Early Improvements on the Mystic.
The building of Mystic Valley Parkway between Wear and Cradock bridges, with the construction of the dam above the latter, has transformed a tidal stream, dreary marshes and unimproved land into a water park and boulevard now approaching completion. With the planting of trees and shrubs, the coming years will add to its attractiveness. But this is only a portion of the comprehensive scheme which affects for good other areas. The largest tributary of the Mystic, for many years known as Alewife brook, is undergoing a radical change, both in its course and in its sanitary conditions. Deepened, widened, and its extreme crookedness eliminated, it will afford passage for canoes and motor boats to Spy pond, and perhaps, in some future time, may connect with the greater water park of the Charles. Near its confluence with the Mystic, over two hundred and fifty years ago, when the Massachusetts colony was young, was built the ‘corne’ mill and fulling mill of Thomas Broughton. This was in Charlestown territory, which extended westward to and along Medford pond, now called Mystic lake, and because of its adjoining New-towne(Cambridge)border, was called the ‘linefeilde.’ Ancient Charlestown had other such fields where their cattle were kept, and in which the early settlers acquired a proprietary byfencing; in this, one of four rails was required. This field contained a little over two hundred and thirty-five acres, beside the tract of Edward Johnson, which contained ten acres. Through this latter flowed the stream later known as Sucker brook, which drained the great meadows above the ‘Foot of the Rocks.’ Mt. Pleasant Cemetery and the gas works in Arlington are in its bounds. As early as 1637 it was ordained ‘That a ffooteway bee made over Wenotomies & A way bettween the Lotts lefte 3 pole wide.’ An ancient plan, produced in a lawsuit near the close of the seventeenth century, shows this ‘bridgway’ parallel with Cambridge boundary, and running [p. 8] straight from the ‘ffooteway’ (Broadway bridge) to near the baseball grounds beside the cemetery. Extending from the boundary to ‘Misticke weare’ was a highway in much the same location as Arlington's Medford street. From the three-pole bridgeway was another, where is now River street, which connects with Harvard avenue by the Usher bridge. No island is shown at the weare, but two are shown much farther down the stream. Some thirty-five persons acquired rights in this tract and are named on the plan. Charlestown anticipated the modern parkway at that early date by reserving, possibly some along the Mystic, but certainly several rods bordering on ‘Wenotime river.’ On the other side was the wooded slope of Walnuttree hill (now College hill) where Governor Winthrop, lost in the forest, spent a lonely October night a few years earlier, and sought the friendly shelter of the vacant wigwam of Wonoquahan, the Sagamore. The year before the footway was established, the college at New-towne, the earliest to be established, was begun, and the following year (1640) its first president, the Rev. Henry Dunster assumed its charge, coming hither from Boston, where he had for a short time lived. A few years later he became the owner of about one-half of the ‘linefeilde,’ which was conveyed to him by deed of twenty inhabitants of Charlestown. In their deed they style it Wenatomie, alias Menatomie field, and its eastern boundary ‘Menatomie brooke.’ Seventeen of them made acknowledgment in 1646, and three ‘on 2nd of 10th month’ (i.e., December), 1654, and all before Increase Nowell, one of the few men then styled Mister. Jno. Fownell, the Charlestown miller, ‘sould’ thirteen acres, ‘wch I recovued by law from the estate of George Cooke Coronell, for the educacion of his daughter.’ Robert Long, the tavern-keeper of Charlestown, was the first grantor named. His portion was sixteen acres [p. 9] and a house; none others mentioned houses, only land. According to the plan named this comprised two lots of four acres each and one of eight. The latter extended from the bridgeway to the Mystic, and southward from Usher bridge. Many residents of Medford will recall the very old house demolished but a few years since when work began on the parkway. By the thoughtfulness of members of the Arlington Historical Society, a photograph of the same was secured just before its demolition, which by their courtesy we are able to present. While there is no absolute proof that it is identical with the one Robert Long conveyed, it is highly probable that it was. Returning to President Dunster, we notice that he acquired this dwelling and land in what must have been to him a strenuous time, one of much affliction and sorrow. He had then guided the affairs of the college for fourteen years. During the previous year he had seen fit to depart from the existing custom, and had not presented his infant child for baptism. This was nothing less than rank heresy in the eyes of the theocratic leaders of the time, and led to his resignation on June 10, 1654. Consistent in his belief, he publicly gave utterance to his views in