‘The ford at Mistick.’

by John H. Hooper.
THE place selected by the early travellers for crossing the river by means of a ford was the most easterly point where the river itself could be reached without crossing the marshes.

Most of the travelling in those early days for any considerable distance was on horseback, and as the marshes were too soft to support the weight of a horse, it was necessary to select a fording place where a firm gravel deposit formed the banks and bed of the river.

The place selected on the south side of the river was a little west of the northerly end of Walnut street, and west of and adjoining the estate of Mr. Chandler on South street. It is evident that this estate encroaches somewhat upon the original landing place. On the northerly side of the river the landing place was nearly opposite the location of the old high school building on High street.

The southerly end of Pasture hill at that point formed the bank of the river. Persons travelling towards the north and west would leave the river and pass up the steep bank to the left in front of the location of the public library building, and those travelling eastward would turn to the right along the gravel beach to a point near the Cradock farmhouse which stood on what was then known as ‘Salem Path to Mistick Ford,’ near the present square.

In order to verify the correctness of some of these statements, and to form an idea of the situation then existing, let us take a position on the hill in the rear of [p. 2] the old high-school building and, looking towards the river, see in imagination the retaining wall on the north side of the river, and the earth filling back of it removed; also the retaining wall supporting the southerly side of High street, that extends from the dwelling house of Dr. Bemis to a point opposite the driveway of the public library, and the filling back of that also removed; see the new channel of the river filled up so as to turn the water into its original course, sweep away all buildings and other improvements, remembering that the tide once flowed into the square, that Cradock bridge was twice its present length, and that the south bank of the river was then substantially as at present; see also the narrow cart path creeping along the bank of the river, just above high-water mark, and then climbing the steep bank in front of the public library building, and we shall then understand the situation thereabouts when the ford was in use.

The general course of the river from Cradock bridge to the northerly end of the ford is nearly east and west, then it takes an abrupt turn in a southwesterly direction, bringing the landing places on the north and south side of the river about opposite each other, and making the course of the fording place lengthwise of that portion of the river.

The place thus designated as the site of the ancient ford at Mistick does not agree with those selected by the historians of Medford. It will therefore be necessary to show cause for locating it as above described.

Fortunately the early records of the town of Charlestown (see the Third Report of the Boston Record Commissioners) furnish all the evidence necessary to locate the ancient ford at Mistick, extracts from which are as follows:

A record of land laid out in Charlestown bounds on this side of the Menotomie's River (being called the Stinted Pasture) unto the Proprietors thereof, according to a vote of theirs passed when convened together, March 10th 1684-5. [p. 3]

To John Foule, Fourteen Acres, through which is laid a Highway to the Ford, and a Highway by the upper side of the Bridge to the River, said land bounded westnortherly and northeasterly by Mistick River: eastsoutherly by the Highway and Farm: southwesterly by Ebenezer Austin: and westnortherly by a Rangeway.

The parcel of land above described was situated — n both sides of what is now South street and west of Main street. It included all the land between South street and the river, on the north and south, and between Main street and the fording place on the east and west, except one-half an acre on the corner of Main and South streets, a portion of which is now occupied by the brick engine house of the Fire Department. The highway to the river was laid out two rods in width, and was used by the town of Charlestown as a landing place for materials used in the construction and repairs of the southerly half of Mistick bridge. This way was five rods in length and connected with the half-acre lot on the corner of Main and South streets, which lot was known by the name of ‘The Gravel Pit.’ The farm referred to was that of Governor Winthrop, afterwards that of Lieutenant-Governor Usher, and still later that of Col. Isaac Royall, portions of the westerly bounds of which are still in existence.

‘To Christopher Goodwin. Seven Acres. bounded westnortherly by Mrs. Anna Shepherd: north by Mistick River and a Highway to the Ford front the Country Road; eastsoutherly by the Rangeway: southwesterly by Peter Frothingham.’

This parcel of land was located west of the land set off to John Foule, on both sides of South street. Its northwesterly boundary was substantially where the northwest line of Touro avenue now is. The rangeway on the east south bound was a little west of Walnut street, and separated the land of Goodwin from that of Foule. The fordway extended from Main street to a [p. 4] distance of twenty-four rods westerly from that portion of the land of John Foule situated on the north side of the fordway. The distance between the rangeway and land of Mrs. Anna Shepherd was forty-one rods.

There is, by the records, a place for Gravel. About one-half an acre, of land, on Mistick River just above the Bridge, bounded as follows:—westerly by land formerly Jonathan Tufts' now Brigadier Royall's, 10 1/2 rods: northerly on said Tufts' land next the marsh 7 rods: from whence a two pole way running down to the River, butting easterly on the Country road 5 1/2 rods: and southerly upon the way that leads to the Ford or landing-place, 9 rods, which way is two rods wide to the landing-place.

There is a piece of land, about one-half an acre, belonging to the town, for a landing or fishing place on Medford River, which is bounded as follows, viz:—on land formerly of Mr. Jonathan Tufts, now Brigadier Royalls, measuring from the road at the east end back to the River, northerly 8 rods: from said east end along the road to a stake, measuring 24 rods westerly, and from said stake northerly to the River is two rods, all straight lines.

The town of Charlestown voted at a meeting held May 8, 1723, to authorize a committee to sell and convey a piece of land situated at the corner of the country road and the way that leads to the ford, upon conditions that the grantees forever maintain and repair the said town's half of Mistick bridge and the ‘causey’ adjoining and also build a dwelling house (within two years) of two stories, thirty-six feet long and eighteen feet wide, two rooms upon a floor. (Mr. Jonathan Tufts, who then owned the land now occupied by Messrs. Symmes, Crowley, and Page and Curtin, protested against the sale, inasmuch as it cut him off from the country road.)

A description of the land copied from the county records is as follows: ‘About one-half an acre, upland and Marsh near the Great Bridge, the gravel pit so [p. 5] called, bounded, westerly on land in possession of Jonathan Tufts 10 1/2 rods; northerly on said Tufts' land next to the Marsh 7 rods, together with a two pole way leading down to the River above the upper side of the Bridge: easterly on the County road 10 1/2 rods: southerly upon the way that leads to the Ford or landing place 9 rods, which way is laid out two rods wide.’

The dwelling house above described will be recognized by old residents of the city as that of Mr. Richard and Miss Emily Tufts, which stood where the brick engine-house now stands, and which was destroyed in the great fire of 1850.

The foregoing evidence proves conclusively that the southerly end of the ford was located as before stated. There is, however, no such positive evidence as to the landing on the north side of the river. It is well known that a landing place once existed there. But conjecture becomes certainty when we consider that the northerly end of the ford must have been located as before stated, for the very good reason that it could not have been located elsewhere, taking into consideration the fact that no gravel beach existed on the north side of the river, either east or west, within one-half a mile of the location above described.

Mention is made of the ancient fording place in the records of the General Court as follows: ‘Oct. 27, 1648, The General Court voted in answer to the petition of Mr. Nicholas Davidson, concerning Mistick Bridge. . . . But it appears not in the least that the General Court did engage to the repairing thereof. . . . and that the passage for travellers shall be over the Foarde which is above the Bridge.’

John Winthrop and his home on the Mystic’ was the subject for the meeting of November 19. Mr. Charles D. Elliott, President of the Somerville Historical Society, gave a very interesting paper containing much information about the Ten Hills Farm, which included a large part of Medford south of the river. A hearty vote of thanks was extended to Mr. Elliott at the close of the meeting.

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