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Pine and Pasture Hills and the part they have Contributed to the development of Medford.

Introductory note.

Immediately after the issue of the January register, the editor received the following: ‘Now comes your very useful record of High street in 1870; it reawakens my interest. . . . I send these papers in the hope of stirring up the curiosity of Mr. Hooper, yourself, or some other.’ One of the ‘papers’ is:—

Wanted, I.

A contour sketch of the tract bounded as below—as nature left it, say, in 1630 to 1635:

E—by line of Governors lane.

S—by river.

W-by line of Library lot.

N-by the crest, [i.e., of the hill].

Wanted, II.

A history of the Medford industry in dark granite and red gravel.

The ‘papers’ received contain a series of queries, raised by a careful reading and review of ‘The Ford at Mistick,’ by J. H. Hooper, Vol. IV, p. 1, register. One paragraph of the ‘papers’ sent, is:—

Medford was a spectacle town. A very high, bulky and red nose stuck up between the glasses. Later this was about the best part of Medford, but neither streets nor lots yet fit for homesteads. The colonists wanted practical convenience—not hill-top villas or bungalows. The Halls owned the whole of Pasture hill, but never dreamed of living up there; they left it to the kite-flying boys, and preferred to dig their homes down to the level of common folks.

The writer of the above, a Medford boy of over eighty years ago, doubtless finds his heart turning gratefully [p. 26] toward his boyhood home. Mr. Hooper has answered in these pages many of Mr. Stetson's queries, and is carefully and diligently working on others. We commend a re-reading of ‘The Ford at Mistick,’ and venture the opinion that the ‘bulky red nose’ will be located by the reading of the present paper.


BEGINNING in the northerly part of the city of Medford, near the boundary line between said city and the town of Stoneham, and running in a southwesterly direction in a slightly curved line, is a ledge of darkcolored rock, strongly impregnated with iron, which is familiarly known as Medford granite. In its course across the city there are several places elevated above the surrounding plain, where, at the time of the great upheaval, the bed rock was split into fragments of greater or less extent, and in the ages that followed, the rain filtering through the earth into the fissures of the rock caused it to oxidize or rust. This disintegrated rock or granite is the so-called red gravel, or, as it is sometimes called, Pasture hill gravel, Pasture hill being the place from which it was first excavated. There are two elevations that have yielded most of the granite that has been quarried and the red gravel that has been excavated. Pine hill, the larger of the elevations, is the point spoken of as being near the Stoneham line. It is supposed to take its name from the pine trees that grew upon it. This hill and the surrounding district furnished a large amount of stone and gravel in former years. The last stone quarried there was used in the construction of Cradock bridge, in the year 880. Pine hill was a part of the Charlestown wood lots, and became a part of Medford in the year 1754. It is now included in the Middlesex Fells Reservation. Following along the course southwesterly, there are traces of granite and red gravel through nearly the whole distance, until a small elevation is reached just north of Pasture hill and a short distance therefrom, where there was once a granite quarry, then across Hall road to Pasture [p. 27] hill, or the ‘hill pasture,’ as it was known in the early days of the plantation.

What is called Pasture hill at the present day is the easterly portion of a hill that extends westerly to Marble or Meeting-house brook. The crest of the hill is but a short distance from Medford square. The extreme southerly portion thereof, that centers where the old high schoolhouse is situated, formed the bank of the river. From this point, where the width of the granite formation was quite narrow, the rock extended down under the river, to reappear on George street, opposite the Lorin L. Dame schoolhouse.

