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Chapter 9: public buildings.

First meeting-house.

First meeting-house, 1696.

during the first years of their residence in Medford, our pious ancestors were not sufficiently numerous and rich to support a minister of the gospel; hence they joined the churches of Cambridge, Charlestown, Watertown, Woburn, and Malden. That they had preaching in the town at funerals and baptisms, is most probable; but the loss of our earliest records prevents our stating any specific action on the subject till about 1690, when the desire to build a meeting-house became strong and effectual. They worshipped in private rooms; and we find a vote of the town to “pay Thomas Willis thirty shillings for the use of his rooms for one year.”

January 17, 1693, we find the following record:--

At a general town-meeting of the inhabitants of Medford, being fifteen days warned, voted that there shall be a meeting-house erected, to be finished the first of October following, on the land of Mr. Thomas Willis, near the gate by Marble Brook, on a rock on the north side of Woburn Road. It shall be seven and twenty feet long, four and twenty feet wide, and fifteen feet between joints.


The committee to whom was intrusted this important work, “with full power to act therein,” were Caleb Brooks and Thomas Willis, “to be joined by the Selectmen, Joseph Hall and John Tufts.” Owing to some obstacles, the house was not built at the time first specified; and the next movement towards it we find in a vote passed Sept. 13, 1695. At this time “a subscription was opened, and one pound was subscribed by the following persons: Thomas Willis, Caleb Brooks, Stephen Francis, Stephen Willis, John Francis, John Whitmore, John Bradshoe, Jonathan Tufts, John Hall, jun., Nathaniel Hall, Stephen Hall, sen., John Willis, Stephen Hall, Percival Hall, Ebenezer Brooks. Twelve shillings were subscribed by Eleazer Wier and Nathaniel Waite, and six shillings by Samuel Brooks.” At this meeting, the town voted, unanimously, that “every person who refused to subscribe should pay twelve pence per head, and one penny on the pound, towards the building of the meeting-house.”

September 23, 1695, it was voted “to give sixty pounds for the erection and finishing of the house;” but, on Nov. 4, 1695, the town took a new step, as follows: “The inhabitants, being now met .and assembled, have voted and agreed to have a pulpit and deacons'-seats made, and the body of seats and the walls plastered with lime.” On account of these additions to the house, they agreed to give eighty pounds.

The meeting-house having been completed in May, 1696, five gentlemen — viz., Peter Tufts, John Hall, sen., Caleb Brooks, Stephen Francis, and Stephen Willis — were chosen “the committee to place the inhabitants in the meeting-house; the Selectmen first to place the committee.”

There is no account of any separate religious services at the laying of the corner-stone, or for the dedication of the house. Whether our Puritan fathers feared being too Jewish, or too Popish, or too Episcopal, we know not.

Thus our ancestors provided themselves with their first house for public worship; and when we consider that at that time there were but thirty male inhabitants of the town who paid taxes on estates, we may see clearly the cause of delaying such an expenditure, without supposing any lack of interest in piety or the church.

The spot on which the first house stood is now occupied by a cottage, owned by Mr. Noah Johnson, in West Medford. The passage-way, which was closed by “the gate” [327] mentioned in the vote, still exists as a way to another house in which Mr. Johnson now resides. This spot, consecrated by the prayers and worship of our ancestors, is about twenty rods east-north-east from the crotch of the two roads,--one leading to Woburn, the other to West Cambridge.

The meeting-houses of this period were generally square, or nearly so. Some had spires, and were of two stories, with galleries. The one in Medford was nearly square, of one story, and without spire or galleries, but its windows secured with outside shutters. The roof was very steep, and its humble appearance (twenty-seven by twenty-four) can be readily imagined; and, if it had been made with walls unplastered, its cost probably would not have exceeded sixty pounds. Twelve shillings were annually paid “for keeping the meeting-house.”

Instead of pulpits, many houses had tables, from which the sermon was preached, and around which certain privileged persons, besides the deacons, were permitted, by a vote of the town, to sit.

The order of services was much like that flow prevalent in congregational churches, except that the Scriptures were not read, and there was no choir. The congregation sung; and the deacon's pitch-pipe was the only instrumental music allowed.

Baptisms were always administered in the meeting-house; and, if a child had been born on Sunday morning, it was thought a fit offering of piety to have it baptized in that afternoon.

