previous next

Medford Hillside.

There are many of them, but the term is distinctively applied to but one, the northwestern slope of Walnut, now for half a century called College hill. As a portion of the so-called Hillside district is included in the level plain beside the railway, and its development has been in a way different from the real Hillside, this sketch will deal with that mainly.

The name came into use when the present station house of the railroad was built. Prior to its building, the depot, as it was called, was on the opposite side of the railway cut, reached from the tracks by one long flight of stairs, and was appropriately known as Medford steps. When disused, the old station house was moved to Auburn street near the river, and later crowded out by the Parkway to Cotting street, where it now remains, a dwelling.

From early times there had been two ‘rangeways’ through this territory, from Menotomy road to the Mystic, one became Winthrop street in Medford, the other North street. The first proved the most convenient stopping place for the Medford patrons of the railroad, which laid its track between two towns all the way from Boston to Lowell.

The college was established in 1850, and had only three buildings when the reservoir and gate-house was constructed in 1863. One dwelling, the home of J. W. [p. 6] Perkins, had been built on Winthrop street west of the railroad a little earlier. C. C. Stevens came next in 1870, building his house on North street. No highway crossed the Mystic between Winthrop and Usherbridges till 1873, so when Mr. Stevens moved his barns from his former residence on Warren street in West Medford, they went via High street to Winthrop square, crossing the river and railway on the Winthrop street bridges, then down across the field, a roundabout journey, to the spot where one still remains. At that date, the embankments, towpath and bed of the disused Middlesex canal could be plainly seen, extending from Cotting street westward to the railroad and through the Somerville appendix, to the river. The slowly decaying aqueduct, with its abutments of boulders and its granite piers, still spanned the river —a picturesque ruin. Because of the fact that a citizen of Medford, Nathan Brown, had eyes to see, and skill to paint, and that others appreciated his work, we of today may know how that locality appeared in 1865.

When Mr. Stevens moved to the Hillside, in 1870, Medford's entire population west of the railroad consisted of an even dozen of families. In 1871 the new owners of the Smith estate (the level plain of West Medford) purchased a tract called the ‘Osgood estate,’ bordering on North street. This was laid out in small lots, with Adams and Quincy streets intersected by others, and plans plotted. The long-disused stonework of the canal aqueduct invited a crossing of the river by Boston avenue, and strange to say this was opposed by some. The wisdom of the county commissioners in its laying out is amply justified, however.

In those years the elder Josiah Quincy of Boston had formulated a plan which resulted in a co-operative company of fifty working men, called the ‘Quincy Associates.’ Their purpose was the acquiring of homes of moderate cost, in a manner similar to the methods of the co-operative banks. Mr. Quincy was indeed, a little later, the originator of that banking system in Massachusetts. [p. 7] The Associates divided into two branches, one selecting home sites in Dedham, the other at Medford Hillside, mainly on Adams street. Those locating at Dedham erected houses chiefly of one design, which was in accord with Mr. Quincy's idea. It was a forerunner of the Queen Anne style that obtained later, and perhaps designed by an artist friend of Mr. Quincy.

The Medford section became impatient at the delay in the financing of their enterprise, and some proceeded to the erection of houses on the lots they had selected. Six were built in the fall of 1872, five constructed by the late John H. Norton. Four were practically of the same design, and the other planned by the writer, who built the sixth to plans made by its owner. All were on Adams street and were, on completion, occupied by Messrs. Fuller, Rockwood and Moakler (on the left going south) and Messrs. Bartlett, Cooper and Briggs on the opposite side (returning). Mr. Cooper, after some years, removed from town, while only Mr. Rockwood remains a resident. Mr. Briggs died eighteen years since, and Messrs. Moakler, Fuller and Bartlett more recently. Others of the Associates came in later years, but not all.

The force-main of the Charlestown Water Works was laid through this territory, and over it one street, known by various names—Lawrence, Waterworks and Capen —intersected North, Quincy and Adams streets. Several others of shorter length were opened, and on all, houses were erected, some by Mr. Perkins and Mr. Stevens, the earliest comers.

Topographically considered, this section of the town was peculiar. The railroad bounded it on one side, Winthrop street and the lofty reservoir, then but eight years built and by some thought a menace, formed another, while the zig-zag boundary of old Charlestown extended from Winthrop street around it across the railroad to ‘Second beach,’ which is now only a memory. Between this crooked line and the winding river lay a portion of Somerville, partially marsh-land. On this were three [p. 8] residents, Thomas Martin, William McCracken (better known as Billy Hamilton, ‘the wild Irishman’) and Bernard Born, the engineer at the pumping station of the water works. Thus in a measure isolated, the Hillside people have always had a neighborhood feeling, and on several occasions local celebrations of public holidays, creditable both to promoters and participants.

Close under the shadow of the college the little (?) red schoolhouse found a place, as also did churches, which first met in private houses, later acquiring attractive houses of worship.

After forty years the unsightly and malarial Alewife brook, that made the outer Somerville boundary still more crooked, has been transformed into the Menotomy river. The Mystic and Powder House boulevards have been built, with Somerville field between. These are not a part of the Hillside but adjoin and affect it. It is an historic fact that the first Massachusetts governor, John Winthrop, got lost in the Charlestown woods that were on this hillside, and here spent a lonely night, waiting for daybreak. It is also said that Burgoyne's army from Saratoga cut off the trees from this same hillside during their winter stay in Medford as prisoners of war.

The establishment of the college and the building of the water works were notable events; but the steady development of the Hillside began in 1872, when the Quincy Associates came. All were worthy men and good citizens. One of the two families that were the first residents is now represented by the son and daughter of Mr. Stevens, who still reside in the house their father had erected on his hillside cow-pasture. Mr. Brown's picture shows the former, when a boy, driving the cows homeward on the old tow-path. We read today the written observation of a surveyor in 1862: ‘About half way up hill is a swamp about eight hundred feet long.’ Through this was laid the force-main of the water works. Mr. Stevens' house is just on its border. Built around it within six years are numerous houses. Across Capen [p. 9] street and between the eight hundred and seventy-seven feet of Medford-Somerville boundary line (bounds sixteen to seventeen) we recently counted thirty-one twoapart-ment houses erected since August last, and more begun, and this on the identical spot above noted. Truly ‘the fashion of this world changeth.’

It is a far cry from those conditions and pasture land of those days to the conveniences of today, the present avenues, busy factories, trolley cars, numerous stores, churches, schools and club house, apartment houses and comfortable homes.

On the southern side the growing city of Somerville is building close up to Medford border and the Somerville appendix may soon become congested. It would be well if by some legislative surgery it might be operated upon, that the western end of our city might no longer be separated because nearly two centuries ago some Charlestown folk had a cow pasture beside the river and wished to retain it. This should be a part of Medford Hillside.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1872 AD (2)
1870 AD (2)
1873 AD (1)
1871 AD (1)
1865 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
1850 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: