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Old Salem street.

by Helen Tilden Wild.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, January 20, 1913.]

I was born on Salem street, under the shadow of the Fountain House elm. Although other parts of the town were partially or altogether unknown to my childhood, from the square to Malden line was familiar country, and my special stamping ground was bounded by the Everett School and Fulton street. There will be no dates to remember in my narrative, for at the period I shall talk about (between war time and the Centennial year) the dates which interested me most were for sale at the grocers'. I may jump from the ‘60s to ‘70s with no apparent reason, and I may speak of things which happened before I was born. What better place to begin our tour than the town pump at the junction of Salem and Ship streets? Of course, it has always been there (Mr. Wait has told us so), but the first time I remember it distinctly was the summer that the High School house (now the Centre School) was remodelled. I was on horseback, arrayed in a riding-skirt which was my own cherished property. As my horse was being watered, one of my primary-school mates, perched on the water-trough ready to turn an honest penny by unhitching a check-rein, called out, ‘Huh! Helen Wild's got on her mother's dress.’ My dignity was so offended that the sally remains in my mind as the only fly in the ointment to mar a redletter day.

The old brick block was perhaps a little less old then than it is now, but it had been known by that title for [p. 54] many a day. Hemphill's meat market was where Bartlett's store is now, and later the southerly half was occupied by William P. Treet, the ‘button man.’ On the corner of Forest street was the ‘Cotting Bakery,’ which retained its name, although Mr. Timothy Cotting had removed to Forest street (next to the Universalist Church) and had given up business. The house was two story, with gambrel roof. Mr. Gibbs, the jeweller, lived there at one time. The house was taken away to make room for the Bigelow building; a portion of it was removed to Thomas court. Mr. Alexander Symmes, of Symmes' Corner stock, whose wife was Mr. Cotting's niece, lived in the first house in Cotting block. Dr. Sanborn, the dentist, lived next door. He was an up-to-date dentist for his day, but methods have changed. He administered ether to extract teeth. One experience was enough for me, and with one exception the rest of the teeth I have parted with have been taken with my full ‘knowledge and consent.’ In the corner house, next to the church, lived Dr. Woodbury, and he was succeeded by Dr. Hedenberg, who moved from the old brick block across the street.

Next was the Mystic Church, a much plainer and smaller building than now, with no steeple, but with a driveway and porte-cochere on the east side and horse sheds in the rear. My advent there was made on the Sunday following my father's return from the war. Mr. Hooker was the minister, and I timed the close of the service by the number of leaves in his manuscript that remained to be turned. The organ and choir were at the back of the church. Mrs. Nathaniel Ripley sang soprano; Judge Edwin Wright, tenor; Mrs. J. C. Dorr, alto; and Mr. Alfred Tufts, bass. Mr. Charles Gleason was organist. Other singers of about that time were Miss Sarah Blanchard and Mrs. William Haskins. The congregation rose and turned around during the singing of the hymns.

The pulpit was of mahogany veneer, with sofa and [p. 55] chairs to match, upholstered in red velvet. A small communion table in front was shaped to fit the curve of the pulpit. The walls were frescoed, and there was a conventional dove over the pulpit. Mr. Southworth and his family sat in a side pew on the east. Mrs. Charles Cushing of Pleasant street and her son sat on the opposite side. Their pews were at right angles with the rest. On the east side I remember the Binney, Clough and Sables families. Deacon Galen James' pew and that of the minister were in the body of the house on the east side. On the other side sat Messrs. Elisha Hayden, Joseph James, Eleazer Boynton, Mr. Nahum Mitchell and the two deacons John and Jotham Stetson, with their families. In west wall pews sat Mr. John Russell, Mr. William Haskins and Captain Redman. These were all neighbors of ours in the church, for we sat in the front pew. The pews were yellow with trimmings of dark wood. The cushions were light brown or gray. Miss Abby Stetson was my first Sunday-school teacher. When she married, Miss Maria Stetson succeeded her. The infant room was where it is now, but in the main vestry, the superintendent's platform was on the west side instead of the north, as at present. There was a Bible Class in the northwest corner, taught by Dea. Jotham Stetson.

