In the nineteenth century, people from larger places seem to have regarded Acton as a “quiet farming town,” or even “semi-lethargic.” (Boston Globe, July 21, 1885, p. 2 and Sept. 16, 1885, p. 8) It therefore came as a newsworthy surprise that 1880s Acton kept erupting into conflict and then apparently retreating into festering resentment. Our foray into 1880s Acton started with an article entitled “OUSTING AT ACTON” that reported that two Republican postmasters had been replaced by two Democrats. (Globe, Sept. 5, 1885, p. 5). That might have been an interesting story, except that South Acton’s incumbent postmaster J. K. W. Wetherbee was in fact a Democrat, as was his replacement. Trying again, the Globe added to the excitement on Sept. 11 with an article entitled “SCHEMING POSTMASTERS – Charged with Fraud by the Government.” (p. 2.) This was a story of both politics and potential fraud; to understand what was going on, we had to learn about the role of a small village (fourth class) postmaster in the nineteenth century.
Acton’s Early Postal Service
Today, we are accustomed to having mail delivered to us. People living in Acton before the twentieth century did not have that luxury and had to pick up their own mail. Sometimes people had no idea that letters were waiting in a post office; a postmaster would advertise a list of letter recipients in the local paper. Digitized newspapers show that practice existed even after 1900. (Concord Enterprise, Feb. 26, 1902, p. 8). Before Acton had a post office of its own, the Concord postmaster periodically advertised that Acton residents had letters awaiting them there. (See Middlesex Gazette, Oct. 11, 1817, p. 4, for example.) According to Shattuck’s 1835 History of the Town of Concord, at some early date, a post office was briefly established in Acton in the care of “Mr. Perham” and then reestablished in 1828 in the Acton Center law office of Silas Jones. Acton has had its own postal service since that time.
In the very early years, mail was not common, and people picking up letters were expected to pay the delivery cost. The advent of pre-paid postage stamps made picking up letters less expensive to the recipient, but it still entailed a trip; obviously, it was advantageous to have a post office closer to one’s home or place of business. A village needed a certain size to attain its own post office. The 1844 arrival of the Fitchburg Railroad led to growth in both West and South Acton. In 1848, West Acton’s first post office was established in the office of Dr. Reuben Green. In December 1851, South Acton got its first post office with postmaster Ezra C. Radiman (name spelled variously, exact location as yet unknown). East Acton, known then by the name of Ellsworth, got its own post office in March, 1873. The postmaster, l. W. Flagg, had a store there. North Acton did not have a post office until March, 1886 when Charles Miller was appointed postmaster.
The postmaster would have been responsible for people’s mail and also for money. One would hope that people were appointed on the basis of their competence, honesty, and incorruptibility, and that may well have been the case in Acton. In general, being able to appoint the postmaster was considered a privilege of elected officials who apparently often used that power to distribute patronage jobs. Postmasters were expected not to use their position to promote their political party’s candidates, but the postmaster’s role at the center of village life was certainly a useful connection for politicians.
Until late in the nineteenth century, the location of the post office would depend upon the postmaster. As the 1800s progressed, Acton’s village post offices were often located in a postmaster’s store. Having people’s mail would have increased foot traffic to one’s business. The postmaster’s tenure was not guaranteed; after an election, the position might go to a competitor from the winning party. Though changes in postmasters are traceable through records, the actual politics behind some of the appointments are not always clear. For example, in 1855, newspapers including the Boston Atlas (July 19, 1855 p. 2) alleged that the Acton “Centre” post office was being kept in the barroom of the Know Nothing House (a reference to a political party of xenophobic tendencies), but the July 25 Boston Herald clarified that the hotel, apparently run in the past by a Know Nothing supporter, was now run by a Democrat. The post office had been moved from the shoe shop of John Fletcher to the “public room” of a small county hotel that served no liquor. (p. 2)
Phalen’s History of the Town of Acton describes old-timers’ memories of the Center post office in the hotel. It had a “unique contrivance for mail delivery” that operated like a Lazy Susan. “There were pigeonholes marked with the letters of the alphabet. A person seeking mail would turn the wheel until his initial appeared at the opening whereupon he separated his mail from the rest and departed, unless of course the office happened to be vacant and he were of a curious turn of mind. In later years the device was abandoned and standard boxes installed with a pull bell that would summon the postmaster.” (p. 192) Changing the post office location would obviously necessitate moving or installing people’s mail boxes.
As mentioned, the postmaster job was considered a patronage position, often jealously guarded by the Representative in power at any given time. Surprisingly, in Acton, a more evenhanded approach had been taken under the Republican administration leading up to the 1885 brouhaha. The practice had been to select two Republicans and two Democrats for the four village post offices in town. (Globe, Sept. 16, 1885, p. 8) Part of this magnanimity may have been due to the confidence of Acton Republicans that the town was “sure to go Republican.” (Boston Journal, Aug. 18, 1884, p. 2)
The pay of the postmasters was dependent on the volume of business. According to the Globe (Sept. 11, 1885, p. 2), postmasters of the smallest, “fourth class” post offices did not receive a salary per se but earned percentages of the stamps cancelled at the office each quarter: 100% of the first $50 with declining percentages (60, 50, 40) on amounts above that. There was an incentive to increase the amount of mail sent through one’s office, but there would be a natural ceiling on the number of letters leaving a small village. Another source of business would be companies’ “circulars,” essentially advertising flyers that would be sent out in bulk. The Globe claimed that certain postmasters had concocted “an ingenious little scheme” for the mailing of large quantities of circulars at their offices that, arguably, should have been deposited at the large offices. Someone in Washington decided that small post offices sending out circulars was a sign of irregularities and sent the postmasters a bill for past commissions earned on the circulars. The ingenious, accused plotters were the postmasters of Littleton Depot, Littleton Common, South Acton, Townsend, West Townsend, and a few other places.
Caught in this situation was Jonathan K. W. Wetherbee, a pillar of the South Acton community, partner in the highly successful firm of Tuttles, Jones & Wetherbee, long-time town treasurer, selectman, and, on occasion, lender of money to the town. He had served as South Acton postmaster since the fall of 1870. When J. K. W. Wetherbee was replaced by another Democrat amidst accusations of fraud, the degree of excitement in Acton was, according to the Globe, more than one might expect from the occurrence of a cyclone or a raging epidemic. (Sept. 16, 1885, p. 8)
Fraud or Politics?
The author of the Sept. 16 Globe article actually talked to J. K. W. Wetherbee to get the postmaster’s story. Apparently, C. M. Lawrence, Littleton resident and representative of a Boston business, had approached outlying postmasters saying that he wanted to send circulars from their offices. The Forge Village postmaster had checked with his Washington boss whether he could refuse to accept them, as the sorting was going to add to his work load. The official response was that the postmaster was required to accept all mail presented to him and that most postmasters would welcome the extra business. When J. K. W. Wetherbee was offered the same business opportunity, he contacted Washington and was told to send a copy of the circular. He did and received no reply. Having fulfilled his obligation, and in light of the response to the Forge Village query, Wetherbee felt confident that the circular business was acceptable. Several years later, however, he received a bill from the government for over $1,000 in past commissions. In his interview with the Globe Reporter, J. K. W. Wetherbee stated:
“My office cost me $100 the first year I had it on account of help I had to hire, as my business would not allow of my giving it much of my personal attention, and the office has been broken into and robbed three times. Thus I think I have been robbed enough already. It seems rather singular to me that after communicating with the department relative to this circular business, and having my quarterly accounts audited and allowed, that this demand should now be made upon me.”
After this point, the story seems to have disappeared from the newspaper. In typical fashion, the exoneration of the postmasters seems not to have been reported. J. K. W. Wetherbee served as the town’s treasurer and in other positions of trust into the 1900s and continued to lend the town money; clearly the townspeople did not question Mr. Wetherbee’s character. No one seems to have given credence to the charge of fraud. Nonetheless, Wetherbee was replaced as postmaster. There must have been more to the story.
According to the Sept. 16, 1885 Globe, Ruel Williams, a member of the town Democratic Committee selected to go to the state convention, went to see James Tuttle, another Democratic pillar of the South Acton community who was a business partner and brother-in-law of J. K. W. Wetherbee. Tuttle was told that Wetherbee probably would have to go. The implication seemed to be that it was due to the fraud charge. The national Democratic party had just elected its first president since 1856 with a platform that included civil service reform. Perhaps the local committee was trying to impress the State Committee by “cleaning house.” James Tuttle was upset that other Democrats in town had not been informed of the potential change, and no one had talked to J. K. W. Wetherbee. Tuttle had planned to start a petition, but the postmaster change was made before he even had a chance. He said, “We are all mad, all classes, sects and political complexions. Yes, indeed, the village of South Acton is stirred up.” Accusations and counter-accusations from supporters followed, but the change was made.
Though the committee prevailed, they had omitted to consider one detail in their planning. Tuttles, Jones & Wetherbee owned much of center of South Acton. The post office had been located in a James Tuttle-owned building, apparently in the news stand of Dana Hayward who worked as postal clerk. The replacement postmaster Lorenzo Reed found that no location was available in the village for him to establish his post office. As James Tuttle said, “I don’t propose to turn out good tenants to please him.” Eventually, the new postmaster, “accompanied by a justice of the peace, visited every property owner in the centre of the village who had land or a building which could be utilized and offered to buy, hire, or lease such, but no opportunity to do so was offered him.” His only recourse was to move the post boxes to his own residence. (Globe Oct. 20, 1885, p. 2) People were quite unhappy that they were going to have to trek to his house to get their mail, but eventually the furor died down as people realized that Reed was in a difficult position. Later, the post office was moved to a small building on the south side of the railroad tracks.