As pews were not tolerated at first, the town chose a committee “to seat the congregation.” Although this committee was composed of the most judicious and popular men, their decisions were not always satisfactory. The rules laid down for seating the people were passed Nov. 30, 1713, and are as follows: “The rule to be observed by said committee, in seating of persons in said meeting-house, is the quality of persons; they who paid most for building the house, they who pay most for the minister's support, and the charges they have been at and now do pay to the public.” In 1703, there was so much heartburning at the placing of the people, that, in the true spirit of republican congregationalism, they rebelled, and chose a new committee to do the work over again.

The origin of pews seems to have been in a petition of Major Wade for liberty to build one. [328]

“May 25, 1696: Major Nathaniel Wade shall have liberty to build a pew in the meeting-house when he shall see reason to do so.” Nothing appears in the record to explain this “liberty;” and therefore we are left to set it down to our forefathers' charity, or submission to wealth, or traditional toleration of rank. As the major was the richest citizen, he had probably done most for the building of the house. But, although this liberty was granted to build when he “saw reason,” the town was nervously careful to define the form of his pew, and to fix its exact position. One vote, on another occasion, directed the committee to see that “it should not go beyond the first bar of the window.”

A grant subsequently made to another gentleman was accompanied with this condition,--that “he must take into his pew one or two persons, not belonging to his family, whom the town may name.”

March 6, 1699: Thomas Willis presented to the town, as a gift, a deed of the piece of land on which the meeting-house was standing.

On the same day, the town voted “to build a fore-gallery in the meeting-house, with three seats; said seats to be parted in the middle, one-half to be used by the men, and the other by the women.” This custom of making the gallery-seats free, and of confining those on one side to the use of males, and the others to the use of females, continued in Medford until our day.

This “fore-gallery” became a cause of conflict between the two sexes! By the vote of 1699, the “women” were to occupy one side, and the “men” the other. Of course this just decision satisfied the gentler sex; and they enjoyed the boon till Jan. 31, 1701, when the town voted that men only should sit in the front gallery of the meeting-house! This unexplained outrage on female rights roused into ominous activity certain lively members, whose indignant eloquence procured the call of another town-meeting within five weeks, when it was voted to reconsider the decision of the 31st of January, and thus put the matter statu quo ante bellum. When the history of the “women movement” of our day shall be written, we commend the above fact to their biographer.

At the same meeting, Lieut. Peter Tufts, Ebenezer Brooks, and Stephen Willis, had leave granted them to build each a pew. This vote was strangely modified, with respect to one [329] of these gentlemen, on the 3d of January, 1715: “Voted that the town will grant Mr. Ebenezer Brooks a pew in the part of their meeting-house joining to the minister's pew, and liberty to make a door into said pew on the outside of said meeting-house.” This was the first grant of the kind, and we should hope it would be the last; for to see the outside of a meeting-house thus sliced up into little private doors, surely could not add much to its beauty or its warmth.

July 28, 1702: “Voted to give Ensign John Bradshaw fifteen shillings for sweeping the meeting-house one year, cleaning the snow away from the front-door, and shutting the casements.”

Nov. 25, 1712: The town, for the first time, granted permission to one of their number to build a shed for his horse. “A merciful man is merciful to his beast.” If horses think, what must they have thought of the early settlers?

We have dwelt on these minute details, because they only can give the true history of our early ancestors. These little facts tell great truths. They show us how much our fathers did with the scantiest means; and, better than all, they prove to us that the noble Anglo-Saxon Puritans who settled these shores could not be seduced by poverty to abate a tittle of their high-minded integrity, or their jealousy of power, or their Christian enthusiasm.

Second meeting-house.

Second meeting-house, 1727.


A new house was first proposed May 28, 1716, because the enlargement of the old would cost nearly as much as the building of a new one. The committee reported that its size should be “fifty feet long, thirty-eight broad, and twenty-seven feet stud.” It was to have diamond glass and window-shutters, and was to cost four hundred and fifty pounds. In 1719, the subject again came up for more decisive action; and, in Feb. 9 of that year, they put the question in this form: “Put to vote, whether the town will build a new meeting-house forthwith. Voted in the negative.”

A movement so full of interest to every family would naturally bring out some diversity of opinion in a widely scattered population. In order, therefore, to secure harmony in the best plan, they were willing to accede to what judicious and disinterested men might say was best. Accordingly, March 7, 1720, in a full town-meeting, they put the question thus:--

Whether the town will choose a committee of five gentlemen, from some of our neighboring towns, to give their advice, whether it will be most convenient for the town, at present, to build a new meeting-house, or to enlarge the old. And, in case said committee do advise to build a new meeting-house, then said committee to state a place, as near the centre of the town as can be, which shall best accommodate the whole town for setting of said house.

