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The mills on the Medford turnpike.

Whether the proprietors of the Medford turnpike ‘builded better than they knew’ or not is unknown to any of whom we may now enquire, but the fact was that by its building, a water power was created and later improved as a mill privilege by the owners (or their assigns) of the marsh land through which it passed.

One Captain Adams evidently saw possibilities as shown by the proprietor's record of August 23, 1804:

Voted, That the request of Captain Adams respecting the Culvits be referred to the Committee to report their opinion at the next meeting.

Also of Friday, October 12, 1804:

Voted, That the Standing Committee be authorized to make a contract with Captain Nathan Adams respecting the flow of water at the Culvits.

These ‘culvits’ were the stone bridges built to carry the ‘causey’ or turnpike road over Two-penny and Winter brooks. Both had their source in Somerville, and [p. 19] flowed through the southern corner of Medford into Mystic river. The latter is now mostly subterranean at Tufts park. The former has lately been before our Board of Aldermen for alleged misconduct. Its source is on the southern slope of College (Walnut Tree) hill, near Broadway, and its course through the Tufts athletic field can easily be traced, but often innocent of water Passing beneath the railroad its course (when it has any, as in recent years) is changed somewhat,1 but returns to the old, before crossing the highway, and at the turnpike widens, and is the ‘Canal cut from Medford river wherein a lighter can come up,’2 once belonging to Isaac Royall. It does not appear that Captain Adams developed any water power from Two-penny brook; it was more likely that his action was in the interest of his brick yards near by.

But in 1813, in July, signed by Peter C. Brooks, president (and the seal of the corporation), on the part of the turnpike proprietors, and Samuel Dexter (and a seal) was the following ‘contract’:

The Medford Turnpike Corporation agree with Samuel Dexter of Boston Esqr. that he, his heirs and assigns forever, shall have the right of opening and keeping open a sluiceway under the Medford Turnpike, in addition to that which has been opened and is maintained at the expense of the corporation. The said new sluice to be opened and maintained for the benefit of the said Dexter, and at the proper charge of him, his heirs and assigns. Which is not to exceed five feet in height or in breadth. And it is also agreed that said Dexter, his heirs and assigns shall have the right of making and managing gates on either side of either of said sluiceways, for the purpose of flowing his marsh with salt water or with fresh water, or draining the same at pleasure. And said Dexter for himself, his heirs and assigns, agrees with the said corporation, that they shall be forever indemnified for any damage that shall manifestly appear to be occasioned to said turnpike road on the old sluiceway by said sluice so to be opened by him, or by the flowing of said marsh as aforesaid. And if the parties cannot agree upon the same, it shall be ascertained by three referees, and if they cannot agree on such referees, the said corporation shall have the right at all times to apply to the Chief Justice of the Sup. Jud. Court of [p. 20] Massachusetts for the time being, to appoint them, and the award of such referees or the major part of them shall be final, and if the same shall not be satisfied by sd. Dexter, his heirs and assigns in thirty days after notice of such award and demand of payment in writing, this agreement shall be void; but said Dexter, his heirs and assigns, to satisfy such award notwithstanding.

Then follows the other part whereby Dexter (of Boston) guarantees the privilege of taking broken stone and gravel under certain limitations as consideration on his part.

It may be noticed that the above contains nothing of a mill either already built, or to be built, but probably business men of the ability of Mr. Brooks and his associates knew what they were doing. With the incoming of the salt-water tide twice a day to flood the mash, as many called it, assisted by the fresh water of the brooks, the privileges thus granted created a new water power or mill privilege, in Medford, and the turnpike thus became, though never so called, a milldam road. Sometimes, however, it was called by a shorter prefix.

In 1848 the turnpike agent was directed ‘to Consult Counsell,’ and later ‘to confer with the Messrs. Tufts in regard to damage sustained by the corporation by their neglecting to maintain their culvert,’ etc. The result of this conference was a three-party agreement. The first party was the owner of the farm occupied by J. Q. Adams; the second, the turnpike company; and the third ‘the owners of the saw and grist mills on the turnpike,’ William Tufts, Edward Tufts and Gershom Cutter. The first two and Joseph F. Tufts were the farm owners, and James O. Curtis, treasurer, represented the turnpike, which for a similar consideration of stone and gravel, agreed that the mill owners,

their heirs and assigns shall retain the right to the Culvert or sluice at said mills, and the right to keep the same open forever, under the conditions hereinafter named: said owners, their heirs and assigns, to maintain at their own expense and to keep in good repair so far as same affects said Turnpike. Said Culvert at the mills is in addition to that which has been opened by said Corporation, and which [p. 21] is to be kept free and maintained forever at the sole expense of said Corporation. . . .

This agreement shall terminate and become void if said Turnpike should be changed to a County road; or if the proprietors of said mills shall cease to use the water privilege connected therewith. But in no other event to become void within twelve years from date hereof. And in any event to become void at the expiration of twelve years.

It appears by record of January 4, 1834, that Nathan Tufts asked for leave to open a cut through the road, fifteen feet wide, to carry his new mill near the ‘Rock,’ so called. This indicates that there had been at least one prior to that date.

William R. Cutter, in register, Vol. III, p. 130, says:

Gershom Cutter, in 1845, purchased the Tufts mill on the Medford Turnpike, rebuilt that structure which had been destroyed by fire and which was again burnt while in his charge. He was mainly engaged in sawing of mahogany.

By the above we see that at least four successive mills stood on that spot—the extreme point of marsh land between the river and turnpike at the ‘Rock.’ The Cutter residence was on the opposite side of the road. (See frontispiece.)

The Walling map of Medford shows (apparently) a dike extending diagonally across the marsh (including the mouth of Winter brook) to the river. Probably as much power was had at this mill as at Mr. Cutter's former location on old Ship street, but like all tide-mills, the hours of labor had of necessity to conform to the ever-changing hours of ‘full sea’ and ebb of the tide that ‘ waits for no man,’ but serves well. Though the agreement of 1848 refers to saw and grist mills, it is unlikely that the later ones were other than saw mills.

The sawing of mahogany is a ‘forgotten industry’ of Medford. But in those days it was an important one in Medford and South Woburn (later Winchester); at the latter it continued until the destruction by fire of the Cutter mills about 1872. The great logs, hewed square, were hauled from Charlestown by teams of horses, two [p. 22] to five harnessed tandem,—string team it used to be called, and often but two logs made the load, so large and heavy were they. Such could only be sawed by the old style up-and-down saw into boards and planks. The smaller and costlier ones of ‘branch’ and ‘burl’ were made into veneers by a circular saw some five feet in diameter. Its teeth were cut in steel plates, in segments a foot long and fastened by screws to the circumference of an iron disk at the end of an arbor. In this sawing of veneers as much valuable wood was wasted in sawdust as was obtained by the process. This led to the invention and building at Winchester, in 1867, of a machine that cut by knife process logs up to twelve feet long into veneers as thin as one hundred to the inch, wasting practically nothing.

Just when this Medford mill ceased operation, or whether it ceased by limitation contained in the above agreement, we may not say with certainty. The Fire Department report says:

Jan. 21, 1872. Mill building on Mystic Ave., supposed to be by incendiary. The building was a total loss.

This account is written at some length, because neither Mr. Brooks nor Mr. Usher made any mention of this mill in their History of Medford. Mr. Hooper, in the scant space allotted him, made brief note of it, but the register, in Vol. XIV, p. 68, fixed the identity of the ‘miller's dwelling,’ (Gershom Cutter's) a view of which had been shown as the toll-house several times, unchallenged. This house is said to have been burnt, but as yet we find no record of the fire. It is probable that the view we present was secured about 1890, by Mr. Will C. Eddy. With its burning disappeared the last vestige of a Medford business covering a period of fifty years; unless, indeed, something of the dike may be traced. If so, even that may be obliterated if the projected improvements upon the Mystic materialize.

1 See register, Vol. XIX, p. 13, Com. of J. H. Hooper.

2 See register, Vol. XVI, p. 77.

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