Small town, Big Disagreements
So why did this conflict erupt in the first place? We have not found anything to indicate that J. K. W. Wetherbee deserved to be replaced as postmaster, or even any reason that anger would specifically have been aimed toward him. What we did find was that Acton residents in the 1880s were quite disputatious. For example, as described in a previous blog post, in the spring of 1884, a disputed school committee vote for Superintendent led to two men claiming to be have been appointed, with angry supporters on both sides. Within three years, a bitter conflict over a teacher led to the resignation of a different Superintendent and most of the school committee. Rancor and factionalism seem to have been habitual in Acton at the time.
The biggest conflict, and perhaps the root of much of the distrust and anger in town, was a dispute over paying back bounties to Civil War soldiers that consumed a great deal of energy in the early 1880s. Like the postmaster “muddle,” the bounty fight requires some background to understand and is the subject of another blog post.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Lorenzo Reed only served as postmaster until 1889. Democrat Grover Cleveland lost the 1888 election, politics shifted, and many postmasters were replaced in the following year. Time moved on, but complaints from South Acton didn’t completely die down. A petition campaign was initiated to influence the choice of postmaster in 1889, though that did not go far. (Concord Enterprise, Apr. 5, 1889, p. 2) On July 12, 1894, an item appeared in the Enterprise that fireworks were being sold in the post office, with pointed advice to the postmaster to “read what Uncle Sam says about it.” (p. 8) In 1897, there was a petition to appoint Frank W. Hoit as postmaster and to locate the office on the north side of the Fitchburg railroad. Rumors were flying that the signers of the petition were only schoolchildren; in fact, the petition was signed by the businessmen of the community, including many Tuttles, Jones, and J.K.W. Wetherbee. (January 14, 1897 p. 8) One of the signers was James Tuttle’s son H. Waldo, who was at the time serving as postmaster himself. On July 1, 1897, the Concord Enterprise reported that “The old post office is being fitted up for the new postmaster, who is expected to take possession July 1.” (p. 8) After all the controversy, the post office was back in James Tuttle’s building.
Newport Under the Rafters
Recently, two very large and brittle architectural drawings arrived at Jenks Library. They had been given to our donor decades ago by a West Acton home owner who had found the drawings in the eaves of an outbuilding. Her property had formerly belonged to West Acton builder John S. Hoar, so it was reasonable to assume that the drawings were remnants of one of his projects, hidden away and forgotten for years. When the owner unrolled the paper, it cracked, but what emerged did not look like any Acton property. She taped the torn plans and gave them to a person well-known for his interest in Acton history. He has now shared them with the Society.
The plans were undated, unsigned, and gave no indication of whom they were created for. One, a drawing of the exterior of the house, matched none in Acton, and the other’s first-floor details indicated that the owner’s wealth far exceeded that of any of Acton’s early residents. The plan included a hall measuring 54’x 30’, a drawing room (34’ x 19’), morning room (almost 28’ x 12’), library (27’ x ~19’), dining room (31’ x 19’), billiard room (24’ x 19’), kitchen (~25’ x 18’), servants’ hall (20’ x 16’), butler’s pantry, cook’s pantry, housekeeper’s parlor, scullery, “Man’s Room,” and a gun & fishing rod room. Perhaps John S. Hoar had a very wealthy client somewhere, but there was no clue where the house was.
Sometime later, our donor was visiting the Breakers in Newport, RI and was inside the Children’s Playhouse on the property. Framed on the wall, he saw a reproduction of a first-floor plan that looked astoundingly like the plan found in West Acton. It came from the first Breakers, built for Pierre Lorillard in 1878 and purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1885. The building had been designed by prominent Boston architects Peabody & Stearns. The first Breakers burned in November 1892 and the enormous villa designed by Richard Morris Hunt replaced it. All that is left of Peabody & Stearns’ work on the property is the 1886 “Toy house” built by Cornelius Vanderbilt “for the pleasure of his children” soon after they moved in. (Newport Mercury, July 3, 1886, p. 1)
Looking at the drawings at Jenks Library, we had a mystery on our hands. Was it truly the first Breakers? If so, what were the plans doing in West Acton? Were these perhaps an architect’s rejects or extra copies for the builder? Was there a connection between the Hoar family and the builder/architects of the original mansion? Had someone given the plans to John S. Hoar simply because he was a builder who would be interested in them? Did he use them as inspiration for his own work?
Not confident that we would be able to answer all of those questions, we started with identifying the house. Photos of the first Breakers are available online; despite slight differences, the house pictured looks to be the same as in the drawing. We wanted to compare our first-floor plan to the one used to build the Lorillard Breakers. The book Peabody and Stearns: Country Houses and Seaside Cottages by Annie Robinson has photographs of the house and a reproduction of the first-floor plan which was also featured in The American Architect and Building News, Volume 4, No. 132, July 6, 1878, in an illustrative spread between pages 4 and 5.
Our first-floor plan has more details about doors, windows, fireplaces, built-ins, materials, and patterns than the first-floor plan shown on the left, but there is little doubt that the architectural drawings brought into Jenks Library were for the same house. The plans must have been for the original building, because immediately after Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the property, he started renovations. McNeil Brothers, builders from Boston, pulled out mantels and paneling, moved the kitchen away from the main house, and created a new 40’ x 70’ dining room in between, quite different from the original plan. (Newport Mercury, Dec. 4, 1886, p. 1)
Our Plan's First-Floor Details. Clockwise from Top Left:
An Unknown Route to the Attic
Our next challenge was to try to discover why plans for the long-gone Breakers were found on Windsor Avenue in West Acton in the 1970s. The West Acton building in which the plans were found had belonged to John S. Hoar, son of John Sherman Hoar, Civil War veteran, carpenter, and founder of the New England Vise Company mentioned in previous blog posts. (See original blog post and follow-up.) He came from the Littleton branch of the enormous Hoar family descended from a settler of Concord, MA around 1660. If there was a connection with Newport, it was not because they were a Rhode Island family.
Obviously, John S. Hoar did not design the Breakers. Our next hypothesis about the plans was that perhaps he or a relative was involved in building the structure, but our route to proving or disproving that theory was not simple. Though John S. Hoar and his father were involved in building, the father died in 1872 and John S. was only turning 18 in 1878 when the house was being constructed. If he worked in Newport at that time, we have no record of it. Our follow-up theory was that perhaps after the original Breakers was renovated or burned, our drawings, having been superseded, were discarded. After Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the property, the “old” was not of much interest; the Newport Mercury reported that two of the “elegantly carved mantels” were auctioned off for about $100, even then considered much less than they were worth. (Dec. 4, 1886, p. 1) Perhaps someone found the plans, saved them for their historical value, and gave them to John S. Hoar. But who?
The West Acton Hoar Family and the Whitney Relatives
Our donor believed that other members of John S. Hoar’s family were involved in construction, so we researched uncles and brothers for a connection in Newport. A great deal of searching later, we had only found one promising clue. On Jan. 1, 1892, the Concord Enterprise reported, “Crosby Hoar spent Christmas with his mother. Crosby is superintending the building of some Newport, R. I. residences.” (p. 8)
This Crosby Hoar was John S. Hoar’s brother. We thought that we might be able to learn about what Newport residences Crosby worked on and whether he had a connection to the architects Peabody & Stearns, the builder(s) who worked for the Lorillards or Vanderbilts, or anyone else who might logically have had the plans. Following up on Crosby did not easily yield that information, but it was clear that we needed to know more about the extended Hoar family.
What follows is a bit of what we learned about the family of John S. Hoar. As mentioned previously, their family roots go way back in the area. It was surprising, therefore, how complicated it was at first to learn about John’s brothers. We will start with their father, the carpenter, farmer, and vise inventor John Sherman Hoar.
J. Sherman Hoar, as he preferred to be called, was born in Boxborough on June 19, 1829. J. Sherman’s father John grew up in Littleton, and his mother Betsey Barker grew up in Acton. J. Sherman married Lydia Parker Whitney in 1851 and lived for a few additional years in Boxborough. Around that time, his brother Forestus D. K. Hoar moved to Acton. By the 1860 census, J. Sherman Hoar was living in West Acton with his growing family.
Tracking down the family proved challenging until we realized that a number of Sherman and Lydia’s children eventually changed their surnames to Whitney, and one son went by his middle name. As Whitneys appeared in various places, we had to make sure that they were actually originally from the Hoar family and not people of similar names. Trying to answer our questions turned into quite a project.
J. Sherman Hoar’s children with Lydia P. Whitney included:
The year 1872 must have been a traumatic time for the family. In June, Sherman’s father John passed away. On October 13, 1872, Sherman died from typhoid fever, and a week later, eldest daughter Kate died from the same disease. The next few years must have brought about a great deal of upheaval. We do not have many details about that time period but have tried to fill in what we could.
All of J. Sherman’s sons seem to have worked in construction. According to Lucie Hager’s 1891 Boxborough: A New England Town and Its People, “Three of the sons went West and engaged in business as builders and contractors, and another, John Hoar of West Acton, is an architect.” (p. 158) Following up on that clue, we discovered that the brothers actually headed for the Midwest. Our first round of research, complicated by name changes, showed that the youngest, Edwin Barker [Hoar] Whitney moved to St. Louis, Missouri and stayed there. Census records alternate between showing Edwin as a superintendent employed by a school system and a superintendent working in buildings/construction. He occasionally appears as “Edward.” We will leave that possible confusion for another researcher. Aside from his building connections, we found nothing to indicate that he might have obtained plans to the original Breakers.