the meeting-house on July 30, and resultant on action of the overseers, he made a final resignation on October 24. On November 4 he asked his just due, an accounting for his services, which the General Court did not see fit to grant, evidently fearing he would take up the profession of law. Six days later he petitioned for liberty to remain in the president's house, which was allowed until the end of the year. In March (the first month of 1655) the court took action against him for his speech of the previous July, and on April 3 arraigned him for the crime (?), sentencing him to be publicly admonished therefor. [p. 10] The query naturally arises, To what place did he remove on March 1st, 1655? Possibly an answer may be found in the following, recorded on page 184 of second book of Middlesex Records:—
‘To all people to whome these prsents shall come, Henry Dunster of Manottimy, within the precincts of Cambridge . . . Clarke, Sendethe Greeting . . . for Divors good reasons & considerations him hereunto moving, but especially for the consideration of the sum of ten pounds, . . . payd . . . by Thomas Broughton of Boston margt. ... do confirm unto . . . Broughton ... all that parcll of Land on wch the Corne mills & fulling mills stands wch the said Thomas Broughton built on Menottomye land & in the River of Mysticke, together with twenty-foure Rods in length by the Riverside aforesaid, the one halfe of the said Rods to be above said mills & the other halfe below said mill, next adjoining to it: & twelve Rods bk into the sd. minnottomie fields from the said Riverside, with two Rods broad for a highway (from the sd. Mills) to go too & fro betwixt the said Mills & Concord way throu all the land of the said Hen. Dunster till it shall come unto the publique country highway to Concord, to be layd out as strayte as conveniently may for all passengers & carriages with all priviledges in reference to said land & thereto appertayning, . . . and lastly [ ] the now wife of’ [H. D. &c].The above bears date of March 6, 1656, and was witnessed by Edward Collins, Thomas Gleason, David Dunster and John Stratton. His son David was then eleven years of age, but made mark thus, T. Mrs. Dunster's signature does not appear. As the grantor is thus (a year subsequent to his removal from the president's house) styled of Menottimy within the [west] precinct, it is not impossible but that he then occupied the house purchased of Robert Long, which, though in the territorial bounds of Charlestown, was but a short distance from the line and in Menotomy field. Of this, however, there is no proof; but what more probable than that he moved from the president's house into his own when the inclement winter had passed and the time the overseers had ungraciously granted him expired? What more likely than that, in view of his coming removal, he should have secured the completion of his [p. 11] title to Menotomy land immediately after his petition of November 10, 1654? With the opening of 1655 it is evident that work on the mills and dam across the river had been begun, as it required time then, as now, and more so, to do such work. The Broughton dam, which, as shown by the above deed, must have been built in 1655, extended across the river from the lot deeded to President Dunster by William Brackenbury to land in Medford purchased by Edward Collins of the Cradock heirs, and was the first to be erected in the river of Mysticke. How it was constructed we may never know, but those who observed the recent building of the Cradock dam can well realize the extent of this undertaking so long ago. Probably clay from the present site of Arlington street was used, as in the recent dredging of the river, clay at that point, and no other, defied the effort of the steam dredge, but yielded at last to increased power and dynamite. In June of 1905 the writer, in company with the Messrs. Hooper, went over the ground and searched for some trace of the ancient structure, and none too soon. Mr. H. secured photographs of the old mill site and raceway, which by his courtesy we present. Three days later the whole was obliterated by the grading work of the contractors. Retiring from the college, Mr. Dunster had entered somewhat into business life, but had given mortal offence to the ever watchful authorities. So on April 3 he was called up for the public admonition before mentioned. Mr. Broughton, having completed his mills, received the deed of land and way thereto, and probably Mr. Dunster retained some interest therein. By the building of this dam the river above and Medford ponds assumed a higher level, and soon complaint was heard of flowage of meadows. Of these but one has come down to our notice. Preserved in Boston Public Library is the following, whose date shows that one of the watchful leaders of the theocracy [p. 12] that would brook no opposition to established forms and ideas was early on hand. This bond, which is in the handwriting of Mr. Dunster, not only shows his willingness to arbitrate the issue, but also the talents the theocratic leaders felt might be employed in the legal profession.