We must not tarry too long at the church, for next door is the bakery, where the horse in the treadmill in some mysterious way assisted in the manufacture of Medford crackers. Back of the house occupied by Mr. Henry Withington were the ovens where the bread, beans, crackers and other good things, buns and hermit cakes among them, were baked. To the bakehouse came the children with their tin yeast pails for ‘a cent's worth of yeast.’ My mother preferred to use a glass bottle which held three cents' worth, and I was quite a nabob (in my own estimation at least) because I bought in such wholesale quantities. How good that bakehouse smelt, especially on Sunday mornings! Many carried their pots of beans [p. 56] there to be baked and had big gingham squares to tie up their smoking and savory burdens to carry them home. The brownbread was nice and warm on winter mornings as we hugged it in our little arms and hurried home to breakfast. John Burnett, Russell Symmes and Mr. Howe were our good friends, and we often indulged in a fresh doughnut or warm cracker at their invitation. Those freshly baked crackers tasted good, all delicately brown on the outside and soft and flaky inside. No wonder people came from miles around to buy them. The Withington house and the Lawrence house opposite are connected with many a good time in the memories of my childhood.

In this house1 lived Mr. Charles P. Lauriat. Just back of it was the old brick shop where the hammers of the gold beaters resounded as those of the ship-builders in the ship-yard had rung in other days, but in war time Mr. Lauriat lived at the lower end of Salem street. How innocent his market basket looked when he started for Boston, although all of us knew what precious freight he carried.

Opposite, on the corner of River street, was the terminal of the Medford and Charlestown horse railroad. This form of rapid transit was in commission in 1863 I know, but for a time was not used; it revived and was discontinued again before street railway service came to stay. In one of these intervals the building was used by Frank Moran as a livery stable.

Beyond ‘Dead Man's Alley,’ as the irreverent called it, was ‘God's Acre,’ where now, as in days of yore, the forefathers of the hamlet sleep. The Baptist Church came next, with its high flight of outside steps leading to the auditorium, and its basement entrance to the Sunday-school room. Its outlines can still be traced, in spite of the ugly additions which have transformed it into a stable. Opposite was the Bishop mansion, which still retains its dignity of outline, and back of it was its [p. 57] great garden, which had been cut up into house lots and where some houses had been built.

On the corner of Oakland street was the Methodist Church, standing much below the present grade of the street, in constant danger of a drenching when Gravelly Creek became unruly. The creek was always an unknown quantity and therefore interesting. It might be a little stream just big enough to get wet in, or it might be wide and deep, overflowing its banks and flooding the roadway. In winter it was great fun to ‘run tittlies’ on it, and a coast from the top of Ford's Hill down the steep incline across the creek (if you were lucky, and into it if you were not) had all the elements of adventurous sport. At the top of the hill was the schoolhouse (so entirely changed that it seems another building), where Edward Everett's picture occupied the place of honor in the ‘big room.’ The primary room was on the west side, the intermediate on the east, each with a separate entrance. When I arrived there, at the mature age of five years, three months, Miss Emma S. Crouch was my teacher and Miss Isabelle Perry taught the intermediate grade. In the front of the building was the door leading to the grammar department, with stairs on the left for the boys and on the right for the girls. In the upper hallway we hung our ‘things,’ and there was an air-box in the corner, the flat top of which was a catch-all for everything that didn't belong there, including ourselves, for we often made it our roosting-place.

The main room, where Mr. Sawyer presided over about sixty pupils divided into four grades, was at the south end of the building, and Miss Sawyer's recitation room was between the hallways on the north side. We sat around three sides of the room on recitation seats about as wide and comfortable as pantry shelves.

Mr. Stillman Derby, the lamplighter and janitor of the schoolhouse, lived opposite. He was no older, to my mind, when he died, many years after, than he was on the first day I went to school. [p. 58]

A quaint little wood-colored house, as they say in the Berkshires, was owned and occupied by Miss Rebecca Reed. It stood close to the sidewalk. The green inside blinds and the beautiful woodbine made the house different from any other. The modern three-decker which has taken its place is doubtless a more profitable investment, but when I go by I want to shut my eyes and remember its humble predecessor.

About half-way between the schoolhouse and Washington street corner lived Mr. William Hall, familiarly known as ‘Tinker.’ He was a tinsmith, and went from house to house making and mending tin ware. His work was ‘'pon honor.’ Good material and good workmanship went into the construction of his wares.

The ‘old Methodist Church,’ a tenement house then as now, has changed very little in half a century.

On the corner of Cross street was Noah's Ark, in which Noah Hathaway and his wife reared at least nineteen children. Mrs. Hathaway never appeared outside her door-yard, but her husband was a constant attendant at the Methodist Church, where his resounding ‘Amens’ disconcerted the stranger in pulpit or pew.

