By John Trainer
Traveling through Mendon’s past is a captivating experience, especially doing so while riding in an Electric Trolley. On May 30th 2007 the Third Graders at Henry Clough School were thrilled to see a replica of the Milford-Uxbridge Electric Railway trolley pull up in front of their school to take them on a ride through Mendon’s exciting times gone by. The path that the trolley followed was very nearly the exact route that the famous “Mendon Electric Trolley” had taken during it’s heyday of 1901 to 1928.
As each third grade student boarded the trolley the conductor punched their token and welcomed them aboard. “Good morning, I am Mr.Trainor and I’ll be your conductor today” said John Trainor, the Chairman of the Mendon Historical Commission. “Welcome to the Mendon Trolley Tour. Your trolley is part of the Milford-Uxbridge Electric Railway system”.
“We are riding on an original trolley that has been converted to a bus. It no longer runs on electricity as it did in the early 1900’s. The trolley route that we will take today was established in December 1901 and it connected Milford, Hopedale, Mendon, and Uxbridge. The trolley tracks went right along North Avenue, just about where the sidewalk is in front of the Clough School. The old Mendon Center School was built in 1903 and opened in January 1904. Children who lived near the trolley route could take the trolley to school instead of walking or using a large horse-drawn wagon”.
“Today, the trolley will become a classroom on wheels. It is being funded by the Mendon-Upton Education Foundation. We are all grateful to this wonderful group for sponsoring this enriching educational activity. Thank you to Mr. Ted Wright, owner of the South County Trolley, for accommodating us today and to Mr. Rozen, principal, and also to the third grade teachers for making this event part of their curriculum. A special thanks should be given to Mr. Dick Grady, our historical advisor and to Mrs. Liz Wernig for her technical expertise.”
“We have a very special group of seventh graders who will serve as your tour guides. They are Jeremy Barefoot, Dillon Braile, Matt MacDonald, Richard Melpignano, Dana Perry, Stephen Sacco and EricValianti. After our tour you will be presented with an exciting PowerPoint presentation about the history of Mendon, compiled and presented by John Hodgens, Stephen Lucas and Drew Salvaggio.”
Throughout the day each third grade class boarded the trolley for their own special tour. “All Aboard”, screamed the conductor as he rang the bell. Then slowly, the trolley pulled around the Clough School and out onto North Avenue, heading south towards Mendon Village.
The tour guides informed the third graders that the trolley was in use from 1901 to1928, but on this special trip, the guides were going to take them back to earlier time periods, beginning in the 1660’s. This was just forty years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. The land was inhabited by Nipmuc Indians. It was made up of forests and meadows. The only roads were paths that connected Indian villages. One such path existed only a few feet from here. It is the way that Mendon settlers first came here from Braintree and Weymouth. The stone marker across the street from the Clough driveway marks the place where the path was located. The path would have crossed this street and gone straight through the land where the Clough School gym is now located and then on toward Lake Nipmuc. By 1672, King Charles the second of England ordered that paths connecting the new cities of Boston and New York be widened for the construction of a road for mail delivery and postal service. It would be called Post Road.
Moses Payne and Peter Brackett purchased land called Squinshepauge from the Indians for twenty-four pounds in English money. The settlers first called it Netmocke Plantation, and on May 15, 1667, it became a new frontier town carved out of the wilderness. It was called Mendon, named after a town in England. In 1668, the first meeting house was built near the location of the three large evergreen trees at Founders’ Park. The settlers worshipped here and held town meetings. A saw pit was dug so that logs could be cut into planks to be used for the construction of homes. The first meeting house was a square building, twenty-two feet on each side, so it was smaller than your classroom. This area was the center of life for the brave people in their new town. People made their living by farming and hunting. Amongst their biggest concerns for survival included putting a bounty on wolves and getting along with the neighboring Nipmuc Indians. This land in the center of town was owned by Joseph White.
In 1674, John Thompson built a tavern which served as an inn across the street near the site of the W.H. Comstock House. Travelers could get a meal there and stay overnight. Mendon settlers worked hard on their farms, worshipped, and attended town meetings. But tragedy struck the town in 1675. On July 14, 1675, five Mendon residents, including the wife and son of Matthias Puffer, were killed in an attack by Nipmuc Indians. The attack, led by Matoonas, was the first confrontation outside of Plymouth Colony. The Wampanoags, under this leadership of King Philip, banded together with the Nipmucs and Narragansetts, to destroy the English settlements and drive the settlers out of their native land and send them back to England. This was the beginning of the King Philip War.
