone and glad to drop off without having to do too much cab cleanup afterward. No tip but the fare was paid by the Farm. Residents along the driveway in to the building were all asking what we brought for them. All in pretty good humor except the passenger, who showed no improvement as a result of the cab ride.

» Posted by Dave B on September 9, 2011 12:54 AM

Stsarting with my maternal grandmother in the late 1930’s, my family owned a bar in Cambridge. I recall several times during my childhood (1960’s) my father wispering to my mother and grandmother “so and so (a customer) just got out of/went to Dropkick’s”. My first impression was that alcoholism was truly a disease and altho the bar was our family’s source of income, I was also saddened that many who went to Dropkick’s returned to the drink.

» Posted by B. Sullivan on October 22, 2011 02:16 PM

The article on the closeing of Dropkicks might have been in Parade of the Globe around 71 or 72.

» Posted by Crustycrab on June 2, 2012 08:39 AM

I moved to Acton in 1972, just after the facility closed and land was being cleared for the Briarbrook Apartments. I was 11. I had heard the stories about a sanitarium and of some well-known celebrities who had stayed there. The house was being used as an office for the apartments and I learned how to play pool there, on the best table that I have ever seen. We used to hang-out on “Whiskey Hill” and I never knew why they called it that till now. (It was where the clients stashed their whiskey bottles on their way into the facility.) I have so many memories of that place that I could fill a book with them. To think that I learned how to play pool on a table where Jackie Gleason played blows my mind! I have seen the band(DKM)in concert and never realized that I had probably met the man (Apparently,I grew up with his sons.) I’m flabbergasted!

» Posted by "Bones" Hamilton on July 31, 2012 08:57 AM

Dropkick Murphy’s is also mentioned in the George V. Higgins novel Cogan’s Trade (the basis for the new Brad Pitt movie Killing Them Softly).

» Posted by Eddie Coyle on October 5, 2012 02:12 PM

My Dad, a boozer himself, was a Globe copy editor during the 60’s and 70’s and I can remember him mentioning fellow Globe employees who had gone to Drop Kick’s for a spin dry on a few occasions. Out of respect for their anonymity, I will not mention any names.

» Posted by Ted B on April 25, 2013 05:57 PM

What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing so much wonderful information about the REAL Dropkick Murphy. I’m currently working on a book about John “Dropkick” Murphy. If any of you have some stories to share, feel free to contact me. My work email is esweeney [at] globe [dot] com.

All the best,

Emily Sweeney

» Posted by Emily Sweeney on April 29, 2013 04:03 PM

Bellows Farm was developed into condos (I live in one of them now) and single family homes in the 90s. I found this page while Googling Bellows Farm - this is fascinating! Even more so since I just celebrated 1 year sober!

» Posted by Rachel on May 15, 2013 11:54 AM

I met Mr. Murphy in the 60’s, and the story pretty much as told by other posters was stated rather matter of factly at the time. He was active in the Acton community. Much later, I read Leigh Montville’s Biography of Ted Williams, and that makes mention of persons in the Red Sox organization (not Ted for sure) who were partons of Dropkick’s Murphy’s.

» Posted by anon on August 21, 2013 03:12 PM

FYI, the hallway near the bathrooms at Doyle’s in JP has a newspaper article (Herald-Traveler?) from December 1971 about the impending closing of Dropkick Murphy’s in Acton.

» Posted by Rob F on September 17, 2013 08:48 PM

I remember a big clock on the wall which was used to time the “patients” next drink.

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» Posted by Anthonydak on February 9, 2017 03:57 PM

When John Murphy acquired the farm, he found a facility ready for his requirements. In the 1920’s the property was used by Gertrude Daniels and her daughter, Mrs. Griffin as a facility to rehabilitate people who had suffered nervous breakdowns, by offering wholesome meals, fresh air and the facility was known as “Bellows Stock Farm”. I would presume that they had cattle and a farm environment.
I worked for the Town of Acton and recall going to Bellows Farm when we inspected the facility before it closed. In its day, Davis Road was a road that served only Dr. Wendell Davis’home and John Murphy’s facility. Both Murphy and Davis sat on parcels of land of about 80 acres, so it was not crowded, to say the least. The patrons of Dropkick’s were easily recognized in their red pants and white shirts, they all seemed to speak very highly of the facility and the patrons were well cared for.
Today, the whole area has changed with a series of structures that lead one into a large upscale housing area.
Part of the Bellows Farm lot now belong to the Town and form a long avenue of woodland along Nashoba Brook, soon the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail will pass through the edge of the property and introduce a new generation to the utopia that residents of the old sanitorum were familiar with.


» Posted by Bill K on May 2, 2017 10:31 PM
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