Mr. Jaquith's store, in what we now call Washington Square (the naughty boys and girls called it ‘Jake's’), was well patronized by the youngsters. He sold groceries, candy, gum (prohibited in my case, although I fear sometimes enjoyed), pickled limes and other things too numerous to mention, strictly at retail. The store was open evenings (except possibly Wednesdays) and the men of the neighborhood made it their club room, where subjects big and little were discussed.

The property next to the store building was owned by Eleazer Davis. It came to him through his wife's family, I think. He and his daughter lived in the westerly half of a low, gambrel-roofed house. The other half, owned by one Stone, was for a long time vacant. He obtained his title from James Stone, who bought the estate in 1812. Mr. John A. Smith bought of Stone and [p. 59] moved into the house from the old brick block in the square. He afterward bought out the Davis heirs. The whole property was lately sold to Mr. Smith's granddaughter, making only two transfers of the property in a century.

In the ‘heater’ corner, between Salem and Washington streets, was Mr. Sumner Jacobs' house, facing the square and shaded by a magnificent elm. There were gates and stone steps at each end of the piazza, but the north gate was never used. In order to make a straight walk from the front door the tree was sacrificed, and the view down Salem street and the house itself are forever spoiled. There was a lamp-post at the corner, and a few feet beyond, in the middle of the ‘square,’ was a cistern for storing water in case of fire, and at stated intervals the fire companies would have try-outs of the engines and hose, with great satisfaction to themselves and delight for the children of the neighborhood.

East of Mr. Jacobs' land was the ‘James Tufts house,’ so called because Mr. Tufts had lived there previous to his removal to the three-story house east of Gravelly Creek. Next was Mr. Pyam Cushing's house. He was a coal dealer, with a wharf on Ship street. To this house he brought three wives and reared three sets of children; his children by his first wife were old enough to be parents of their youngest brother. Next came our house, and next to that Grandfather Wild's house, with a gate in the fence between the two lots. Our house is almost unchanged, with the exception of raising the two ells and building a kitchen between them. My father brought my mother to this house a bride in 1843. He hired the east half from Messrs. Galen James and Nathan Sawyer at $17.50 a quarter. The kitchen had no cellar under it, and they found it so uncomfortably cold that they remained there only till January, 1845, when they removed to Washington street. In 1850 my father and Mr. J. A. Smith bought the house, my father going back to his old rooms on the east side and Mr. Smith occupying the west [p. 60] side. Before 1860 Mr. Smith sold out to my father. My grandfather built his house about 1842. At that time all his children were unmarried except his oldest son.

To illustrate the village life of Medford in the ‘60s a description of these two estates and something about the child life of the neighborhood may be in order. None of the houses had ‘modern improvements,’ which we consider so indispensable. Between the two ells of our house was a little court which contained a well with a wooden pump and shoe. In our sink-room was a force-pump which conducted the water from the well. By connecting a pipe with this pump, water could be forced into a tin bathtub in a room overhead, in winter a chilly arrangement. There was a hogshead for rain-water at the corner of the house, and at the risk of falling in I used to climb up to see the mosquitoes hatching on its surface. Our barn was for horses, and there was ample room in the carriage shed for imaginary rides. In the loft was baled hay and a hay cutter, and it was great fun to throw down hay to Billy or Charlie, who begged for it, with just enough danger of throwing ourselves down too to make it interesting. Grandpa had cows as well as horses in his barn, also hens and chickens. The loft had lovely hay-mows, which were in turn hiding places, houses or theatres, with two pins admission to the shows. Both barns had pigstys, with sometimes the dearest little pink baby pigs. We hadn't any Board of Health, and we were sublimely indifferent to the need of one, in spite of these menaces to health as now understood.

At Mr. Howe's home, at the corner of Allen court, I spent many happy days. In the pleasant kitchen we made paper bags for use at the bakehouse. The paper was dark, yellowish brown, with flecks of straw in it. We became quite proficient in wielding the paste brush. We had a large play-room in the open attic, and often our treasures went down the cracks. I suspect that if the old house, which is now moved back on Allen court, [p. 61] is ever demolished somebody will resurrect some of our playthings and present them to the Historical Society, duly inscribed.

