previous next

The ‘Cradock’ house, past and future.

[Read before the Medford Historical Society by Ruth Dame Coolidge.]

THERE is something peculiarly sacred about old tradition. The halo of antiquity hangs about an old house, imbuing it with the mystery and romance of days long gone. So when the modern student ventures to dispel the haze with the rude breath of scientific criticism, he is assailed as a heretic and a vandal. About the Cradock house was such a halo, and even today, my little resume of all that I could glean about the old brick house on Riverside avenue (properly Ship street), is headed by the title of Cradock house. And in spite of all we can do or say it is probable that it will be known as the Cradock house for years to come. A lie travels a mile while truth is getting his boots on, runs the old proverb, and the tradition which apparently assumed its first form in the splendid history of Medford by Rev. Charles Brooks is more potent than the infinite accuracy of Judge Wait, Mr. Walter Cushing, so long teacher of history in our Medford schools, John Hooper and Moses Mann. Even the Transcript, up until 1914, published religiously every week in the Strangers' Directory, ‘Cradock house, Medford. Built 1634, the first brick house in the colony, and the oldest house standing in North America. Every brick was imported from England. Named from Matthew Cradock, governor of the Massachusetts Company in New England.’ It is hard enough for Medford to lose its shipbuilding, its rum, and now its only ‘oldest in America’ possession.

However, much still remains. The land, at least, on [p. 38] which the house was built, belonged to Governor Cradock, and we still have the romance of the early founding of Medford. In fact, the historians, if they destroyed the authenticity of the Cradock house, wish to lengthen the span of Medford's life by extending it backward to 1628, or 1629 at the latest. So, in their opinion at least, we are stealing a march on Boston, founded in 1630. But our city seal reads 1630, and I suppose we shall be unable to contend against that tradition also. I believe, however, that so many must feel as bewildered as I did, must know that the Cradock house is no longer the Cradock house, yet be unable to account for the change, or to build up any traditions about the polluted shrine, that I am attempting in this short talk to sum up as simply as I can some of the early traditions of Medford, and especially of the old house which we should know by the name of the Peter Tufts house.

It is not my purpose to enter into the learned historical controversy, but the history of Medford must move backward inevitably to Matthew Cradock.

Our Matthew was born in the days when Shakspere was still living, and the romance and adventure of Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake spurred the lives of Englishmen to the real attainment of dreams. We today can hardly imagine the effect upon an ambitious lad in London of ships up the Thames from across the enchanted Atlantic discharging their treasures from newly discovered lands.

Little is known of the private life of Matthew Cradock, save that he was very wealthy, was an intimate friend of John Winthrop, and one of the prominent London citizens in the reign of James I and Charles I. He was apprenticed, as most men of business probably were, and in his case to a skinners' company in Broad street, London. So it must have been that while Cradock was a mere stripling he saw the skins valuable for their fur which were brought into London from across the seas, and must have peopled that continent of North America [p. 39] with multitudes of wolves, beavers, foxes, and martens, awaiting transformation into pounds sterling. How he acquired his wealth we do not know, but he traded in all the seas. He invested two thousand pounds in Persia and the East Indies, sent ships to the Levantine, the Mediterranean and the Baltic provinces. If one could only identify him with Dick Whittington the romantic appeal would be complete. Also romantic is the very name of his first wife, Damaris.

But Cradock was apparently a shrewd and careful business man. He turned now from the east to where ‘westward the star of empire takes its way’ and invested his money in New England. We may as well confess here, that financially the investment was probably a failure, as far as Medford was concerned, but Medford is forever the debtor of the broadminded, far-sighted merchant. In 1620 James I had granted to the Grand Council for New England all the land between forty and forty-eight degrees north latitude, straight through to the South sea. In 1628 this court granted to the Massachusetts Bay company, consisting of six persons, all the land between a line everywhere three miles south of the Charles river and a line everywhere three miles north of the Merrimac. It is to be hoped that the Charles and the Merrimac in those days ran straight and parallel. Six persons were rather a close corporation for all this land and in 1629 twenty other persons, Cradock included, were associated with them and the corporation took a charter under the title of Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. And by this charter the king constitutes ‘our welbeloved the saide Mathewe Craddocke to be the first and present Governor of the said Company.’ As Mr. Cushing, whose account I am closely following, continues to say, this company was formed primarily for purposes of trade, and to trade there must be a trading post at the other end. The first thing to do then was to found a settlement, and over this colony was to be placed John Endicott [p. 40] as governor. Hence the existence of two governors, Cradock, governor of the company in England, and Endicott, governor of the settlement in Salem. Thus Cradock was more like the president of one of our business enterprises, and, as a matter of fact, he never saw the city of Meadford or the house which so patiently bears his name.