This was “voted in the affirmative,” and the meeting was then adjourned one week to March 14; but the time was too short for so much business. When, however, the meeting of the 14th took place, the town passed a vote supplementary to that of the 7th inst.; and in these words are the record:--

At said meeting, put to vote, whether the town will abide by, and rest satisfied with, the advice and determination of the abovesaid committee, which shall be according to the vote above written, referring to building a new meeting-house or enlarging of the old, and also as to stating a place for said house. Voted in the affirmative.

This vote was passed after the town had chosen the committee, and had probably learned something of their views. The committee make their report; whereupon the town, Feb. 20, 1721, after nearly a year's delay and various indefinite activities, come to the question of this report of the committee. The record is as follows:-- [331]

Put to vote, whether the town doth accept of the result of the committee, referring to a meeting-house in Medford, as a perfect result according to the votes of said town. Voted in the negative.

It does not appear what were the grounds of objection to the result of the committee; but the vote above, of Feb. 20, drew forth the following protest from the Westenders:--

We, the subscribers, do enter our dissent against the town's proceedings in the above-written vote (of the 20th of February), for the following reasons; to wit:--

1 That, at a meeting legally convened, March 14, 1720, the town did make choice of a committee of five gentlemen, to advise and determine the affair of the meeting-house in said town, as may at large appear by said votes referring thereto; and did also bind themselves, by a vote, to abide by, and rest satisfied with, the advice and determination of said committee.

2. The gentlemen chosen by the town as a committee, being met at Medford, April 2, 1720, after consultation upon said affair, drew up a result, under all their hands, and publicly read and declared the same to the town, or those of them then present.

3. That said committee, by their result, did oblige the inhabitants of the West End of the town to procure the land for erecting a new meeting-house upon, at their own cost and charge; and also to remove all encumbrances, as expressed in said result.

4. That we, the subscribers, have, in obedience to said result, procured the land and removed the encumbrances, as above slid, at our own cost and charge; and, for these and the like reasons, we enter against said vote as being illegal and unjust.

As this subject created local or territorial interests. it was prudently thought best not to force any measure relating to it. More than a year elapsed before any decisive action was taken. July 19, 1722, voted “to build a meeting-house according to the advice and determination of the honored committee chosen and empowered by the town to state that affair, and in the same place which said committee stated and ordered in the result.” [332]

This vote immediately called forth a protest from the Eastenders, in the following words:--

We, the subscribers, do enter our dissent against the vote abovesaid, referring to the building of a new meeting-house, for the reasons following; to wit: first, it is wholly contrary to the warrant granted for said meeting; and also, it being contrary to a former vote of the town.

This difference of opinion, running longitudinally east and west, destroyed not the harmony of the town in other things; but served only to postpone action, and wait the leadings of Providence. More than two years elapsed before we find the following vote: “To place the new meeting-house either on the north or south side of the country road, on a piece of land belonging to John Bradshaw, jun.” This spot was afterwards rejected. More unanimity began now to prevail in this matter; and a committee was chosen whose wisdom and impartiality harmonized every thing. The spot selected was,on the south side of the country road, near “Marble Brook,” four or five rods south-east of the bridge now across that stream, which afterwards took the name of “Meeting-house Brook,” and retains it to this day. The land was owned by that self-made and thrifty farmer, Mr. John Albree; and on the 10th of January, 1726, the town voted to give fifty-five pounds for one acre, and to appropriate three hundred and sixty pounds for the building of the house. The committee appointed to determine the size and shape of the house were “Thomas Tufts, Esq., Captain Ebenezer Brooks, Mr. Peter Seccombe, Mr. John Richardson, Captain Samuel Brooks, Mr. John Willis, Mr. William Willis, Lieutenant Stephen Hall, Mr. John Francis, Mr. Benjamin Parker, and Mr. John Whitmore.” They reported that “it would be proper for this town to build a meeting-house fifty-two feet large, thirty-eight feet wide, and thirty-three feet posts.” This report was accepted, and the same committee empowered to build the house.

Every thing now went on harmoniously; and we can easily imagine the appearance of the new house,--more than twice as [333] high as its predecessor, and about twice as large. The steeple, rising from the centre of the four-faced roof, gave to the structure an appearance like that of the old meeting-house now standing in Hingham, Mass., which was built in 1680. Some of us remember the old meeting-house in Lynn, built about the same time, after the same model.

Aug. 24, 1727 : “Voted to meet in the new meeting-house sabbath-day after next.” Accordingly, on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1727, the inhabitants of Medford met for the first time in their new house; and Rev. Mr. Turell preached an appropriate sermon from Psalm LXXXIV. 1: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” Any special dedicatory services would have been distasteful to a people who had not forgotten the superstitions of Popery, or the persecutions of the English church.

