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In another corner of Medford.

Topographically speaking, Medford is a city of numerous corners—thirty-four, to be exact. Some are near busy highways, others in the rocky solitudes of Middlesex Fells; several are on the College hill slopes, while yet others are unseen by the eye of man in the river's bed and the depth of Mystic lake. For a more minute description of these angular localities the reader is referred to Vol. XVIII, page 90, of the Register, and for views of the same to the volume entitled ‘Boundaries.’

Some years since, the Register, in Vol. XIII, page 97, described one of these corners in some detail, illustrating the same by a sketch of its physical features which a former Medford man had made in 1855, probably little thinking that years after he had passed on, it would attract attention.

Twenty years before, with the same praiseworthy intent, another, doubtless and ‘evidently a novice,’ attempted to portray another corner of Medford, which is the scene and subject of the present writing. Like the other, its principal physical features were three in number, [p. 26] one natural and two artificial. Efforts to reproduce the same for the Register's pages have as yet been unsuccessful. It bears this legend, ‘Junction of River, Canal and Rail-road in Medford, 1835.’ This locality is one specific point referred to in a recent address before the Historical Society, entitled ‘The Story of An Ancient Cow-Pasture.’ Request was then and there made for its publication. As the speaker compiled his story largely from the Register's pages, the reader is referred to them, and the present article will concern but the border of the ‘ancient cow-pasture,’ which is destined to become the scene of busy industry as well as of modern pleasure taking.

As the ‘corner’ previously described was not in the original Medford (i.e., Mr. Cradock's farm), so was this likewise a part of ancient Charlestown. That old town, once extensive and once entirely surrounding Medford, is now absorbed by Boston. Its cow-commons have been well defined by our townsman Hooper in his story of the ‘Stinted Pasture.’ Not until 1754 did Medford acquire this ‘corner,’ and even then not all the Charlestown proprietors became Medfordites. An examination of the map will show a serrated boundary line extending over and around College hill to a bend in the river, which was north of the railroad. Thence the boundary between Charlestown and Medford continued, as of old, by ‘the thread of the river’ onward into Mystic lake. In 1850 all of old Charlestown lying outside the ‘Neck’ (at Sullivan square) as far west as the Menotomy river was incorporated as the town of Somerville. Thus it occurs that the old riverside cow-stints of that long-ago time are sandwiched in between precincts one and two of the sixth ward of Medford. To be strictly correct our caption should be, ‘In Another Corner of Medford and Somerville.’ Perhaps ‘In Somerville's Appendix’ might not be inappropriate, and in the interest of the local history of both we may well look into the development of this section. Primarily it was the Indians' dwelling [p. 27] place. In aboriginal days Sagamore John dwelt there. It lay in the bend of the river below the tributary Menotomy.

All annalists refer to Governor Winthrop's nocturnal adventure thereat. We have heard one insist that it occurred within present Somerville bounds. Possibly it did, yet we think it equally possible to have been on the Medford side, and certainly the Indian relics exhumed in the sixties were on the Medford hill slope. The governor's night vigil is the earliest recorded history we have of this quarter, but long thereafter nothing of special note. On this bleak northwestern exposure there was nothing of an inviting nature, and until within fifty years few dwellers made homes there. The marshes of varying width bordered the Mystic, which was but little used as a waterway, though quite a little fishing was done therein, and enough in its tributary to relegate its Indian name Menotomy to obscurity and substitute the prosaic one of Alewife brook. No road crossed the river between Cradock and Wear bridges until 1857, saving for a few years the Cambridge-Woburn road over the Broughton milldam just above the Menotomy.