A few months later, in February 1676, the Indians returned and burned the meeting house and all other buildings to the ground. The new frontier town was destroyed. The people moved back to Braintree and Weymouth. By the end of August in 1676, the Indians had been defeated. Within four years, Mendon was re-settled. Her people moved back. A new meeting house was built in 1680, and another in 1690. The new town had recovered from war.
In the 1680’s, the town grew. It hired Josiah Chapin to build a saw mill on Muddy Brook. It hired Grindal Rawson to be its minister. It hired James Bick to be the blacksmith.
In the 1690’s, the town grew to include fifty families. Apparently, there seemed to be a need to increase the town’s size, so three more square miles were purchased from the northeast. This parcel today is known as Purchase Street in Milford near the Milford Library and Memorial Hall. The first policemen were hired in 1693. They were called tithing men. They tried to make sure that people didn’t swear or curse in public, drink too much in the taverns, or fall asleep in church.
Just south of the Post Office on Providence Street on the right is Old Cemetery. This is the final resting place of many of the town residents in the 1600’s, 1700’s, and 1800’s. Many tombstones have been preserved and are still readable.
Taking a left and moving down George Street we can see almost immediately on the left some open land where 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. It is also the site of Friends Meeting House built in 1729. It was torn down in 1850 and sold. Quaker families such as the Gaskills and Aldriches lived in this neighborhood.
Turning right onto Gaskill Street and traveling to the end, we see on the right the house presently owned by Mrs. Lois Taylor. It was built about 1830 by Nahum Gaskill, a Quaker, a farmer, and a grain dealer.
Heading back up Providence Street we see immediately on the left a very lovely (and recently restored) Queen Anne style home built by Albert Gaskill in 1906. He built this house after living about fifty years in the house across the street.
As we head back to the center of town, please take a look again at Old Cemetery. Look to the far end, and you will see a barn. This was the location of Mendon’s fourth meeting house. Many people argued for three years on whether it should be built or not. After several meetings and bickering, its construction was approved. It was completed in 1736 and used until 1820.
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. A new road was built that went through Mendon connecting New York, Hartford, and Boston. It was called Hartford Turnpike. The road that we are on now, Maple Street was part of it. It was completed in 1804.
The time period of 1820-1845 has a special place in our town’s history because it was Mendon’s “Golden Age”. Many of the buildings that exist in the village are from this time, known as the Federal Period. This village has many similarities to Old Sturbridge Village. The roads had dirt and gravel, not tar. There were no electric wires or automobiles. Mendon Village is in many ways very similar to Sturbridge Village.
Many of the people who lived in this small neighborhood were wealthy and well-to-do. They were of high professional status. Their jobs included bank president, superior court justice, doctor, attorney, congressman, state representative, state senator, newspaper editor, founder of a new community, and ambassador to European countries. It certainly was an impressive group.
Traveling up Maple Street we see this beautiful church on the right. We are in front of the Unitarian Church. It was built in 1819, on land that had been owned by Seth Hastings. Its best known minister was Adin Ballou, who served from 1831-1842, before moving a few miles east to be the founder of a new religious community called Hopedale. While in Mendon, he was also the editor of a newspaper called “The Independent Messenger”. This majestic church with its one hundred thirty foot steeple was also known as the fifth meeting house. It would only be used for religious purposes, not for town meetings.
As we leave the Unitarian Church driveway and head back down Maple Street we can immediately see on our right a lovely gray house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Dudley. It was built in the 1770’s by George Keith and was used as an inn. When he died in 1774, his widow married John Hill, and they continued to operate the 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 what is now the Mendon Greenhouse. Seth Hastings had the house moved to its present location when he bought it in 1806.
The next house on our right is owned by Mrs. Geneva Dudley. It was built in the 1830’s by Seth Hastings’ daughter and her husband, Caleb Hayward. It was a guest house for members of their family when they came for visits. They actually lived up the street in the white federal mansion near the top of the hill.
The next house on our right is owned by Mr. Fred Phipps. It was built by Mr. Alexander Allen in the 1830’s. He was a lawyer, selectman, town clerk, town treasurer, and county commissioner.
Across the street, on our left, is a large, white house owned by the LaBonne family. In 1838, it was a wedding gift to Seth Hastings’ son, Charles C.P. Hastings, and his wife, Anna. Charles was a lawyer, like his father and brother. They had four children. He died of apoplexy in 1848 at the age of 44.
Rebecca’s Too has served as a town gathering place since 1818. It has served as a general store, a post office, a stage coach stop, and a restaurant. It is presently owned by the Lowells. The store has had many names over the years.
The large building to the right is used mostly as a post office, but back in the 1800’s, a different building was located there. It was a boot shop.
The Mendon Town Hall was built in 1844 on land that had been donated by Silas Dudley. It was designed by Dr. John Metcalf, an amateur architect. It was first named Harrison Hall after President William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia shortly after his inauguration in the early 1840’s. The use has been for town meetings, but from 1868 through 1903, the top floor was used as Mendon’s school. It has a Greek revival style with its Doric columns and triangular pediment at the top front.
The present Taft Library was built as a church in 1896. It was called Union Chapel. In 1920, Mrs. Rosa Taft donated money for the town to purchase the building for a library, and it has been our town library ever since.
Traveling up Main Street we can see a small brick building to the left which was built as Seth Hastings’ law office in the early 1820’s. Seth was a lawyer, a Worcester superior court justice, a bank president, a school commissioner, a town treasurer, and a bakery owner. He had earlier served as a state senator and congressman. In the early 1820s, the building was used as a law office, but in 1825, it 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 records.
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 doctor at this residence for a few years. Reverend Adin Ballou lived here during the 1830’s before moving to create the religious community of Hopedale in 1841.
The Baptist Church on the left was built in 1830, as the North Congregational Church. A group of people who had more conservative beliefs than the Unitarian Church wanted to form a new church. It has also served as a Methodist Church. It has been a Baptist Church since 1897.
The next house on the left was built in 1830 by Enos Goss, a stagecoach driver. The house served as a tinners shop and a harness shop. Mendon’s first telephone was installed here in the 1890’s.
The next building was the Mendon Bank, built by Seth Hastings in 1825. He was the bank president. When he died in 1831, his son, Charlie C.P. Hastings took it over as a law office. It also was used as a private school and a residence. In 1881, it became the Taft Public Library. It has been used by the historical society since 1920.
To the right is the Ammidon Tavern. It was built in 1745 by Ichabod Ammidon. Many travelers from Boston to New York stayed here overnight. People from Charlestown stayed here in 1775 after the Battle of Bunker Hill. 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 traveled on to an inn in Uxbridge to stay overnight. Presently, it is an antique shop operated by David Lowell.
Now we are at the lights at the junction of Main Street, Hastings Street, North Avenue and Milford Street. While resting here for a bit we should be able to reflect on the history surrounding us, from Founders’ Park to the W.H. Comstock House to the Silas Dudley/Taft Homestead. People traveling through Mendon, going east or west on Route 16 can easily see that Mendon is special. Across the street and diagonally to the left is the beautiful Italianate W.H. Comstock House. We said earlier that Thompson Tavern was located there in 1674, but it is also the site of where Seth Hastings lived. According to historian Jane Coleman, Mr. Hastings’ house was located at the end of the driveway. After his death, his house was moved to the back of the lot to eventually make room for the Comstock boot business.
Diagonally and to the right we can see the Silas Dudley/Taft Homestead. As Dick Grady, (local historian and history teacher) puts it, “The Dudleys and the Tafts are two of the most respected families in the history of Mendon. Both earned their living through agriculture. Both served the town in many capacities in public office. Both lived in this beautiful Greek-revival farmhouse at 1 North Avenue. The house reflected what their families represented: hard work and a dedication to Mendon’s agrarian society.”
“Silas Dudley was a successful farmer and public servant. His farm extended down the eastern slope of Mendon’s hilltop village. Historian Ellery Crane described his property by saying, “It was a real pleasure to view his tidy, well-kept buildings and broad acres as you passed his premises.” He served as a highway surveyor and as a member of the school committee.”
“He donated the land for the Town Hall, and he served as the chairman of the 1867 committee for the town’s 200th birthday. Reverend Adin Ballou eulogized him by saying he was a man whose “integrity and honesty of purpose were the ends and aims of his existence.” Mr. Dudley died Nov. 15, 1882. His son Edward continued to run the farm until 1901.”
“The Tafts purchased the farm and operated it through the 1980s. They were descendants of Robert and Sarah Taft, early settlers who moved to Mendon in 1679 after the King Philip War. The Taft ancestry is one of prominence, not just in Mendon, but also at a national level. It includes President William Howard Taft and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. The family record of public service and philanthropy was exemplary. The farmhouse, with its meadows, pastures, and apple orchards, was a symbol of what the family stood for.”
“Sites of previous Mendon history surrounded the house, built in 1835. Across the street is Founders’ Park, where the first settlers built their meetinghouse in 1668. Eight years later, this structure was burned to the ground during the King Philip War. Founders’ Park was also the site of where 164 brave Minutemen from Mendon mustered and marched off to respond to the alarm of Lexington and Concord in April 1775.”
“The Dudley-Taft house also overlooked Ammidon Tavern, where 30 people from Charlestown were housed after the Battle of Bunker Hill. This same tavern welcomed Nathan Hale and his troops during the Revolutionary War, and the newly elected President George Washington stopped there in 1789 on his post inaugural tour to visit his old army friend, Philip Ammidon.”
One house up North Avenue and on the right is the Rev. Simon Doggett House. Reverend Doggett was the minister of the Unitarian Church during the 1820’s. Some members of his parish did not agree with his teaching and decided to form a new church on Main Street. They called themselves the North Congregationalists.
“In the 1820s through 1830s, most of today’s existing houses and buildings were constructed in the village. It was a time when many prosperous and professionally elite people moved to town.”
As we take a left onto Hastings Street we can see on our right the home of a Revolutionary War widow, Mrs. Prince. In 1832, Dr. John Metcalf bought the house and lived there for the rest of his life until his death in 1892. He was not only a prominent physician; he was 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 built in 1820 by Seth Hastings as Mendon’s first bakery.
In the house next to it, Anna Hastings moved here after the death of her husband in 1844. She lived here until the 1870’s.
The large house across the street and next to the Mendon Greenhouse is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Dean Wiegers. It was built in the 1820’s by Mr. Ebenezer Hayward, cashier of the Mendon Bank. His brother Caleb was married to Seth Hasting’s daughter.
Across the street, on the left, the large white building was built by Seth Hastings in 1820 as a private residence, but it is doubtful that he ever lived there. 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. He and his family operated the inn until 1885. It’s been known as the Hastings House, the Adams House and the Mendon Inn.
On the left is the site of Mendon’s Lowell’s Dairy and Restaurant. 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. In 1946, the business was taken over by Harold Lowell when his father passed away. A fire destroyed the building on July 13, 2004. The building has been re-built and it appears that it will be opening again soon, possibly as Willow Brook once again.
On the right, is a home built by William Metcalf in the 1830’s. He was a builder and the brother of Dr. John Metcalf, his neighbor. It is presently the home of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Devries. Mrs. Devries is the daughter of Harold Lowell.
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. The china closet in the parlor served as a temporary place to store the bank’s money until it was completed. The present owners are Dr. and Mrs. John Collins.
The large white farmhouse on the right was built about 1834 by Aaron Cook. He was a farmer, selectman, tax collector, and road commissioner. Horace Adams lived there in the 1870’s. In 1895, he invited some prominent citizens to his parlor for the creation and first meeting of the Mendon Historical Society. Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Gilmore are the present owners.
The newer looking building on the left is on the site where hundreds of years before this building 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, you guessed it, Seth Hastings and Jonathan Russell. Jonathon Russell moved here in 1818 and served two terms in Congress. Earlier he had been an ambassador to England, France, Norway and Sweden. After the War of 1812, he was one of the signers of the Treaty of Ghent. In 1927, an airport was built. Phineas Millis operated a flight school and airport through the late 1930’s. The once beautiful farmhouse was badly in need of repair in the 1950’s, so the town allowed it to be torn down. This land is now used for Airport Video, Dean Bank, and the General Store.