Trolley Tour of Mendon Village Center
Rock the Block – 10 September 2022
1. 2:30 – 3:30
2. 3:45 – 4:45
3. 5:00 – 6:00
4. 6:15 – 7:15 (will leave as soon as we’re full to get the most day light)
(As we travel from Memorial Field to Clough School)
Good afternoon, my name is Rich Schofield and I will be giving you a guided tour through the Mendon Village Center which is listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places and has, since then, been identified as an historic district by vote of the Town. The sites we will see will provide an opportunity to not only see the homes of historic Mendon residents, but also to talk to you about their accomplishments which we hope you will find fascinating.
This trolley tour is the result of the creativity and passion of John Trainor, a long time Mendon resident, who could not be here today and I want to publicly thank John for letting me stand on his shoulders. Also, very much responsible for the content of the tour is Mr. Dick Grady, a long-time teacher in our school system, and who IS with us today and will help me with any difficult questions. In my view, Dick is the most knowledgeable Mendon historian alive. Thank you, Dick.
(While at Clough School ready to pull out on North Avenue)
We’re going to take you back to the 1660’s. This was just forty years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. The land was inhabited by Nipmuc Indians and there were forests and meadows everywhere. There were no roads, only paths that connected Indian villages. We are very close to one of these paths right now that became the primary route for the first settlers to come to Mendon from Braintree and Weymouth. There is a stone marker, placed by the Historical Society, across the street from the far driveway that marks where the path was located.
(Turn right out of Clough and head to Founders Park)
It crossed this street, went by the Clough School gym, and then toward Lake Nipmuc. This was one of the paths that connected Boston to New York and, in 1672, King Charles, II of England ordered it to be widened for the construction of a road for postal service. It would be called Middle Post Road. This put Mendon right on a major road ensuring travelers passing through and boosting trade in the area.
Ten years before the path was widened, Moses Payne and Peter Brackett purchased land called Squinshepauge (squinch-che-pog) from the Indians for twenty-four pounds in English money. This is equal to a mere $2,900 in today’s money. The settlers first called it Netmocke Plantation, and on May 15, 1667, it became a new frontier town and was renamed Mendon, after a town in England.
(While at Founders Park)
In 1668, the first meeting house was built near the monument at Founders’ Park right over there (point to the monument). It was 22 feet by 22 feet which is smaller than this tiny brick building! This area was the center of life for the new town. It was here that settlers worshipped and held town meetings.
A saw pit was dug here so that logs could be cut into planks to build settlers’ homes. People made their living by farming and hunting while avoiding wolf attacks and getting along with the neighboring Nipmuc Indians.
Mendon settlers were working hard on their farms, worshipping on Sundays, and attending town meetings, but tragedy struck the town on July 14th, 1675. Five Mendon residents, including the wife and son of Matthais Puffer, were killed in an attack by Nipmuc Indians lead by a chief named Matoonas. The Wampanoags, under the leadership of King Philip, banded together with the Nipmucs and Narragansetts, to destroy the English settlements in an attempt to drive the settlers out of their native land and send them back to England. This was the beginning of the King Philip War. Although King Philip sounds like an English name, it was the name of a Native American chief whose original name was Metacom.
After a few months, families moved back to Braintree and Weymouth because they didn’t have enough ammunition, supplies, and soldiers to defend themselves. With the town now undefended, the Indians returned in February of 1676 and burned the meeting house and all other buildings to the ground. The new frontier town was destroyed.
However, the war continued and by the end of August in 1676, the Native Americans were defeated. Within four years (1680), the pioneers moved back to the charred ruins that had once been their homes and Mendon was re-settled. A new meeting house was built in 1680, and yet another was built only 10 years later in 1690. Little by little, Mendon gradually recovered from King Philip’s War.
(Trolley heads towards Old Cemetery).
In the 1680’s, the town really started to grew. It hired Josiah Chapin to build a saw mill on Muddy Brook stream. It hired a minister and a blacksmith. Growth continued into the 1690’s and reached fifty families. Even the physical size of the Town grew as three more square miles were purchased and added in 1692. This parcel today is known as Purchase Street in Milford near the Milford Library and Memorial Hall. You might be thinking, “that’s not in Mendon, that’s Milford” well we’ll get back to that in just a minute.
The first policemen were hired in 1693. They were called tithing men and their jobs were different than they are today. They tried to make sure that people didn’t swear in public, drink too much in the taverns, or fall asleep in church.
(While at Old Cemetery)
On the right is Old Cemetery. This is the final resting place of many of the town residents that lived through the things we will talk about in the 16, 17, and 1800’s. Many tombstones have been preserved and are still readable. This preservation was done with the backing and financial support of several organizations including the Mendon Historical Society, the sponsor of these tours today and the people of Mendon through Community Preservation Act funds.
The society independently does much to preserve the history and artifacts of the Town of Mendon including running the Historical Museum now located at 15 Hastings Street. If you enjoy this tour, please won’t you consider a donation of $10 per person to help us continue our work? It would be most appreciated. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
(Trolley takes left onto George Street and stop at the Friends Cemetery)
On the left, in the 1600’s, the town set aside 20 acres of land for the purpose of education. It was called “School Meadow”. In 1701, Deacon Warfield was hired as the first schoolmaster. The first schoolhouse was built in 1709 at the site of where the George Cemetery is presently located.
On the right is Quaker Cemetery. There are no reverends in the Quaker religion and belong to a group of Protestant sects called the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers worship in a Meeting House and not a church. So, this is also the site of Friends Meeting House built in 1729 which was torn down in 1850. Quaker families such as the Gaskills and Aldrichs lived in this neighborhood.
(Trolley takes a right onto Gaskill Street)
As we make our way to our next site, let’s return to the topic of the 3 square miles of land in Milford that was added to Mendon near the end of the 1600s. That’s Milford, not Mendon. However, Mendon used to be much larger than it is today. We are often called “Mother Mendon” because many of the surrounding towns used to be part of Mendon before they broke away. Not only does Mendon have many “children”, but also 2 “grandchildren” as follows.
• Milford (Hopedale)
• Blackstone (Millville)
(As we pass the end of Gaskill Street)
On the right is a house presently owned by Mr. and Mrs. David Touchette. It was built about 1830 by Nahum Gaskill, a Quaker, a farmer, and a grain dealer.
(On Providence Road at the Albert Gaskill house)
On your left is a Queen Anne style home built by Albert Gaskill, son of Nahum Gaskill, in 1906. He built this house after living about fifty years in the house across the street. Some of his adult children had moved back home, and there were family issues. Albert and his wife decided to build this new house and let their children deal with their issues themselves.
(Trolley is on Providence Road, heading back to the center of town.)
As we head back to the center of town, we are going to look once again at Old Cemetery where Mendon’s forth meeting house was located. Before we do, can anyone tell me how many times over the last 18 years a new police station came up for approval to the voters? The answer is 5 times. It was rejected 4 times starting in 2004 until finally in May of 2017 it was finally approved.
The story was a little different with the fourth meeting house. Many people, starting in 1728, argued for three years on whether it should be built. After many meetings and lots of bickering, its construction was approved in 1731 and it was completed in 1736.
(While across from Old Cemetery)
Look to the far end of Old Cemetery and you will see a white barn. This was the location of the fourth meeting house.
In the early stages of the American Revolution many fiery town meetings were conducted here. Cries for liberty and freedom from the Sons of Liberty in Boston also echoed off the walls of this fourth meeting house.
At a town meeting here on March 1st, 1773, a group of scholarly Mendon patriots approved nineteen resolves that drew the attention of the founders of our country. Think of a “resolve” as a rule that these men felt that the Colonies and England should follow. Two examples include that the Colonies should decide what form of government we should have and that the main focus of government should be the happiness of the governed.
These 19 resolves heavily influenced the Suffolk Resolves which were more influential in the creation of the Declaration of Independence than other sources because it was the first time that complete non-compliance with British authority was recommended. So, our Mendon ancestors made a big impact.
(While Trolley turns left on Maple Street heading for the Unitarian Church)
On July 4, 1776, a new nation was born. The thirteen colonies became thirteen states. Mendon and our new nation began to grow and prosper. Mendon center continued to be a stagecoach stop, a resting place for travelers, and a new road was built in 1804 that went through our town connecting New York, Hartford, and Boston. It was called the Hartford Turnpike.
Moving forward in time to the period of 1820-1845 we come to a timeframe that has a special place in our town’s history, because it is regarded as Mendon’s Golden Age. Many of the buildings still exist from this time period, also known as the Federal Period. The roads were dirt and gravel, not tar. There were no electric wires or automobiles. Many of the people who lived in this small neighborhood were wealthy. They had very important jobs like bank president, superior court justice, doctor, attorney, congressman, state representative, state senator, newspaper editor, founder of a new religious community, and ambassador to European countries.
(While at the Unitarian Church)
This beautiful church that we are in front of, the Unitarian Church, was built in 1820, on land that had been owned by Seth Hastings. Its best-known minister was Adin Ballou, who served from 1831-1842. He would go on to be the founder of a new religious community a few miles away called the “Hopedale Community”.
This majestic church with its one-hundred-and-thirty-foot steeple was also known as the fifth meeting house. However, it would only end up being used for religious purposes, not for town meetings as church and state continued to separate.
(Trolley leaves church driveway and heads left on Maple Street stopping at #26 on the right.)
To your right, is a gray house built in the 1770’s by George Keith and used as an inn for weary travelers on Middle Post Road. When he died in 1774, his widow remarried, and they continued to operate their home as an inn. An interesting part of its history is that when it was first built, it was located about one hundred yards from here, across from where the Mendon Greenhouse used to be. Seth Hastings inherited the house and had it moved to its present location around 1818.
(Move forward to next house on the right #24)
The next house on your right was built in the 1830’s by Seth Hastings’ daughter, Mary, and her husband, Attorney Caleb Hayward. It was a guest house for members of their family when they came for visits. The Haywards actually lived up the street.
(Move forward stopping at #7 on the left)
Across the street, on your left, is a large, white house at 7 Maple Street. In 1838, it was a wedding gift to Seth Hastings’ son, Attorney Charles C.P. Hastings, and his wife, Anna. Hastings Street is named after them.
(Move forward and start taking a left back onto Main Street, but stop parallel to the island with the war memorial)
The red building on our left has served as a town gathering place since 1818. It has been a general store, a post office, a stage coach stop, and a restaurant. It is presently owned by David Lowell. The store has had many names over the years one of which was “Danny’s Variety Store” which many Mendon old timers still refer to it as. The large building to the right built in 1950 is used primarily as a post office. Prior to the construction of this building, the Wheelock and George Boot Shops were located just to the rear and operated in the 1800’s. The downstairs of this building once hosted a bowling alley.
The Mendon Town Hall was built in 1840. It was designed by Dr. John Metcalf, who was also an amateur architect. It was first named Harrison Hall after President William Henry Harrison. Its use has been for town meetings, social events, and a school including Mendon High School from 1868 through 1903 on the top floor.
See the big triangle at the top of the front? See the plain columns with the flat blocks at the top and the bottom? These are elements of Greek revival architecture and the style of column is referred to as “Doric”.
Just to the left is, of course, the former Taft Library building which was originally the Union Evangelical church in 1896 and called the Union Chapel. In 1920, Mrs. Rosa Taft donated money for the town to purchase and update the building to be the library. It is now used for town offices.
(Trolley turns left onto Main Street and stop at the brick building on the left)
The small brick building to the left was built as Attorney Seth Hastings’ law office in 1820. In addition to being a lawyer, Seth was a Worcester superior court justice, a bank president, a school commissioner, a town treasurer, and a bakery owner. He also served as a state senator and congressman.
In 1825, the law office was also used as a post office, because Seth’s son, Attorney William Soden Hastings, became post master. It later became a general store and then a tailor shop in 1857. The town bought it in 1889 for the purpose of storing documents and town records. Today, many people refer to the building as the Records Room. In the days of the trolley, the conductors jokingly called it City Hall.
The Historical Society and Historical Commission are fighting to save this building. The situation surrounding this building is quite complex and it has lots of issues that need to be resolved such as the floor that has been ravaged by moisture and powder post beetles and a significant water issue in the basement. This is one of many ways that the volunteers of the Mendon Historical Society spend their time to preserve our history.
(Move to the brown shingled building on the left)
The brown house on the left was built in the early 1800’s by Dr. Alexander Thayer. He died in 1826, and Dr. John Metcalf replaced him as the town physician at this residence until 1831. Remember that he is the man that architected our Town Hall. Reverend Adin Ballou lived here during the 1830’s before moving to create the religious community of Hopedale in 1841.
(Move up to between the church on the left and the house after that)
When the church on the left was built in 1828, it was the North Congregational Church. A group of people who had more strict beliefs than the Unitarian Church wanted to form their own parish. Over the years it has also been a Methodist Church and, since 1897, it has been a Baptist Church.
The next house was built in 1820 by Enos Goss, a stagecoach driver. The house also served as a tinner’s shop and a harness shop. Mendon’s first telephone was installed here in the 1890’s. Enos was a North Congregationalist and donated the land for the church next door.
(Move up to the brick building on the left)
The next building was originally the Mendon Bank, built by Seth Hastings in 1825. He was the president of the bank. When he died in 1831, his son, Charles C.P. Hastings took it over as a law office. It was also used as a private school and a residence. In 1881, it became the Taft Public Library until the library was relocated in 1920. Until recently it was used by the Historical Society since 1920.
To the right is Ammidon Tavern. It was built in 1745 by Ichabod Ammidon. Many travelers from Boston to New York stayed here overnight. People from Charlestown, Massachusetts stayed here in 1775 after the Battle of Bunker Hill because British soldiers burned their houses. Nathan Hale and his troops stopped here for breakfast in 1776. President George Washington stopped here in 1789 to visit his army friend, Philip Ammidon, but Mr. Ammidon wasn’t home, so the President went to an inn in Uxbridge to stay overnight. It is now an antique shop operated by David Lowell.
The next two buildings we will discuss used to be, but are no longer, located across the street. We will discuss them because they are two important case studies that show how we can get historic preservation right and how we can get it wrong.
Let us start with the Silas Dudley house. Across the street on the right hand corner of North Avenue is a vacant lot where once stood the home of Mr. Silas Dudley. He was a prominent gentleman farmer who owned land on both sides of Route 16 as far as the drive-in. He was a highly respected town official and it was he who owned the property on which our Town Hall is located. The Taft family lived in a farmhouse here in the 1900’s. If that name sounds familiar to you it should. They are relatives of President William Howard Taft.
This house was torn down in defiance of a stop order by the State. This began the initiative to create our current demolition delay bylaw that says our Historical Commission can legally block demolition of historic buildings for 9 months while they work with the owner to negotiate some form of adaptive reuse instead of tearing it down.
Now let’s look across the street to Charles River Bank. Here first was Thompson Tavern built in 1674, but it was also the site of the Seth Hastings home. It was also the location of the Comstock boot business. The W.H. Comstock House eventually was constructed and remained there until 2008, when it was bought for $1 by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Zonghi and moved up North Avenue just opposite the new Taft Library. This came about after pressure to not destroy the building through legal action was applied by still-serving members of the Historical Society. We may not have kept the house at the original location, but we at least saved the building.
(Go left onto Hastings Street and stop at the next house on the right)
On the right was the home of a Revolutionary War widow, Mrs. Sarah Prince. In 1832, Dr. John Metcalf bought the house and lived here for the rest of his life until his death in 1892. He was not only a prominent physician, but also town clerk, town treasurer, state senator, and town historian. He was the author of a book called, The Annals of Mendon.
On the left, the house nearest Founders Park was the site of a brick building built in 1815 by Seth Hastings as Mendon’s first bakery. Many stagecoach travelers stopped here for refreshments on their journey from Boston to New York on the Hartford Turnpike.
In the house next to it, Anna Hastings lived after the death of her husband, Charles C.P. Hastings, in 1848. She lived here until the 1870’s. It was designed by Dr. Metcalf, who lived across the street.
To the right of Anna’s house, at the corner of Elm Street, is a house built by Holland Albee as a boarding house for the workers at his bakery. He bought the fourth meetinghouse from the town in 1843, dismantled it, and hauled the wood to this site. So this house at 8 Hastings Street is partially made from the wood of the old 1700’s building that played a part in the American Revolution.
(Move up to AS Jones on the right)
The large house across the street next to the greenhouse is now a private residence but was at one time where the Parkinson family lived and operated the Greenhouse. It was built in the 1820’s by Mr. Ebenezer Hayward, cashier of the Mendon Bank. We’ll come to an interesting story about the bank in just a minute.
Across the street, on the left, the large white building was built by Seth Hastings in 1821 as a private residence, but we don’t believe he ever lived here. It is actually made of brick, under the white vinyl siding. In 1827, a bakery was added to it and used until about 1860, when David Adams bought it. He converted it to an inn for summer residents who wanted to vacation at nearby Lake Nipmuc. We won’t have time to discuss it today, but Mendon used to be quite the tourist destination and people came from all over to vacation here. David Adams and his family operated the inn until 1885. It has been known as the Hastings House, the David Adams House, and the Mendon Inn.
(Move up to the Willow Brook Restaurant)
On the left is Mendon’s Willow Brook Restaurant where I’m sure most of you have probably eaten at one time or another. It is the site of a business started in 1920 by Freeman C. Lowell as a milk delivery service. He called it Willow Brook Dairy and later Lowell’s Dairy. A fire destroyed the building on July 13, 2004.
On the right, is a home built by William Metcalf in the 1840’s. He was a builder and the brother of Dr. John Metcalf, his neighbor. Formerly the home of many Mendon historians, including Herman and Bernita Devries, it is currently the new home of the Mendon Historical Society and its museum.
(Move up to the corner of Hastings and Emerson)
The large white house on the left was built in 1820 by Seth Hastings’s daughter and her husband, Attorney Caleb Hayward. He practiced law with his brother-in-law William Soden Hastings. His brother, Ebenezer lived with him for a while during the time the Mendon Bank was being constructed and during construction the China closet in the parlor served as a temporary place to store the bank’s money.
The farmhouse on the right was built about 1834 by Aaron Cook. He was a farmer, selectman, tax collector, and road commissioner. Horace Adams lived here in the 1870’s. In 1895, he invited some prominent citizens to his parlor for the creation of the Mendon Historical Society.
(Go left on Emerson and then turn immediately right into the parking lot)
This industrial park includes many offices and buildings, but hundreds of years before the building nearest Hastings Street existed, there was a beautiful farmhouse built by Colonel Calvin Smith on part of a large 123-acre parcel of land. The land was used as a training field for troops during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Included in the list of owners of the property are Seth Hastings and Jonathan Russell. Jonathan Russell moved here in 1818 and served two terms in the US Congress. Before that, he had been an ambassador to England, France, Norway and Sweden. After the War of 1812, he was one of the negotiators and signers of the Treaty of Ghent.
Although the house was still standing here in 1927, an airport was built. Phineas Millis operated a flight school and airport through the late 1930’s. Unfortunately, the condition of the once beautiful farmhouse continued to deteriorate and was finally torn down in 1964.
In 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette, who was the only surviving general from the Revolutionary War, was to pass through Mendon on August 23rd on a tour through the country. Russell was very excited to receive him at his home here and planned for a lavish celebration. However, the future president, John Quincy Adams, who also negotiated the Treaty of Ghent and was often at odds with Russell, managed to get the tour rerouted so as to not go through Mendon and denied Russell the pleasure of receiving the Marquis. Apparently, during Adams’ presidential run, Russell had questioned the wisdom of his position of being willing to trade off navigation rights on the Mississippi River as part of the treaty. Clearly Adams was giving Russell some pay back.
(Turn left onto Hastings and return to Memorial Park via Taft Avenue)
As you’ve just heard, the history of Mendon Village Center is very impressive. We hope you enjoyed it and were pleasantly surprised by the richness of Mendon’s History. We are certainly not just “the little Town of Mendon”.
Now as we make our way back to the Memorial Park, I’d like to tell you a bit about the Trolley in Mendon’s history. Today we are in a modern luxury trolley. When we do this tour for the 3rd graders, we use an authentic looking trolley and we discuss its history in Mendon which begins in December of 1901.
It was called the Milford-Uxbridge Electric Railway and the first ride through Mendon was a big event with celebrations throughout the route. The trolley was decorated with flags. People cheered, rang bells, waved from their doorways, and applauded. Ladies waved handkerchiefs, town officials shot off a cannon, and many decorated their homes. It had a big impact on our town. With this new mobility, many farmers decided that they wanted to change jobs to work in a factory, or a mill, or a boot shop in another town. The trolley could bring them to and from work.
During the week, the trolley was used mostly to bring people to and from work and, of course, to bring children to and from school, but on weekends, the new electric railway had a different use. The trolley company also owned Lake Nipmuc Park, a new recreation area on the shore of Lake Nipmuc. The electric trolley brought in people from other towns to enjoy swimming, a boat ride, clambakes, dancing, vaudeville plays, and band concerts. People from out of town were spending money in Mendon, so the trolley improved the economy.
The trolley also changed the culture of people in Mendon and surrounding towns. People of different backgrounds and family histories were meeting each other, mixing, and marrying. A new cultural blend was beginning to take place.
From about 1901 to World War I in 1917, it was a way of life to take the trolley to go to work, to school, to church, or to Nipmuc Park. However, after the war, automobiles were being made less expensively. By 1928, the electric trolley was getting very little use, so it went out of business. The trolley system lasted only twenty-seven years, but it created the beginning of a time of change in how people lived and worked, and how land was used.
We hope you have enjoyed this tour of Mendon’s Historic Village Center and we appreciate any donation to help the Mendon Historical Society to continue to bring the history of Mendon alive for the people of the Town. Thank you