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Mr. Stetson's notes on ‘information wanted.’

Mr. Hooper opened this subject 4 Register, p. 1. Appreciating the difference in value between ‘a bald fact’ and a fact developed by a trained imagination, he located his mind's eye on the crest behind the site of the unborn High School No. 2 and gazed about the Meadford. This was about 1630, etc. There was no High street and no bridge; no houses nearer than the Cradock buildings in the town pump region. They had to be there for central administration of the governor's property, and on the nearest site to the only ford which offered sufficient level space. There was no retaining wall nor filling at the river; all was normal, unchanged by man. The gazer saw west-bound travelers passing along the narrow path on the verge just above high-water mark and then climbing the steep in front of the library lot, and east bound ones going along the gravel beach to the Cradock buildings. This was a ‘varge-way,’ just as New England country folks call it now.

This glimpse into initial Medford reveals a shelf only between the great south bastion of Pasture hill and the river.

Query: How wide was that shelf, and what was the color of that gravel? How far was the crest from the river? How many feet higher than the present surface of High street was the then surface of the ground?

Mr. Hooper points out (p. 2) that the tide used to flow into Medford square, and that the bridge used to be twice its present length. So extensive filling was requisite, and from whence? Obviously from Pasture hill alone. Probably not by long haul from the Terrace road region, but it should come by short haul from the south Bastion from the Tract, which developed slowly into High street and its vicinity. Much filling was also placed at some unknown period or periods along the gravelly beach and so on to Main street, and retaining walls built. [p. 48]

Query: Who built the long retaining wall and when and where did its stone come from? The varge-way would be of little use if it did not at least rise above high-water mark. If the height of removable gravel was great the evolution of High street would be slow, and if passable at all it would be a very ‘High’ street, and it would be a long time before the people would discard their old varge-way and begin to use High street.

One would like to know where High street got its name. The selectmen undertook, in 1829, to legalize this name, but it probably had long borne the name de facto. Maybe, when long ago in some easterly storm and swirling tide the varge-way could not be used, and so a potato cart straggled over the great Bastion,—the driver named it.

One would like to see a record lay-out of High street and its date, but I am told that the early records are lost. Such date would be important, and would not only show a public purpose to finish the only link connecting the two halves of Medford, but it would start the construction of dwellings. It was a long time before they started. Mr. Hooper says (7 Register, p. 62) that all houses worthy of mention prior to 1700 were built west of the Marble brook, but that after 1700 the growth of Medford was east of that brook. Note here that of the first two meeting-houses, one was at the brook and the other yet further west. The dates of all the houses on our ‘Tract’ will be instructive here, and it may appear that there was a reason why this Tract did not get built over for nearly a century after 1630.

The Turell house was the earliest between the brook and Governor's lane (1720); the Watson house next, in 1750.

It was a long time before the two foci of the town grew together. Medford was a spectacle town. A very high, bulky and red nose stuck up between the glasses. Later this was about the best part of Medford, but neither streets nor lots yet fit for homesteads. The colonists wanted practical convenience—not hill top villas and bungalows. The Halls owned the whole of Pasture hill, but never dreamed of living up there; they left it to the kite-flying boys and preferred to dig their homes down to the level of common folks.

The opulent Benjamin Hall, Senior, married first in 1752, and built his house (the Dr. Swan house) after that. His son Benjamin, Jr., built the ‘Dudley Hall house’ in 1786. Probably High street was in a transition state for a long time, part quarry, part stones and part cart track, and the side lots impossible even longer. A man had to get rich before he could excavate his homestead out of Pasture hill. So all the Halls—Isaac, Ebenezer, Richard, etc., came late to this locality, and not until High street had become a tolerable street.

The dates of the house building will help us here. We may [p. 49] assume that the street and lots had about reached finality when the houses were built, and conversely that as soon as street and lots were fit, houses would be built here.

The excavations abreast of the tan-yard and at and about the Hall houses, etc., carried the crest further back and changed the contour of nature. I hope our gazer on the crest measured and noted how far it was in 1630 from the gravel beach.