Save for a little ship-building above Cradock bridge, the view southerly from Rock hill could have differed little from that of aboriginal days, so far as human habitations were to be seen; only a few scattered dwellings. One was that of Rev.——Smith, whose daughter Abagail became the second ‘first lady of the land,’ the wife of President John Adams. But with the opening of the nineteenth century, somewhat by the influence of Medford men and Medford capital, there came one of those artificial features the amateur artist tried to portray, the old waterway known as the Middlesex canal. It passed through Mr. Smith's domain in Medford, across the Charlestown marsh, over and beyond the river into Medford again. This is the first physical change we note in this other corner of Medford. The enterprise in its entirety was, for the time, a great undertaking. As originally [p. 28] planned it would not have been in this quarter at all, as its southern end would have been at the upper end of Medford pond, as it was then called. To modern engineering, a mile of serpentine, shallow river would not be the serious obstruction it was then. So, contrary to the thought of the Medford promoters, the waterway was continued five miles further to Charlestown mill-pond, requiring the ‘Branch canal,’ constructed by another corporation, to connect with the river below Main street.

Ten years had elapsed since Governor Hancock signed its charter (so much of an undertaking was it) when the thirty-foot ditch, up-hill from the Merrimack at Chelmsford (Chumpsford they called it then) and down-hill from Billerica to the Charles, was completed. Then the water of Concord river was turned into it, and for fifty years laden boats passed to and fro. Rafts of timber from the forests of New Hampshire, oak timber to the Medford ship-yards, granite from Chelmsford and Tyngsboro, the great columns of the ‘long market’ in Boston, with country produce of various kinds, floated quietly onward to their destination on its placid waters, which, like a silver ribbon, glinted in the sunshine as seen from the hill-tops. By this waterway not only the inland Middlesex towns, but those of New Hampshire, went ‘down to the sea in ships’ from as far north as Concord.

In 1812 what is now a part of the busy city of Manchester sent its first boat to Boston, which was hailed with interest all along the line as well as at its arrival. It had a three mile journey overland prior to its launching in the Merrimack at Squog village, with forty yokes of oxen for motive power. It could lazily float down the river's current, and two horses harnessed tandem took it more quickly and were all the power needed on the canal. Those were busy, but quiet days in this other corner of Medford and Charlestown. The shouts of the boatmen and the sound of the signal-horn, as the locks were approached were all that broke the silence of the retired spot.

But people travelled on the canal too. Read what our [p. 29] Medford school-master Dame wrote thirty-three years ago. See Register, Vol. I, p. 44.

When feverish haste had not yet infected society, a trip over the canal in the passenger-packet, the Governor Sullivan must have been an enjoyable experience. Protected by iron rules from the danger of collision, undaunted by squalls of wind, realizing that should the craft be capsized he had nothing to do but walk ashore, the traveller speeding along at the leisurely rate of four miles per hour had ample time for observation and reflection. Seated, in summer under a spacious awning, he traversed the valley of the Mystic skirting the picturesque shores of Mystic pond. Instead of a blurred landscape, vanishing, ghostlike, ere its features could be fairly distinguished, soft bits of characteristic New England scenery, clear cut as cameos, lingered caressingly on his vision—green meadows, fields riotous with blossomed clover, fragrant orchards and quaint old farmhouses, with a background of low hills wooded to their summits. Passing under bridges, over rivers, between high embankments and through deep cuttings, floated up-hill by a series of locks, he marvelled at this triumph of engineering, and if he were a director pictured the manufactures that were to spring up along this great thoroughfare, swelling its revenues for all time.

People also sought pleasure there, as the last issue of the Register notes, and as Medford people recently gone from us have told with pleasant memories.

But the investigating, progressive canal agent and manager of those early days had more rapid transit in view. Horses and oxen were too slow and over in England the power of steam had been utilized, while in Scotland it had been used with but little success on a canal. Up in the backwoods of New Hampshire a curious engine had been developed by an unlettered native genius, years before Fulton made his successful experiment on the Hudson. Canal manager Sullivan, with great visions of future inland navigation by canal and river, had a boat equipped with an engine of this pattern; and one day, a century ago, it came to Medford (as documents prove) and later, all the way to the New Hampshire capital.

