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Medford's first gristmill

Without doubt Medford people were served by the Broughton ‘come-mill’ across the river above ‘Menotomie brooke,’ but that was not in Medford territory. If the statement of our historian is correct, the Wade mill on Marble brook was the first. He says of it,‘This was used for grinding grain and sawing timber.’ But no mention of it as a gristmill is found in the settlement of the Wade estate, which speaks of ‘saw-mill pond’ and ‘the saw mill.’ (This in 1689.) Writing in 1855, he also said of another:
There was a mill a short distance below Wear bridge, but who built it, or how long it stood, we have not been able to discover. The place is yet occupied.

[p. 54] He quoted from Medford records the favorable action of the town about gristmills in two places, and added of the first:
This was not successful, nor was the following,. . .

We ask, was Mr. Brooks correct in these statements? and reply that he was regarding ‘one just below Wear bridge,’ and wish he had told more of the occupation of '55. On what he based his statement ‘not successful,’ we must remain ignorant. To our certain knowledge all vestige of any such structure had vanished prior to 1870. Possibly one of those incendiary fires so common in the sixties may have removed it.

In the register, Vol. XVII, pp. 15 and 42, are articles relative to this matter, in which interest is revived by examination of original documents in the Massachusetts Archives, of which the following is copy:

To the Honble Lt. Governer & Council & Representatives in Genl Court Afsembled

The Humble petition of the Inhabitants of the Towne of Medford Showeth

That Whereas Your Petitioners have hitherunto been necefsitated for want of a Grist mill within the sd Towne to carry their Corne to be ground as far as Charlestowne or Watertowne and sometimes to Boston and Noddles Island, Whereby many times before they can get their meal home, it costs them as much as the Corne was worth. And Whereas there is a very Suitable place upon the River A little above Mistick Bridge where A Mill may be Erected to the Easg of your Petitioners And Advantage And Convenience of places Adjacent And without damage to the Passage of Boats Timber Rafts &c Wherefore yor most humble Petitioners Prav this Honble Court to to grant them the Privilege of Setting up A Mill on the River in the Place Aforefd And that an Act may be Accordingly made Authorizing and Impowering them so to do and Your Petitioners shall as in duty bound forever pray &c Medford May 30 1698. In the name of & by the order of the selectmen

By examination of Medford records we find Mr. Brooks' quotation practically correct, under date of May 30, 1698. [p. 55]

At a meeting of the frehders and other inhabitents of Medford legally convened put to vote whether the Inhabitents of Medford will petition the Generall Court for liberty to build a gristmill on the River near & above Mistick bridge voted in the affirmative

It appears that no time was lost in the presentation of Medford's petition (which was written in another hand than that of the town clerk, Stephen Willis, who wrote the line of certification preceding his signature), as it is endorsed ‘June 3d 1698. Read in the House of Representatives and Commited.’ It is somewhat interesting to follow this petition in its course through the regular routine. Another document also accompanies it, in which ‘much can be read between the lines.’

Boston June 8 1698
Some Queryes with Refference to a Petition presented to the Great and Genl Assembly by the Selectmen of Medford for Liberty of Erecting a corn mill on Mistick River near the Bridg, wch Petition is Sayd to be already granted by the House of Representatives 1 Whether the granting said Petition will not prove of considerable damage to the Proprietors of the woodlands, lieing in that part of the Country, in having such an Obstruction put to about two miles of the Navigable part of sd River which the Setting down of sd Mill must needs be notwithstanding the methodes by them proposed for letting boats to pass 2 Whether the free passage of the fish in sd River (wch hath been a great beneffit to the Inhabitants)will not be thereby incommoded 3 Whether the capacity wch sd River lies under of being made navigasble for severall miles further than now it is (wch might be improved to considerable advantage) will not be thereby hindered. 4 Whether it be consistent with Equity to cut off the capacity of a mill from the present proprietor of the place of the old mill where the respective owners have served that part of the country with their Estates in a Mill where they Improved sd streem for about thirty or forty years together unto wch queryes sundry arguments might be offered if time were given and leave thereto allowed The wch is offered to consideration

There is still another, much smaller in size and closely written, in which Mr. Prout's ‘queryes’ are answered [p. 56] and disposed of. After the above petition was folded it was endorsed on the back

In Council June 28, 1698. Respited until the next Session

The General Court then, and for many years, met in two sessions each year, and the Council's action deferred action and gave time for the consideration of Mr. Prout's side of the matter.

