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Historic Homes and Places



The great metropolis of London belongs to the ancient Middlesex county of England, and Walter Thornbury, when writing his history of that city, entitled "Old and New London", was so impressed by the fact that "writing the history of the vast city like London" was "like writing a history of the ocean"-the vast area; the multifariousness of its inhabitants; and the countless treasures that lie in its depths;-that he asks the question, what aspect should one select? The history of the New England Middlesex, covering its two hundred and sixty-four or more years, though younger by far than its elder, presents from its size, its large population, its multifarious interests, and the number of its cities and towns, a similar impression upon any one who has the boldness to attempt to write on any aspect of the subject.

The New England Middlesex obtained its name from the Middlesex of Old England, one of the most important counties in the kingdom, including within its limits a large part of the present city of London. The English Middlesex, though territorially of lesser extent than many English counties, was probably the most prominent of all in topographical and historical interest, and from the connection that the Middlesex county of England bears to the metropolis of London and the river Thames, the New England Middlesex, from its situation, has a similar relation to the metropolis of Boston, and the river Charles.

The English Middlesex derives its name from its relative situation to the three surrounding kingdoms or counties of East, West, and South Saxons, the first two of which were East-Sex, or Essex; and West-Sex, or Wessex. The English Middlesex, in which the names of London and Middlesex are synonymous, derives its existence from a period previous to the Roman invasion, and the Thames river is a prominent feature of its topography. It has an extent of about seventeen by twenty-three miles, or about 280 square miles. The English Middlesex was particularly well suited for the purpose of agriculture, and it was a well cultivated county. An old writer (Norden) speaking of its fertility, and of the love of its people for tilling its soil; who had rather delve in its dirt, than live in palaces, says;

"The deep and dirtie loathsome soyle

Yeelds golden gaine to paneful toyle."

The crops of the English Middlesex were beans, green peas, barley, rye, oats, cabbages, turnips, wheat, clover, carrots, parsnips, buckwheat and potatoes. Hay-making among the farmers of the English Middlesex was an art conducted in a superior manner to that of any other part of the island. The oldest farm houses in the English Middlesex were of wood, lathed and plastered, with the roofs thatched. These were the sort of houses the New England immigrants had left, and this was the sort of farming with which they were acquainted, and which they sought to put into practice here. The population of English Middlesex, including London, in 1801, was 918,629.

In common with the old county on the other side of the ocean, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the American Middlesex county had a canal for the transportation of passengers and merchandise, the English Middlesex had two, while the American Middlesex had one, which bore the name of the county.

Essex in England is old equally with Middlesex, and was known at the time of the Roman invasion of Great Britain. The waters of the Thames are on its borders. Essex formed a separate and distinct kingdom during a part of the Saxon domination, and was called EastSeaxa, but the time of its first establishment and its termination as a Saxon kingdom are not authenticated. It was also less noticed by historians than any of the others. The county was bordered by Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on the north, by the counties of Hertford and Middlesex on the west, by the river Thames on the south, and by the sea on the east. Its extent from east to west was estimated at sixty miles, and from north to south at about fifty, its circumference being computed at 225 miles. It contained about four hundred parishes and townships and twenty-five towns, containing, about 1801, 226,437 inhabitants.

Suffolk in England is bounded on the north by Norfolk, on the east by the German ocean, on the south by Essex, and on the west by Cambridgeshire. It is forty-seven miles long by twenty-seven broad. Its form indicates a surface of 1269 square miles. Its appellation is from the Saxon Sudfolk, or southern people, in contradistinction to Nordfolk, or northern people. It existed at the time of the invasion of the Romans, and its history is related to that of Norfolk. Norfolk in England is an extensive county, famous for its objects of antiquity, its geographical situation on the German ocean, its seaports, towns, seats, agriculture, and manufactured products, and it is interesting to the topographer. The topographical historian is a character peculiar to Great Britain, and topography, or description of the country, forms a large part of the historical work in the books of the early part of the nineteenth century in that kingdom. The district embraced in the English county of Norfolk was older historically than the invasion by the Romans, whose generals established a number of military posts within or contiguous to its territory. Lynn, a city name familiar on this side of the Atlantic, was within its limits.

Norfolk in England was separated by rivers from Suffolk on the south, and Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire were on the west. Its shape made it, in a sense, almost an island. The largest diameter is east to west, fifty-seven miles; the conjugate diameter, north and south, thirty-five miles, or 1426 square geographical miles. Norfolk is larger than Essex, and contained a greater number of towns and parishes than any other county in the kingdom. Its population in 1801 was 273,371.