Here was a new fortress for keeping the truth, and also for assailing the “ten idols:” 1. The surplice and Popish wardrobe. 2. The sign of the cross in baptism. 3. Kneeling at the Lord's Supper. 4. Setting the communion-table altar-wise. 5. Bowing at the name of Jesus. 6. Popish holidays. 7. Consecrating churches. 8. Organs and cathedral-music. 9. The Book of Common Prayer. 10. A church government by bishops.

Our Puritan forefathers having procured their second house for public worship of a size commensurate with their numbers, and at a cost proportionate to their wealth, their first care was for their pastor's family; and they passed the following vote: “That the town will build a ministerial pew in the meeting-house, in the place where the Rev. Mr. Turell shall choose.”

As no pews were built, the people were to sit on long, uncushioned seats, wherever the “seating committee” should designate. This custom became less and less agreeable; and, by degrees, the just, pacific, and convenient fashion of separated pews crept in. Various expedients were devised, and many of them abandoned; but, Oct. 23, 1727, it was voted “that certain lots for pews should be sold, but that each person must build his pew at his own cost; and if he moved out of town, his pew became the town's, the town paying therefor.” Subsequently it was voted to build twenty-seven pews, and then let the committee determine who should have a right to build. The requisites were age, dignity, parentage, usefulness, and the charges which persons had paid to the [334] town and to the meeting-house. Here was a wide door open for jealousy and discontent. The next year, 1728, the committee determine “to build twenty-eight pews,” to be placed next the wall, all round the house. Each pew had its price assessed by the committee, and, when paid for, was guaranteed to its owner as regular real estate. Some had no doors, and therefore must be entered through a contiguous pew! The right of choice was now given to twenty-five gentlemen; and here follows the eventful catalogue in the order fixed according to the supposed social rank of each:--

Mr. John Francis, sen., Mr. John Bradshaw, Captain Ebenezer Brooks, Captain Samuel Brooks, Lieutenant Stephen Hall, Mr. Peter Seccombe, Thomas Tufts, Esq., Captain Samuel Wade, Francis Whitmore, John Willis, Mr. John Whitmore, Mr. John Richardson, William Willis, Mr. Jonathan Hall, Mr. Peter Tufts, Deacon Thomas Hall, Mr. Benjamin Willis, Mr. Benjamin Porter, Mr. Thomas Oaks, Dr. Simon Tufts, Mr. John Albree, Mr. Joseph Tufts, Mr. William Patten, Mr. John Bradshaw, jun., and Mr. John Hall.

We know not the exact position of any pew occupied by either of the twenty-five gentlemen, save one; and that is the pew, number one, which was the first on the east side of the broad aisle, nearest the front door, taken by Captain Samuel Brooks. His son Thomas chose the same place in the third new house. The price of these pews varied from twelve to eight pounds.

1729: Voted “to petition the General Court for some relief under present differences and difficulties.” The town appoints “Captain Ebenezer Brooks, Mr. Peter Seccombe, Mr. William Patten, and Jonathan Tomson, as a committee to lay the case before the committee of the House of Representatives.” A committee of four (Hodijah Savage, Thomas Berry, Joseph Wilder, and William Ward) met at Medford, when all things were explained concerning the discontent and disputes about certain pews in the new meeting-house. The award was drawn up in form, and was final, and it placed three or four persons anew!

June 26, 1740: The town voted to place a bell on the meeting-house; but, as it was decided to purchase the bell with money which should be raised from the sale of bricks owned by the town, the bell was not bought, because the bricks were not sold. However, this appendage to a meeting-house, so necessary in those days, when watches were not as [335] plenty as they are now, was furnished in 1744 by certain liberal gentlemen of the town.; and five pounds was paid for ringing it a year.

Jan. 15, 1733: Voted “to repair the steeple of the meeting-house, to put a pulley on the front door, and make a convenient horse-block.”

July 23, 1736: “Voted that John Bradshaw, jun., should have liberty to cut a door-place and make a door at the south end of the meeting-house into his pew.”

So near to “Marble Brook” was this house placed, that, on the 3d of December, 1745, the town voted to take all necessary measures “to prevent the water of the brook from washing away the earth near the north-west corner of the meeting-house.”

How significant of character are these little details of town legislation, sectional jealousies, mutual concessions, and hereditary rank!

This second meeting-house was in use forty-three years; during which time there were five thousand one hundred and thirty-four sermons preached, and one thousand two hundred and eighteen persons baptized in it. The farewell service was March 4, 1770.