John S. Hoar’s younger brother Abner Crosby obviously had been involved in construction in Newport. The Newport Directory of 1882 shows a carpenter Crosby Hoar living in a boarding house. Once we realized that he later went by Crosby A. Whitney, we found him in Newport directories in the years 1890-1895, listed explicitly as a builder in the later years. Disappointingly, none of our searches enabled us to find out any more about his time in Newport, including the houses he worked on. By 1896, he had moved to Boston where in April of that year, he married Annie C. Daning. The record lists him as a carpenter. The Boston directory of 1897 shows Crosby A. Whitney as a “building supt. 166 Devonshire, rm. 42.” (More on this later.) Though building superintendent can have different meanings, based on what we have discovered, he would have been a construction supervisor. He apparently spent his career in construction. He was listed as some variation of building superintendent in the 1900-1930 censuses and in Boston directories. His wife Annie died in 1929, and the 1930 census incorrectly listed him as “Crosby A. Fletcher,” living with his sister Alice (Hoar) Fletcher and her husband in Belmont. We did not find online details of his death or burial, although an indexed death record lists a Crosby A. Hoar as having died in Westborough in 1934. Aside from the fact that he was in Newport and in construction, our original research into Crosby did not convince us of a definite connection to the first Newport Breakers.
John S. Hoar’s older brother Arthur Cephas became a master builder. Like two of his brothers, he took Whitney as his last name; we found a record of his name change in Massachusetts on Feb. 7, 1881. We knew from Hager’s Boxborough history that he had headed to the Midwest by 1891. A Masonic membership record showed that Arthur C. Hoar Whitney had been associated with the Masons in St. Louis from 1891-1895 (and in Massachusetts before and after). He lived to the age of 97, and his Boston Globe obituary mentioned that he “had designed numerous buildings in Chicago, St. Louis and other Midwest cities” as well as the Groton School chapel. The obituary gave no indication of a Newport connection and was quite vague about his activities before he moved to Lexington (MA) in 1907. (Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 16, 1951, p. 8) Fortunately, we kept looking.
Online searching showed that Arthur C. Whitney was in construction in Boston. A digitized 1897 catalogue for a Special Exhibition held by the Boston Architectural Club contained an ad for “C. Everett Clark & Co. Contractors and Builders, 166 Devonshire Street, Room 42, Boston., Mass.” The names at the bottom of the ad were C. Everett Clark and Arthur C. Whitney. We also found an ad in the 1908 Year Book of the Boston Architectural Club showing Arthur C. Whitney, Contractor and Builder, working at 18 Post Office Square in Boston, Room 4. From those two pieces of information, we assumed that Arthur worked with another builder for a short time and then went off on his own. We would have saved time if we had paid more attention to the identity of the partner. However, our research into Arthur C. Whitney’s later life showed that he had a successful career as a builder. By 1899, he was in Milwaukee representing the Boston Master Builders’ Association. (Concord Enterprise, Feb. 2, 1899, p. 8) A 1906 writeup of Arthur C. Whitney in Commercial and Financial New England Illustrated showed that he had worked on numerous big projects in Boston, employed a large number of workers, and “aided materially in carrying out the ideas of some of the most prominent architects in the country.” (p. 264) We did discover that he worked with Peabody & Stearns. Our hypothesis was that someone who worked at Peabody & Stearns or perhaps a Newport builder had discarded our plans and somehow they found their way to Arthur or Crosby Whitney, who then gave them to brother John S. Hoar. The connections still seemed quite tenuous, however.
We investigated John S. Hoar last, because we were under the impression that he had stayed in or near West Acton his entire life. When we searched for him in the 1880 census, however, we were surprised to discover that Arthur C. Hoar (age 25) and John S. Hoar (age 20), both carpenters from Massachusetts, were living in a St. Louis, Missouri boarding house. Listed after the brothers was another boarder, a 42-year-old builder from Massachusetts named Charles E. Clark. Following a guess that the Hoar brothers were in St. Louis working for this builder, we belatedly looked into the career of Charles Everett Clark.
Finally, a Connection Appears
It did not take us long to discover that C. Everett Clark was a well-known Boston builder. An 1895 retrospective of the works of architect Richard Morris Hunt talked at some length about the fact that Hunt had trusted C. Everett Clark to act as general contractor on some of his best-known work, including Newport mansions such as Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Breakers (the second one), Marble House, Belcourt, and the homes of Ogden Goelet (Ochre Court), Professor Shield, and “Mr. Busk” (Joseph R.). Clark also was general contractor for John Jacob Astor’s Fifth Avenue house in New York. The article continued, “We do not speak here of the less notable work which Mr. Clark has done, or even of the many important commissions which he has obtained from other leading architects.” (Architectural Record, Volume V., No. 2, Oct.-Dec. 1895, p. 216) We learned from the Newport Mercury (Sept. 26, 1885, p. 1) that one of those important commissions was the Lorillard (first) Breakers; the contract for the “erection of the elegant villa” was awarded to C. E. Clark of Boston in October, 1877.
The connection between the Hoar/Whitney family and the builder of the Lorillard Breakers kept getting stronger. An obituary for Charles Everett Clark was shared on Ancestry.com. (Unfortunately, the only identification was a hand-written “Mar 1899,” but the obituary mentioned that Clark was a “prominent resident of this city,” indicating that the paper must have been published in Somerville, MA.) The article spoke about Clark’s construction company and said that “The Boston office was established about twenty-five years ago, and was placed in charge of Arthur C. Whitney, of Somerville, who acted as superintendent up to five years ago, when he became Mr. Clark’s partner.” C. E. Clark had built hundreds of houses, warehouses, and office buildings, especially in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and St. Paul. He also built “many elegant houses in the Back Bay district of Boston,” the previously mentioned Newport houses, and notable houses in other locations such as Lenox, MA and Canandaigua, NY.
Photos Courtesy of Library of Congress
At this point, we had discovered that Hoar brother Arthur C. Whitney had worked for C. Everett Clark, builder of both Breakers, since the 1870s. Arthur was a building superintendent and managed the Boston office until he became a partner. His change in status must have happened before November 24, 1893, because letterhead from that date (shared online by Salve Regina University) included his name.
Brother Crosby A. Whitney must also have worked for the firm because his work address in the 1897 and 1899 Boston Directories was the same as the Boston office of C. Everett Clark & Co.; Room 42, 166 Devonshire Street. We had previously found evidence that Crosby was living in Newport in 1882 and 1890-1895 and that he was overseeing the building of “some Newport, R. I. residences” in January 1892. Was he involved in building the Vanderbilts’ Breakers, Marble House, or Goelet’s Ochre Court? We do not have proof of that, but we did learn from an 1892 writeup of C. Everett Clark that “He has several superintendents who have been in his employ for nearly twenty years, and who personally superintend his buildings.... he controls his vast business by correspondence with his superintendents and by making regular trips West once a month.” (Boston of Today, A Glance at Its History and Characteristics, ed. Richard Herndon, p. 183) Clearly, one of those superintendents was Arthur C. Whitney. Crosby may have been another. Circling back to youngest [Hoar] brother Edwin Whitney, a building superintendent living in St. Louis, we realized that he also could have been working for C. Everett Clark supervising projects in that city and elsewhere in the Midwest (a theory we did not pursue).
Unfortunately, as time passes, histories of buildings often focus on their architects and do not tend to mention the people involved in the actual construction. The result is that the identities of those who brought the architects’ ideas to fruition can be lost to memory. It was the digitization of contemporaneous reports in newspapers, trade journals, and “Boston of To-day” that allowed us to piece together the connection between the Acton Hoar family and the Lorillard Breakers.
Unlikely as it seemed at first, we now know that at least one of the Hoar brothers was working for the builder of the first Breakers at the time it was erected. As partner to that builder in later years, Arthur C. Whitney could easily have had access to the original plans. Questions, of course, remain. Did any of the Hoar brothers actually participate in the building of the Lorillard Breakers in 1877-1878? Were all three “Whitney” brothers building superintendents for C. Everett Clark? Did John S. Hoar work for C. Everett Clark, and if so, for how long? And finally, how exactly did those plans get into John S. Hoar’s workshop attic? If you have any information that will add to this story, we would be delighted to hear from you.
A Different Kind of Antique
In recent months, much behind-the-scenes work has been going on at the Society’s museum buildings to improve exhibits for the day when we are able to be open again. Work is also progressing on improving our storage to make items more accessible in addition to being preserved and protected. In the process of digging into storage and less-accessed areas of our buildings, we occasionally come across a surprise.
This summer, one of our volunteers uncovered this item, never accessioned into our collection, but a rare find nonetheless.
The purchaser of this toilet tissue would never have expected it to elicit fascination from our volunteers, but disposable daily necessities seldom survive to become antiques. We do not know where the roll came from, but we did find that a trademark application was filed on November 19, 1925 for “Avona” printed on the diagonal in the font that is on our label. Jordan Marsh Company held the trademark for many years and periodically advertised Avona toilet tissue in the Boston Globe. Ads around 1950 featured pictures of the rolls that had quite a different look from ours, so we suspect that our roll was from earlier days. A May 2, 1927 ad mentioned a 1000-sheet package, not a roll. (page 4) In the November 10, 1932 issue (p.9), Jordan Marsh advertised a special sale of 24 1000-sheet rolls for $1, so that could be approximately the era of our find. The tissue came with options; one could buy white, orchid, rose, yellow, green, or blue. Jordan Marsh would fulfill orders by mail or telephone.
We never know what we are going to learn by volunteering at the Society.