On summer evenings all the children of the neighborhood gathered at Allen court for a game of hide-and-seek. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty—away we scurried to cover. It was fair to hide in our barn or grandpa's, down Allen and Hadley courts, and around the Fountain House in Mr. Sawyer's yard. There were some yards that I never remember of hiding in, but Uncle David Cushing on Hadley court never seemed to object, although no children belonged there, and we certainly all ‘belonged’ to Mr. and Miss Sawyer. Such fun as there was in ‘running in’ for the swift-footed. When twilight fell Mrs. Howe or my mother rang the bell, which was the signal that the fun was over, and with good-night calls we all started for bed.

Back of grandfather's barn was the garden, with a grape trellis in the center which arched a flower-bordered path. The vegetable garden was on each side of this path and was fenced off from the rest of the yard. The Howe house had a long garden with a summer house at the end of the central path, and there were four o'clocks and ladies' delights in the borders. There were apple trees with low boughs for climbing. We didn't need nature studies in school in those days; we studied without knowing it as we played.

The old Fountain House dated back to the early part of the eighteenth century. It was long a hostelry. I recall the names Bradshaw and Simpson, who were proprietors. Both were soldiers of the Revolution, and descendants of both live in town. We were shown the identical ring in the great tree that shadowed it to which Washington hitched his horse. My faith has wavered a little since the days of my youth. The house was three story, sloping down to a few feet from the ground at the back. It had long been a tenement in my day. Miss Mary Pratt lived in the second story on the east side. [p. 62] I was sent sometimes with dainties, and the ceremony was always the same. I entered at the double green door, crept up the winding stairs, inhaling the peculiar odor of old wood and trying to tread softly (for the stairs would creak), and knocked at Miss Mary's door. Presently she let me in and seated me in a cushioned chair at the window. She went to the cupboard over the fireplace for a plate or dish, slipped what I had brought into it, and then slowly went to another part of the room to wash my mother's plate, talking to me meanwhile in her chirpy old voice.

Sometimes I wish that all these old landmarks of my youth which are running down were only pleasant memories like the Fountain House. Under the shade of our great elms, which arched the street from Washington to Fulton street, we lived friendly lives. None of us were rich; perhaps some of us were poor. In time of trouble or special happiness there was sympathy, but there was never running back and forth at inconvenient seasons, or familiarity which breeds contempt.

When my grandfather built his house in 1842 there were only two houses on that side of the street between it and the Maiden line. (I am not counting two others which stood on lanes just off the highway.) One was the house of Mr. James S. Burrell, now occupied by his son, on the corner of Revere place. This house belonged long ago to William Cutter, a soldier of the Revolution, whose daughter Rebecca married Isaac Sprague of the firm of Sprague and James. But pardon me if I go back to mention Mrs. Eben Jackson, who lived on the corner of Vine street. Her lovely character endeared her to many children. She was active in the Universalist Church, and often substituted in the public schools. Just west of the Burrell lot was Aaron Child's cobbler shop, with the sign of a big, long-legged boot. I learned that ‘big A, little a, ron’ spelled Aaron, not from my Bible, but from his sign.

On the opposite side of the street was the gambrel-roofed house lately owned by Mrs. Thomas B. Dill, and [p. 63] a similar one on the other corner of Fulton street occupied and owned by Mr. Richard Tufts and his sisters. Mr. Tufts had a little wheelwright's shop back of his house facing Fulton street. The family had lived on Main street, where the Central Fire Station stands, but were burned out in the great fire of 1850 and never rebuilt.

The house at the corner of Court street is a landmark, occupied for many years by Mr. Francis Ewell. The present engine house occupies the site of the Osgood School, which was moved to Wellington. The grocery store at the corner of Park street is little changed since the days when Lewis H. Washburn was its proprietor.

Just opposite the head of Almont street, removed to build Otis street, was the most unique house in Medford, for it deliberately turned its back on the street and faced the sun. It had a lean — to on the street side and a pigpen in full view of the passer-by. I have read about houses which were built in early times, before the general use of clocks, facing exactly south, regardless of the highway, so that the noon mark on door or window-sill told the time correctly, but this was the only one that I ever saw, and it was the only one I ever heard of in Medford. I wish somebody could ‘write up’ that house, which was one of the first built in Medford, but in this paper it stands as the residence of Mr. William Otis, the farmer who tilled the acres of Mr. Dudley Hall's farm, and for whom Otis street was named.