The house was sold at auction, to John Laithe, for £ 24 (O. T.); its underpinning to Benjamin Hall, for £ 13. 6s. 8d. The land sold for £ 197 (O. T.); the old schoolhouse upon it, for £ 38.


Third meeting-house.

Third meeting-house, 1770.

The increase and prosperity of the town called for a new meeting-house; but the trying question was, Where shall it be placed? As the majority of the inhabitants were east of the old meeting-house, it was but right to place the new one nearer the centre of population. In 1768, it was proposed to build it “between the Meeting-house Brook, so called, and the widow Mary Greenleaf's.” This was abandoned. April 4 of the same year, it was voted by the town thus: “When the town builds a meeting-house, they will build said house upon the widow Watson's orchard, before her dwelling-house, provided said land can be procured on reasonable terms.” This proposition was no more successful than the last. Aug. 22, 1768: “Voted to build a meeting-house on land bought of Mr. John Bishop; the house to be of the following dimensions: sixty-six feet long, forty-six feet wide, with forty-eight pews on the floor, and eight in the gallery; with a tower from the ground, without a spire; two [337] porches; doors and windows to be painted three times; leads and pulleys in the windows. The whole cost not to exceed £ 933. 6s. 8d.” This plan was adopted, and the house built on the spot now occupied by the meeting-house of the first church. Another important vote was passed, providing that a subscription should be opened, and the citizen who subscribed the most towards building the house should have his first choice of a pew; and so the rest, in the order of their relative sums. Forty-five gentlemen subscribed. March. 13, 1769, voted to have a spire, whose cost should “not exceed £ 66. 13s. 4d.” May 15, 1769, voted “that there may be conducting-rods put upon the steeple, if they cost the town nothing.” Price of labor at this time, for a man, 3s. 6d. per day; for man and team, 6s. 8d.

By the usual courtesy, the pastor took the first choice, and selected pew No. 27; which thereupon became the “minister's pew,” owned by the town.

The pews in the meeting-house were chosen “according to the vote of the town and the tenor of subscription,” Feb. 8, 1770, as follows :--

Thomas Brooks, jun.No. 1
John Bishop2
Stephen Hall3
Aaron Hall4
Ebenezer Hall5
John Wade6
Samuel Hall7
Watts Turner8
William Tufts, 3d9
William Tufts10
Simon Bradshaw11
Samuel Angier12
Francis Burns13
Zachary Pool14
Jonathan Patten15
E. Hall16
Nathan Tufts17
Samuel Tufts, 2d18
Benjamin Teal19
Timothy Tufts20
Henry Fowle21
James Tufts22
Richard Hall23
Isaac Hall24
Thomas Seccombe25
Benjamin Hall26
Minister's Pew27
Isaac Royal28
Timothy Newhall29
Peter Jones30
Nathan Tufts, jun.31
Timothy Hall32
Hezekiah Blanchard33
Thomas Patten34
Joseph Thompson35
Henry Putnam36
Seth Blodget37
Willis Hall38
Jacob Hall39
John Leathe40
Samuel Jenks41
Andrew Hall42
Isaac Warren43
Isaac Greenleaf44
Samuel Kidder45
Simon Tufts46
Ebenezer Blanchard47
Edward Brooks48


It is specially recorded, that, at “the raising” of this meeting-house, which took place July 26 and 27, 1769, “there was no one hurt.” That such an exemption was remarkable, at that period, may be explained by the fact, that probably our fathers did not put themselves into that condition which generally secures catastrophies. An authentic record from another town, under date of Sept. 13, 1773, may make this matter clear: “Voted to provide one barrel of West India rum, five barrels of New England rum, one barrel of good brown sugar, half a box of good lemons, and two loaves of loaf sugar, for framing and raising the meeting-house.” Here a natural consequence followed,--two-thirds of the frame fell: many were hurt, and some fatally.