It would be interesting to know the conclusion reached by the referees, but one thing is clearly evident—Mr. Dunster drew the bond so closely as to closely limit the damage (if any) to flowage of water. It is to be presumed that the case was satisfactorily settled, as no account of the same is known till nineteen years later. [p. 13] But Mr. Dunster was not allowed rest. On December 29 of the same year his daughter Elizabeth was born. As he did not present her for baptism within three months, the grand jury took action in the matter on April 7, 1657, and on June 16 the court at Charlestown bound him in the sum of ten pounds (Richard Russell furnishing bond) for his appearance before the Court of Assistants at Boston. Mr. Dunster finally removed himself entirely from the Massachusetts colony to the more tolerant one of Plymouth, and on February 27, 1659, at Scituate, passed away, after having made provision for his burial in the ‘God's Acre’ at the college he had faithfully served. Conscious of his integrity, as many another persecuted one has been, he wrote to his oppressors, ‘I am not the man you take me to be.’ A granddaughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Carteret, or DeCarteret, and doubtless lived in the old house alluded to, long known as the Carteret house. Substantial in construction, it outlived the vicissitudes of two centuries, though at the last it was sadly neglected. The dwellers in and thereabouts were not of the highest order, and the near territory came to acquire the sobriquet of Goat Acre. In its last years it fell into two ownerships, and one-half being repaired and painted, the other suffered by contrast. On portions of the old Linefield, later Wenatomie, and latterly, by general use, Menotomy, are extensive market gardens. But summer crops do not satisfy the demand, and under the glass of the great greenhouses are grown, the year round, the supplies of the Boston market. The sand of other portions has been for years used in the plaster of Arlington and Medford houses, and its gravel in the concrete sidewalks, thus leaving unsightly pits here and there. The ‘mills ware,’ once a source of revenue to Newtowne, exists only in early records. This was beside the footway, and near the present St. Paul's Cemetery. For half a century the mill served its purpose, under [p. 14] different owners, and the ‘two rods broad’ became a highway passing over the dam and extending to Grove street, the road from Cambridge to Woburn. Forty years ago, ere the extreme west end of Medford was built, there was a growth of birch and cherry (such as grows along road sides) in a diagonal line across the plain. The ground adjacent was full of small stones, evidently placed there as the fields were cleared for cultivation. These, doubtless, marked the position of this old road from the river northward. Just when the mills ceased to be used and the road discontinued is difficult to determine, but probably long after the suit of Symmes vs. Collins, described in the previous article by Mr. Whitney. Mr. Symmes had several acres of upland and some marsh bordering on the Menotomy which, situated below, was quite near to the Broughton mill. The building of the dam ‘in the river of Misticke’ may have deflected the tidal flow southward into the Menotomy to a greater degree than usual. Some have thought this to be the meadow said to have been damaged, but as it was salt marsh it is doubtful if the hogs rooted there. The other meadows of Mr. Symmes were nearly two miles away on the Aberjona, just beyond the Medford ponds. According to Mr. Brooks, the tidal flow affected the pond a few inches. If the Broughton dam was of a height much higher than flood-tide, it is evident that its effect would be to ‘damnify’ a fresh-water meadow. If so, it is also evident that the power thus created was great and the privilege valuable. It was across the Aberjona, just below the Symmes' meadows, that the massive stone aqueduct of the Middlesex canal was