We all know from our newspapers that Salem celebrated its tercentenary this last summer of 1926; the London company, in fact, in the year 1626 sent over a colony which settled at Nahumkeeke (Salem), with a few at Cape Ann (Gloucester), and a few at Nantasket. All these, according to an article by Mr. Mann, were under the supervision of the local governor, John Endicott. Now from this colony of Salem, there were apparently some men who had come over in the interest of Cradock. It had been a pretty difficult thing to sit on one side of the Atlantic and make out grants for men on the other, and it is little wonder that grants overlapped and conflicting claims were made. There was the Plymouth plantation, then the Massachusetts Bay colony, and then north of that grant, which extended as you remember, three miles north of the Merrimac, was a grant to Mason and Gorges. The title to the land of the Massachusetts Bay colony, by virtue of its nearness to the Merrimac, might therefore be in doubt. A certain John Oldham, who claimed under the grant of Robert Gorges, was apparently also claiming a portion of this land south of Merrimac. Cradock suggested that his claim might be prevented by causing some to take possession of the chief part of this land, under the doctrine apparently, that, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ There is reason to believe, says Mr. Mann, that the farm at Mystic was planted in order to carry out this suggestion. As the General Court never granted any land in Medford to any man except Cradock, all settlers in Medford must have been bound to serve Cradock before leaving England. At all events (in the Charlestown [p. 41] records, 1664), John Green, in giving a history of the first comers, says:—

Amongst others that arrived at Salem at their own cost were Ralph Sprague with his brethren Richard and William who, with three or four more, by joint consent and approbation of Mr. John Endicott, Governor, did the same summer of 1628 (1629) undertake a journey from Salem, and travelled the woods above twelve miles to the westward, and lighted on a place situate and lying on the north side of the Charles River, full of Indians called Aberginians. Their old sachem being dead, his eldest son, by the English called John Sagamore, was their chief, and a man naturally of a gentle and good disposition. . . . They found it was a neck of land, generally full of stately timber, as was the main and the land lying on the east side of the river, called Mystick River, from the farm Mr. Cradock's servants had planted called Mystick, which river led up into; and indeed generally all the country round about was an uncouth wilderness, full of timber.

So Medford was already inhabited in 1629. These men returned to Salem and made their report, and Endicott in return wrote a report to Cradock in a letter from Salem dated September 13, 1628. It took just five months for it to reach Cradock, who three days later replied to it, in a letter preserved in the archives of our own State House. This letter, which Mr. Mann has personally examined, told Endicott that
the company had been enlarged since he left England, that he had purchased another ship, and was hiring two or three more, and was about to send three hundred colonists, one hundred head of cattle, and various supplies for the colony. He also directs ‘there hath not bine a better tyme for sale of tymber these twoe seven yeres than at present; therefore pittye shipps should come backe emptye. . . I Wishe alsoe yt there be some sassaffras and sarsaparilla sent us, as alsoe good store of shoomacke. . . if there is to be had, as we are informed there is, the like do I wishe for a Tun weighe at leasf of silk grasse & of ought elce yt may be useful for dyinge.’

One is reminded that Cradock had been apprenticed in a skinners' company, and doubtless knew the use of dyes for fine skins. Sumach leaves were used in tanning light skins and also to some degree in dyeing. He adds:
Alsoe I hope you will have good sturgion in a readiness to send us.

[p. 42] But what interests us still more is his direction that a ter reaching these shores
these ‘three vessels may go to the banck with 29 waigh of salt. . . lynes, hookes, knives, bootes and barvells necessary for ffishinge.’

Of course, the banks had long been known for fishing, and these ships were to go to the banks en route home, but the colonists would undoubtedly want the supplies they were to use on the banks. So Cradock directs
that then you send our barke that is already built in the colony to bring back our fishermen and such provision of salt if any remainder be and also of hookes, lynes & of use to you on all occasions.

Thus out of the lips of Cradock himself a bark was already built in the colony before ever Winthrop arrived or the Blessing of the Bay was launched. There is no account of any ship-building in Salem, Dorchester or Nantasket, so that the presumption is strong that Cradock's men whom the Spragues had found in Medford had already started in ship-building, the better to pursue Governor Cradock's ambition in his trading colony of importing fish to England. This is, of course, another assumption, based on probability rather than proof, but the account of Sprague's and the letter of Cradock do establish the settlement at Mystic earlier than 1630 and the launching of boats in the colony earlier than the Blessing of the Bay.

That the company, through Cradock, knew in February, 1629, of a bark already built here, proves that Endicott must have sent word to Cradock in his letter of September, 1628, and that the probability is strong that ships were built in Medford as early as 1628 and a settlement was already established at that date. In the spring of 1629 the company sent over six shipwrights, and provisions for building ships as pitch, tar, rosin, oakum, cordage and sailcloth in all these ships, with nine firkins and two half-barrels of nails in the ‘Two Sisters, two thirds for the company and one third for the governor.’ These letters show that Governor Cradock, [p. 43] anxious for a good trading adventure in skins, fish and curious other exports, was eager to encourage ship-building.

While Cradock was thus planning carefully ahead for the success of his trading corporation, affairs in England took a more serious turn. Parliament had been dissolved and the Puritans saw before them a period of oppression. New England became desirable more as a refuge than a trading post, and Puritan leaders were anxious to inhabit this grant of land. They were unwilling to go, however, if the control still remained in England. One sees already the same spirit which made our Medford men a century later refuse to be ruled by hands across the sea. So the company signed an agreement with the Puritan leaders, Winthrop, Dudley and Saltonstall, by which the latter agreed to transport themselves and families to Massachusetts, provided the charter went with them. By this arrangement Cradock lost his position as governor, but his interest as an investor remained the same. So in June, Winthrop landed in Salem with ten vessels, the Arbella as flagship, but they found Salem unsuitable and pressed on to Charlestown. But there were settlers already there. Our Puritans were exclusive. They went to Boston and found Blackstone,— one man occupying apparently the whole city. Then they scattered and explored. Winthrop sailed up the Mystic six miles and apparently liked it. So he writes later to his wife, ‘My dear wife, we are here in a paradise.’ This letter, by the way, was dated the twenty-ninth of November. Winthrop was probably an optimist. He says at another time, ‘Here is as good land as I have seen there, though none so bad as there. Here can be no want of anything to those who bring means to raise out of the earth and sea.’ Winthrop chose for himself the Ten Hills farm and built his own house near the site of the Ford factory of today. He had, however, a farmhouse for his men in Medford, the original start of the Royall house. [p. 44]

Imagine Medford at this time. There was the peaceful river, with the tang of the salt tides, and in Medford centre a great barn and a dwelling house erected for Cradock's men. These are indicated on early maps and references made to the great barn for many years probably about opposite Medford theatre. At the edge of the river an occasional boat lay ready for quick ferrying, though the ford which was commonly used at low tide ran across the river west of the bridge and ended behind the Armory. A rude path, following the line of the famous Indian trail, led along what is now the present location of Main street to the square and then westward along the river from High street to the weirs, or the narrows, where the Mystic ponds pour into the narrow river and where the Indians had their rude nets for fishing. The hill behind the Centre school sloped abruptly to the river, leaving a little sandy beach at the margin. Behind were the forests, except where the land had been cleared and where a park had been impaled for ‘Master Cradock's cattle, until he can store it with deer.’ One is reminded that Washington had deer at Mount Vernon, and Cradock must have thought perhaps of the English country parks. Near the center of the present Medford square was a little pond, large enough for ducks to take shelter in passing.

What manner of houses would be built by these first settlers? Our modern historians answer quite conclusively, wood. Bricks were made in the colonies at an early date, and we find Winthrop building himself a stone house, and though it apparently was not built on sand, yet a storm arose, and as the stone was laid with clay, for want of lime, two sides of it were washed down to the ground. Brick houses of the type of the Cradock house are signs of more settled times. It is probable, also, that the men of Cradock would settle directly on the line of travel, near the ford and the Indian trail. Of course, they probably would barter skins with the Indians, as was the custom everywhere, and they might [p. 45] ship them via Salem or Boston. But more decisive than probability is the proof afforded by some old maps.1 On one map of about 1633, the way from Mistick ford to Salem is indicated by two dotted parallel lines, and the farmhouse of Mr. Cradock is located between the way and the river. The word ‘Meadford’ appears close beside the house, and in the margin, said to be in the handwriting of Governor Winthrop, are the words ‘Meadford. Mr. Cradock's ferme house.’ In a second very careful map of Mr. Winthrop's Ten Hill farm, dated October, 1637, the Cradock farmhouse is located as on the first map. Neither map shows any indication of a house near the present ‘Cradock’ house, which is remarkable in the sparsely settled condition of the colony, if the house were really standing at that time. This house in Medford square then was probably the residence of Cradock's agents, where all the business of the colony was transacted. It was without doubt the meeting house and the tavern. According to the indication afforded by the maps it was close to the present Garrison house, behind the savings bank, while the great barn was probably on Salem street, about opposite the Medford theatre. A deed of 1722 mentions ‘the place where the great barn formerly stood, bounded north upon the country road to Malden.’ It was apparently a landmark. It was probably one hundred feet or more in length, with a lean-to. The location of this great barn, as recognized by later deeds, accords exactly with the Ten Hill farm plan of 1637, and was undoubtedly the Cradock barn. The brick house now standing on the hill back of the savings bank was built by Major Jonathan Wade after he came into possession of his estate under his father's will. In the year 1692-93, Mrs. Elizabeth Wade, widow of Major Wade, petitioned the Court of General Sessions of the Peace for an abatement of taxes assessed upon the Wade [p. 46] estate by the selectmen of Meadford, claiming that by reason of sickness and also by reason of his (Major Wade's) great charges in building the personal estate was very much reduced. This would seem to indicate the great charges were incurred in building the brick house. This house and the Peter Tufts house, and probably the part of the old house at the corner of High street and Hastings lane, the Deacon Bradshaw house, are only houses standing today that were standing in 1690.

Medford was practically a private plantation owned by two men, Cradock on the north and Winthrop on the south. By the General Court both had access to the weirs at Mystic lakes, where vast quantities of smelts and alewives swarmed in season. I can remember myself when the alewives in early spring darted up Meetinghouse brook. By a grant of the Court, also, ‘all the land betwixt the lands of Mr. Nowell & Mr. Wilson on the East, and the partition betwixt Mystic ponds on the west, bounded with the Mystic river on the south and the rocks on the north is granted to Mr. Matthew Cradock merchant to enjoy to him and his heirs forever.’ In 1636, the indefiniteness of ‘the rocks on the north’ was changed to read, ‘a mile into the country from the river side in all places.’

If Cradock owned practically all of Medford north of the river, he was a generous and responsible landlord. Yet he was greatly tried by the shortcomings of his agent. He complains pathetically in January, 1637, in a letter to Winthrop:—

The greyffe I have beene putt to by the most vyle bad dealings of Thomas Mayhew hath & doeth so much disquiet my mind as I thanke God neuer aney thing did in the lyke manner.

And again:

Most extremely I ame abused. My seruants write they drinke nothinge but water & I haue in an account lateley sent me Red Wyne, Sack & aquavitae in one yeere aboue 300 gallons besides many other to intollerable abusss, £ 10 for tobacco, etc.

