The beginning of a New village.
THERE recently appeared in the Boston Sunday Herald's Rotogravure Section a view, ‘Tufts College and portions of Medford as the sky-camera sees them.’ To the writer, this picture is of much interest, for much of it has been built within his remembrance. But another portion of Medford has also, and he had no sky or other camera to preserve the view as it looked fifty-five years ago, and he has an earlier remembrance of it, in fact, the time when the gilded letters of ‘Mystic Hall Seminary’ first appeared on the front of that building in 1854. In May of 1870, several gentlemen purchased the socalled ‘Smith Estate,’ from its trustees, and had it surveyed into house lots and instituted a land sale. They were Dr. A. B. Story of Manchester, N. H., Samuel S. Holton and J. B. Judkins of Winchester, Mass. Expecting to reside in Winchester, the writer was then preparing a modest little home there, when he was engaged to the service of this ‘land company’ (as people styled these purchasers) as their superintendent on the ground. He alighted from the 6.15 A. M. train on the morning of May 27 and begun his duties. The railway station was a small wooden structure, with widely overhanging roof (a counterpart of that at Winchester), had been in use for fifteen years, and stood closely in the acute angle formed by High street and the tracks. He recognized the station agent as our old acquaintance, Reuben Willey, formerly at Woburn. A man with a red flag was on duty at the crossing, Daniel Kelley. There were then no gates, but in former days there had been, and at first this station was known as Medford Gates, and the next one, appropriately, as Med-[p. 18] ford Steps. Two houses securely fenced in, faced High street, in which these men lived. Beyond them lay the extensive lands of the Brooks families, extending to Mystic lakes and over the hill and beyond the railroad to Oak Grove cemetery and into Winchester. On the left of High street was the greenhouse of Florist John Duane and his house, whose construction in the winter of ‘66 and ‘67 we remembered seeing during our daily trips to Boston. Away beyond that (where is now Monument street) was a big barn, forty by fifty feet. It had no windows, but big door openings in its ends. It was not a very old barn, perhaps thirty or forty years then. How it ever escaped the tornado of '51 or the incendiary fires of the ‘years before the war’ always seemed a mystery. We utilized it for a shop and storehouse for two years, until it was taken down and a house built of its good material. High street is the old ‘way to the weare,’ the ‘road to Menotomy,’ which became West Cambridge in 1807, but took the name of Arlington in 1867. But until 1850 a portion of old Charlestown intervened between it and the river. In 1870 there were only five houses in that strip along the street and none on the Medford side, so there was an unobstructed view of the village and church spires of Arlington from the railway platform at West Medford. We saw a broad open plain, level at first, and sloping gradually to the river's edge, with but here and there a tree, beyond the pear trees left on the Smith garden plot. The Brooks estate was bordered with walls of dark Medford granite, as was also the opposite side of High street for more than half way. A few of the latter remain today but none on the other side. Directly opposite the crossing was River street, which extended squarely away across the plain, crossing the river on Usher bridge and joining a street of that name in Arlington, passing through the Rawson market farm and a settlement commonly called ‘Goat Acre.’ [p. 19] To the right of this street, which in 1870 got the name of Harvard avenue, Thomas P. Smith had erected, in 1852, the substantial building known as Mystic Hall, now the store of Joseph E. Ober & Son. Mr. Smith lived in a large house just westward, and judging by the views of it extant, it was quite an extensive place. This house and its barn was destroyed by one of those frequent incendiary fires in 1865 or ‘66, but of them, more later. A dwelling house and stable had been erected on the left of that River street a little farther on, and a way just begun, called Bower street. This house in 1870 was occupied by an elderly merchant, Henry T. Wood, and wife. It now stands (with its ell removed) as a two-apartment house opposite the fire station on Bower street, while its stable is also made into a two-apartment house, and the site of the house was that of the onestory concrete block of stores. But a more sudden change was effected on that spot on August 23, 1851, when a house in construction there was utterly destroyed by the tornado, and two men working in the attic found themselves unhurt, with the house roof over them, deposited in the field beside the railroad. When rebuilt, the house was of a different plan and design from the first. Farther along southward, at about that same time, was erected a substantial house, now standing, and also a stable. In this, in 1870, resided Horace A. Breed and family. This road was named Bower street by Mr. Smith because of a street in Roxbury (where he formerly lived) and perhaps because of a ‘bower of trees’ thereon. Note, this is not Bowers, but Bower. This street connected