Acton in the City
The Society has a large collection of pictures that apparently came from an East Acton family. A few identified portraits were of people with surnames Flagg, Wetherbee, Robbins, and Rouillard or of classmates of Ernest Wetherbee (high school class of 1887); we expect that the pictures are of relations, friends and East Acton neighbors. (See the collection here; we need identification help.)
Some of the pictures in the collection seem to have been taken in Boston. One picture appears to be the public garden with a swan boat on the left.
One picture was of a float in a parade. Zooming in on the details shows a street sign on a building indicating that it was taken on Lexington Street in East Boston. Though East Boston had a number of parades, big ones were held on the 4th of July. The subject of the picture is a float with men in patriotic uniforms holding oars. It is likely that it was the tableau of Washington Crossing the Delaware that was mentioned in a July 2, 1895 Boston Post article (p. 2) as a feature of the upcoming parade. The participants were listed; we had hoped that the participants on the float were Acton men or relatives, but the names were not familiar. The sponsor of the float was Jewett Lumber.
If our hypothesis is correct, the historical significance of this picture is that the 1895 parade became infamous for rioting between nativists/Orangemen and Irish Catholics. Nativists (members of the American Protective Association) had entered the parade with a “little red schoolhouse” float that today seems innocuous but at the time was a symbol of anti-Catholic, anti-parochial school sentiment. The purpose seemed to be to provoke trouble with the Irish Catholic population of East Boston. Many stories, some conflicting, appeared in newspapers in the days that followed, but what is clear is that when the rioting was done, one man had been killed, others injured. We did not see any mention of Acton participants in either the parade or the melee.
Turning to other pictures in the East Acton collection, two of them were taken on a ship. Judging from the ladies’ sleeves, the pictures were probably taken in the 1890s, perhaps the middle years. In both pictures, a woman is holding a bouquet; one hypothesis is that it was an excursion on her special day.
In the top picture, writing on the ship’s bell appears to say “Yarmouth,” indicating that the people were on board the ship of that name, run by the Yarmouth Steamship Company to take passengers from Boston to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and back. In the second picture, a sign on a building says “Beach & Clarridge Co.” In the 1890s, Beach & Clarridge was located at 52-58 Eastern Avenue, meaning that the boat was in Boston Harbor, probably taking on passengers at Lewis Wharf. Ads from the mid-1890s confirm that the Yarmouth Steamship Company sailed from Lewis Wharf. (A photo of the deck of the SS Yarmouth in 1894 leaves little doubt that this is the same ship.
After identifying the ship, we were hopeful that we could find a local newspaper announcement of an East Acton family’s trip that might give us clues as to the identity of the people in our pictures. There were a surprising number of trips to Nova Scotia mentioned during the 1890s. Unfortunately, despite learning more about our pictures, we have not yet figured out who the people are; if you can help us, please contact us.
Fun Times in the Summer 100 Years Ago
A local newspaper article about South Acton a hundred years ago made us start thinking about what life was like for Acton residents that summer. The article mentioned that a new staircase and walk were being added to the west side of the old Post Office building, giving access to the newly-formed Young Men’s Athletic club rooms. “The walk in the rear will be six feet in width thereby [a]ffording the comforts of a piazza, where the members can sit, enjoy the beauties of nature in Theron park, watch the passing aeroplanes which of late has been of frequent occurrence, and wonder when the road sign is to be placed on the fountain.” (Concord Enterprise, August 31, 1921, p. 1) Curious about long how young athletes would be content to sit contemplating a road sign, we started investigating what people did for recreation in the summer of 1921.
Reading the local newspaper, it would be easy to assume that summer vacations in 1921 were not so different from our own. The Enterprise reported on residents’ comings and goings as they had guests and visited friends and relatives. People vacationed at destinations similar to many visited by Acton residents today. They often headed to the beaches and mountains of New England, but some set out for places farther afield. Though not noted in the newspaper, much travel would have been done by train.
Automobiles were by now a more common part of life than they had been at the turn of the century, but residents’ car purchases were still reported in the paper. On August 31, for example, it was reported on the front page that Dr. Mayell was driving a Buick touring car, selectman Kingsley had a Ford, and Wesley Flagg and John Mekkelson had sport cars. Residents’ road trips by auto were highlighted in the paper all summer. It is easy to forget how different those trips would have been from our own experiences of the road, but occasionally an item in the newspaper reminds us of how driving has changed.
The June 29 Enterprise reported on John Pederson’s trip to St. Albans in northern Vermont. (p.2, “Some Trip”) He drove continuously except to stop for meals, water, gas and oil. That sounds unexceptional, but it took him 23.5 hours to get there. The article did mention that Vermont’s roads were rough and mountainous in places. (The return trip in his truck loaded with furniture took even longer; hopefully he stopped somewhere for sleep.) John Pederson’s experience puts light on the ambition of Joseph Oliver who was reported in the August 10 paper to be leaving for California in his auto with his camping gear. (p. 1) It was probably helpful that he had previously been working in West Acton as an auto mechanic.
By the early 1920s, autos were evolving. In 1915, Massachusetts had become the first state to mandate lights on automobiles, and federal standards for headlights were introduced in 1921. That summer, the local paper reported on the need for car owners to get their headlamps adjusted by authorized mechanics. (July 27, p. 7) Garages had sprung up in Acton and elsewhere to meet growing demand for service. John McNiff had closed up his blacksmith shop after 30 years of labor; he was reported to be contemplating opening a garage. (May 26, 1920, p. 7) There would have been competition. In the summer of 1921, ads ran in the Enterprise for the South Acton Garage, Fitzgerald’s Garage in West Acton, and the recently opened East Acton repair garage of Benjamin A. Kimball and Orville J. Fuller, the latter having already worked in automobile construction and repair for fifteen years. (June 29, p. 8) John Coughlin advertised that he would provide service “at your own garage”. (July 13, p. 4)
Having a number of repair shops in town was quite useful. Despite improvements in automobiles, the downside of increased driving was dangerous interactions. The August 17 Enterprise reported on two serious accidents at Kelley’s corner the previous Saturday. (p. 1) In the late afternoon, a seven passenger touring car from Missouri struck broadside a Ford coming from Acton “with such force as to hurl it up against the building which stands at the northeast corner.” Fortunately, the occupants survived. Later Saturday evening as Mary McCarthy, Clara Binks, Bertha Gould and Frank Hayward were driving home from Lowell, they were struck by a “big car from Maryland.” Luckily, the damage was more serious to the cars than to the people. The paper called for improvement to the approaches to the busy intersection and for caution on the part of drivers. As one sits in traffic at that intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue, it is worth remembering to be grateful for stoplights.
Finding Things to Do
Despite the fact that roads had not yet caught up with the needs of automobiles, people in the summer of 1921 were on the go. Lawn parties were very popular, particularly as fundraisers. On the evening of July 21, the Acton Grange held its annual lawn party and dance. As announced on July 13, “The Maynard brass band will furnish a concert in the evening and the Highland Ladies’ orchestra of Somerville will play for the dance. There will be the usual attractions which make these lawn parties popular events of the summer.” (p. 5) The party was indeed a success. With convenient means of traveling, visitors came from Acton’s villages and elsewhere, including quite a few from Maynard. “It is said, that over two hundred automobiles were parked on the sides of Monument square.” (July 27, p. 4)
Another popular diversion was “moving pictures,” regularly advertised in the Enterprise. There were often movies in the Concord State Armory to benefit the Red Cross and at a theater in Maynard, admission 25 cents for adults. Occasionally, a moving picture was shown in West Acton at Odd Fellows Hall.