[p. 47]

These quotations were made by Mr. Cushing with his usual humorous acumen from the Colony records. It is very characteristic of Cradock, however, that, imposed upon as he was, unsuccessful as he was, he developed his land with steady perseverance, building the Cradock bridge, offering fifty pounds toward the support of Harvard College, and in 1640, the year before his death, writing:

I have great cause to acknowledge God's goodness & mercy to me in inabling me to undergoe what I have & doe suffer by New England, & . . . if my heart deceyve me not, I joye more in the expectation of that good shall come to others there when I shall be dead and gone then I greyve for my owne losses, though they have beene verry heavey & greate.

So much for Matthew Cradock, the founder and patron of Meadford, whose interests in the new colony also stretched from Marblehead to Shaweshynne and Watertown. And so far, I have touched only on what he probably built; and left still unsettled the question of the Peter Tufts house—where the heretics and vandals aforesaid began their devastating work.

After the death of Cradock, in 1641, the little colony languished. The support of the early governor was withdrawn, and as the land was largely in control of nonresident owners, the burdens of taxation were difficult. There was nothing resembling a town government. But after the death of Cradock, as his holdings began to be sold out in parcels, the inhabitants of Meadford were held responsible for repairing their highways and the bridge over the Mystick. The difficulties arising from these various problems caused an informal gathering of owners and a rudimentary town government was formed; a ‘peculiar,’ the General Court called it. Mr. Mann went to the State house and various places of authority, to determine what technically a ‘peculiar’ was, and defined it at last as did our former city clerk, Allston Joyce, ‘as parish, precinct or district, not yet erected into a town, but having authority to act on most local legislation [p. 48] but not to choose a representative to the General Court.’ This peculiar condition of Medford lasted until 1674, when Medford had her first recorded town meeting. Under such conditions there is little in the recorded history except contentions with Charlestown, Woburn, Reading and Malden in regard to the upkeep of the bridge. Our annals are indeed peculiar in being free from the excitement of war and danger. The Indians were peaceful and conciliatory. Winthrop and Cradock both took exceptional pains to obtain grants of land, legal in the sight of the Indians as well as in that of the King. As far as early legends may have arisen concerning the necessity of garrisons or forts, with overhanging second stories for defence, or cannon holes for use of muskets, there is no possible warrant in the known relation of Medford with the Indians. The houses were few; as far, indeed, as the historian, Mr. Brooks, had been able to determine, there were hardly a hundred known freemen with their wives and families before 1680. But after the death of Cradock there seems to have been quite a thriving business in the development of property, at least in the sale of lots, and it is by a careful study of these old records that our local historians have determined that the so-called Cradock house was not the Cradock house at all, but the Peter Tufts house.

Have you ever noticed, when taking an auto trip through some older part of New England, that if you note one old house of peculiar construction, you are almost certain to observe another, or three or four like it, before you leave the settlement? It sometimes seems as if one architect or master builder hit upon one especially happy design for one township and perpetuated that in several variants over the whole community. We would not say that our ancestors built lines of double deckers, or little, cleverly proportioned houses cheek by jowl along an entire street. Land was more reasonable. But a certain fashion in architecture did prevail in colonial epochs as at present. So it is hardly surprising [p. 49] if, at the end of the seventeenth century, when a reasonable prosperity and security had settled upon the little village on the Mystic, three eminent citizens should have constructed brick houses, similar in size, material and design, not for fortification, but for peaceful residence. There rose, at least, however tenable this theory, in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the Peter Tufts house, the Jonathan Wade house, called the Garrison house, behind the savings bank, and the Nathaniel Wade house, formerly on Riverside avenue, long since torn down. All were men of wealth. I have tried to find with coarse curiosity the source of their wealth, but can find no trace. It should properly have been in brick yards, or ship building. But if the list of purchases of land made by Peter Tufts alone between 1664 and 1697, as recorded by Mr. Brooks, be authentic, their money must have been made in real estate deals that would completely overshadow the Lawrence and Brooks development put together. In short, our Peter Tufts, in thirty odd years, bought some eight hundred and thirty-five acres, including cow commons, in twenty-seven different transactions, and let go sixty-one and a half. Only his death, in 1700, made a pause in his grasp on the land development idea.

