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A Medford town meeting.

There are yet some in Medford who can vividly recall town events of sixty years ago, but there are few who have written the story. Mr. Brooks' history had then been published but two years, and he was resident in the town of his boyhood. His was one of the earliest town histories, and despite some inaccuracies was one of the best. Up to 1857 no one had the courage to start a weekly paper in Medford by which current events might be chronicled, but on January 8 of that year there appeared the first of the Medford Journal, ‘a paper devoted to news, literature, science and art.’

Mention has already been made of this in the Register, with a review of its initial number. During its all too brief existence occurred the annual town meeting, commonly styled the ‘March meeting.’ This was held on [p. 32] the ninth day of the month (Monday, of course), and the Journal appeared on Thursday. The editor said:—

The business of the town was transacted with great unanimity and good feeling and despatched with great celerity, but with due regard to the important interests involved.

Thirty thousand dollars was to be raised by taxation, and twenty-five cents for each ratable poll appropriated for the support of the town library. The budget for that year was

$5,000 for new schoolhouse, south side of river.

5,000 for road and bridge on South street.

8,000 for support of schools.

1,500 for support of poor and almshouse.

2,050 for fire department.

1,500 for salaries and fees.

2,000 for interest on town debt.

2,500 for highways, bridges and street lamps.

3,000 for miscellaneous and contingent expenses.

2,000 for outstanding and accruing demands.

325 for reservoir on Park street.

The balance in the treasury was $16,551.17, and the town debt $39,000.

There was then no town hall project on hand, but this town meeting was numerously attended, and the Journal editor gave the town clerk, Joseph Hall, credit for furnishing an ‘early and reliable report,’ and devoted two columns to remarks of his own relative to the proceedings.

Apparently the usual appropriations were readily made, and that for the new schoolhouse (still in service and known as the Cradock) only amended that it be built by a ‘mechanic resident in town.’ The growth of the South and Summer street section is indicated by the erection of this schoolhouse, as also by the ‘projected bridge to Somerville.’ This was the Winthrop bridge at the elbow of South street, and was ‘strongly opposed’ by one speaker, but too late, as the same had already been contracted for. South street in those days was but sparsely settled between the river and Somerville, which latter was the western slope of Walnut hill, then beginning [p. 33] to be called College hill. In recent years that portion of South street has become Winthrop street.

Indefinite postponement of action upon the ‘road from Medford to Edgeworth’ (i.e., Myrtle street) was averted by the taking up of another warrant article, and after an acrimonious discussion this road was deemed a public necessity and ‘carried with enthusiasm.’

The town, by unanimous vote, increased the salaries of its clerk and treasurer to $200 and $150 respectively. The same citizen who had so vigorously opposed these roads and bridges also ‘made an ineffectual attempt to disallow the compensation heretofore allowed the School Committee.’

Rev. Mr. Brooks sent a communication, which is thus noted:—

Resolved that the bridge on Main street be called the Cradock Bridge, and that the new bridge running from South street to High street be called Winthrop Bridge, in honor of early settlers. Carried.

A motion was carried to call the new bridge at West Medford the Usher bridge. This latter is that connecting Harvard avenue with River street in Arlington, then West Cambridge. We only wish that Editor Morgan had stated whether this action was in honor of an early settler and owner of the Royall house (Lieutenant-Governor Usher) or the more recently well-known citizen who was doubtless present at town meeting.

The next article was of special interest, for after several ballots, by a vote of 52 to 38, ‘the selectmen were instructed to enforce the law imposing a tax on dogs.’

The selectmen were also directed to dispose of the old schoolhouse lot near the residence of Rev. Charles Brooks. This was up Woburn street (opposite where is now the Sarah Fuller home), and had been purchased when the first West Medford schoolhouse was built in 1829 (see Register, Vol. VIII, p. 75). An amendment was suggested ‘that it be used for a pound.’ The account says ‘it was by the same gentleman who had dissented from or opposed several earlier matters,’ and that [p. 34] ‘he sat down amid considerable laughter without completing his remarks. Mr. H.'s course generally excited considerable amusement, especially to the youthful portion of the audience, but which tended to alleviate the business of some of its dullness.’

The motion that the school vacations be abridged to four weeks in each year shared the fate of previous ones after remarks by Schoolmaster Hathaway and others relative to ‘cramming children at our public schools.’

At the time of this town meeting the town hall was in the glory of its renewed youth, having survived the damaging effect of two fires, and renewed and refitted for public service. A school of citizenship for the Medford boys was the old town meeting, and some of them learned well its lessons, in that old town hall, that contrast greatly and compare more than favorably with what is learned by the average youth of today. The New England town meeting, of which this Medford one of sixty years ago is a fair exponent, is both a school in, and example of, democracy that should not be hastily discarded for a delegated city government. It is a question in the minds of many today whether or not Medford people, with all the boasted progress of sixty years, are as well circumstanced or as happily situated as in those days ‘before the war.’

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