It is to be observed, therefore, how closely the relative location of the New England counties of the first period-the four named Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Norfolk-follows those of their older namesakes in England; and how closely, too, the names of our New England towns and cities have resembled those of the older country, whence their settlers came. How closely, too, they copied the ideas and customs with which they were familiar in the mother land. The political and social structure of New England, therefore, was built mainly upon an adaptation of ideas having their origin abroad, and upon things which existed before America was established. The early Massachusetts Colony, as an outcome of the first settlement, was strictly English in its character, and remained so until long after the period of the American Revolution. The early New England historians say little regarding the origin of the New England Middlesex county, and Hutchinson, the ablest one of them all, says more than the rest, and what he says is found on a single page of his notable "History of Massachusetts", vol. i. (3d ed.) p. 112. In effect this: That in 1643 the colony had so increased that it was divided into four counties, or shires, named Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Norfolk. In a foot-note he gives the names of the towns in each county, and for Middlesex he gave the eight towns as follows: Charlestown, Cambridge, Watertown, Sudbury, Concord, Woburn, Medford, and Lynn Village (afterwards

Reading). Each of the first three counties established in 1643 contained eight towns, and Old Norfolk six. Norfolk was not the Norfolk county of to-day, but another. Essex contained Salem, Lynn, Enon (Wenham), Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Gloucester, and Chochichawick. Middlesex contained Charlestown, Cambridge, Watertown, Sudbury, Concord, Woburn, Medford and Lynn Village. Suffolk contained Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Dedham, Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, and Nantasket (Hull). Norfolk contained Salisbury, Hampton, Haverhill, Exeter, Dover, and Strawberry-Bank (now Portsmouth). In this list it will be noticed that Essex was east, Middlesex west, and Norfolk and Suffolk north and south, of each other, as. implied in their names.


Boston proper now exceeds its original limits, and has appropriated two municipalities once within the borders of Middlesex,-Charlestown and Brighton. Several cities still within Middlesex county,-Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, and Malden,-are its congeners, from their geographical positions. Near by are the cities of Medford, Melrose, Newton, Waltham, Woburn, and Lowell. Other cities easily reached are Lynn, Salem, Haverhill, Beverly, and Gloucester, the large town of Brookline, and the cities of Quincy, Brockton, Taunton, Pawtucket, New Bedford, Fall River, and Providence, and many large and small towns, are within easy reach of Boston, not to omit in the list its own county of Suffolk, with Boston and Chelsea and Revere. Greater Boston thus means large portions of four counties, namely, Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, and Norfolk, all located about Massachusetts Bay-the body of water which gave the name of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay to this part of the present State of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is a name derived from the Indians, the name of a tribe whose abode was in the vicinity of Massachusetts Bay, and signified, in their language, Blue Hills.

The Blue Hills, so easily seen from Boston Harbor, are 710 feet above high-water mark, and are in the town of Milton, in Norfolk county. The range has been a noted landmark for sailors. From the summit is had a full view of Boston and its environs, Massachusetts Bay, the Cape Cod peninsula, and the Wachusett Mountain in the interior, fifty miles distant.

Previous to the American Revolution, Massachusetts was a colony and province of England, and its laws and customs were largely those of the mother country. After 1693 the smaller colony of Plymouth was included within its borders. The other nearby colonies of that period were Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Maine till 1820 was a part of the state of Massachusetts.

The parish of the old country was established here in the colonial period generally under the name and privileges of a town, and during the provincial period (when English customs were the model) towns, where large enough, were divided into parishes, which, in a sense, were little towns within a larger town. This system was thoroughly established in Massachusetts by 1750, and emigration had then begun to the newer towns in New Hampshire, and probably in Maine. This emigration was due to the natural increase of the population, and the desire for more farms. The settlement of the country from the time of the Puritans increased at a greater rate than is to-day imagined, and by 1700 the province was well supplied with farms, was well stocked with domestic animals and fruits such as were commonly known in the old country, and the only interference with agricultural prosperity (the mercantile element being greatly in the minority) were the frequent wars with their enemies, which harassed the land for many years.

Authorities: County histories were more common in Great Britain in former times than in Massachusetts. More than a century ago county histories and local histories of great merit were published in great numbers in the older country. Such works were remarkable for their cost, for sumptuous bindings, for beautiful illustrations, for accurate typography, for size, and thor

oughness of research. These English writers gleaned all that was practically known of the early period in their own country. I name a few titles:

"The History and Antiquities of the Town and County of the Town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, including an Account of the Coal Trade of that place, and embellished with engraved views of the Publick Buildings, &c." By John Brand, M. A., London, 1789. Two vols.

"A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, including the Borough of Gateshead." By E. Mackenzie. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827. Two vols. bound in one.

"The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Descriptive, of each County." By John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley. London, 1801-1818. 18 vols., and several additional parts.