Thus our fathers procured for themselves their third temple of worship, placed near the centre of population, upon a commanding spot, and exhibiting a most respectable exterior, with a commodious and appropriate interior. It is agreeable to one's mind to contrast the three forms of meeting-houses which obtained in New England up to this time. The first was a one-story, square building, in naked and uncheerful simplicity, with straw-thatched roof; lighted, not by glass windows, but by the opening of outside shutters; and had within neither pews nor pulpit. The second was two stories high; had diamond-glass windows; a four-sided, sloping roof, of wood, with a turret in its centre for a bell; and sometimes a portico in front; and, within, a gallery, some pews, a deacon's seat, and a pulpit. The third was two stories high, had window-sashes and square glass, a two-sided roof, with a tower from the ground, and three porches; while its interior showed galleries round three sides, in which, fronting the pulpit, were seats for twenty-five or fifty singers; and, on the lower floor, wall-pews, three inches higher than the rest; two free seats, nearest the pulpit, for deaf old men and women; a deacon's seat, in front of the pulpit; and the sacred desk not at the end, as is now the fashion, but in the centre of one of the longest sides of the house, its top from eight to ten feet above the floor, and over it fastened a “sounding-board.” The sexton, up to this time, had his post of honor near the preacher; and his duty was to attend to any wants of the officiating clergyman, and also to turn the hour-glass when its sands had run out. This last operation was doubtless to inform the congregation how much instruction they had received, and to prophesy of the remainder. [339] It is not difficult to imagine the appearance of a congregation in 1650,--the men on one side, and the women on the other, sitting on wooden benches, in January, under a thatched roof, with one or two open window-places, without stoves, singing Sternhold and Hopkins and the New England Psalms, and then listening to a two-hours' service with devotion!

On Sunday, March 11, 1770, our fathers and mothers, with their entire families, entered, for the first time, their new meeting-house. Unfortunately, their beloved pastor was ill; and the services of the day were performed by Mr. Andrew Elliot, jun., a tutor in Harvard College. The celebrated George Whitefield preached a dedicatory discourse in this house, Aug. 26, 1770, fron 2 Chron. v. 14. Our fathers had no special services for the dedication of a new house of worship, because they could not tolerate any imitation of the English church; and we have always had to regret their further indiscretion in banishing, for the same poor reason, the sacred observance of Christmas and Good Friday.

June 11, 1770: “Voted not to grant seats for singers.”

July 28, 1771, Sunday: On this day was used, for the first time, the new pulpit-cushion given by William Pepperell, Esq., who imported it from England, at a cost of eleven guineas.

March 5, 1787: Some inhabitants of taste and public spirit propose to plant ornamental trees in front of the meeting-house. The town voted not to have them!

May 10, 1802: Voted to buy a new bell.

Oct. 5, 1812: Voted not to have a stove in the meeting-house!

Never was there a house that received fewer repairs. In 1814, they who are first to discover needs, and quickest to relieve them, subscribed one hundred and fifty dollars; and soon the pulpit wore a new color, showed a new cushion, and rejoiced in new curtains. One gentleman was admitted to participation in this pious offering of the ladies, by presenting a copy of the Sacred Scriptures in two volumes. [340]

Second Congregational meeting-house, 1824.


First parish meeting-house (Unitarian), 1839.

Methodist meeting-house, 1844.


Mystic church (Congregational), 1849.

Grace church (Episcopal), 1860.



Where the first schoolhouse stood is not known; but it was probably near the meeting-house, at the West End.

The second was built according to the following order of the town, Oct. 5, 1730: “Voted to build a new schoolhouse, twenty-four feet long, twenty feet wide, and ten feet stud, on town's land, by the meeting-house.” It was near Marble Brook, on the north-west corner of the lot, upon the border of the road.

The third schoolhouse stood very near the street, on land now owned by Samuel Train, Esq., about ten feet east of the house he now occupies; and, when that mansion-house was first repaired, the schoolhouse was moved, and now makes part of the rear of said dwelling.

The fourth schoolhouse stood as ordered by the following vote: March 11, 1771, “voted to build the schoolhouse upon the land behind the meeting-house, on the north-west corner of the land.” This spot is three or four rods northwest of the present meeting-house of the first parish. The building-committee were “Benjamin Hall, Captain Thomas Brooks, and Mr. Willis Hall.”

These houses, above noticed, were of wood; but the town, May 5, 1795, voted to build a brick schoolhouse behind the meeting-house. They agreed to give William Woodbridge two hundred and twenty pounds, and the old schoolhouse, to build it. This was the fifth house built by the town. It consisted of one large room, sufficient for sixty or seventy pupils: it was arranged after the newest models, and furnished with green blinds, hung at their tops! The arrangement within was simple. The master's desk was on a raised platform, in one corner. Undivided seats ran lengthwise through the whole extent of the room. The oldest pupils sat with their backs to the windows, and their desks before them. The younger pupils sat below them, with their backs against the desks of their seniors, and their own desks before them. The smallest children sat below these last, leaning their backs against the desks of their seniors, but having no desks before them. The above arrangement occupied one side of the room; and the other side was exactly like it. Thus the three rows of boys on the north side faced the three rows of girls on the [344] south. The area between the two was about six feet wide, where the classes were marshalled to read and spell.

March 7, 1807: The town voted to enlarge the school-house. After this was done, the girls and boys were taught in separate apartments.

As this house was the last in the series of old-fashioned and inconvenient models, it may be worth while to say a word about them. To speak generally, the schoolhouses had been as cheerful-looking objects as the county-jail, and quite as agreeable residences. Their windows were small; and some sashes had panes just as transparent as pasteboard or a felt-hat,--which substitutes for glass lessened the need of blinds. The outer door had a strong lock upon it, while its two lower panels were in the vocative. The seats and desks being undivided, each pupil was compelled to mount upon the seat, and travel behind his classmates till he came to his place! This operation was a standing trial of patience to those engaged in writing. The heavy tread of a careless boy upon the seat of a writer was not calculated to improve chirography or the temper. The smallest children, who had no desks before them, were packed so close together that the uneasiness and pain which nature shoots through young limbs at rest subjected them to frequent admonition and ear-twigging. They who happened to be opposite the great iron stove, which stood in the centre of the room, were almost roasted; and they literally got their learning by the sweat of their brows. They who sat near this stove through a winter would be proof against any heat to be found in this world. So violent a fire at the centre caused the wind to rush in through the unpatented ventilators,--the cracks in the windows; and a consequence was, that, while the children nearest the stove were sweltering under more than the equatorial heat of the torrid zone, they who were nearest the windows were shivering under the icy blasts of the frozen latitudes. How philosophers would have traced the isothermal lines in such a room, we know not; since, going from the centre to the circumference, one would travel through all the five zones. There was some compensation in the music which the winds made. Every schoolhouse had the true Borean harps; or, rather, winter's Panharmonicons, played upon by all the blasts in turn. The desks of the pupils became more and more interesting. Once they were wide and smooth; but, when that time was, few could remember. The adult [345] population, when they visited the old schoolhouse, could each one find those--

Walls on which he tried his graving skill;
The very name he carved existing still;
The bench on which he sat while deep employed,
Though mangled, hacked, and hewed, yet not destroyed.

How many penknives were tried on the benches, desks, and doors of the schoolhouse, arithmetic cannot compute; but one thing is clear, that, whether the school left its mark on the pupil's mind or not, each pupil felt bound to leave his mark on the house.

The town has taken laudable pride, of late years, in building proper schoolhouses. The following table records the facts:--

When Built.location.building-Committee.master-workmen.cost.
1835.Primary, Union Street.Horatio A. Smith, Galen James, and Milton James.Caldwell & Wyatt.$1040.00.
1837.Primary, Park Street.Galen James, James W. Brooks, James O. Curtis, & Saml. Joyce.Oakman Joyce and John Sables.3454.64.
1840.High & Grammar, High Street.Oakman Joyce, D. Lawrence, and James O. Curtis.Charles Caldwell & Wm. B. Thomas.7568.77.
1851.Brooks, Brooks Street.John B. Hatch and James M. Usher.George A. Caldwell.2542.98.
1851.Primary, Salem Street.Geo. T. Goodwin, Henry Taylor, and M. E. Knox.J. J. Beaty and I. H. Bradlee.3375.41.
1852.Everett, Salem Street.Robert L. Ells, Samuel Joyce, and Henry Taylor.James Pierce.7166.57.

The town proceeded immediately to the building of a new schoolhouse, on the spot where the Park-street house was burned. April 2, 1855, Messrs. Franklin Patch, Judah Loring, and Charles S. Jacobs were chosen a committee to produce a plan, publish proposals, and carry forward the work,--consulting with the school-committee.

The report of this committee was accepted and adopted: the consequence will be, a plain, substantial schoolhouse, two stories high, and furnished with all the modern conveniences. [346]

Brooks schoolhouse, 1861.


The question concerning the right of the town to use the meeting-house of the first parish for town-meetings having been settled, the inhabitants began to devise for building a town-house; and the subject came up for consideration, Dec. 6, 1827; but no definite action was had. It engaged attention at subsequent meetings; but nothing final occurred till March 4, 1833, when a committee recommended the building of a town-house, whose dimensions should be “sixty-five feet long, forty wide, and eighteen-feet posts.” This report was accepted; and the land on which the building now stands, on the north-east corner of Main and High Streets, was purchasd of the heirs of Samuel Buel for $3,000. The plan of the building was drawn by Mr. Benjamin of Boston. The length was extended to seventy feet. The cost of land and building was $10,062.25. The engraving will give an exact idea of its present appearance. It was found commodious, and was used for all public gatherings. [347] It was let for two dollars per evening, and to a religious society for two dollars per Sunday. The building-committee were Messrs. John P. Clisby, John Sparrell, and Thomas R. Peck.

The first story is occupied by stores on Main Street, and by the selectmen's room on the west. The hall includes the second story.

Oct. 27, 1839: Saturday night it was partly destroyed by fire. Nov. 25, the town voted to rebuild on the original model. The insurance of $5,000 was used to pay for the repairs, and nearly covered the whole amount, which was $5,389.89. The south end was built of brick, and the house made thirteen feet longer than at first. It was again insured, at the same office, for $5,000. The building-committee were Messrs. Darius Waite, Milton James, and John P. Clisby.

Oct. 18, 1850: Saturday night it was again burned in part. The town voted to rebuild; and, having received from the insurance-office $4,580, this money was used for payment. The building-committee were Messrs. Daniel Lawrence, George T. Goodwin, and Charles S. Jacobs; the master-builder, Mr. Charles Caldwell. The cost of rebuilding was $5,941.26. Its dimensions now are ninety-two feet ridge, eighty-three feet body, and forty feet width.


Our intelligent and thrifty Puritan ancestors had no need of alms-houses. They who came here were the robust and young; and they insisted on obedience to the text, “He that will not work, neither shall he eat.” Idleness was whipped out of the men by the magistrates, as out of the boys by their parents. The first mention in our Medford records of any alms-house is May 16, 1737,--more than a century after the incorporation of the town; and then it is proposed to invite neighboring towns to unite in building a common workhouse. The inhabitants chose a committee to confer with the adjacent towns, and to induce them to join in “building a house for employing poor, indigent, and slothful persons.” This proposition was not accepted; and Medford did nothing more about the matter till May 23, 1774, when a committee was chosen to provide a poorhouse on account of the town exclusively. [348] This was the definite movement that led to practical results, and it was the first in this particular direction. It shows that the number of paupers were small till this time.

In 1790, the town purchased a large house at the West End, near where the Lowell Railroad Station now is, together with a small lot of land, sufficient only for a vegetable garden. Here the poor and helpless were gathered and made comfortable; but after twenty years it was found insufficient; and the constant perplexities to which the overseers of the poor were subjected, induced the town to think of building a new and ample house of brick. On the 4th of March, 1811, the whole matter was committed to the five following gentlemen: Timothy Bigelow, John Brooks, Jonathan Brooks, Isaac Brooks, and Abner Bartlett. After several meetings and much investigation, they report, that it is expedient for the town to build a large and commodious house, of brick, on the spot occupied by the old one. This report was accepted; and the same gentlemen were appointed the building-committee, to proceed immediately in the work. Discontents arose to fetter the proceeding; and, after much vacillating legislation, the final result was the ample brick square house, whose strong walls only are yet standing to support a new, expensive, and commodious country-seat. It is only justice to say, that this act of the town was suggested, and the work carried forward, through the, wisdom and energy of Isaac Brooks, Esq., who was indefatigable, as an overseer of the poor, in procuring every convenience and comfort for the inmates of the house that he consistently could.

This house answered its purpose well for forty years. In 1827, the town voted to purchase eight acres of land adjoining the alms-house lot, at one hundred dollars per acre. In 1828, the project of purchasing a farm, as some towns had done, on which to employ the poor as laborers, came up for discussion; and so favorably did the inhabitants view it, that they voted to purchase as soon as a proper one could be found. No purchase was made; and in 1832 a committee is directed to sell the poorhouse, if they think it advisable. It is not done; and in 1837 the town again called up the subject, and appointed a committee to examine lands and close the bargain. But no farm was purchased.

In 1849, the town bought a large lot of ten and a half acres in West Medford, on Purchase Street, for a cemetery. After the purchase, it was thought that the situation was [349] better for an alms-house than a cemetery; and accordingly, March 10, 1851, they voted to change the appropriation.

April 8, 1852: A committee was appointed to sell the old alms-house, and devise a plan for a new one. This committee consisted of the following gentlemen: Samuel Joyce, Elisha Stetson, Caleb Mills, John A. Page, and Franklin Patch. The committee performed their duty acceptably, and were directed to build according to the model; and the consequence was the spacious and comfortable house now occupied by the public poor of the town.

June 28, 1852: The town appropriated $5,500 for the building of the house. It cost $6,450.


Number.When built.Builders.Place.Cost.
No. 11848James PierceUnion Street$575.00
No. 21851James PierceHigh Street2,375.13
No. 31849James PiercePark Street663.00

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