Acton residents also attended special out-of-town events. In June, several townspeople ventured to Lowell to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that offered “the greatest congress of attractions in history” with hundreds of performers and a huge “wild beast” display. “Not only will you see the artists who occupy the three rings, five stages, the great hippodrome track and the aerial rigging in the tent top, but four spacious steel arenas filled with wild beasts as well.” (June 8, p. 7 and June 29, p. 2) In mid-August, various people from Acton attended the Pilgrim Pageant at Plymouth. The paper proclaimed that “Although pageants have been greatly in vogue for the last 10 years or more, this one entitled 'The Pilgrim Spirit’ and written by Prof. George P. Baker of Harvard university in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth has been pronounced by an eminent professor of pageantry as the greatest performance since the pageants of the ancients.” (Aug. 24, p. 1)
Despite the reporting of some residents’ comings and goings in the newspaper, there were undoubtedly many Acton residents who found their amusement in town. The first challenge for them would have been to beat the heat. Shade was appreciated; Acton benefited from earlier residents’ foresight in lining streets with trees. Ads for electric fans at MacRae’s in Concord appeared in the Enterprise for those whose homes and businesses had been wired for electricity. (Getting electricity was also newsworthy in 1921.) Piazzas seem to have been quite popular. Presumably they offered the chance of catching whatever breeze there may have been and, for those on the more traveled thoroughfares, a chance to see the world go by. With summer came insects, of course, and the newspaper reported that Edward Conant, Harry Tuttle, George Dusseault and the West Acton Baptist parsonage were all adding screening to their piazzas. (July 13, 1921, p. 5; July 20, p. 4)
Some of those out on their piazzas would have been able to watch the President’s cavalry escort from the Plymouth Pageant as they traveled to an overnight campsite in Maynard. Fifty-seven men came through with sixty-seven horses and eighteen mules. (Aug. 10, 1921 p. 1 and 5) While references to the military in the Enterprise were fewer than they had been in previous years, war’s aftermath occasionally was mentioned. In August, Charlotte Conant and Gertrude Daniels organized a clambake and corn roast at the Conant place for twenty ex-servicemen from the Groton hospital. It was followed by an informal dance in the afternoon at the town hall. (Aug. 24, p. 4)
For those actively inclined, summer meant sports. The Acton villages had baseball teams, as in the past. The West Acton team was briefly dubbed the Pirates, but the name does not seem to have stuck. (Aug. 24, p. 8) The newly organized (or perhaps re-organized) Campfire Girls and the Young Men’s Club had a track meet reported June 15. Reverend R. J. May coached the young men, and Mrs. May led the Camp-Fire girls. The paper noted, “It will be unique in having both boys and girls as participants although not competing against each other.” (p. 5) In July, the groups were putting on plays at the Congregational Church. The young men were trying to pay for baseball equipment. The “Nashoba” Camp Fire Girls, meanwhile, “were completing their beaded head-bands and hope to earn their costumes by their entertainment.” (July 13, p. 6)
Golf was taking off as an activity. During the summer of 1921, the Calvin Whitney farm in Maynard was being turned into the Maynard Country Club. By August, its charter members included a number of Acton residents, although applications from some who already had been on the waiting lists of the Framingham and Concord clubs were being held back to give Maynard residents priority. (Aug. 24, p. 1 and Aug. 31, 1921, p. 1)
When it was time to cool off, a popular spot was a swimming hole on Martin Street (near present-day Jones Field) where there were often twenty people swimming at a time. (July 27, p. 4) Apparently, however, there were a few problems with the place as a recreation spot. On August 3, the paper reported:
“CITIZENS IMPROVING BEACH – In response to the call for workers issued last week, a number of citizens met at the swimming pool at the Martin street bridge and proceeded to do what they could to improve the general appearance of the place, both in and out of the water. This spot has long been utilized as a dumping place for all kinds of rubbish, such as tin cans, bottles, lamp shades, bicycle frames in quantity and variety sufficient to stock an old curiosity shop and a generous amount was dragged out of the water and put where it can no longer be a menace to the bathers. ... This bathing place has been a source of much pleasure to many people this season, even though those who lived at some distance from the pool were obliged to return home wearing their wet bathing suits, under raincoats. With the place once put in good condition and a suitable bath house built there, it would be a great public benefit.” (p. 8)
Summertime Wasn’t Always Drowsy
There are always those who push the boundaries to create a little excitement. On July 6, the Acton Center reporter mentioned that “The Fourth was very quietly celebrated except for the ringing of the town hall and church bells from midnight to daybreak, which act of over-celebration should never be permitted in the future. Someone who stopped at the drinking fountain on the common as an act of rowdyism, broke the two water pipes.” (p. 7)
Another item of interest for many would have been hearing amplification for the first time. The August 17 paper reported that the meeting of the Acton Agricultural association (attended by 150 members) was followed by a social hour, “one feature of which was the exhibition of a ‘magno box’ attachment to a victrola, by Robert W. Carter, a member of the association, the effect of which caused the music to be heard with wonderful distinctness in homes over a quarter of a mile away.” (p. 1) The paper did not mention what music Mr. Carter shared with Acton Center, but records advertised for 85 cents in the Enterprise that August were variations of the Fox Trot and songs with catchy titles such as “Anna in Indiana” and “Molly on a Trolley By Golly With You.” (Aug. 24, p. 8)
A different kind of noisy excitement was reported from South Acton on Aug. 17. The milk train was coming toward Martin Street on the Boston and Maine tracks at about 8:40 on a Sunday morning. The engineer, as usual, blew the whistle in warning. However, the valve that controlled the whistle could not turn off the steam, so the train stopped at South Acton with the whistle “shrieking at a terrific rate.” The engine with the disabled valve was backed into a rear yard, still shrieking, and another engine took the milk train to Boston. “During the time of making the shift and for fifty minutes after the fire had been dumped from the engine, the whistle kept up a continuous shriek causing consternation throughout the town. Many persons rushed to the station supposing it to be an alarm of fire or that some serious accident had taken place.” (p. 7)
The most exciting event of the summer, however, seems to have happened in Maynard. On the first page of the August 10 issue of the Enterprise was an article entitled “Knickers Invade Maynard – What Will the Women Spring on Us Next?” Apparently, a woman had the audacity to walk down Main Street dressed in “knickers, just plain pants they looked like, golf stockings, high brown tennis shoes, shirt waist, topped with a bit of rouge on the cheek and hair bobbed.” The result was commotion, men “pop eyed with astonishment,” and all of Main Street agog at the woman who was (supposedly) “as indifferent to the stare of the world as the sunburned one pieced bathing suit extremist. Business was suspended as clerks and staid proprietors made for a glimpse ... At first stunned, curiosity soon let loose a chatter and exchange of opinion as to the new styles.”
In 1921, it was apparently a sight worth sitting on one’s piazza waiting for.
One of our ongoing projects has been to research the stories of early residents of Acton who were Black or of mixed-race ancestry. The Massachusetts Tax Inventory of 1771 revealed that there were two “servants for life” in Acton at the time, including one person assessed to Simon Tuttle. (For relevant entries click here.) There was no detail about who the person was. It was easy to assume that records from the March 4, 1783 town meeting referred to the same person when Acton voted to pay Mr. Simon Tuttle for “the Bounty for his negro man which was Twenty four Pounds in March 1777 to be Paid by the Scale of Depreciation.” However, as is so often the case when we try to understand events more than two centuries ago, we have to be careful with our assumptions.
In early 1777, the Continental Army was in a recruiting crisis after enlistments ran out at the end of 1776. There was pressure on towns to fill their quota of soldiers. At the March 10, 1777 town meeting, Acton approved a bounty of twenty pounds to every man who would enlist in the Continental Army for three years or as long as the war lasted. An additional four pounds was offered to men who had or would volunteer between March 3 and March 17, 1777. Bounties obviously cost money that had to be raised through taxes. To understand each taxable person’s contribution to the war effort, the town chose a committee to determine “what Service has been Don[e] Personally or by Hireing men to go into the Service ever Since this Present war Begun.” One of the members of that committee was Simon Tuttle.
In trying to fulfill quotas for towns, it was apparently common practice for recruiters to pay bounties for enlistment out of their own pockets on the understanding that they would be reimbursed. At a July 30, 1778 town meeting, it had been proposed that the War Rates (taxes) of four men including Lt. Simon Tuttle be abated, presumably for their recruiting efforts. That proposal was voted down; instead, the town voted that “Every man in the Town that had Paid money to hire men for the Town into the Continental army for three years Shall Receive Said money from the Town.” During the war years, assessments were frequently revised, and the town did not always have the cash to pay soldiers or recruiters what they were owed. Inflation was so great that delays in payment made previously-promised amounts seem worthless, so by the time Acton actually paid, amounts had to be adjusted ”by the Scale of Depreciation.”
Most of the men who were hired and received bounties from the town of Acton were not mentioned in town meeting records. At the March 4, 1783 meeting, however, two individuals were identified. The third agenda item at the meeting resulted in the formation of a committee “to Settle with Capt Joseph Robbins Respecting his Bounty that he Paid to Oliver Emerson.” The fourth agenda item resulted in a vote to pay Simon Tuttle the bounty for “his” man. The use of the word “his” may look to modern readers as if the soldier either had been enslaved or was an employee. However, we discovered another town meeting record that called that assumption into question. At the March 5, 1781 town meeting, a committee (including Simon Tuttle) was formed to help the assessors to “class” the residents for the purpose of hiring soldiers to fulfill the town’s quota. The record went on:
“...also voted that if any Class in this Town Shall be So unfortunate as not to Procure their man (after ofering their Best Endeavors to hire one) that they Shall not be Subject to Pay any more than their Proportion of the fine and the Charges that the Several Classes are Put to in hireing and Pay their men in this Town” (emphasis added)
Given the above phrasing, it is possible that the 1783 town meeting record’s use of “his” man meant only that the soldier had been hired by Samuel Tuttle to fill a quota. Town meeting records do not tell us for certain. What we can say, after our research, is that whatever the soldier’s route to military service for the town of Acton, his story did not have a happy ending.
Finding out more about Simon Tuttle’s “man” was complicated by uncertainty about his name and pre-war experiences. We did discover that Rev. James T. Woodbury’s mid-1800s listing of known Acton Revolutionary War soldiers (transcribed in town histories by Fletcher and Phalen) included “Titus Hayward, colored man, hired by Simon Tuttle.” The compendium Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (MSSRW) did not have an entry for a soldier of that name. Thinking that perhaps he might have been a (possibly former) slave who enlisted under the name of Tuttle, we found a Titus Tuttle from Acton in MSSRW as having enlisted April 29, 1775 for 3 months and 10 days. Other service was shown for a Titus Tuttle (no town and no description) in 1776 (2 months) and 1781 (21 months). (There were other entries of individuals named “Titus” with no surnames in MSSRW, one from Harvard and one from Pittsfield.) None of the service terms for Titus Tuttle or Titus __ matched the March 1777 enlistment for which Simon Tuttle was later paid a bounty.
Matching up the service dates and investigating surname variations for Titus “Hayward” led us to the record of Titus Haywood. His service record (available online and summarized in MSSRW) shows that he enlisted on March 14, 1777 and served in Edmund Munroe’s Company, Mass. 15th Regiment under Col. Timothy Bigelow. Captain Munroe was from Lexington as were many members of his company. The remainder came from other Middlesex County towns, including Acton men John and Theodore Barker and Titus Haywood. (MSSRW cited a return dated Feb. 2, 1778 that gave Titus Haywood’s residence as Acton and his enlistment credited to fill Acton’s quota.) Included in the company were at least five other soldiers who have been identified as people of color. The company served in the Northern Department and fought at Saratoga. Titus Haywood apparently was not able to participate in the actual Saratoga campaign. By September 1, 1777, he was reported as being sick in the hospital, later was reported as sick at Albany where there was a large military hospital, and finally in April 1778 was reported as having died on Nov. 5, 1777.
