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Medford Square in the early days.

The following address by Moses W. Mann of West Medford was delivered before the Medford Rotary Club.

[Continued from September issue.]

I have spoken thus far of the beginning of Medford, not as a town, for it was not; nor was this junction of roads we call Medford square a civic center when the people living here began a town government.

Unlike every other place in the colony, there was no house of worship here till 1696, and no church formed till 1712. Neither was Medford represented in the General Court till 1689, sixty years after its settlement. Its growth had been very slow. The purchasers of its twenty-four hundred and fifty acres were but four. In two generations their numbers were still small, increased by a few newcomers, like Peter Tufts and the Wades and Brookses. Two of their substantial houses remain today. When they built the first public building (note they called it their meeting-house), they found their central location, not here by the road-junction and bridge, but a half mile westward, on a great rock beside ‘Oborn rode.’ And so in their anomalous position, with no local government, they applied to the General Court to be orientated—otherwise ‘to know where they were at.’ And they found out, by getting this brief answer, ‘Medford hath been and is a peculiar and hath privileges as other towns as to prudentials.’

This enactment was a little more verbose than [p. 64] ‘Charlestown Village is called Wooburne’ or ‘Sagust is called Linn,’ and is the nearest approach to incorporation Medford ever had as a town. But mind this: it was not Medford is a peculiar town as Mr. Brooks in his history says, but ‘a peculiar.’ Our genial city clerk can show you that word peculiar used as a noun in the old record book, which I have myself read, and it is an exact copy of the colony or province record in the Massachusetts archives. Having thus been shown the way, the Medford people got busy about their ‘prudentials as other towns’ and organized a local town government.

The slow years rolled on, population slowly increased, travel over the roads which had taken the place of the Indian trails came through Medford to capital Boston. Taverns were built to accommodate the slow travellers, and three generations more lived here in the Medford of another century, while its civic center moved eastward a little down Ma'am Simonds' hill, rested awhile beside the brook and there built a second meeting-house and a first schoolhouse, and these were succeeded by ones of statelier type still farther eastward.

The old bridge retained much of its early length and primitive simplicity, when one spring midnight there dashed hurriedly over it a lone rider and turned westward and roused Captain Hall—one of the last episodes ‘of colony days when we were under the king.’ The people he alarmed turned out bravely, did their part in Revolutionary days and became citizens of a new republic.

The process of building newer and better dwellings has ever been going on and in the early nineteenth century came another street — the Andover turnpike, now Forest street. Around the junction of the five roads it was compactly built, and the locality came to be called the market place or business center. Seven years, a Medford citizen, John Brooks, was governor of Massachusetts-his house was on the Savings Bank site.

There came a change in the religious thought of the [p. 65] people and the building of another house of worship in 1824. I presume its people called it their meeting-house and those remaining at the old called that, theirs. When the selectmen called the annual town meeting to be holden there as of old, they were refused its use, and the court sustained the First Parish in its action. So the town found itself without a meeting-house and proceeded to build one, i.e., the Town Hall, that served for eighty years. Thus the civic center of Medford migrated to and fro, coming back to very nearly the spot where the first settlement began.

Within our own recent memory a dozen substantial buildings have been removed from this center, and others are going. At the seventy-fifth anniversary of Mystic Church, a speaker alluded to its early days as those of ‘ox-carts and shirt sleeves.’ Those were the days of the market place, when a long row of ox-carts loaded with wood and farm truck were ranged along High street, and the clerk of the market was an important personage. At that time it was a survival of former customs.

Ship building had its real beginning in 1802, but distilling was begun long before, and the cracker baking was an important industry. There were several docks, or inlets from the river, where molasses was unloaded to supply the four distilleries, which were running on full time. But one of these buildings now remains, the garage on Riverside avenue. Another, long used as the railroad engine house, has just been demolished, making place for the new and imposing (?) passenger station. A large lumber yard, with its old tide mill and wharves, where the lumber schooners unloaded, was in evidence beyond. The mill and pond are no more, and we lose sight of Gravelly brook at Salem street, but it still flows underground to the river. With the building of ships up-stream came the construction of a new bridge with its teetering draw spans, and newer structures close beside the river. [p. 66]

The town hall, built in 1834, was then the most important building. Planned by a noted architect and well built, it served its purpose long and well, passing through the vicissitudes of two fires, one moving and various alterations; and still remains in the memories of the people it served.