And who was Peter Tufts? The original Peter was born in England in 1617, and came over to America about 1640. He settled originally in Malden, but wisely visited Medford and apparently at once bought land here. This Peter Tufts had three sons and six daughters. The oldest son was also Peter Tufts, commonly known as Captain Peter Tufts. This younger Tufts is the centre about whom we must cluster any new legends we are to build up about the Peter Tufts house. Born probably in Malden, in 1648, he first appears on the records of the plantation of Medford in 1676, having already, at the age of twenty-eight, been honored as selectman. The title to the great oblong of land, including that of an old dwelling house and barn, had passed [p. 50] to his father in 1677, but by some special agreement Mr. Tufts was in possession at an earlier date. Perhaps he was a tenant in the old dwelling house while he looked over the land, though he had land of his own in Malden. Apparently his oldest son came with him to the old farm on the land there. It was not long, at all events, before the construction of the new home was begun.

It is easy to let an unhistoric imagination range freely over the situation in the Tufts family about 1670. If Peter was married or about to marry, and old Peter had with him in the old farmhouse a family of two other sons and six daughters, the house may have been a little crowded. Congestion did not trouble families as much then as it does today, apparently, for Captain Peter brought up a family of seven sons and seven daughters in the Cradock house, but this family was well to do and Captain Peter was captain of the military company and for thirteen year's Medfords first representative lo the General Court. At all events, father or son built the new brick house, and Captain Peter was probably the first to dwell in it, somewhere between 1677 and 1680. I like to think that perhaps he took there his first bride, Elizabeth, in 1670, and that there was born in 1676 Anna, the first birth recorded on the extant Medford records. At all events, it must have been standing ready for his high-born second wife, Mary Cotton, who came in 1684 to him with the blood of two New Hampshire governors and a poetess in her veins, for she was granddaughter of Ann Dudley, the poetess. Her father had the splendid name of the Reverend Seaborn Cotton, and belonged undoubtedly to that distinguished family of ministers. The first son by this marriage was named Cotton Tufts, a son who died too soon to suffer jest upon his name. Another child who was to mean much to the later history of Medford was Simon Tufts, graduated at Harvard in 1724, the first physician of Medford. It was Dr. Simon Tufts who was the warm personal friend of Isaac Royall and used his powers of persuasion to hold [p. 51] Sir Isaac to the cause of the colonies, and who, after the latter's voyage to England, became agent of his estate, protecting it against the fury of the patriots and endeavoring to gain permission for Royal] to return to his native home. The son of Dr. Tufts, Dr. Simon Tufts the Second, was also one of Medford's trusted physicians.

There was, of course, a third Peter Tufts, oldest son of Captain Peter. A short time before his death Captain Peter Tufts conveyed to this oldest son of his forty-five acres of land on the north side of the way to Blanchard's, i.e., Wellington,

Also the east half of my brick house, as it is divided by the fore door and stairway, the stairway to be in common up chamber and garret, and egress and regress for the east end inhabitants to use the door without doors that leads into the cellar, and one-half of the cellar room and that at the easterly end of it. But my son Peter his heirs and assigns shall not pass through y the north room into the cellar but shall make a way under the stairs into the celler for their own use.

Mr. Hooper, to whom I am indebted for this quotation, goes on to add that, ‘From the above it will be seen that “the door without doors that leads into the cellar” was at the west end of the house. The door that leads into the cellar from the outside today is at the east end of the house. The passageway into the cellar through the north room, the use of which was forbidden to “my son Peter,” was probably by means of a trap door in the floor, a method of reaching the cellar much in use in those days.’ This same curious division of the house into two parts by will was also practiced by Mr. Ebenezer Cutter, a later owner of the same house, in 1750, when he set off the west end to his widow and the easterly end to his eldest son. Only Mr. Cutter was a little more liberal to his eldest son, specifying that he ‘shall have the liberty of putting in casks at the other cellar door in the widow's part of the house and taking them out as he may occasion.’ One's imagination, if not severely tempered by Mr. Mann, might run riot on a house thus divided against itself. I cannot find to whom Peter Tufts left the west end of the house, [p. 52] but probably to his second, or possibly his third, wife, Prudence by name. In this case the stepson and his family in one half, were cautioned from infringing on the new wife's share, and perhaps a young wife, in the other half. Probably the fourteen children never lived in the house together as they were thirty years apart from oldest to youngest, and the oldest were married and out of the house. This same method of division I know was in another old home—the Manning homestead at Billerica.