at its end with Canal street, which crossed the railway equally as acutely as does High, but in a different direction. On the left of Canal street, adjoining the railroad, were six houses,—three belonged to the Smith estate, two to Gilbert Lincoln, and the last to Edward Brooks. In the basement of that was his laundry. Capt. A. A. Samson was the occupant of the house in ‘70. Mr. [p. 20] Lincoln's home was directly opposite, and his land adjoined the Canal house land, which latter was a part of the Smith estate. He was a carpenter by trade, ‘one of the old stock,’ who knew and did excellent work; and a very worthy man. This street was a town way, and got its name because it was the way to Landing No. 4 of the Middlesex canal, the famous waterway which connected Boston harbor with the Merrimac river at Chelmsford (now Lowell) in 1803. Near this landing (now 120-122 Boston avenue) was the ‘canal tavern,’ such as were found at every lock along the canal's course. It was occupied at the time of the sale by Thomas Martin, an excellent stone-mason, who laid much of the stone wall on the Brooks estate. The Smith estate also included the brick house on Canal street, which was built in 1812 by the town for its almshouse, and all the land opposite from Prescott street, bordering Whitmore brook, except the ‘Gamage corner.’ None of the Smith estate houses were then occupied, until the writer took up his residence there. With the exception of the Mystic Hall building, all that triangle lying between High street, Boston avenue and Harvard avenue was not in 1870 a part of the Smith estate purchase, nor the square opposite as far as Trinity church. Without the use of camera (sky or otherwise) we will ask our readers now to form a picture of this broad tract as it appeared in 1870, bounded by the encircling river, the straight railway, and High street bending at Grove street park (now called Bennett delta). The railroad comes down hill a little to its crossing at High street, which continues nearly level to the delta. Harvard avenue slopes gradually away, more now than then, and the tract rises a little to its highest point at Holton and Monument streets, so little that its decriers (and there were such in ‘70) called the whole ‘the Flats’ and in pronouncing, the ‘a’ was very flat. Don't put many trees in your picture. There was a piece of springy ground on Jerome and Sherman streets, [p. 21] where was a big willow; another larger one on Boston avenue near High, probably owing to the canal. One of four feet at the canal landing, also a half dozen sycamores, one now left, next the river. Some sizable elms were before the canal house and a big pear tree near each end of Monument street; a few wild cherry trees where stone walls had been, and a few elms about the dwellings we have named—only these in that big open plain. If you are artist enough, put in a growing field of rye between Mr. Breed's and the canal house, and the remains of the canal embankment here and there where is now Boston avenue. The stone walls of the canal lock were still standing and the decaying aqueduct still spanned the river and could be walked over, if one was careful. There was an island of some six thousand feet in the river, just below Weir bridge which was not the substantial structure of present time, but a wooden bridge with rough stone abutments. A rapidly rushing stream at the ebb of tide made quite a little water power at Wood's mill under the willows down stream on the Arlington side. In the dwellings then west of the railroad there were in the spring of 1870 not over forty-five inhabitants, old and young. Mr. Smith was a man of much ability and public spirit, and his passing away probably retarded many improvements in this part of the village. His wife was an accomplished woman, the daughter of Ebenezer Smith of Winchester, a man of means. His gift of the tower clock on the new Congregational church there in 1851 was made so quietly that forty years elapsed before it became known who the donor was. In 1854 the brick almshouse which the younger Smith had bought was by extensive repair and addition transformed into the ‘Mystic Mansion’ and in that and her residence as dormitories and Mystic Hall (Everett Hall being later a store) Mrs. Smith opened (in 1854) her famous ‘Mystic Hall Seminary’ for the education of young ladies. She [p. 22] had an extensive clientage, somewhat from the South. She laid much stress on the four departments of education in which she specialized—Moral, Mental, Physical and Graceful. After four years she unfortunately decided to move her school to Washington. She had scarcely been established there when there occurred the John Brown raid and the Civil War, which was disastrous to her enterprise, and the school was closed. After her return she lived perhaps in the old home till its burning, and later in the ‘mansion’ on Canal street. Whether the younger T. P. Smith or his father-in-law, Ebenezer, was one of the ‘Brooklands’ company referred to by the canal company's agent in his report, on closing the company's affairs in '52, we cannot say, but the canal's lands and tavern were in 1870 a part of that purchased of the trustees of the Smith estate. One, Benjamin E. Bates, had a plan made of the triangular plot next High street. It showed the outlines of Mystic Hall on its lot and seven distinct lots of from 35,000 to 65,000 square feet area. Evidently the day of small house lots had not then come. The plan was by a noted surveyor, J. F. Fuller of Boston. It was lithographed, and announced these lots for sale on Monday, October 29, 1866, at 3.30 P. M. by Samuel A. Walker, auctioneer of Boston, who was famed in his calling, and whose advertising posters were remarkable. This plan had a fine showing of Mr. Brooks' park with its trees, and showed Mr. Brooks' land bordering for some two hundred feet and ‘Heirs of Smith,’ also on the south. A copy of this lithograph, neatly framed, has recently come to our notice, and we have just learned that John Duane, who had been Mr. Brooks' gardener, was the only purchaser at that sale of Lot No. 1, 63,555 feet. He then lived in the gardener's house on Grove street, opposite the ‘slave wall,’ and purchasing the Brooks' greenhouses, rebuilt them there. The building of the Duane house on the cellar of the Smith mansion soon followed this and comes within our [p. 23] remembrance. This is now the parochial residence of St. Raphael's Church, which stands on the site of the florist's greenhouses. Here we note another more extensive plan by the same Engineer Fuller, which covers the entire territory we have described, and some more. It is on scale of two hundred feet to an inch, but it bears no date, and shows the railway station in the obtuse angle east of the track where is now Playstead road. It shows a building in the extreme corner of Gorham Brooks' land (where is now the Medford Trust Co. banking rooms). It shows the outline of the large Smith ‘mansion house’ and larger barn, the lot and outlines of ‘Young Ladies' Seminary,’ the two houses of Breed, that of Simms, the canal house and the barn on Monument street. It also shows the old house belonging to the railroad at the Canal street crossing and the old almshouse of 1812 in its enlarged shape. This last would indicate that the plan was made subsequent to 1854, when that house was thus transformed. The outlines of the various bridges are clearly shown, as also the canal aqueduct and two bath houses south of it. There, an arrow points to ‘Tufts College, 3/4 mile.’ An irregularly bounded tract of 8.83 acres is there shown beyond the river (now the public reservation and parkway), its extreme corner being where the railroad crossed the canal. This point is where the tall chimney of the American Woolen Co. now stands. Beyond this is the legend, ‘Formerly oj Rev. Mr. Smith.’ Probably Engineer Fuller didn't anticipate the Mystic Valley parkway or the great fivestory concrete building now thereon. This plan is subsequent to that which shows in the Walling map of Medford, and to which Brooks' history refers. Numerous lithographic copies of it were printed and distributed at an auction sale of land on June 21, 1870. As was customary in those years agone, the promoters had a special train run out from Boston on the occasion. Tables had been set up on the lot where the [p. 24] fire station now is, and a collation of strawberries, ice cream, etc., was furnished the coming throng. Then the same auctioneer, Walker, set up his red flag and began to orate somewhat on the natural beauties and advantages of the locality for homes, and led a procession of onlookers across the field to near the old barn, and stating terms of sale, etc., asked for bids per square foot, on lots on various parts of the plan. The lots were mainly 100 × 140 feet and five cents per foot about an average price was bid, but not an over large number of buyers were present. Our first work on coming was to get the proposed streets outlined, and in a way sub-graded, and lot bounds staked. A surveyor had preceded us, and we found Riverside avenue marked out with two plough furrows from Bower to River street (now Harvard avenue). We began extensive repairs (much needed) on the Canal house, and took up our own residence in one of the houses, now moved away, where is now 50 Canal street, and began to build the first new house for a prospective purchaser on Myrtle street, which was a sort of cart track to the ‘waterworks bridge’ across the river to the pumping station. We will never forget how insignificant and lonely the frame of that house looked to us as we saw it from ‘Goat Acre’ just after its erection—a speck in that wide, open plain. Another survey was made with new streets and smaller lots in the western corner, which found readier purchasers at a second sale in August. Next, another like survey was made in the southern corner, and the location of Riverside avenue changed to a lower grade across where in Medford's earliest days was ‘Markham's clay land.’ We found no such clay pits as those at South Medford and Glenwood, but enormous quantities of bricks must have been made in those long-ago days from the deep excavation made from the river and between Myrtle street and Boston avenue where was the high embankment of the canal. In 1870 the canal aqueduct, a picturesque ruin, still [p. 25] spanned the river, and five years before was the subject of a sketch and oil painting by Nathan Brown of Brooks street.1 Rebuilt in 1827 upon three new granite piers, it was an invitation for a new street to ‘Tufts College 3/4 mile’ to cross upon it. In the autumn of 1870, the County Commissioners were petitioned to lay out such a street, sixty feet wide, as Boston avenue. The operations of the ‘land company’ were not too heartily welcomed by a few on the ‘other side the track,’ and some opposition was made to this, but the Commissioners laid out the street. The old woodwork of the aqueduct was removed and a bridge placed upon the solid abutments of boulders built in 1802 and the granite piers of 1827, which served for about thirty years. The land company built two other houses in 1870. Joseph Cheney had moved into the first one when completed, and Edward Adams and Henry B. Nottage into the others. Elisha Pierce (a Medford civil war veteran) built one on Myrtle street, into which his mother and aunt moved in the fall. Alfred E. Ansorge built on High street, coming in February of ‘71, and later sold to George E. Crosby. John J. Peasley (a carpet dealer in Boston) took up five lots on Harvard avenue between Monument and Winthrop streets and on them built the house in which he lived a few years and which after his removal became the home of Grenville Redding. At the Sharon street corner was later the Hall school, taught by Miss Ellen Lane. Joseph E. Ober, Ellis Pitcher and Moses W. Mann bought at the first auction sale lots on Winthrop and Monument streets. Mr. Pitcher was then keeping a little grocery under Mystic Hall and was postmaster. Frank Lincoln was his helper. Mr. Pitcher never built, and only last year sold his land, from which a lot of concrete blocks have been made and on which is just now being erected a dwelling. He very soon sold the store to Sawyer & Parmenter, [p. 26] who in December sold it to J. E. Ober, who in 1871 built his present residence and Mr. Mann his, the latter person being the first resident on that street. In 1870 Simeon S. Leavitt had built, by J. H. Norton, the large mansard roof house (second from St. Raphael's Church), and in ‘71 Charles M. Barrett (then living on Warren street) had erected his house and stable on the adjoining lot. Deacon James Pierce of Medford was the builder, and it was doubtless the best constructed of any hereabout. Only a memory now, as it has just been demolished to make way for a large apartment house. In 1871, C. A. Folsom had erected on Harvard avenue, what was for a time called the ‘New York house,’ a showy structure built by New York men who said ‘We've come to show Massachusetts carpenters how to build.’ It was destroyed by fire two years later and Mr. Folsom moved away. In 1872 the brothers Elijah and Warren Morse had a double house erected on High street. They moved in just after the big Boston fire, and Warren lived out his days there. In the fall of ‘73 Samuel S. Holton, Jr., had his house on Boston avenue built, and occupied it just after his marriage—the first (with the exception of Maxwell in the Canal house) to reside on Boston avenue. Next Gustavus Abbott built three houses opposite, and into the central one Henry B. Nottage moved. The lumber for these houses came up the river from East Boston in scows towed by a steam tug. The objective point was the bridge at Boston avenue. Perhaps this may have been the last time the draw of Cradock bridge was opened. It was said that there was a question of the legality of Auburn street bridge and that the captain had intended to force a passage at Auburn street, which bridge was very low and had just been built. However, the tide was too high and the unloading was there done. In 1872 Trinity (Methodist Episcopal) and the West Medford Congregational Churches were organized, and in ‘73 erected their houses of worship, the latter completed [p. 27] and dedicated late in ‘74. These two church buildings were the first structures to be erected on the two plots of land between the railroad and Boston avenue. The next was the four-story brick block on Harvard avenue in ‘75. This was begun by J. C. McNeil in the summer. He failed to complete it and the land owners had to take it over and finish it. Then Lewis H. Lovering opened a meat and provision store in November, and George Spaulding a grocery in it. Six five-room tenements were above the stores, but slow in occupancy. The ‘land company’ had in ‘72 added to its holdings and also burdens, by purchase of the ‘Osgood estate’ at the Hillside, and had sold some twenty-five lots to a number of men styled the Quincy Associates, but six of whom erected houses on Adams street. By 1875 very little building was in progress and times were very hard. Not till 1880 was any house erected on Boston avenue west of Harvard except that of C. H. Morgan, and a dozen years more ere those across the street came, on the land Bates tried to sell in 1866. In 1870 Medford was installing a system of water supply from Spot pond and all streets were in a state of upheaval. In times earlier, the house builder had a water problem to solve. The thrifty home keeper had a cistern or hogshead sunk in the ground to save the rain water from the roofs, and incidentally to supply a mosquito colony. But for drinking water he had to rely on digging a well somewhere, regardless of the barnyard or outbuilding, really and often styled necessary. Only the larger and more expensive houses had any plumbing fixtures or bathroom, and in such all water had to be pumped into a tank in the attic, after which hard work it was used sparingly. The new houses first built on this tract were supplied by ‘driven wells’—an iron pipe driven into the gravelly and sandy soil, with an iron pitcher-nosed pump, generally inside the house at the kitchen sink. [p. 28] About the first of December, 1870, water was let into the main then completed as far as Monument street, and the writer was the first user in this tract, in making the plaster of the Ansorge house. Housekeepers found the turn of a faucet much easier than the old pump-handle and water bucket, but soon found that water pipes would sometimes freeze and drainage had to be cared for. In fact, it took thirty years to get an effective system of sewerage, when came another upheaval of streets, relaying of water pipes of iron, street sewers, under-drains and the ‘particular sewer’ into every cellar, and resultant bills to pay. Perhaps there was a readjustment of plumbing fixtures not dreamed of in 1870. Meanwhile other Mystic Valley towns were having similar experiences, and Boston, which had absorbed Charlestown with its Mystic water, found it taking in the tannery drainage of Winchester and Woburn. That was then turned into the Mystic lower lake, which soon became a big cesspool and an intolerable nuisance, only mitigated by the filter beds beside the railroad in Winchester, followed by the abandonment of that supply. Lexington and Arlington also had to send their sewage to a pumping station across the river in Somerville which raises it sufficiently to carry it across and under the Mystic just below Canal bridge through a corner of this section, and now, after thirty years even this is insufficient, and a new system's installing has kept High street in disruption for a year. By the abandonment of the Mystic water supply the brick conduit under Sherman and Jerome streets of a mile and a half from the lake remains disused and useless. We wonder, sometimes, what new invention or discovery may come that may make it usable again. We have mentioned the names of several streets which may not now seem familiar. Only High, Canal and Harvard avenue (first called River street) were public ways in 1870. The others have been accepted as such on petition of citizens at various times. Myrtle [p. 29] street of the Fuller plan was given the name of Jerome in respect to Jerome B. Judkins, one of the land purchasing company, at suggestion of E. W. Metcalf, who started the petition. This was because there was already another street of that name in town. For the same reason Winthrop was called Sharon, suggested by the Morse brothers in respect of their old home town. Linden became Fairfield avenue in honor of a worthy resident of that name. Minot became Boston avenue, and Riverside avenue, Arlington street, the town just having given the former name to old Ship street. Holton street is named in honor of another of the ‘land company’ who laid it out to make possible a corner lot for Trinity Church. First, from Bower to Boston avenue, it was later extended to Sharon, where is the Hervey school. This tract of land we have described is bounded on one side by four shining bands of steel, kept bright by the car wheels; on another by High street, with its dark granite walls, and on the other for over a mile, by the shining waters of the Mystic. But even that has changed. There are now no marshes and tides, no more flow and ebb. Its channel is deeper and its banks somewhat changed and the island gone, and a border along its edge has been taken by the Commonwealth for a public reservation. Along the Arlington side is the parkway, and eventually there must be one on the other, already partially graded. Over it courses a ceaseless flow of pleasure travel by automobile, something unknown in 1870, as was equally unknown the electric street and house lighting, which displaced the gas that still remains to do our cooking. As early as 1871 our boys had the ‘devil's fiddle’ (mother's tomato can and a string), but now almost every house has its telephone. The treeless plain of 1870 now has its shaded streets and well-kept dwellings. Instead of the forty dwellers, if you wish to know how many now, get the latest list of residents of ward six and count [p. 30] the names of those over twenty years and add a liberal percentage for the children. On that desolate tract of 1870 stand four churches and there has been another. The business life of the West End is there well represented. Our veteran grocer Ober still does business at the old stand in Mystic Hall. Blacksmith Dinsmore still shoes horses, between two big public garages, and the various lodges are housed in the Sagamore building. As we write this we find that only four persons now reside on this west side of the railroad that were there when we came in 1870, and perhaps not more than eight on the eastern side in West Medford. It is a pleasant section of our city in which to live because of its growth and the people that have made it such. We trust we have done our part with them. In this story we have only dealt with the earlier years. Another village, the Hillside, has grown ‘this side the track,’ another of two hundred houses on the Brooks estate and more coming.