Only last week it appeared in print to remind us of days agone. What a kaleidoscopic view would be presented, could we see a sketch of the first log cabin here erected, the old Tufts house and Porter's ‘Royal Oak Tavern,’ the Porter House, just demolished, Mrs. Buel's that preceded the town house, the good old town hall and—shall we add, a city hall, or its plaster model— now in storage.

Besides those fires in the town house, Medford square has been several times visited by others more disastrous. Its two old-time sky-scrapers, standing in this spot, and others took their places on both sides of the river, notably the Green grain mill and elevator, now Leahy's building. The railroad station had its fiery trials also, and others await it. Note the views of the town hall and see how much lower the square used to be. In April of '5, time of Minot's Light storm, its trial was by water, the tide so high that boats were used in the square.

During the ‘60s a horse railroad ran its cars from Winter hill to River street, better known as Dead Man's alley, because it bordered the old graveyard. But in 1874 they ceased to run, and finally the tracks were taken up to await later days and electric power.

Now, Dead Man's alley is to be widened, and with it will go another landmark, the house of Constable Richard Sprague, built in 1730. At the apex of the triangle still stands the three-story brick house, recently vacated and soon to disappear. This is the last vestige of the first comers of the square and marks the apex of land valuation. With the exception of its store windows, there has been practically no change in it during the time since I first saw it fifty-five years ago. [p. 67]

Howard's store has been heightened a story, the railroad building several times repaired, and the passage through Angier's building (next Leahy's), closed. It was there I bought my first ton of coal, and upstairs in the other little building, paid my first Medford tax bill to Captain White, the collector, who bid off the service at lowest rate. The selectmen had a front room in the town house, but the rest of the lower floor was rented for stores, till the police station was placed in the rear end.

George Delano had the coal business, later at Angier's, and was enterprising enough to put in the first Medford telephone, running a wire up the river side to Macy's little store in West Medford, where he took orders. He tried to interest town officers and citizens in it, but with no success. They had no use for the ‘plaything.’

One day Macy told him there was a fire up there and George rushed across Main street to the police station with the message, but it fell on incredulous ears—and there was nothing doing. About a half hour later Cunningham's omnibus came down on its regular trip, and the driver told people of the fire and inquired where the fire department was.

The old Dr. Tufts residence was torn down in 1867, and in 1872 Dr. Weymouth built a substantial wooden building, with Tufts hall on the third floor. This, with the three-story brick Hall house and the modernly called City Hall annex, all gave way eight years ago to the socalled Medford building. This annex is worthy of more than passing notice. It was the home of Thomas Seccomb, built for him about 1750. In later years it was used as a tavern, and David Simpson was the popular landlord in more recent days. There used to be a covered porch in front, with a balcony, where often the Medford band played. After its purchase by General Lawrence, it was used by the city for some of its offices.

Next was the reading room and a dwelling long ago removed and the big spreading horse chestnut tree, and [p. 68] the home of Governor Brooks. This latter was too large to remove as its purchaser intended, and it was demolished. There was Pasture hill lane, leading to the old Wade house, built in 1680, the Bradlee road of today. Then came the ‘sociable row’ of five Hall family houses, three of which still remain to show us what the old-time construction was.

The fourth (Benjamin Hall's) was later the home of Dr. Swan, and after his death, the property of the town. It was moved to the old Medford turnpike now called Mystic avenue, and very recently rejuvenated into a three-apartment house. Governors avenue has taken its place, and the Richard Hall house, later demolished, giving place to the Telephone Exchange.

I must not wander much farther west, but must note again ‘the bulky red nose’ of Pasture hill, back of the Centre, or old high, school. Do you note the deep cut into the hill for the enlargement of that building, then called ‘Gog and Magog’ or ‘Siamese Twins,’ and do any of you men remember the elevation which used to be behind Mr. Colby's, and that long flight of granite steps in it up to Mr. Hall's garden?