To revert a moment from hard facts to my creative imagination, in its proper limits, that old house must have been very charming when new, with its view from its knoll by the road south over the flooded marshes or the winding river, with Wellington and its old house and one or two other houses lying to the east; behind, the ploughed land and the wood lots, and westward the little settlement of Medford. Undoubtedly there was work in the clay pits close by the house, and a subdued hammering of early boat-builders off and on along the river's brim. Doubtless there was a giant woodpile in the back yard, and the ten sons had labor enough at home to keep them from lounging on the street corners. If Peter Tufts wished to go into Boston, he went along the road to Medford square, for the other end of the road to Blanchard's (Wellington) ended with the gate to that estate, which lay at that time in Malden; he then crossed the Cradock bridge and went along Main street. If he intended to ferry across at Charlestown, he went the main route to Charlestown. If, however, he wished to drive a load into town, he must turn through Harvard street, pass through Powderhouse square, go to Cambridge, over past the present stadium, into West Roxbury, and then over the neck into Boston. Probably, under the circumstances, Peter and his wife felt that home-keeping hearts were the best and that the place for children was in the home. There were fish to catch in plenty in the spring, wild duck, turkeys and geese in [p. 53] spring and fall, boats to be launched by the river and, above all, the chores for a large family. And there must have been the frequent passing of boats up the river, tediously tacking about the curve called ‘Labor in Vain,’ or else lighters loaded with brick or timber floating out to the river's mouth. Every family had its lane leading back to the clearing, and at that time there lay just beyond the brick house, on the south side of the road, near that curve on which we now swing into the boulevard toward Boston, a great pine swamp, the stumps of whose trunks still tell the passers of woods perhaps once like the cathedral woods of Intervale, but now perhaps indicating by their submergence, a slow subsidence of this land. This wood and the fells behind must have afforded wood for ship-building and for fire. On Sundays the family attended the first meeting-house, where Captain Peter built a pew for himself in the best location, an indication of his important position in the community as well as of his wealth.

I have not attempted to trace the course of the house through all its varied history. It soon passed out of the hands of the Tufts family, and we have no traditions to build up about its part in the Revolution. It cannot there compete with the Royall house. It finally passed into the hands of General Lawrence, who with his usual public spirit and generosity, saved the old building and put it into repair. He might doubtless have done more had not the fallacy of the Cradock legend been discovered at that time, so that the house lost its claim to a unique position.

Last week, taking as my guide, cicerone and friend, Mr. Mann, I spent a morning in studying the old house. Of course, much of the interior is restoration, and even the bricks of some of the old fireplaces are replaced. But take it all in all, it is still a house of exceptional charm within. The seven great fireplaces are a marvel to our modern eyes. Mr. Mann took his yardstick and measured the great one in the southwest room. The inside [p. 54] measurements were five feet, five inches in length, three feet in depth, and four feet, five inches in height. There was a curious little oven in it which Mr. Mann had never seen, and which therefore must be peculiar, and the corners were both rounded in the inside. I think Mary or Elizabeth suggested that to the Captain. In both the rear northern rooms were kitchen fireplaces, with brick ovens and cranes, so that both families could cook independently. I was interested in a neat panelled wood closet built in close to the front chimney, which must have been filled with wood every morning by one of the ten boys. There were also great iron S's on the exterior which pierced the wall and were bolted on the great main beams (shackles, Mr. Mann called them), to keep the brick walls from bulging. The oval windows in the lower rooms were clearly for ornament. No gun could ever have been manoeuvred into a position for action. Those in the attic might have been used. The old attic was perhaps the most interesting place of all. There one could see to the best the great original timbers, the flat boards that formed the roof under the shingles, and the flues of the fireplaces verging into a V as they joined beneath the roof. Mr. Mann and Mr. Warren, the present owner, described the hard labor expended in working out the boards, which had been made by a two-man whip-saw. They pointed out to me also the fine old chamfering on the great cross beams and the fine ornamental string courses of brick without. The bricks were said by older tradition to be of a different shape and color from those used elsewhere in Medford, and so the tradition ran that they were imported from England, but the bricks of one of the old Wellington houses which was torn down were similar.