The record of a county road from Mystic bridge to Woburn (2 Register, p. 56) was probably without validity. Mr. Hooper says it is impossible to tell from the descriptions where this way was located. Even if it was possible, April 7, 1674, to tell in a general way, it ought to be definite in order to condemn land for a public easement. Besides, it does not say how wide the easement was to be. We must conclude that High street owed its existence to our potato cart and its successors, and not to the County of Middlesex.

I am satisfied that the gravel excavations on the east side of Pasture hill (about Terrace road) were later affairs than those about and in the High street region.

Query: What was the name of Governor's lane prior to Governor Brooks?

By the foregoing it will be seen that Mr. Stetson was an interested and careful reader of the Register. His quaint remarks about the ‘spectacle town’ and the ‘bulky red nose’ show that in the olden time the division between east and west in Medford was a prominent and physical one. Never before has anyone pointed out so clearly the barrier the cliffs of old Pasture hill placed in the way of travel as has Mr. Stetson, or called attention to the absence of buildings between the old house of Jonathan Wade and Parson Turell's (at our Winthrop square) for a century after Medford's settlement.

We can but wish that Miles Standish had left us some account of fording the river and walking along that narrow shelving beach, ‘the verge just above high-water mark’ and following the trail ‘up the steep in front of the library lot’ on the occasion of his visit in September, 1621. Those of us who remember the vicinity of Rock hill ere the river was moved southward and the parkway built can readily get an idea of the ‘great south [p. 50] bastion of Pasture hill,’ with only the ‘varge-way’ between it and the river.

There are various queries in the notes that require a lot of study to answer, but this we have from the city engineer:—

‘High street at Governors avenue is twenty-five feet above Boston base (about eighteen above the normal level of present river at Armory bridge), and the bend in Grand View avenue, rear of Historical building, sixty-one feet, is forty-five feet higher.’

Judging by the ‘crest’ along Governors avenue (between Terrace road and Cedar), it was probably then much higher than now.

Mr. Stetson came to a wise conclusion in saying ‘a man had to get rich,’ etc., to ‘excavate Pasture hill.’ Steam shovels and dynamite were unknown in those early days, and it certainly was ‘some job’ to ‘make the earth over,’ as has been done in this immediate quarter. It has been a gradual process, as some now living can remember.

Now note another section of the ‘dump’ papers, which we present verbatim, and let any who can (with certainty) fill the blanks.

The north-side houses.

A—Mr. Magoun's place was west of the greatest elevation, so he did not have to excavate, but did a great deal of grading and terracing. House (Library) built about 18—.

B—the Hebden house was a small two-story, ill-painted, white house, close to Mr. Magoun's east line. This and all the other eastern houses were crowded to the sidewalk. It had no back yard. Very steep right up behind the house; coarse grass on the steep; no gravel visible. An English laboring man named Hebden lived here about 1845 to 1850. Built——.

Query: Get the construction dates of every house.

C—the John Johnson house was old, black, gambrel roof; may be very old; built A. D.——. He had two sons, Theophilus and Cleopas. Mrs. Johnson, a brisk, little, clear-starching dame, had no particular clothes-yard, and dried her clothes anywhere. She had a very narrow lean — to back of the house—no back yard. Steep went right up from the lean-to. Coarse grass on it; no red gravel visible. [p. 51]

D—John Johnson's Cobbler shop stood high upon a steep, say a dozen or fifteen feet above the sidewalk; no path from it down to the sidewalk. He went west from it to the lean — to and thence along the house to the sidewalk. Steep behind the shop; coarse bunch grass.

E—the Jacob Brooks house was a good-sized, ill-painted, whitish house, two stories, and looked rather neglected. Aunt Polly Blanchard lived in the west part and sold candy—red and white peppermint hearts for a cent apiece, also peppermint cones at the same price. You got more stuff if you bought a cone than a heart. Jacob had sons, John, Charles, Augustus; daughters, Alice and Lucy. He was an industrious man, not very prosperous; went out for day's work, gardening, etc. I think the Register speaks of him as sexton ‘for the old graveyard.’

About and behind this house red gravel was everywhere; an ample back yard; all excavation. Behind this yard it was perpendicular and high, say thirty to forty feet or more; not to be climbed. All red, with outcrops of granite—red also; no grass; no fence at top of the precipice. This place was abreast of the tan-yard. Don't know who owned this place. Built A. D.——.

F—the Josselin house was rather small, two stories, illpainted. For a back yard it also enjoyed the great excavation spoken of in E. Family of Josselin lived in it. Built A. D.——

G—Next came a close board fence of five or six rods in line of sidewalk, and a yellowish house, two-story, and in good order. Don't know who owned it, nor anything about the conditions behind fence and house. This house was at and on the obtuse angle of High street. Those who prepared these premises for High School No. 2 will know. Built A. D.——.

Query: What land did Henry Fowl's title cover?

H—the Richard Hall house was a good house, well kept, with a gambrel roof. Built A. D.——. Don't know conditions in its rear.

I—the house of Benjamin Hall, Sr., (Dr. Swan's) was large, white, gambrel; always in good order; ample yard behind. A stable, etc. Red gravel all over this yard. North of it were terraced slopes, with fruit trees, flowers, etc., on the terraces. Steps led up to more land on the crest and northward. Built 17—. Mr. Hall was married 17—.

Here had been extensive excavations. The Register says (17 Register, p. 27), it had been called “the Pit” (gravel pit). As Mr. Hall owned more to the east than Dr. Swan did, no doubt this expression ‘Pit’ applied to Lot J, and in some degree to Lots K and L.

J—house of Benjamin Hall, Jr. (Dudley Hall). Built A. D. 1786. Excavation here also, but the north steep nicely terraced; [p. 52] steps leading up to large garden above on the north, and to cow barn northeast opening to Governor's lane.

K—Eben Hall house (Mrs. Thomas S. Harlow) was a large three-story city house with, I think, brick ends. Built A. D.——. An absurd little back yard, mostly perpendicular; steps up to a part. Title too shoal to permit excavation very much northward.

L—Isaac Hall house, built A. D.——. Three-story, back premises like K. Samuel Buell lived here about——. I knew his daughter Charlotte. She married and went to live in Schaghticoke, N. Y., near Troy.

Dark granite and red gravel.

These always came together. When red gravel appeared it was certain that dark granite was or had been in the same quarry. In fact the former was not a gravel at all, but disintegrated granite. This granite had so much iron in it that its oxidation colored everything. It was handsomer than Quincy stone. It would appear in great masses, some unchanged by rust, others hard as ever but colored like the gravel. The final form was the so-called red gravel. This stone was in demand. Mr. Joseph Grinnell built a house of it in New Bedford in 1830, and told me it came round Cape Cod in a schooner. Many gravestones, too, were made of it. Perhaps a search in Boston might find it in some house fronts. There are some puzzles, however. Why did Mr. Peter C. Brooks, in 1820, build his arch over the canal of stone from Concord, N. H.? (15 Register, p. 31.) He covered that arch and all the promenade from his mansion to the lake with Medford red gravel. Why did the Halls, who owned both quarries, build (1786) those steps behind the Dudley Hall house of granite from Tyngsboro? (15 Register, p. 65.) Mr. Magoun built his street wall in front of the Library (A. D. 18—) of Medford dark granite. (15 Register, p. 14, says Mr. Brooks built street walls of dark Medford granite.) Was the supply limited?

Query: Was there ever a stone-cutting establishment in Medford? Was the retaining wall built of Medford dark granite?

Medford red gravel was very popular. To say nothing of Med ford gardens, I saw it in many a Cambridge garden in 1845. It was on the pathways of Mount Auburn, and years earlier on the walks of Boston Common. It rolled hard and firm, did not tend to mud, had no weed seeds, and its color was fine. The Boston Transcript of July 13, 1870, says that Colonel Royall, shortly before 1739, made his stately garden walks at the Royall farm of gravel imported from England. I cannot quite believe this story. The colonel, though the father of a Tory, was no fool, and he must have seen the handsome and excellent red gravel of Medford a good while before he died, in 1739.

[p. 53]

In the foregoing lines is a lot of information given by no other writer, which is replete with interest. The Magoun place (or library building) was probably (see Register, Vol. XXII, No. 1) erected in 1834-5. Its frontage on High street is about equal with those enumerated B to G (inclusive), about two hundred feet, which latter limit is reached at the line between the Centre school and Telephone and Historical buildings.

The ‘cobbler's shop’ must have been just east of where Hillside avenue now is, but the hill has been more excavated since Mr. Stetson's boyhood observation. ‘Aunt Polly's’ candy shop was probably well known to him and other Medford boys. He locates the tan yard as across the street from the old sexton's house, and in his notes inquired about the gravel of the varge-way. Were we to venture an answer, we would say both kinds, red opposite this point and white farther south, as a natural sequence. When the Metropolitan sewer was constructed (in 1892) at this point in High street, much red gravel was dug out from its trench, some of which the writer made use of for walks, and found it as good as Mr. Stetson said.

The ‘great excavation’ back of the ‘Josselin house’ at F was made greater to accommodate the High school house extension, as a look at the grounds will witness.

note.— ‘High School No. 2’ is the front of the two similar sections of the Centre school building, not including the entrance wing, and originally standing with gable end toward street, and built in 1843.

Of the other five north-side houses mentioned, H to L (inclusive), we of today know, as three still remain—fine examples of old-time construction.

H, the Richard Hall house, was demolished, and stood on the site of the Telephone Exchange.

I was later the home of Dr. Daniel Swan, after his death the property of the town of Medford. In 1881 it was sold; the purchaser moved it to Mystic avenue, [p. 54] where it now stands. Only recently it has undergone extensive renovation and is now (at number 41) a three-apartment house. An excellent transparent photograph of this house is in the Historical rooms.

The three other houses enumerated by Mr. Stetson still remain in excellent condition, the last being that of Captain Isaac Hall in 1775. On that historic morning, ‘glorious for America,’ there was ‘a clatter of hoofs in the village street,’ and here Paul Revere made a brief stop and aroused Captain Hall. Just inside the fence is a weather-worn block of Medford granite, on which is a bronze tablet stating the fact, placed there by the Sons of the Revolution in June, 1905. Since (and including) 1916, as a part of Patriots' Day celebration, a rider personating Paul Revere, with cavalry escort, stops at this house, which the present owner and occupant, Mr. Edward Gaffey, kindly opens for the occasion. Old High street is thronged while waiting his arrival and during the memorial exercises, which are always patriotic and interesting. Then the rider, amid the cheers of the multitude, sets off for old Menotomy.

Mr. Stetson had (probably) not been in Medford since 1875, the centennial of Patriots' Day (at which time he was ‘chairman of the day’ at Lexington), but the remembrance of his boyhood home was vivid. His queries open to us a new field of thought, and like him we would like a view of this particular locality ‘as nature left it,’ or as Miles Standish, and later Cradock's men, found it.

Nature works many changes in the lapse of centuries, but the hand of man has certainly dug away much of ‘the great bastion of Pasture hill,’ the ‘crest’ of which at Summit road is one hundred twenty-seven feet above the ‘Ford at Mistick.’ The bridge of the ‘bulky red nose’ (the turn of Grand View avenue) just behind the Historical building is sixty-six feet, and High street at Governors avenue is twenty-five feet above mean low water.

Remembering that the ford was practicable only at [p. 55] that stage, what wonder that the country road to Woburn (‘obornrode’ of record) got the name of High street.

Who will answer Mr. Stetson's queries? and what artist will draw the map or paint the picture?

Governors avenue as it was.

Illustrative of the preceding pages and to show one of the changes that has occurred, we reproduce from the street commissioner's report for 1895 one of his illustrations with the title he used. The point of view is on the southerly side of High street and the tract in view was owned by the town. Upon it had been the home of Dr. Daniel Swan, which during its municipal ownership had been rented for $200 a year. In 1881 it was sold and moved away. There was a barn in the rear, in which the highway department for a time kept its horses, to the annoyance of the immediate neighbors. It also dug out gravel in quantity for the repair of the streets. We never heard this excavation called the City Hole, like another not far away, but it did acquire the name of the ‘gravel pit.’ In 1875 the somewhat famous Magoun Battery1 was needing quarters, and like some other projects, the plans therefor were somewhat flighty. The good sense of the selectmen was shown in the erection of a serviceable building which could ultimately ‘be used for something else’ over the unsightly hole already excavated. The hole was then used for the shelter of the carts and road-scraping machine, and served the purpose well. For some years it was open to public view but later enclosed by a board fence. The folding gates were of flat palings loosely bolted to the rails; a counter balancing weight to each lifted them against the tall posts.

The Magoun battery organization was dissolved by an order of the adjutant general, sent to the selectmen. The building was then used by the highway department as [p. 56] a stable and so continued until the erection of the new buildings on Swan street. The building shown in the background is that on Porter road, numbered 16. The board fence is seen ending at the high bank in the rear of the next house to the right. The house partly seen at the left is the Richard Hall, later known as the Perry-Delano house, and on the site of this is the present telephone exchange. The rear end of this house lot was blunt-wedge-shaped (tapering to fourteen feet at its end) which corresponded to the depth of the school lot, but much elevated. Against this wedge was the battery building placed, and a little farther away from High street is now the Historical Society's home. Since its building, by an exchange of land, the diagonal boundary has been eliminated and during recent months the original telephone building has been much enlarged.

Governors avenue is a double street with grass plot between, beneath which is the great water main to Spot pond. Beyond and eastward from the society's home is the spacious building of the Medford Women's Club, and, last year, was erected the modern apartment house called ‘The Bradlee.’ There is room yet for more improvements and the changes are going on.

Treasures and a man.

On a pleasant afternoon, recently, I made a pilgrimage to one of Medford's many historical shrines. Upon cautiously opening the door of the building to which I had just applied a large key, I was instantly met by a gust of cool, musty air, ‘old-fashioned’ air, if you will. The second of my senses to respond to the strange but interesting surroundings was distracted in all directions; but as I ascended the first short flight of stairs, soon centered on some large, peculiarly-shaped vessels, black with age, which were suspended from the ceiling. These, on a close examination of the cards attached to them, proved to be rum kettles. The mention of such objects probably [p. 57] discloses to you the place of my visit; however, further description may furnish enlightenment.

After inspecting in the alcove some very old documents and letters which were encased on the walls, and also many very queer articles of all sorts under glass, I mounted more steps and entered a door on the left. Again my eyes rested upon a most wonderful display of antiques and relics. Some dated back to pre-Revolutionary days; others represented various periods in the history of Medford.

After spending not a few enjoyable moments among these very old memorial preservations, I returned to the outer room and climbed a longer flight of iron stairs.

Here, on the second floor, I found the sanctum sanctorum. At the farther end, near the windows overlooking Governors avenue, was the desk of the librarian and editor of the Historical Register. Facing down the long room, and lining the walls on either side, were numerous books and pictures—a most business-like, yet home-like office, library and museum. Without any doubt, this executive officer and other members of this Historical Society spend many pleasant and profitable hours in this ‘research laboratory,’ with its abundant sources of information.

But on this particular day, I was indeed very fortunate. While eagerly viewing a picture of old Medford, I heard someone turn the key, and to my great delight, the librarian himself appeared in the doorway. What a hearty welcome and handshake I received! His very presence supplied the ‘missing link.’ He was, in effect, a living oracle; and in the course of our conversation, I was convinced that he devoted himself untiringly to the endless work of this valuable institution. Although not a young man, his spirit of youth was exceedingly evident. His keen wit and sense of humor inspired me beyond measure; and it was a joy to talk with one who commanded his English so excellently. His humor influenced me twofold: some of his sage remarks causing me to smile ‘internally’; others to laugh outright. [p. 58]

A more versatile character I never met—so eager and alert to answer my questions and to make explanations. He commanded my respect the moment he greeted me, and the longer we conversed, the more I realized that he was a real ‘honest-to-goodness’ man.

I wished that I had a camera to photograph Medford's historian-editor at his desk; the influence of character on setting, and vice-versa was at perfection.

Later on, he chanced to mention the fact that he once had differences with a man as to whether or not there was ever any statuary on the front porch of the Public Library. His friend persisted in the negative, and calling to his wife, asked ‘if it wasn't so.’ She replied that there ‘used to be such a state of affairs,’ thus corroborating the affirmative. However, the dubious gentleman was escorted to this very room upstairs, and, after seeing a fine picture of the Public Library adorned with the said statuary, was emphatically convinced.

I told Mr. M——that his reference to the statuary reminded me of my recollections of the statuary on the old Magoun estate that I was accustomed to see as a youngster, when my grandmother took me to ride in my baby carriage. Quick as a flash he replied, ‘Why don't you write an account of it? Entitle it, “Reminiscences from a baby carriage” ? A great many people have undoubtedly forgotten that sculptured likenesses ever existed on those premises.’

‘I remember,’ he added, a twinkle in his eye, ‘that I happened to see those very statues carried off on a hay-wagon one day.’ The way in which he told these incidents was indeed most amusing.

In accordance with his suggestion, I wrote him the following letter:—

Editor of the Register: Medford-by-the-Mystic, Massachusetts.
honored Sir:—

It pleases me, truly, to reply to your communication of the eleventh of this month. In effect, I esteem it a great privilege to [p. 59] be acquainted with you, both through our interesting conversation of a fortnight ago, and the missive which I have at hand, this present moment.

Methinks, Sir, in regard to your request, that such an exquisite conveyance as a baby-carriage is not of too remote an age to be considered in this note. However, I do not deem it of sufficient importance to compose a dissertation on a vehicle of this type; and, therefore, will humbly proceed to state the facts regarding the matter at issue.

When a very small boy it was my distinct good fortune to be possessed of a carriage, similar to the type mentioned above. Yet more dear to me was my revered grandmother who provided the means of locomotion.

One of our favorite rambles was that extending up High street to Puffers corner. Objects of interest and outstanding features on the route became firmly fixed in my mind, after traversing that particular way so many times.

Among those sights which captivated my fancy the most, was the statuary adjoining the front yard of the old Magoun estate, two doors below the ivy-covered Grace Church. Then, too, I wondered at the awe-inspiring urns whose massive forms rested on the strategic points about and upon the spacious porch. To me, Sir, the mansion itself seemed as impressive as the statuary, and presented a somewhat mysterious appearance. I always thought that its inhabitants were deceased, because as it happened, I never chanced to see anyone about the grounds, nor any signs of life within. The silence of the whole scene and especially that evidenced by the dead white figures cast its spell over me.

I have tried, Sir, to some degree of accuracy, and to the best of my ability, to portray my recollections of that which has seen its better days.

I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,

Reference and comment.

In this issue are the observations of two Medford High School boys, as to what they saw along High street. The building where the younger attended is well known to us. That of a century ago which Mr. Stetson went to may be seen in our frontispiece. They resembled each other in two respects at least—both were built of brick and enlarged as need required. The [p. 60] earliest (there have been but three) was well back from High street and, as shown in the view, closely adjoined the horse-sheds of the third meeting house. It was probably considered up-to-date as schoolhouse architecture then was.

In the Register, Vol. XVII, p. 76, Mr. Stetson gives an interesting account of his school days which our readers will do well to consult.

It will be noticed that Pasture hill looms up in view behind this early temple of learning, whose necessary adjuncts are also depicted. The original drawing from which our cut was made was the work of one of the boys before the advent of photography.

As that early high school ‘did not fit for college,’ Mr. Stetson and James Hervey finished their preparation at the Day Academy on Forest street. A picture of this also hangs in the society's library; little has as yet been written of it. Both these gentlemen graduated from Harvard in 1849. It has never been suggested that these ancient schoolboys published a ‘Review,’ as is done quarterly ‘by students of the Medford High School’ of today. Its latest issue, 56 pages, is a ‘Graduation Number,’ June, 1923, No. 4 of Vol. XXIV. James Percival Abbott, editor. We find the first issue to have been May, 1893, (six pages), W. H. Griffiths, editor. This was fortnightly. The Public Library has no complete file. Continuous publication would make thirty-one years. Apparently there were seven years of suspension. If so, the Register ranks second in time of continuous publication, the Mercury being first and M. H. S. Review third. Like those early high school boys, its editor has entered upon a college course at Harvard.

We congratulate the present school, the contributors to the Review, and also its editorial staff, on their success. [p. 61]

1 See Register, Vol XVII, p. 26.

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