All the changes in High street, as far as the Unitarian parsonage, came after 1830, when Thatcher Magoun, Sr., built his famous house, now the Public Library.

On this side of the Armory was the first Grace Church, now a double dwelling, and near to it was the engine house, built when they ran with the machine— the old hand tub. This has been moved and is now the Grand Army hall.

The Orthodox Church, built in 1824, was burned in 1860 and rebuilt on the same site. Do any of you men remember the old presidential campaigns, with their torch-light processions and fireworks? Medford Square had its share in them, and still has a reminder of them heard daily. In 1860 the contest was a four-party one. The Constitutional Union Party's nominees were Bell and Everett. The State committee purchased a bell to [p. 69] use in their demonstrations, one of which was here in Medford. It chanced to be the same weight and tone as that destroyed in the fire, and at the close of the campaign was purchased and placed in the new church tower on High street. In 1870, the town procured its second clock, also placed there. The bell still has this inscription, ‘Massachusetts for the Union, the Constitution and the Enforcement of the Laws’ which meant then to include the ‘Fugitive Slave Law.’ The words ‘Bell and Everett’ have been chipped away. When that church and the Mystic united, both were placed in the new tower on Salem street.

The building was sold to the Roman Catholics and was used for some years by them till the erection of St. Joseph's, farther up the street. In its remodelled form we can find it the store of Page & Curtin.

Medford post office was in various places in this square,—a century ago in Mr. Porter's store, on Main street, the building just recently demolished. Then the stage coach was the public conveyance used.

Henry Richardson (one of the 1818 Club) wrote:

Our railroad was not running then,
     The project was not broached,
And those that chose to ride to town
     Went in J. Wyman's coach.

In every morn, at 8 A. M.
     'Twould stand with open door,
Beneath the willow in the square,
     Just by George Porter's store.

The stump of that old willow may be seen in the view of the Porter house.

In 1847 came the Medford branch railroad, then as now, a terminal—now more terminal than ever—good service and much patronized; expected to be continued on to Stoneham, and road bed partly graded thither.

A mention of the square would not be complete if the town pump was omitted. Indeed, the Fire Department [p. 70] engineers always mentioned it in their report—generally, ‘The town pump is in working order.’ Medford square once had a double acting one, i. e., two pumps side by side operated by a swinging lever, and the Medford boy who could work it was some boy.

But in 1870 came the Spot pond water, and soon after, exit the town pump. But in the more recent days, the big iron vase and the stone watering trough that succeeded it have gone too, and the horses that used to use them, likewise gone.

I don't remember ever seeing an ox-team in Medford square, and the farmers and milkmen used to wear a long blue frock, reaching well toward their heels in winter. ‘Shirt sleeves’ was a summer condition. Present costume is abbreviated to short skirts, knickers and bobbed hair of the younger female contingent. Foster's lumber team was three and four horses, tandem, and often one big square mahogany log from Boston was a load for a four-tandem up to the mills at Winchester. I think they called it a string team. At the corner of Forest street was a fine old-style house where there used to be a bakery. The four-story Bigelow building took its place in 1880, the first modernizing change. But before that, the old houses beyond, called ‘Rotten row,’ gave place to the four-apartment block called Doctors' row, so recently refitted by Sinclair and others. The big, threestory house, now beyond Gravelly brook, was moved out to give Mystic Church its place.

Next was Withington's bakery, the home of the Medford Cracker, and that of C. P. Lauriat, the gold beater. Beyond these, except for the Methodist and Baptist meeting-houses, for so they still called them, Salem street was residential for living and dead, for the old burial ground still remains with its rows of tombs under the sidewalks and River street.

In 1880 the old drawbridge disappeared and the twoarch granite bridge was built. Of course, you remember all about the recent changes, its widening and the dam [p. 71] and lock construction, which says to the ocean tides, ‘thus far but no farther.’ Medford square has been an ever-changing place. Slow, very slow, at first, but in recent years how many, and often we wonder, what next.

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