Its next and last appearance in Medford is in a field south of, and adjoining the estate of the late George L. Stearns. Powder House hill, in the city of Somerville, is of the same formation. When the Metropolitan sewer was constructed, this granite ledge was found in the excavation in High street, in front of the schoolhouse lot, very near the surface and extended down below the bottom of the excavation, which was below high-water mark. From this point of the hill that formed the bank of the river, the elevation sloped down, both east and west to the line that separated the upland from the marshland. At several places it was quite abrupt. This line on the west began at Marble or Meeting-house brook near Winthrop street, and ran along in the rear of the estates that front on High street, substantially as it exists today, until it reaches St. Joseph's church lot. Then it crosses a portion of that lot just west of and adjoining the Armory building, to the landing place formerly called the bank, which was the northerly end of the ford, and which is now a part of the Armory lot. On this lot once stood a tannery, slaughter-house, and one of Medford's ship-yards. Bordering the river around the base of the hill, the marshland begins again near the square, following down near Riverside avenue, crossing the avenue just below the brick engine house of the Boston & Maine Railroad Corporation, and passing in the rear of the old burying-ground to Salem street near Gravelly [p. 28] bridge. That portion of the hill west of the schoolhouse lot remains in substantially its natural condition, except for a few minor changes.

On the southeasterly side of the hill near the river was a thick deposit of coarse white gravel, which covered the granite formation, forming the bank of the river and extending down to the marsh line. It is probable that there was but little, if any, marsh west of Main street. Judging from what is known of the conformation of the hill, the gravelly beach must have extended as far as the square. It was on this slope of the hill, close to the water's edge, near the fording place, on the pathway from Salem to Mistick ford and near to the future location of the bridge, that Governor Cradock's servants selected their dwelling-place. It was an ideal spot, there being no other location from Wilson's farm to the Wears, taking all things into consideration, that could compare with the surroundings of what is now the present square. (See map of Ten Hills farm made in 1637, also map supposed to have been made in 1633 and bearing legends in the handwriting of Governor John Winthrop, in Vol. I, No. 4, of the Medford Historical register.)

No traces of the granite formation have been found east of Governors avenue. All the houses on the north side of High street were supplied with water from wells dug down into the white gravel deposit.

Before proceeding to consider the changes that have taken place on the easterly and southerly side of the hill, let us put ourselves on the same position as did the writer of the article on the ancient ford. (See Vol. IV, No. 1, of the Medford Historical register.) The writer, in attempting to describe the situation of the landscape as it existed at the date of the settlement of the plantation, located his mind's eye on the crest of the hill, in the rear of the site of the old high school lot on High street, and gazed about the landing place of the ford a short distance both east and west. Locating our mind's eye in the position above referred to, let us gaze southerly and easterly from the landing place of the ford [p. 29] to the landing called No-Man's-Friend, at the foot of Cross street on Riverside avenue; let us also suppose it to be low water in the river. We will see a gravel beach extending down to low-water mark, almost if not as far as the square; then on the east side of Main street the marshland extending as far as No-Man's-Friend landing, and Gravelly creek winding its crooked way through the marsh to the river. We will see in the place where the town pump formerly stood, a pond of water. Rev. Charles Brooks, in his history of Medford, says, ‘Where the town pump now stands in the market-place there was a small pond, whose edges were covered with a growth of small flags; and there are persons now living (1855) whose fathers have told them, that wild ducks were shot in that pond.’ We will also see the path from Salem to Mistick ford trailing over the present Salem street, fording Gravelly creek, passing along the edge of the pond in the market-place or square, and winding around the verge of the hill to the landing place of the ford. This is the path travelled by Ralph Sprague and his party (two of whom were his brothers Richard and William) from Salem through the wilderness to Mistick ford, in the summer of 1628(9). They found Mr. Cradock's servants occupying a farm called Mistick, that they had planted on the east side of the river called Mistick. It is almost certain that this path was an Indian trail that passed through Medford, and continued westerly to the wears at the outlet of the Mystic ponds where the Indians were wont to assemble for the purpose of fishing.