built in 1828. There, on February 15, 1855, an ice-jam was formed by a sudden thaw, and these same meadows were soon several feet under water, the railroad bridge at Wedgemere wrecked, and Main street, in Winchester, at the railroad crossing, fourteen inches submerged, and boats rowed thereon. In 1861 the aqueduct was removed, and in [p. 15] 1865 the Symmes' meadows disappeared altogether at the building of the Mystic dam. But during the years the Mystic and Menotomy rivers have been bringing down the detritus, as their wooded slopes have been denuded, while the inflowing tides have in a measure barred the outflow. The smaller stream, doubtless much larger in President Dunster's day, shrunk to narrow width, was doubled on its course at intervals, and robbed of the natural outflow of Fresh pond, became sluggish and unsanitary in the extreme. But during the past two years all this has been changed. Instead of the narrow, serpentine stream flowing both ways, with adjoining marshes a foot lower than those a mile down stream, is now a broader, deeper channel, with easy, graceful curves, and spanned near its entrance to the Mystic by a graceful arch of concrete masonry forty feet in width. Over this extends the boulevard through the twenty-four rods by the riverside of the Broughton mill site. This is at Medford's doors, and of interest if we ask, ‘Who is our neighbor?’ A year ago the Medford Historical Society took steps looking to the restoration of the ancient and appropriate name of the boundary stream which, neglected, had become a menace, and also to suggest an appropriate one for the bridge, built at a cost of $10,000. The societies of Cambridge (New-towne), Arlington (Menotomy), and Somerville (Charles-towne), cities and town that ‘butt & bound’ thereon, have co-operated. The result is petitions to the Park Commission, which it is hoped will secure the names in future of Menotomy river and Dunster bridge. The former has historic precedent, and abundant warrant by ‘documentary proof.’ What can be more fitting than the name of the learned college president, who suffered for conscience sake, and through it all foresaw the coming of the time of liberty of conscience for all men; who made way for the industrial development of Menotomy field, and whose descendants lived therein?June 10th, 1656. These prsnts witness yt. Mr Thomas Broughton of Boston. Merchant, Mr Edward Collins of Medford Merchant & Henry Dunster of Cambridge Clark, on ye, one pt. & Mr Zackary Sims of Charlestown pastor of ye Church of Ct there & Mr William Sims his son of Charlestown on ye other party do oblige and bind ourselves each party to other in ye sum of ten, [pounds] to stand unto & abide by ye finall issue & Determination of Edward Convers Samuel Richardson James Convers & Thomas Emes, of in & concerning such wst. or damage as they shal finde yt ye meddows of foresd Mr Sims & his son have sustained [this year] by reason of any ponding of ye river outside its wonted course by ye mill just below on yt river; but not for any other accidental Damages yt have befallen ye sayd meddows or may so whether by excessive rains this spring or rooting of hogs or pasturage of Cattle after due time of restoration of ye said meddows from cattle; or ye like, yt do or may appear to be other Diverse & heterogenory causes from ye pdning [ponding] of water for ye mill; wch only & ye prgt (?) & Ill consequences therof, ye aforesd four men have powr by these pysnt to issue & Determine; as upon Due evidence good reason & Consciencous grounds, they Soe finde, learne, concieve, or can be informed, provided also yt if ye four psons afforte canot Determine & issue unanimously or by joint consent ye sayd Difference; That yn they shal take in unto ym John Wyman for a fifth and yt according to ye purport of ye prmissor & not otherwise, any three of sd five shall by their act and deed Determine ye cause dependent. In witness of ye prmissors the parties above sd hereunto st their hands.
M. W. M.