Astoundingly, though later town records and histories listed Titus “Hayward” as a soldier, mentioned his race, and specified who was paid for his enlistment bounty, nowhere in town records did we find a mention of the fact that he died while in service. It is a reminder of how “history” comes to us. In later years, there was much more interest in soldiers who died in battle and in the Actonians who were “first at the Concord bridge.” Other stories disappeared over time.
Many questions remain unanswered. Who was Titus Haywood/Hayward? While some have guessed that the man Simon Tuttle hired might have been his slave originally, that hypothesis may be incorrect. We had thought that perhaps the Titus Tuttle who served from Acton in the Revolution might be the same person as Titus “Hayward” in the Woodbury list, but we have not yet found any evidence confirming that theory. We found some Titus Tuttles alive after the war. Clearly those individuals were not the Titus Haywood who died in 1777.
We did find one record for a Titus Haywood that may be the same person. An entry in MSSRW for a Titus Haywood (no town given) shows him as a private in Captain John Hartwell’s co., Col Dike’s regiment. He enlisted Dec. 14, 1776 and was credited to the town of Concord. The regiment served until March 1, 1777. He would have been available to reenlist on March 14, 1777 and be credited to Acton, which would have made him eligible for the 24-pound bounty from the town. We hope that he actually received it. Town records do not indicate why it took a special town vote for Simon Tuttle to be paid for hiring him.
So far, we have not discovered the story of Titus Haywood’s earlier life. Our search for information will continue, but on this Memorial Day, we honor the memory of Titus Haywood who served for the town of Acton and never made it back.
Samuel’s family connections made it highly likely that Samuel also served in the Revolution. Samuel’s brothers Asa and Nathan and many of their relatives served. Samuel also had many soldiers in his family on his wife’s side; she was Lucy Davis, first cousin to Captain Isaac Davis who led the Acton minutemen and fell at Concord’s North Bridge.
We checked our standard town histories by Fletcher and Phalen, both of which reprinted Rev. James T. Woodbury’s listing of Actonians who were known (at the time the list was created, sometime in the mid-1800s) to have served in the Revolution. The list is not perfect, and Rev. Woodbury acknowledged at the time that it was incomplete. However, Samuel Parlin did appear in that listing. Some of his children and other relatives living in Acton were the likely sources.
Our next challenge was to try to determine when Samuel actually served. Fortunately, our quest was made much easier when we were able to turn to the Robbins papers in our own archives. Not every man who served is listed there either, but for lucky people researching certain individuals, the papers can be a goldmine. It happens that Samuel Parlin was listed as one of the Actonians who signed up on September 29, 1774, “thinking our Selves Ignorant in the Military Art and Willing to be Instructed” by Captain Joseph Robbins in a militia company. Later, Captain Robbins documented the fact that Samuel Parlin had served under him in 1776 (as did his brothers Nathan and Asa). We also discovered that much later, Concord’s Gazette and Yeoman listed those who were living in Acton in April 1824 who had fought at Concord on April 19, 1775. Samuel Parlin was included. (April 24, 1824, p. 2)
Having confirmed that Samuel Parlin did indeed serve in the Revolutionary War, we set out to learn about the rest of his life. Samuel was born in Acton on May 18, 1747 to Jonathan Parlin and Sarah Warner. His family were among of the original residents of Acton when it became a town in 1735. They lived in the northern part of Acton (previously Concord) that eventually became Carlisle. A map of historic home sites done by Donald Lapham in 1969 shows that the Jonathan Parlin house was located at 322 West Street (at the corner of Acton Street) in present-day Carlisle.
According to The Descendants of Nicholas Parlin, Samuel had numerous siblings, the oldest of whom (Jonathan) died as a soldier in the French and Indian War in 1758. The book lists two brothers (Nathan and Asa) serving in the Revolution and, with some question, an additional soldier brother Nathaniel. Aside from a muster and payroll record indicating that “Nathaniel” Parlin marched from Acton to Roxbury on March 4, 1776 and served six days, we could find no vital or other records for a man of that name. It is very likely that the record was actually Nathan’s. Samuel had a sister Elizabeth who never married, and as the Parlin genealogy added, unhelpfully, “There were four other children, all girls.” (p. 22). We were able to find in Acton’s vital records that Samuel had three additional sisters, Sarah, Lucy, and Mary. Sarah died in 1759. Acton death records do not mention Lucy and Mary, but they must have died before their father, as his probate record does not list them as survivors. (It also does not list a son Nathaniel.)
Samuel’s father Jonathan died in 1767. His estate included an 87-acre farm, partly in Acton and partly in Westford, bordering on the land of John Heald Jr. The farm was left 1/3 to Samuel’s mother, as was customary, and 2/3 to the eldest surviving brother Nathan who lived out his life in Carlisle. Asa eventually farmed nearby and served the town of Carlisle for many years as town clerk and selectman.
Samuel Parlin, however, moved to a part of town that remained Acton. On March 26, 1772, he married Lucy Davis (1749-1829), daughter of John and Sarah (Flint) Davis of Acton. Samuel and Lucy had eight children:
We know that Samuel Parlin lived at what would now be 48 Hammond Street. The house, which stood until a tragic fire in 1985, was believed to have been built approximately 1772 -1776, presumably based on the date of Samuel’s marriage to Lucy Davis. Supporting that estimate, we found that in the tax valuation of 1771, Samuel was listed without taxable property, but in Lucy’s father’s 1778 probate record, Samuel Parlin was already a landowner. Lucy inherited eight acres of pasture and woodland, known as part of the “Proctor Place” that bordered land of “Samuel Parling.” The probate record also noted that Lucy’s father had previously given her 86 pounds, 19 shillings and 9 pence, probably the value of land John gave to Lucy and Samuel as they started their life together. Lucy inherited an additional thirty-acre lot on the “westerly side of Nagog Hill” when her eldest brother John died in an accident on March 2, 1791. The lot was bounded by land that had been set off to her sister Abigail Conant and by land of Simon Tuttle and Samuel Jones Jr.
Samuel first appears in Acton’s town meeting records as a fence viewer in 1776. He was clearly back from military service in 1780 because he was chosen selectman and assessor in that year. Starting in 1783, he was chosen regularly for roles such as constable, tithing man, assessor, surveyor of timbers or highways, and school committee. He was also selected as a member of special committees, for example to deal with abatements to individuals’ taxes and to deal with the selectmen about town expenditures. He was made a member of the committee to instruct the Convention at Concord in Oct. 1786 (probably the Middlesex County convention dealing with issues that led to Shay’s Rebellion). In May 1798, town meeting records show that he was selected for a special committee “In a Constitutional mannar to take under Consideration the alarming Situation of our publick affairs and express there minds thereon the Town Expressed there minds agreeable to this article and Chose Jonas Brooks John Edwards Jonas Heald Samuel Parling and Thomas Noys a Committee to publish the Same.” (This was probably related to tricky diplomatic issues with France.) It is clear that Samuel Parlin was a trusted figure in town, someone who could handle both money and negotiations amid controversy.
According to church records, on Nov. 24, 1791, Samuel Parlin was chosen for the office of Deacon of the First Parish church of Acton. On April 19, 1792, the record continued that Samuel Parlin having declined, the church chose Simon Hunt who accepted and “took the seat” in August. While the Parlin genealogy refers to him as “Deacon Samuel,” there is no record that Samuel Parlin actually ever “took the seat” himself. The story of why he declined the honor never made it to the history books.
Samuel Parlin died on March 7, 1827, leaving his widow Lucy and four surviving children. At the time of his death, his real estate included the home farm containing 38 acres of land, a 5-acre “Sargent Meadow”, a 6-acre “Chaffin Meadow”, and an 11-acre “Littleton Pasture.” He also had the title to pew number 42 on the lower floor of the Acton Meeting house. Among his personal belongings were agricultural products and tools, cows, swine, sheep, and, oddly, ½ of a horse. Samuel’s widow Lucy survived him by two years, and eldest son Jonathan only by three. The home farm passed to son Davis in 1831. The house eventually went out of the family to Thomas Hammond whose name was given to the road on which they lived. When some of the land was developed in the late 1960s, the new road was given the name of Samuel Parlin Drive.
Our research into Samuel Parlin reminded us of a few lessons that are worth repeating. Despite having found what looked like a very complete genealogy of the Parlin family, if we had not checked each item, we would have believed that Samuel had an additional brother named Nathaniel and that Samuel’s son Samuel Jr. lived to adulthood and married a woman named Phoebe. If we had only paid attention to the flag holder in Woodlawn Cemetery, we would have thought that Samuel’s military service was in the War of 1812, not the Revolution. And if we had stopped our searching at Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, we would have missed Samuel’s service, the best documentation of which, ironically, is in our own archives.
Some Sources Consulted:
Lyman Cutler's Select School, 1849
As mentioned in a recent blog post, in mid-1800s Acton, a college student or recent graduate could earn funds by teaching an advanced private school session during the fall when the public schools were closed. A descendant of a student in one of those schools recently shared with us a document relating to Lyman Cutler’s Select School held in the autumn of 1849. This presumably was the Mr. Cutler whose teaching in the fall of 1848, according to the 1848-1849 School Committee report, was so popular that it created problems for the teacher of the public school in the winter term; the older students apparently did not give the public schoolteacher a chance. Until seeing this document, we did not know that Mr. Cutler came back to Acton the following autumn.
The document lists the 29 students of the school, divided into “Masters” and “Misses.” Some were also students in F. W. Pelton’s 1852 private high school, and some were siblings. The document may have been a recommendation, because the “Remarks” at the bottom state that, “The Scholars enjoyed the School without any exceptions, and in the opinions of Visitors made good improvement.”
We looked into the life of this promising teacher. Lyman Cutler was born in Holliston, MA on August 4, 1826 to Amos Cutler and Sarah Topliff. He had at least three brothers and a sister. Instability and tragedy seem to have affected the family during Lyman’s childhood, and Sarah and her children returned to Dorchester where she had grown up. Despite apparent early difficulties, three sons were able to pursue higher education. Lyman studied privately under Reverend Dr. Perry of Bradford, MA and entered Dartmouth College in 1843. While there, he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. He graduated with honor in 1847 and immediately went to Andover Theological Seminary. It would have been during fall breaks in his Andover studies that he taught in Acton to earn money. He graduated in 1850. (Two younger brothers followed him to Andover Theological Seminary; Calvin, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1856 and Seminary in 1861 and Elijah who graduated from Williams College in 1856 and Seminary in 1862.)
The newly-minted Reverend Cutler was called to the Evangelical Church in Pepperell, MA and was installed on January 22, 1851. The Boston Recorder reported the event and indicated that Pepperell had done well to have obtained Lyman Cutler as their pastor, because his “reputation as a youthful preacher has already made him somewhat in demand among the churches.” (Jan. 30, 1851, p. 18) On March 14, 1851, he married Elizabeth Hill of Conway, NH. Lyman Cutler returned to Acton to participate in the installation of Rev. Benjamin Dodge at the Evangelical (Congregational) Church in October, 1852, presumably seeing some of his former students there.
Rev. Cutler was only in Pepperell for 2.5 years. While there, however, he managed to get into a dispute with Daniel Foster, a speaker for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society who lectured in Pepperell in May 1852. The dispute may have been partly personal and partly religious, but without actually mentioning names, Rev. Cutler apparently attempted to persuade his flock that Daniel Foster was not to be trusted, causing quite a furor. To be fair, we only have the words of aggrieved letter writers in the Liberator and not Rev. Cutler’s side of the story. (Oct. 8, 1852, p. 163, Dec. 17, 1852, p. 204) He was not the first minister with Acton ties to be at odds with the Liberator, as discussed in our blog post on Rev. James T. Woodbury’s dispute with Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison. (We can see from the student list that Reverend Woodbury’s son Porter was in Lyman Cutler’s 1849 school.) Other references to Rev. Cutler’s career were more favorable. He did not have long to prove himself. By November 1853, he was sick and asked to be dismissed from his role in Pepperell. It was a difficult decision for him. With rest, he managed to regain his health enough to start preaching again.
Though not in perfect health, he was called by Eliot Church in Newton to be their pastor and was installed there on October 25, 1854. Unfortunately, 1855 was a terrible year for the family. Lyman and his wife Elizabeth lost their only child Lyman Edwards Cutler on January 16, 1855 at the age of sixteen months to “congestion of the brain.” The Boston Herald had just reported that Rev. Cutler was in a “feeble state of health” himself and would be taking a leave of absence with pay. (Jan. 12, 1855, p. 2) Sadly, on April 28, 1855, Lyman succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 28. His gravestone, next to his son’s in East Parish Burying Ground in Newton, was erected by members of the Eliot Church “in memory of their late beloved pastor.”
A lengthy obituary in the Congregationalist mentioned Lyman Cutler’s ability to speak with “great force and beauty of imagination,” “great emotive power” and “irrepressible fervency.... When he was impassioned the tones of his voice were thrilling. The work of persuading men was natural to him.” He was also apparently social and warm-hearted and had a capacity for drawing “to himself the hearts of his fellow-men.” (May 18, 1855, p.1) It is not at all surprising that Lyman Cutler’s school would have been exceptionally popular with Acton’s students.
A comprehensive biography of Lyman Cutler can be found in the Congregationalist, May 18, 1855, p. 1, “Rev. Lyman Cutler.” His select school is mentioned in the 1848-1849 Acton School Committee report, p. 11. He also appeared in catalogues of alumni of both Dartmouth College and Andover Theological Seminary and was mentioned in his brothers’ biographies as well. See especially his entry in Chapman’s 1867 Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College, page 366. The Boston Recorder described his installation at Pepperell (Jan. 30, 1851, p. 18) and Newton (Nov. 2, 1854, p. 174) and his visit to Acton (Nov. 4, 1852, p. 178). Brown University has a copy of his 1854 installation program in its archives.
A biography of Daniel Foster that sheds some light on the dispute with Lyman Cutler and other “orthodox” ministers can be found in the October 2005 newsletter of the Chester Historical Society, “Reverend Daniel Foster ‘The Fighting Chaplain of the Massachusetts 33rd.”
Thank you to our donor for sharing information about Lyman Cutler’s Select School. In the course of researching Rev. Cutler’s time at Dartmouth, we found quite a few other Dartmouth students who taught in Acton. Most taught in the winter term of the public schools and were discussed in school committee reports. We did not find such records for the teaching of Reverend James Fletcher (1843-1844) and Sylvanus Dearborn (1855), either because of record availability or because they taught privately. If you have more information about their teaching or about other private school teachers in Acton, please contact us.
West Acton Tried to Secede
In our collection are two maps of Acton and Boxborough with a red outline around part of Acton, dating back to 1868-1869. At that time, residents of the western part of Acton were proposing to secede and join with Boxborough in creating a new town. Shown with the maps are the two towns’ relative populations, areas, and tax valuations, and how those would change if the proposal passed. The new town would take 26% of Acton’s population, 18% of its area, and 25% of its tax valuation. Previous local historians have puzzled over this village uprising (see references), but recently the Society was fortunate to be given access to a memoir from George C. Wright that discussed the West Acton secession proposal from the perspective of someone involved. Having access to digitized newspapers from the time added other details to the story.
Decisions over the exact route of railroads and the location of depots led to changes in the relative fortunes of many towns and villages in the 1800s. Some boomed while others were passed by. To Boxborough residents in the 1860s, this was an issue of great importance. After failing to get a depot of their own, Boxborough residents generally went to West Acton to send their produce to market or to get to the city themselves. For most of Boxborough’s inhabitants, the nearest store was in West Acton. The central issue from Boxborough’s perspective was that the railroad had changed West Acton’s fortunes for the better. Boxborough residents were helping it to thrive, and they wanted some of the tax benefits. Underlying some of the agitation was probably the fact that businessmen with Boxborough roots had moved to West Acton, prospered, and contributed to the growth of their adopted village.
George C. Wright wrote that about the time that the railroad came through in the 1840s, there was a small “boom” in West Acton, a place that had previously barely had enough economic activity to be called a village. (p.2) Though South Acton eclipsed it as a center of industry and mercantile activity, West Acton certainly grew as a result of the railroad. While presumably Boxborough’s farmers profited personally from having a railroad nearby to take their goods to wider markets, one can understand that they wanted the benefits for their town that they saw accruing to their neighbors each time they headed east on the turnpike.
The actors in the secession drama seem to vary depending upon who was telling the story. The petition to the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts, published by the town of Littleton, stated that the 57 signers were a mix of Boxborough and Acton citizens. However, after tracing each signer, we were able to find a Boxborough listing in the 1870 census or other evidence of Boxborough residence for 50 of them (plus another whose name was probably misspelled). Two signers had lived in both Boxborough and Acton, and four signers’ residence eluded us. Absent from the petition are the names of the quite well-known businessmen of West Acton with roots in Boxborough, among them West Acton Meads and Blanchards, and George C. Wright (who spent his teenage years in Boxborough). According to Phalen’s History of the Town of Acton, the petition’s supporters were the majority of the people of Boxborough and “the disgruntled minority” of Acton citizens who were trying to create a town “cut to their own pattern” that, by weight of numbers, they would be able to dominate. Phalen said, “The coterie in West Acton that started the scheme was motivated by no altruistic notions with respect to the established families of old Boxborough.... Very shortly the rural community would have found itself perpetually out-voted and more or less ignored except as an expansion area for its vigorous and ambitious new bedfellow.” (p. 203-204)
Based on the published list of petitioners and Phalen’s history, we might have thought that the proposed new town was really a “Boxborough issue” with the support of a few West Acton outsiders. However, George C. Wright’s version of events contradicts that conclusion.
George C. Wright and West Acton’s Boxborough natives were extremely generous to West Acton and did much for its development. (See our blog post on George C. Wright.) Over the long haul, they did not come across as the disgruntled “coterie” that Phalen described. Nonetheless, apparently George C. Wright not only approved, but was a leader of the secession effort. He wrote that the proposal was backed by “a large majority of the citizens of West Acton,” including native Boxborough businessmen, and that “I was heartily in favor of the project and was chairman of the committee to secure the necessary action by the legislature. I did everything I could to carry the measure through, sparing neither time or money...” (p. 6)
Town meeting records from Acton show that the proposed secession of West Acton had been discussed at the November 3, 1868 town meeting. The citizens of Acton as a whole disapproved. The vote was 204 to 45 in favor of a resolution that included the following statements:
The town then chose a Committee of seven “to save the town from prospective trouble and ruin.” They were authorized to hire counsel at the expense of the town of Acton. The chosen committee members were Luther Conant, William W. Davis, John Fletcher Jr., George Gardner, Aaron C. Handley, William D. Tuttle, and Daniel Wetherbee.
Apparently undeterred by opposition from the rest of the town of Acton, the proponents of the proposal moved forward. Both sides hired lawyers. On January 18, 1869, the petition to create a new town (officially known as the petition from “H. E. Felch and others” ) was referred from the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate to the (joint) Committee on Towns. (The Committee was surprisingly busy with other proposals as well; disagreements over territory were not unique to Boxborough and Acton. In fact, Boxborough and Littleton had their own disagreement before the Committee in 1868 and 1869, illustrated by the green-shaded properties on our maps.)
The Acton committee against the proposal apparently got busy gathering signatures. Between January 27 and Feb. 2, “remonstrances” were presented by lawyers and referred to the Committee on Towns. The remonstrances were labelled with the name of the first signer “and others”, so we know that five anti-secession remonstrances were filed from Acton with the first signers being W. E. Faulkner, Daniel Wetherbee, Luther Conant, Lewis F. Ball, and George Gardner. (The latter was ”George Gardner and 18 others of West Acton” according to the Boston Herald, Feb. 3, p. 1.) On Feb. 2, there was also a remonstrance from Simeon Wetherbee and 22 others of Boxborough. According to the final report of the Committee on Towns (in our archives), the total number of remonstrants was 313.
Those in favor of the petition also obtained more signatures. On Feb. 8, the Journal of the House shows that “Mr. Fay of Concord presented the petition of Wm. Reed and others of Acton and Boxborough, in aid of the petition of H. E. Felch and others.” (p. 103) Non-resident owners of real estate in Boxborough signed a petition in favor of the new town that was presented on Feb. 10 (“Henry Fowler and Others”). The total number in favor mentioned in the final report of the Committee on Towns was “about one hundred and forty or fifty petitioners.” (p. 2) The number is surprisingly vague, given the fact that the opposition signatures were counted exactly. Signing was obviously not considered enough; many supporters and opponents attended the hearings. The Springfield Republican reported that at some point during the proceedings, the Blue Room “was crowded almost to suffocation by Acton and Boxboro people.” (Feb.20, 1869, p. 2)
In this midst of the petitioning and remonstrating, a call apparently went out for funding and naming the new town. A correspondent signing as “Maxwell” wrote to the Lowell Courier (Jan. 13, 1869, p. 2):
When the petition is granted and the new town is born, it is reported, should some gentleman wish to have the town named for him, his wish can and will be granted should his name be acceptable to the people and his bequest or donation, to the town, be a million or some considerably less. We learn that a gentleman residing not far from Shirley and Groton Junction stands ready to give his hundreds, if not thousands, to have the town take his name.
Clearly there were rumors about the possible naming of the new town. Local historians have tried to determine what the name might have been. Phalen stated that no records mentioned a new name, although he had heard a “legend” the name would have been Bromfield. (p. 203-4) Local historians in the 1990s-2010 era accessed the memory of a couple of descendants of long-time local families who thought that the name was to have been Blanchardville. Given later Blanchards’ generosity to both towns, this was a plausible name. However, with the advantage of access to digitized newspapers of the 1860s, we investigated what was said in the 1868-69 period. We did not find contemporary mentions of Blanchardville (except for a village of that name in Hampden County, MA), but we did find in the Boston Traveler of Feb. 13, 1869 (p. 4) a report on the Boxboro’ and West Acton case that mentioned “the proposed new town of Bromfield.” The Springfield Republican (Feb. 20, p. 2) confirmed that the name was “Bromfield.” The Lowell Courier of Feb. 26 (p. 3) reported on the “very lively and interesting” set of hearings held on the new town of “Bramfield.” It also stated that the petitioners from Boxborough suggested that “such annexation would increase the value of their real estate by giving them a local habitation and a name, particularly the latter.” The implication seems to be that there was money to be gained from the new name, but whether there was actually a Mr. Bromfield (or Bramfield) “ready to give his hundreds, if not thousands,” we have not discovered.
Newspapers were also helpful in describing the progress of the proposal. The Boston Journal reported that the Committee on Towns took up the petition on Monday Feb. 1, 1869 and planned to visit the towns in question the following Friday. Boxborough was nearly unanimously in support of the proposal while 4/5 of West Acton supported it. (Feb. 2, p. 2) The Lowell Courier, seemingly with an opinion on the matter, reported that “Nearly all the people of both places are in favor of the union. Some opposition will be made by the town of Acton, which, however, will have left in case of division a territory larger than that of the new town, and nearly double the number of inhabitants.” (Feb. 3, 1869, p. 2)
On Tuesday Feb. 9, the Committee on Towns held an early hearing on the matter. “Nearly all the legal voters of Boxboro were present, quite depopulating the town.” (Boston Herald, Feb. 9, p. 4) The arguments centered on the growth of West Acton since the building of the Fitchburg railroad and that “many of the people of Boxboro had removed thence to get the advantages of the railroad, and all of their business and other interests centered about that locality. The opposition to the project comes from the town of Acton, the people of West Acton and of Boxboro being united in favor of it.” (Boston Herald, Feb. 9, p. 4)
On Feb. 10, the Boston Post (p. 3) reported that the hearing continued, but the Post’s only other comment was that “Several witnesses were called. Their testimony is not of general interest.” Fortunately, The Lowell Courier (Feb. 26, p. 3) filled in more of the arguments. In addition to Boxborough’s assertions, West Acton petitioners claimed that the new town would benefit them economically. (Their plan seems to have been that the town hall and business of the new town would be located in West Acton.) Notably, there was no claim that the town of Acton had treated them badly in the past. On the other side, the anti-petitioners from Boxborough wanted to leave their town as it was, quiet and peaceable. They feared that any benefits of the arrangement would go to West Acton, which would dominate them numerically. Acton’s opposition included “all but three of the legal voters outside of the territory proposed to be set off, with nineteen living on the territory”. Among their objections, the Courier noted that the section to be taken from Acton included some of the town’s best farming land. The result would be an awkwardly-shaped, narrow town with, they feared, decreased property values, increased taxes, and impairment to their schools. “Why, they ask, should they be impoverished that others may be enriched?” Other arguments listed in the final report of the Committee on Towns were the fact that Acton had just recently built “a large and commodious town hall,” that they had paid to build and repair roads that would now be part of another town, that having a smaller population would defer for even longer the hope of a high school in the town, and that this could set a precedent for South Acton that might seek its own alliance with the thriving village of Assabet. (p. 3)
George C. Wright’s memoir added:
[A] strong opposer was the late Dea. Silas Hosmer, one of our own citizens. Dea. Hosmer went before the Committee on towns with a carefully prepared paper opposing the proposed dismemberment of the town of Acton, and the point which seemed to carry the most weight with the committee was his statement that every patriot, whose bones are in the Davis monument, was born in the part of Acton which it was proposed to set off for a new town, and two of the three men went from homes in West Acton to die for their country on April 19, 1775, so that, if the proposed measure should be carried through, there would appear an anomalous state of things, namely, the situation of an imposing monument in one town in honor of men belonging to another town. (p.6)
The legislators no doubt would have been reminded that much of the monument’s cost had been funded by the Commonwealth.
George C. Wright also mentioned that “Among the influences which worked against us, one was found in George Parker, Esq., a member of the legislature, who was a native of Acton and a son-in-law of Rev. J. T. Woodbury. Mr. Parker’s opposition was very earnest and effective.” (p. 6) Rev. Woodbury had been the driving force behind getting the grant for the monument. (Research indicates that George Gedney Parker, born in Acton to Asa and Ann M. Parker, married Augusta Woodbury. In 1869, he was a lawyer in Milford, MA. He had not yet been elected to the legislature, but another of Rev. Woodbury’s Milford lawyer sons-in-law, Thomas G. Kent, was actually part of the Committee on Towns.)
The closing arguments to the petition debate were made to the Committee on Towns on the morning of February 13. Lawyers for the opposition, Hon. David H. Mason of Newton and Samuel W. Butler, Esq. made the arguments, including an apparently eloquent recap of Silas Hosmer’s objections. Also mentioned was the “fact that the village of West Acton, by its numerical superiority, would control the proposed new town of Bromfield, and that not the slightest necessity was shown for the change, or for breaking across old town lines.” (Boston Traveler, Feb. 13, p. 4) Lawyers for the petitioners, George M. Brooks and George Heywood of Concord, spent 1-2 hours making their case that Boxborough needed help to stop its decline, that Boxborough and West Acton would benefit from the plan, and that the evidence for making a change “came from the best men in West Acton and in Boxboro’.” (Boston Traveler, Feb. 13, p. 4)
The next week, the Committee on Towns held a private meeting. The result was its report of February 18, 1869 in which “with all but entire unanimity” the Committee found that though the town of Boxborough was indeed too small, if the petition were granted, both the new town and Acton would be too small. The committee was unconvinced that the new town would grow, having “no water power and no manufacturing interest well established.” (p. 4) They foresaw future political problems with a town “center” situated so far from the western boundary of the new town. Overall, the petitioners had not proved that the formation of a new town was best for the “public good.” In fact, they added:
...rather than cripple Acton in her enterprise or encroach upon her historic limits for the benefit of [Boxborough], as her inhabitants have no desire to retain their name and distinct organization, it will be an easy task to so apportion her territory to other towns as to benefit all and injure none; but with this matter the Committee are not asked and do not desire to interfere. (p. 4-5)
Boxborough’s willingness to give up its identity ended up working against the proposal. It is very likely that many residents of Boxborough over the years have looked back on the decision as a fortuitous one for their town in the long run. Boxborough has maintained its identity and grown its own way. Proponent George C. Wright, looking back in his later years, had this to say from the perspective of his decades in West Acton:
The result was we were defeated, and as time has passed, I have come to feel that it is just as well our measure failed to be a success. In these last years, the town of Acton has done everything for us as a village that we could reasonably ask to have done.
References (in addition to newspaper articles cited in the text):
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