If the Medford boys went swimming at ‘Second beach’ in those days, we may be sure there was a grand rush to the tow-path beside the river to see the novel sight. [p. 30] Novel it certainly was, for in 1818 steamboat service had not obtained permanency in Boston harbor, though the next year a native of Medford (Rev. Charles Brooks) was instrumental in securing such service between Boston and Hingham. But certain it is, that this and other parts of Medford were the scene of the earliest steamboat days.1

Captain Sullivan was nearly a century ahead of the times, for it is only within a few years that, even with the resources of the great state of New York, steam has been successfully used on its barge canals.

Steam was destined to win on land, and some of the land is in this corner of Medford. One day, two horses slowly towed a canal boat up through Medford to the new town of Lowell which had arisen at the Pawtucket Falls of the Merrimack. That boat bore a new kind of freight, the various parts of the locomotive engine which the genius of Governor Sullivan and of the Medford capitalists had not foreseen. A lot of Walnut-tree hill, and rocks from Winter Hill had been carted onto the end of the bordering marsh making an embankment twenty feet high across it, and bridges built over the canal and river.

The canal boats had been bringing granite blocks down from Chelmsford, and

The strange spectacle was thus presented, perhaps for the first time, of a corporation assisting in the preparation for its own obsequies. (Quoted from Lorin L. Dame.)

One day (June 24, 1835) a curious array of uncouth vehicles came trundling on the iron rails laid on those granite blocks all the way from Lowell to Boston. With much exercise of patience, men unused to such work had assembled at Lowell the various parts of that nondescript freight, and a new era of transit and mode of travel was inaugurated. We use these words in order advisedly, as it is recorded that on the previous day, the mail was carried in this new way. Well, Uncle Sam's mail is supposed to have the right of way still. Whether called so then or [p. 31] not, compared with the all day canal ride of twenty-six miles this was certainly rapid transit. Within a few years American mechanics were building better engines in the Lowell machine shop and running them at the speed of a mile a minute through this corner of Medford, while Medford's people were accommodated by the little station house down the track called Medford Steps. The artificial features of water and railways crossing each other, and both crossing the river, changed the natural view in this corner somewhat, yet nature was kind, the tides ebbed and flowed as before, and ere long the embankments of both were grass grown, and the scars man had made were healed. With the coming of the rail way, began the water way's decadence; which was more pronounced as steam transit extended northward from Lowell. After a few years of profitless competition, the canal succumbed, the aqueduct over and the lock beyond the river began to go to ruin. Picturesque indeed they were, as ruins generally are, and finally, after twenty years of disintegration, gave way to the new thoroughfare of Boston avenue. But in all these years this corner had no dwelling places. A resident of West Medford2 used it in the old time way, i.e., for a cow-pasture. One day in 1865, another3 came over on the railroad bridge, set up his easel and made the sketch in oil, that well portrays the decaying aqueduct, and which is preserved in the Historical Society's collection. The cows driven homeward by their owner's son are in evidence in the picture, and in the distance is the old house of Henry Dunster and the ‘spire of Menotomy.’

A few years later (1870) Mr. Stevens moved into the new house he had erected in Medford, but his only neighbors were two families (in Somerville) one of whom came with the advent of the Charlestown water works in 1865. . Only one had located on all the hill-slope, and that on Winthrop street, and for some years the reservoir on the hill-top was needlessly considered a menace. The growth [p. 32] of that section was very slow, even after Boston avenue was opened in 1873, and which utilized the old abutments and piers built for the canal's crossing. Mr. Stevens still used the space beside the railroad, down to the Somerville line, for pasturage, and erected near his barn a silo, probably the first in Medford.

One day the few dwellers at the Hillside (as it had begun to be called) and West Medford, across the river, awoke to the fact that a new industry was to be established in their midst—one of not the most desirable character. The odors of the vast cesspool which Boston had created by turning the tannery drainage of Winchester and Woburn into the lower Mystic lake were becoming extremely offensive, and here was likely to be another trouble in the Somerville appendix. The spur track to the pumping station lay just inside the line, curving away on the old canal bed. Over this, the raw material could come to the unattractive works of the Colonial Chemical Company, just erected for the manufacture of a ‘depilatory’ used in removing the hair from cattle hides. The adjoining marshland formed an excellent dumping-ground for its cinders and refuse. Unlike the human appendix, which is troublesome only to its owner, this caudal appendage of ancient Charlestown, the tail-end, geographically, of modern Somerville, bade fair to, and did, become a menace to adjoining Medford, such as offensive manufactories usually become. For years it had a retarding influence upon the growth of the Hillside section of Medford, as in a few years the plant was enlarged and another building erected, into which a leather working concern came. This was located cornerwise to the railroad and conformed to the old canal's course. It was later doubled in size and another story added to the whole. During the chemical business' stay, a residence was erected for the superintendent, larger and better than the first, thus increasing the Somerville residents to four families.

In the interim between these constructions, at about [p. 33] 1895 a new enterprise was launched, this time in Medford bounds—a paper mill. Whether the projectors really thought that the little spring near the Hillside railroad station would add materially to its water supply or furnish power, is uncertain. A dike was built from North street some distance westward, and turning extended to the railroad. In this was a bulkhead and diminutive water wheel. We have no remembrance of its ever being filled with water by the little brook that flowed beside the railroad and through the marsh to the river. An artesian well some two hundred feet deep was drilled in the rock strata; and in more recent years an iron pipe laid from the river bed across the marshland to these works, for supply. A large wooden building with three parallel slated roofs, and an engine house of brick was erected; but the paper manufacture never materialized. This product was to have been wrapping paper, and old newspaper stock was to have been utilized by some new process. After a time the Lee Cycle Co. occupied the eastern corner, but moved away before accomplishing any results.

Next, came Holmes & Smith, establishing the West Medford Laundry, but after a few months moving into other quarters. Then an automobile shop which got no further than the experimental stage. That business was then in its infancy; horseless carriage it was then called, and few people foresaw the extent to which it would grow. Next and for a few years, was the Fiber Manufacturing Company, which made pails and cylindrical receptacles of compressed wood fiber. But none of these concerns occupied the entire building, and the last seemed to be doing some business, when the property changed hands. The original chemical works had ceased operation, its plant was demolished and the cinder dump carted away to build sidewalks. About 1910 came the Stone, Timlow Company with an increasing leather business combined with that of wool. In 1912 the four-story brick factory (of mill construction), was erected, largely [p. 34] in Somerville. Some ten or a dozen feet of it are over in Medford and on this is located the Medford fire alarm whistle. Up to this period the canal bed and banks not obliterated by Boston avenue had remained intact and sometimes held a little water as seen in our illustration. But other changes not industrial had occurred both sides the city boundary line.

The Metropolitan Park Commission made taking of land along the river and built the Parkway. In 1873 Auburn street had crossed the river below ‘Second beach.’ Its bridge in a later state of decrepitude was discontinued after the new concrete arch was built, on which both street and parkway cross each other. The latter is but little above marsh level, this made possible by the Cradock dam.

Several houses were removed and shacks (relics of the alewife fishing) were torn down, and a big hole dug in which the new bridge was built and beside it a sewer siphon. Before the arch was completed, and the contractors were ready to move the river, the impatient stream moved in itself, because the new channel had been excavated too near the old for safety. The men and horses (unlike ‘the hosts of Pharaoh’) got out safely, but it took weeks of labor and no little expense to begin anew. With all the widening, deepening and shortening of the river, insufficient material was obtained to fill the old channel, and ‘Second beach’ in its present condition no longer invites the swimming boys. The railroad embankment has been raised several feet and a fine concrete arch built, through which the parkway passes. During its erection, the unique construction of the railroad, i.e., the four parallel walls beneath the rails were revealed. These were utilized in the rock-concrete foundation of the new bridge. It is said that ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ This bridge might be, but for the disfigurement it suffered at the hands of ill mannered youth, of whom no city has reason to be proud, and whose conduct is becoming a public menace. [p. 35]

In the elevation of the tracks, the granite arch (built by Asa Sheldon) disappeared. As there is nothing lost when we know where it is, we are confident that it is still intact. The present concrete bridge built over, under, and both sides, serves its purpose, but looks inferior to the other so near. It lacks the character and rugged beauty of the old time structure.