At the next session favorable action was taken as follows:

Dec 26. 1698 Resolved That the petitioners be allowed what they herein pray for provided that they agree with the parties that own the land on either side the sd River where the Mill is to stand and that they do not hinder the passage of Boats Timber Rafts &c and that it doth not interfere with any former Grant or right to ye sd stream

Sent up for concurrence

The reader will do well to consider that in 1698 Medford was, though seventy years from its first settlement, but an insignificant place, and had grown but little. Only two bridges gave passage across the river in its entire length, but they were sufficient for all needs. With a ‘cornemill’ on the Menotomy side, what was the need of another a quarter mile up stream on the Medford side of the river? And why was it a matter of town or public action, instead of private enterprise as were those of Broughton and Wade. Twenty-three years before, a verdict had been given against the former in favor of Symmes, whose meadows above Mistick ponds were flooded. Yet Prout, who was then (in 1698) proprietor, declared ‘thirty or forty years’ of use, which covered nearly the time since Broughton began.

We find no evidence that Broughton sought legislative action for ‘liberty to build a gristmill,’ and perhaps his experience led to Medford's as above stated, in order to be safe from the consequences of resultant damage.

A comparison of the vote in the Medford record with the petition in the Archives is interesting: ‘Near and [p. 57] above Mistick bridge,’ says the former; ‘A very suitable place. . . a little above Mistick bridge,’ the latter.

There can be no question of its being above, or upstream from the bridge; but to our present sight, a mile and a half does not seem ‘near,’ or ‘a little above.’ In view of this we are led to ask, What did the term ‘Mistick bridge’ mean in this particular case? The bridge below the ford we know had been called at first Mistick bridge, but later had gotten the name of ‘Great bridge.’ This suggests another query, Why Great bridge, if it was the only bridge across the Mystic? Might not the Cradock, or Great bridge, have acquired such name in comparison with the second bridge at the Broughton mill? If so, that might have been appropriately called Mistick bridge, and the ‘suitable place where a mill may be erected’ would lie a little above it, and tally exactly with Mr. Brooks' ‘short distance below Wear bridge’ (or rather the location of Wear bridge), to which travel was diverted ten years after the petition for this mill was made.

We have shown that favorable action was taken and ‘liberty to build a grist mill’ given. Was it built, and just where was the suitable place? In reply we say yes, it was, and at about midway between present Harvard and Fairfield avenues, West Medford, and submit in evidence our frontispiece, which is a reproduction of our photograph taken on July 15, 1911.

Referring to Vol. XVII, p. 15 (where a description and occasion of discovery is related), we are confident that the old oak frame, brought to light in 1911, was none other than that of Medford's first gristmill, erected soon after 1698.

The map or plan of Charlestown ‘Linefeilde’ (across the river), one of the oldest known, shows two islands near the Medford side at this spot, which certainly was ‘a suitable place.’ In 1865 the United States engineers made an elaborate survey of the entire river and Mystic lower pond, with purpose of making the latter a fresh [p. 58] water basin for the use of the navy. That plan (a copy of which is at the State House), shows an island in line with the Medford side, with the river curving inland around it. We think that this carefully made map, on which the various depths of water are given, showing an island at the very place where the old frame was found, to be excellent testimony as to ‘suitable place,’ and the remains unearthed, a refutation of its being unsuccessful. Its unearthing was a rare instance of the lost handiwork of Medford men of two hundred years agone coming to view. It was a serious matter for the housewife to get out of meal (i. e. breakfast food) in 1698, and it was a long journey to Noddle's island gristmill. Neither was there the little store around the corner, to which Tommy could be sent for shredded wheat and a bottle of milk in such emergency. There were but few people in Medford then, even after sixty years, but with meal costing them double price, a gristmill near home was a prime necessity. To our modern ideas and experiences, this old Medford gristmill would be insignificant and its output crude, but at that time it must have been a decided improvement and a waymark of progress. It served its purpose, disappeared, and was utterly lost and forgotten until after two centuries, when in the march of improvement its remains were exhumed and aroused inquiry; now, nine years later, those original papers in the case are ‘documentary evidence.’

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