Let us recall to our minds how that portion of the hill looked a few years since, in the rear of the houses known as the Dudley and Ebenezer Hall houses. The hill in the rear of the Dudley Hall lot was as high as the eaves of the house, and it was still higher in the rear of the Benjamin Hall house. Gazing at the same time at the river bank we will then understand what the contour of the hill must have been, and what a large amount of material has been removed, to make the changes that we see today. The river bank has been walled up with [p. 30] split granite, from the ancient ford to No-Man's-Friend landing; and the space back of the wall, as also the marshes, have been filled above high water mark. The grade of the market-place or square has been raised many feet and the pool of water has disappeared. Cradock bridge has been built, also the dam with lock and canal. Salem path to Mistick ford has been widened and is now known as Salem street; before it took its present name it was known as the Malden road. Main street, Forest street and Riverside avenue (formerly known as Mile lane, and still later as Ship street), have been laid out. High street has been cut through the thick gravel deposit, and the sites of the houses on the north side of the street have been graded back into the hill.

The site of the lot of Benjamin Hall, senior, afterwards known as the Dr. Swan lot, was excavated further back into the hill than the other lots nearer the square, and what remained of the hill on that lot was terraced and set out with fruit trees, shrubs and flowering plants, and the several terraces were reached by flights of stone steps. When in its prime it was one of the show places of Medford. The upper terrace of the Dudley Hall lot was reached by a long flight of stone steps. The stable of Benjamin Hall was east of his house and near the street. The stable and carriage houses of the other houses were on the opposite side of the street. The grading of High street and the sites of these houses furnished the material used in filling back of the retaining walls, raising the grade of the market-place or square, Main street and the marshes. In recent years a large amount of material has been removed from this slope of the hill, and used for the repair of streets and for other purposes. Governors avenue from High street to the point where it connected with Pasture Hill lane, was laid out over the lot of land formerly owned and occupied by Benjamin Hall, senior, and still later by Dr. Daniel Swan. The greater part of this lot afterwards came into the possession of the town of Medford. It contained a large amount of stone and gravel, (both white and red) suitable [p. 31] for highway purposes. From the northerly line of this lot the avenue runs northerly, including within its location the old lane which was about one rod in width. From the hill on the west side of the lane, was probably quarried most of the stone used in the construction of the retaining walls on the bank of the river. Red gravel was also extensively excavated from this portion of the hill. This quarry was but little used for many years prior to the hill being laid out into building lots. The Pine hill district contained the largest masses of granite, and was the probable source of most of the split granite, both cut and uncut, so extensively used for building purposes in this vicinity. Medford granite was much in demand. A former resident of the town says, ‘Mr. Joseph Grinnel built a house of it in New Bedford in 1830, and told me it came round Cape Cod in a schooner.’ Medford red gravel was very popular. It was used on street and garden walks, both in Medford and in the surrounding cities and towns. The city of Boston used it on the walks of the Common and Public Garden. It was also used on the walks of Mount Auburn cemetery. We extract from the records of the town of Woburn the first mention of a highway from Woburn to Mystic bridge.

‘14th of the 7 month 1646, Edward Convers and Samuel Richardson are appointed to lay out a highway between this town and Mistick bridge being joined with some of Charlestown and some of Mistick House.’ [Governor Cradock's farm house in Medford square.]

The record fails to give the location of the way. There is, however, but one way where the road could have been laid out, and that is substantially where it is located today. That is to say, from the square to Brooks' corner, over or near the present location of High street, then over Woburn and old Purchase streets to Symmes' corner, and so on to Woburn. Probably at that early day the road passed around the verge of Pasture hill, the slope of the great south bastion of the hill [p. 32] being quite abrupt, and at that time probably but little grading was done. The early settlers were content with most any kind of a road if it was passable.

That no record ever existed is manifest by the repeated laying out of the way. High street from the square to Brooks' corner was known as the road to Woburn, until it received its present name. That portion of the street from Brooks' corner to the Arlington line was called by several names: the way to the wears, the highway from Brooks' corner to the wears, the road to Menotomy, and the road to West Cambridge. Woburn road was extensively travelled after the construction of Cradock bridge, it being the most direct route from the northern settlements to Charlestown and Boston.

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