"The Beauties of Scotland: containing a clear and full account of the Agriculture, Commerce, Mines, and Manufactures; of the population, cities, towns, villages, &c., of each County". By Robert Forsyth. Edinburgh, 1805-08. 5 vols.

"The Beauties of Ireland: being Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Biographical, of each County." By J. N. Brewer. London, 1825-26. 2 vols.

"Historical Collections, being General Collections of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c., relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Massachusetts, with geographical descriptions." By John Warner Barber. Worcester, 1839. "A Gazetteer of Massachusetts, containing descriptions of all the Counties, Towns, and Dis

tricts." By John Hayward, Boston, 1846. The "New England Gazetteer", by the same author (1839), is practically an earlier edition of the above work.




The town and city of Charlestown, before it was set off to Boston, was the oldest town in Middlesex county, Massachusetts, and was settled directly by English immigrants under the leadership of Governor John Winthrop. It included originally within its bounds Somerville, Malden, Everett, Stoneham, Winchester, Woburn, and Burlington, and a large part of Arlington and Wilmington. Latterly its limits were confined to the peninsula bearing the name of Charlestown, and now it has lost its identity in that of Boston, and has been annexed to Suffolk county.

James F. Hunnewell, an authority on the subject of architecture, in his "Century of Town Life", a history of Charlestown, Massachusetts, from 1775 to 1887, has given an account, among many other things, of the old houses of that place. The town was burned in 1775 by the British, but it had had a history from 1629. In the matter of buildings before the conflagration of 1775, Hunnewell says: "We can feel pretty sure that, according to the Provincial way, English fashions were followed as far as means allowed, and that the town was not better than one in England made during the earlier

half of the (eighteenth) century, when the style of building in such was plain, or at best quaint, and the structure apt to be small." The people were mainly Congregationalists in religion, and with few exceptions English in origin. There was little of the fashionable element of that day among them. The richest were the few engaged in commerce; next the distillers; next the bakers, etc.

Mr. Hunnewell in a dozen pages describes a variety of old houses, mostly built of wood, of the following style of architecture: (1) houses two stories high, with narrow windows, a huge chimney in the middle, and low rooms having plastered ceilings crossed by stout painted beams (a specimen of architecture that dated as far back almost as 1688); (2) houses of wood, two stories high (built after 1775); (3) an oblong house of two or three stories, with an end at the sidewalk of the street,-at the inner end a wing, generally of two stories; (4) another form was a square structure of the same height, with a similar wing, the front door being usually on the street. There were structures of this sort later of brick.

Thomas B. Wyman, writing at a period about the year 1879, says of Charlestown: "There were, fifty years ago, four large mansions, square and two stories high, of the same general outline, with extensive grounds (1) James Harrison's; (2) Nathan Adam's; (3) Nathan Bridge's; (4) Nathan Tufts'. Thomas Bellows Wyman, "Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown," (Boston, 1879) p. 8.

Mr. Hunnewell's "Century of Town Life", and the "Bibliography of Charlestown and Bunker Hill", by the same writer, contain much of value to one who has an interest in Old Charlestown; and Mr. Timothy T. Sawyer's book with the title "Old Charlestown", also contains much concerning the old houses.

As one rides through its streets, here and there may be seen a house of the earlier type, but these, owing to modern changes, are, alas, rare; and none of these structures are old, in the stricter sense; for many towns in Middlesex county have to-day to their credit, houses which in comparison are really ancient. Let us pass, therefore, to the next oldest town, which is Water



The planting of Watertown was made the subject of an article by Dr. Henry Bond, in Appendix I. of his "Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, including Waltham and Weston", published in the year 1855. This monumental work is familiar to the antiquaries of the older generation now living. Sir Richard Saltonstall and the Rev. George Phillips were the leaders of the company of about forty male English immigrants who in 1630 proceeded about four miles up the Charles river, and made the first settlement of Watertown. On the seventh of September, 1630, it was incorporated. It was the first of the inland towns of that day. It was occupied by its planters before any attempt was made to settle Cambridge ("The New Town"), and its limits at that time were considered indefinite, since Charlestown and Watertown territory were at first considered to be contiguous, and regarded as embracing all that territory which now constitutes Cambridge, Arlington and Lexington, since nothing was then, or as yet, defined or specially granted. This is rendered extremely probable by the language of the early authorities. The lines of Watertown, when matters were a little more settled, were like those of Charlestown, and later of Cambridge, to "run eight miles into the country from their meeting-house, within the lines already set out." The next action on the matter was that "Watertown eight miles shall be extended upon the line between them (Watertown) and Cambridge, so far as Concord bounds give leave." The river bounds of Watertown "shall also run eight miles into the country in a straight line, as also the river doth for the most part run", to take in "all the land of that (north) side of the river, which will not fall into the square five miles granted to Dedham", etc. This complicated matter, more fully explained

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