Between Almont and Cherry streets were two double houses and a cottage, which are now standing. The double houses were built by Beattie & Bradlee, one for occupancy and one for tenants. Mr. Charles P. Lauriat lived in one of them before he removed to this house where we are tonight. Below Cherry street were the Ruggles house and the two cottages owned and occupied by Mr. Edwin Tainter, the expressman, and his father. Mr. Tainter's house and stable have been removed to make way for Sheridan avenue, but his daughter, Mrs. John W. Smith, occupies her grandfather's house. [p. 64]

There were only scrub woods, swamp and pasture land on each side of the street between the Tainter houses and Valley street. It was so lonely that we children always ran the whole distance ‘around the bend’ and did not breathe freely until we reached the friendly neighborhood of the Mayo house, where our friend Nellie Mayo lived. She was lame, but she and her crutch were never in the rear of the rest of the boys and girls.

Then on the north side were the Parker and Tothill houses. The latter had a pretty cascade some hundred feet in height in the side yard. We made up for time gained by running ‘'round the bend’ by loitering to watch the water-fall. Next was the priest's house; we were a little in awe of it because of the high board fence. The building is now the home of the Sisters.

The next house we always called the ‘old place,’ for in 1832 my grandfather came to Medford from Braintree to live in half of this house, his sister, Mrs. Jonathan Sawyer, being the owner and occupying the other half. She also owned the farm which lay on both sides of the street. My aunt, Mrs. Alfred Odiorne, and family lived in the west half of the house until 1867, and Mr. Francis H. Tay owned and occupied the east half. Mr. Tay's part was removed when the parkway was built. The hill which rose immediately behind the house offered all sorts of pleasures to adventurous young folks. No need of gymnasiums or ‘hiking’ excursions for these young folks who had a forest at the back door. I remember only one house on the north side of Salem street beyond the ‘old place,’ a pretty dwelling owned by W. O. Fiske.

The two houses just west of the car barns were occupied about 1860 by my uncles, George W. and Henry M. Wild, who operated the slaughter house which stood at the end of a lane which ran between them. Before my remembrance Mr. George Wild removed to Danvers, but Mr. Henry Wild lived in the house afterward owned by Mr. Hill for some years. The Plummer brothers succeeded to the business, and later Mr. John White removed [p. 65] from Brighton to the house nearest the car barns and was in the slaughtering business for many years.

Between Mr. White's house and the church was the hotel or road house, which was built after 1855, as it is not shown on the town map of that date. Known under several names, it had a checkered career as regards respectability.

The Roman Catholic Church, not as large as now, was known as ‘St. Mary's.’ Below the church I remember only two dwellings. That of Mr. O. M. Gale, which, with its farm buildings, stood on a lane which has since grown into Gale avenue. Mr. Gale was a familiar figure—an old man driving an old horse to and fro between his house and the square. He had two daughters who were childhood friends of my aunts. One was an actress. They both live now in Somerville and quite frequently come to Medford, for they still keep up their interest in the Universalist Church. Below the Gale lane was a double house, the owner of one side of which was a resident of Malden, the other of Medford, the town line running in those days diagonally through the house.

Salem street in the days I am talking of was not macadamized; there were no car tracks; there was no water system, therefore no street watering. On market days droves of cattle and sheep followed each other almost in procession. No wonder the housewives were slaves of the broom and the dust-cloth. (No carpet-sweepers or vacuum cleaners then!) The soft pat-pat of the sheep, the dust they raised, the bark of the sheep-dog, the calls of the drivers and the pitiful bleating of the weak ones who had fallen out of the ranks and which were packed into the wagon which always followed the drove, was of interest to us, not coupled with fear; but when a drove of cattle came, there was a skurrying for shelter within the yard fences and a hurried closing of the ‘big gate’ against any possible straggler. I was so afraid of these half-wild things that to this day it takes all my courage to pass the mildest cow. [p. 66]

After the street was widened, and before the advent of the tracks, Salem street in winter was one round of gaiety. Sleighs were in two lines, one going east, the other west, so thick that the horses noses brushed the backs of the occupants of the sleigh in front, and ‘up and down the middle’ the fast horses had ‘brushes’ one with another. It was great fun to see it, but it was greater fun to be ‘in it.’

And what better time to take leave of the old street of my childhood than this, with all its imperfections hidden under a mantle of snow, with the sun flashing on pretty turnouts, its brightness rivalled by the faces of young and old enjoying the nipping air and the musical rythm of the sleigh bells.

1 [Medford Historical Rooms.]

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