One other splendid example of local tradition we learned while we were there. That was that an ancient tunnel once ran from the northwest corner of the building out to a point some two or three hundred feet to the north, thus permitting escape from Indians in extreme [p. 55] cases. If one has a really old house, why not make the most of it? And that was one of the finest legends I had yet heard. The present owner, Mr. Warren, had been twice warned by old residents to avoid trouble when he excavated cellars for the new houses he is building on Spring street. Twice was the ground reported to have caved in previously, in both instances along a given line leading toward the house, and Mr. Warren was warned of the danger. Added to this was the fact that part of the cellar in the northwest corner was unexcavated, and doubtless concealed the other terminal of the tunnel. My enthusiasm was stirred. A splendid opportunity to compensate for the lost glory of the Cradock, earliest house, tradition! But Mr. Mann was inexorable. He pricked up his ears at the mention of the cave-ins, but said Mr. Warren would find no tunnel. I added the fact that some ten or twenty years ago two boys had discovered indisputable treasure in an old iron kettle on the very grounds, tradition already says, on the northwest corner of the Cradock-Peter Tufts house; but while Mr. Mann admitted this, he seemed singularly unready to grasp a pick-axe and start in digging. When I went home and studied this account I noted that the bulkhead entrance at present is on the east, while it used to be on the west, and I wondered whether it were not possible that the supposedly unexcavated portion of the cellar concealed this old and doubtless closed entrance. There was no trace of it within or without, but the fact of the western, now concealed, cellar door may have given rise to the legend of the tunnel entrance. Wonderful opportunity for original research.

So much for the past of the Peter Tufts house. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities2 called attention to this house in a recent bulletin, and compared it with a similar house which has been restored, and says:

The Peter Tufts house has been much modernized, but could be [p. 56] put back into its old condition with the help of a competent architect. It certainly deserves such treatment for it is a building of unusual interest, having had apparently a triple casement window on each side of the front door.

I suppose I could not see with the eyes of an architect, but I could see no trace of the triple casement windows, but all of us who love Medford and appreciate its old houses must feel that it would be a certain sacrilege to change the form or construction of the old brick house. It is singular that Mr. Warren, if he contemplates changing the building into a two-family house, has plenty of precedent from the former owners of the house, two of whom, at least, deliberately willed the house as a two-family residence. This was done, however, without remodelling, and with a sacrifice of privacy of family life which the modern generation is unwilling to make. If any society is to take an interest in its future, it must be our own. What shall we do about the preservation of the Peter Tufts house?

From Carpentry and building, August, 1884: engraved by its artist.

1 See Historical Register, Vol. I, No. 4: ‘Maps of Medford of Different Periods,’ by William Cushing Wait, and ‘Governor Cradock's Plantation,’ by Walter H. Cushing.

2 Bulletin, April, 1915.

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 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.
1629 AD (5)
1628 AD (4)
1630 AD (3)
1680 AD (2)
1677 AD (2)
1676 AD (2)
1670 AD (2)
1664 AD (2)
1640 AD (2)
1926 AD (1)
April, 1915 AD (1)
1914 AD (1)
August, 1884 AD (1)
1750 AD (1)
1724 AD (1)
1722 AD (1)
1700 AD (1)
1697 AD (1)
1693 AD (1)
1692 AD (1)
1690 AD (1)
1684 AD (1)
1674 AD (1)
1648 AD (1)
1641 AD (1)
October, 1637 AD (1)
January, 1637 AD (1)
1637 AD (1)
1636 AD (1)
1634 AD (1)
1633 AD (1)
February, 1629 AD (1)
September 13th, 1628 AD (1)
September, 1628 AD (1)
1626 AD (1)
1620 AD (1)
1617 AD (1)
November 29th (1)
June (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: