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About the old mill

To the Editor of the Medford Historical Register:—
Dear Sir: I wish to add my mite to your bit of Medford archaeology, and to try to throw some light upon the remains of the old tide-mill recently discovered on the river bank a short distance below the bridge at the wears, a cut of which appears in connection with the article published in the Register, Vol. XVII, No. 1. I have failed to fix upon the time when the mill was built, but will give brief abstracts of the several deeds that have from time to time conveyed the title to the mill property on the Mystic river on the Charlestown side and in the westerly portion of this city. These conveyances are not so clear as might be wished, and it is evident that some of the transactions affecting the property are not a matter of record, and further, there is not any mention of a mill on the north side of the Mystic river in any recorded deed that I have been able to find.

The first mill constructed upon the Mystic river was [p. 43] built by Thomas Broughton on land purchased of Henry Dunster on Menotomy's side (south side of river). In the year 1656 Mr. Dunster sold to Thomas Broughton “all that parcel of land on which the corn and fulling mills stand, which the said Thomas Broughton built on Menotomie's land and in the river of Mistick . . .” In the year 1659 Thomas Broughton sold to Edward Collins “two water mills on Mistick river now in the possession of Thomas Eames in said Broughton's behalf . . .” 1 In the following year (1660) Edward Collins sold to Thomas Brooks and Timothy Wheeler “400 acres of land . . . also one-fourth part of the mill on Mistick river lately in the possession of Thomas Broughton . . .” In the year 1666 Edward Collins sold to Caleb Brooks “one-fourth part,” and to Timothy Wheeler “three-fourths parts of the corn mills on Mistick river . . . now in the occupation and improvement of Thomas Fillebrown, and all houses, land, dams and waterways to the same pertaining or in any way appertaining or in any way belonging, also all tools and implements. . . . Excepting and only reserving my rights, interests and claims to the wares on said river for fishing, with liberty to fish as formerly has been wont in and about said mill.” In the year 1684 Timothy Wheeler sold to Ebenezer Prout “all his right and title to the corn mills bought of Edward Collins, Thomas Danforth and Thomas Brooks.”

A diligent search of the records fails to show any conveyance to Timothy Wheeler of the mill property except as has been before stated. It is evident, however, that Ebenezer Prout was the sole owner of all the mill property on both sides of the river, as that same year he sold to his brother, Joseph Prout, “one-half of the corn mills at Menotomy in Charlestown on Mistick river, one-half of the mill yard on Charlestown side containing one acre. Also one-half of dwelling house and out-buildings, one-half of mill dam. Also one-half of two acres on the north side of the river at the end of the mill dam. Also onehalf [p. 44] of one and one-half acres of upland at the end of the dam in Medford.” The dwelling house referred to was the old house that stood on the south side of the river and was torn down a few years ago when the Metropolitan Park Commission took possession of the land for a park.

The next year (1685) Mr. Prout sold the remaining half of the above to Thomas Ward, who mortgaged the same to the said Prout, who in turn assigned the mortgage to his brother, Joseph Prout. Joseph afterward came into the possession of the whole estate. These deeds contain the first reference to lands on the north side of the river as being connected with the mill on the Charlestown side.

In the year 1710 Joseph Prout sold to Jonathan Dunster “mill, mill yard, buildings and orchard one acre. Also one and three-fourths acres of meadow land on the north side of the river at the end of the mill dam. Also one and one-half acres of upland on the north side of the river at the end of the old dam.” Here we have the first direct reference to the possible existence of two dams across the river.

At this time it may be well to quote from the report of a committee appointed by the Court of General Sessions of the Peace “to enquire into the convenience of the Highway and whether it is needful, referring to a County road that is needful to be laid out from Menotomy road, so across Menotomy fields, over the Ware, through Medford, to a place called Mr. Convers mills in Woburn.” July 8, 1709, the committee report “that having visited the road leading from Menotomy to Convers mill in the township of Woburn, both in the Ancient road where Wheeler his mill formerly stood, and also the road leading through Adams his gate. . . . And we do judge it most convenient for the publick and least prejudicial to any private person, that said ancient road leading by said mill, cannot reasonably be made passable. . . .”

From the foregoing it appears that Wheeler's mill had disappeared or was in a ruinous condition, and that the [p. 45] road over the dam was so much out of repair that it could not reasonably be made passable without too great an expense. Now although no reference to a mill on the north side of the river is made, is it not reasonable to suppose that the mill whose remains were pictured in the Register, as above referred to, was built sometime previous to the year 1709, especially as the mills on the Menotomy side of the river were out of use, according to the report of the committee above quoted.

The estate remained in the possession of Jonathan Dunster until his death in the year 1742, when it was divided among his heirs, his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Captain Philip Carteret, receiving the westerly portion of the Medford lands. In the year 1767 Mrs. Carteret deeded all her estate in Medford to her son-in-law, William Whittemore, and her daughter Abigail, his wife, and it remained in their possession until the death of Mr. Whittemore in the year 1818, when the Medford land was set off to Moses Robbins, one of the heirs, then a minor. Moses Robbins sold in the year 1822 to Cyrus Cutter, and the land was described as follows: “One acre of marshland, bounded southwest on Mystic river, southeast on James Cutter, northeast on Deacon John Larkin, together with all the mill privileges if there be any belonging to the said parcel of land on the north side of the river.” It is on the westerly end of this land that the remains of the old mill were found. Mr. Robbins called his meadow “Bunker's meadow.” Why it was so designated is a mystery, as no person by the name of Bunker ever owned the land.2

The name of Deacon John Larkin (formerly of Charlestown) puts one in mind of the horse ridden by Paul Revere in his famous ride to Lexington on the morning of April 19, 1775. He rode Deacon Larkin's horse. These meadow lands on the north side of the river in Medford are now included in the Metropolitan Park System.

1 There were two mills under one roof, a corn and a fulling mill.

2 The meadow land known as ‘Bunker's Meadow’ was on the south side of the river, bounded east on Alewife brook and north on Mystic river.

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