By the ‘taking’ by the Park Commission, the Welch Express stable just beside ‘Canal bridge’ disappeared. Possibly sometime its driven well may be unearthed and utilized—and people wonder how it came there.

In 1902 the street railway was built on Boston avenue, after the present granite arch had been constructed. The three piers of Chelmsford granite, built in 1827 by the canal company, were used in the new bridge over the Menotomy at Broadway, but the boulder abutments of 1800 still remain. But before this time, the Arlington-Lexington sewer was constructed through the ledge beneath the parkway, through the old canal bed, and across the marsh on pile and timber support, and siphons beneath the river below the bridge.

In 1910 the Hillside section had a real estate boom, and the erection of two and three apartment houses, and one story store property went on apace. This continued until war-time, but ceased with prohibitive high cost of building. But one exception should be noticed. Early in 1918 the American Woolen Company acquired the factory site, marsh land and buildings of the Stone Timlow Company and at the present writing is just completing a five story storehouse of reinforced concrete of the most substantial construction. This is entirely on the marsh land and wholly within the Somerville part of the ‘corner.’

This structure is intended mainly for storage of the raw material or ‘waste,’ which is brought from the various plants of the concern, to be reworked in the other buildings already mentioned or to be erected. It is the most radical change this part of the old cow-pasture has experienced in all its history. The works, when completed, [p. 36] will employ several hundred persons of both sexes, who will require places of abode and education of their children. Thus both Medford and Somerville will find added problems to solve. In years agone, but within memory, conditions had been unsavory in the Somerville corner. A slaughter-house was on the old rangeway for many years. At about 1874 a hill below it was devoted to drying hog-bristles. Later this hill was all dug down and carted away, and to its place was moved the Somerville pest-house. This remained for a period of years beside the serpentine, sluggish Alewife brook. This latter had been receiving the refuse and filth of Tannery brook, with its adjoining marshes a foot lower than those a mile down stream. Little wonder that malaria was in an alarming increase. One day the writer noticed an unusual stir about the pest-house, and an orderly crowd gathering. Approaching nearer he was in time to see one of the city officials apply the torch thereto, and witnessed its destruction. A little later, the Powder House boulevard and Somerville field were constructed in its locality. Next, the hill-slope up to the zigzag boundary line was built over with dwellings. While the cow-pasture lines remain intact in our municipal boundaries, we wonder, sometimes, about those in ‘the thread of the river.’ Both the Mystic and Menotomy, which divide Somerville from Medford and Arlington, now flow in channels other than those of ten years ago; but as they flow within the Park Commission's jurisdiction, there is little chance of either private or municipal disagreement. Another allusion to that crude portrayal of this Medford-Somerville corner. While it depicted the ‘river, canal and railroad,’ it also showed, hovering overhead, a balloon. We wondered quite a little at such portrayal, but of late have queried if it were not really so, for at about those years we find mention in the papers of aeronaut Lauriat and his balloon ascensions. It may be that it was even so. Be that as it may, on the evening of [p. 37] July 4, 1911, the writer witnessed the flight of an airplane over this same quarter, as did the great company assembled about ‘Somerville field.’ Contrast this last occasion with the night vigil of Gov. John Winthrop, only a few rods away, on October 11, 1630, if you will. Contrast the horseless carriage, or ‘steam buggy,’ first seen in Boston streets in 1866, with the uncounted automobiles that pass over the Mystic Valley parkway in this other corner of Medford and Somerville, think of what may, ere long, be in the air over it, and—finish this story at some later date.

1 See Register, Vol. XVII, p. 92.

2 Mr. Charles C. Stevens.

3 Mr. Nathan Brown.

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