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The Medford Indian monument

On page 60, Vol. XXIV, the Register had a ‘Tercentenary Note’ alluding to the first recorded visit of white men to what became Medford.

They were Captain Myles Standish and eight of the Plymouth pilgrims. The present writing is of one of the places they visited, upon which in more recent years a monument was erected, which has been desecrated and seems in danger of ultimate destruction. [p. 53]

In 1659, one Thomas Brooks of Concord, with his son-in-law, Timothy Wheeler, purchased of Edward Collins four hundred acres of land, being the western end of the Cradock farm, bordered by Mystic river and ponds. Thomas Brooks never came to live on his purchase but his sons did, and theirs also in later years, and some do still.

A road from Cambridge to Woburn lay through this tract, and another to the ‘weare’ or fishing place became in time the continuation of High street. On this four hundred acres there was at least one dwelling, to which one of the sons came in 1679, which housed several generations for just a century, when his grandson had it torn down. Twenty years more, and the old waterway, the Middlesex canal, was cut through its site across the highway and through the farm then in possession of Peter Chardon Brooks. He began in 1802 to erect back from the old way, fittingly called Grove street, a mansion house befitting his means—he was the merchant prince of New England. It took four years for its completion, and meanwhile the canal was finished and in operation, thus dividing his farm into two parts, the farm buildings on one and the new and stately dwelling on the other.

The canal proprietors were obliged to build and maintain an ‘accommodation’ bridge in such cases, which they did. After some twenty years, Mr. Brooks replaced their plain wooden bridge with one of dressed stone, a beautiful elliptic arch of Chelmsford granite, which was in keeping with his well-kept grounds that were a place of beauty. Through these passed the leisurely travel and traffic of a century ago, when people had not the feverish haste of the locomotive engine.

In 1852 the canal ceased operation. Its location was either purchased by or reverted to the former owners, and in some places it was obliterated. But Mr. Edward Brooks was in no hurry to remove the graceful arch. Perhaps he respected the wish of his kinsman, the historian, [p. 54] who in 1855 wrote: ‘we truly hope that this picturesque object may be allowed to remain in memoriam, —a gravestone to mark where the highway of the waters lies buried.’ He was succeeded by his son Francis as owner in 1878.

The Medford historian (Rev. Charles Brooks) also wrote that ‘no Indian necropolis has as yet been discovered, though one probably exists on the borders of our pond.’ He doubtless made this assertion because of the record of Standish's visit, but before his passing away one was discovered.

An account of this is given on page 98 of the Usher history. At that time (1862) ‘five skeletons were found beneath the lawn in the rear of the house of the late Edward Brooks. One was in perfect condition, lying on its side with the arms and legs drawn up, the head to the west and the face to the north.’ This was sent to the Agassiz Museum at Cambridge and given a ‘place of honor’ there. In 1882 another discovery was made as seen by the following from Mercury, September 2.

L. W. Conant while digging a cellar on the Brooks place recently came across the skeletons of several Indians. They were placed mostly in a sitting posture, after the old Indian mode of burial.

Mr. Lucien Conant was the superintendent of the Brooks estate and lived in the farm house on High street, and near the granite arch, and the cellar referred to was probably that of a new barn close by.

Soon after this last discovery, Mr. Francis Brooks caused to be erected on the lawn where the earlier discovery was made the monument shown in our illustration. It consisted of three pieces: the base, a block of split (Concord) granite thirty-nine inches square and eighteen inches high; the shaft, of dark Medford granite twenty inches square and fifty-eight inches high, set diagonally upon the base, and surmounted with a rough and irregular-shaped block of conglomerate. In the west face of the base is a dressed panel with the words, [p. 55] ‘Site of Indian Burial Place.’ A similar panel in the east has the dedication, ‘To Sagamore John and those Mystic Indians whose bones lie here.’ On the north and south (respectively) are the dates 1630 and 1884.

Thus did Mr. Francis Brooks, as possessor of the soil wherein was this ‘Indian necropolis,’ reverently and honorably reinter the remains of those of a vanished race who possessed the land three centuries before. It was a commendable act, noticed at various times in public print, and views of this monument are extant, among them our illustration. The location was on the northern side of the canal's course, and the mansion house alluded to is seen in the background.

After the death of Mr. Francis Brooks, this house was in the occupancy of various tenants until in May, 1909, his estate, comprising over fifty acres, passed into the hands of a real estate trust, which proceeded to lay out streets and house lots or building sites. The Mercury of May 28 and June 4 contains accounts of the sale and of efforts to save the bridge and monument from destruction.

In his address of January 3, 1910, Mayor Brewer alluded to the bridge, saying, ‘It is about the only substantial relic of the old Middlesex Canal in Medford, and I have been endeavoring to secure it for the city, together with a small oval of land, in order that the ancient structure may be preserved’; and of the other, ‘I wish to obtain the monument also for the city and to place it on the small oval, in front of the canal bridge, but up to the present have not succeeded in persuading the owners of the land that the city engineer's plan is the proper one.’

It would appear that all later efforts failed, as in August, 1911, the beautiful structure, which might have continued a thing of beauty to attract the attention of visitors as it had in the many years agone, was torn down and used as common building stone in cellar walls. Had the mayor's plan succeeded, it might have been a [p. 56] valuable asset to the locality and maintained by the park department.

But what of the Indian monument? After a time it was moved by the new owners to the acute apex of a triangular lot on the new Sagamore avenue. Mention was later made of this in the local papers; also in a Boston daily (September 14, 1911) may be found a similar detailed account of a decaying box moved to another burial plot beneath a maple tree. In 1921 the maple tree having died, this ‘burial plot’ was cut into, to make a second connection of the newer street with Sagamore avenue. This left the monument on an unsightly mound of earth from which the foundation stones (said to be a vault) protrude. Its condition then was not one to inspire the visitors who came from other places with much respect for such as caused it. But this is not all. On the evening of October 31, last, the monument was overturned by the disorderly element that thus celebrate Hallowe'en, and now, well toward a year later remains in the same disgraceful condition.

Along Sagamore avenue are the new dwellings erected in recent years, occupied by people whose good taste and sense of ‘the fitness of things’ must be offended by the existing condition.

It may be that because the monument and its site is not public property that the commendable act of Mr. Brooks in its erection is thus made void.

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