Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

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The first monument in the cemetery was erected over the re-
mains of Hannah Adams, the historian.

PoAvers and Crawford and the elder Greenough, after making
the name of American art respected at home and abroad, now
live only in their works. At the first Great Exhibition at
Sydenham our sculptors bore off the palm for beauty, leaving
to their European brethren the award for rugged strength. Of
either of the triumvirate of deceased sculptors we have named
it would be possible to say, —

" He dated from the creation of the heautiful."

The cemetery of Mount Auburn, which is Avorthy of being
compared with no other than itself, owes its origin to the
Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Within that body the
15 V



338 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

idea originated with Dr. Jacob Bigelow, whose professional ex-
perience condemned tlie practice of burials beneath the city-
churches, while the overcrowded state of the graveyards was an
evil calling even more loudly for remedy. A meeting was held
at Dr. Bigelow's house in Summer Street, Boston, as early as
^November, 1825, at which were present John Lowell, George
Bond, William Sturgis, Thomas W. "Ward, Samuel P. Gardiner,
John Tappan, Dr. Bigelow, and Xathan Hale. From this time
the purpose seems never to have been lost sight of .by Dr.
Bigelow. The credit of originating the idea of a rural cemetery
in the vicinity of Boston belongs to William Tudor, who before
1821 suggested this very remedy for the evils attendant upon
burials within the city. His plan did not differ from that
eventually carried out in Mount Auburn.

The Horticultural Society having been incorporated in 1829,
an informal meeting was held at the Exchange Coffee House in
November of the next year, to initiate steps to bring before the
public a plan for the purchase of a garden and cemetery. From
this meeting others proceeded, until a committee was formed
with authority to secure a suitable site. George W. Brimmer,
Esq., was then the proprietor of the tract known as Sweet
Auburn, but previously as Stone's woods, which he had secured
with the view of making himself a residence and park. These
woods had, up to this time, been a favorite resort for parties of
pleasure, but the axe had already begun its Avork of ruin when
Mr. Brimmer appeared on the scene to arrest it. This gentle-
man, who had seen Pere la Chaise, became an active sympa-
thizer with the object of establishing a cemetery on that plan.
He had given $ 6,000 for Sweet Auburn, which he now ten-
dered to the Horticultural Society for this sum. The offer was
accepted. The names of the most prominent and influential
members in the community are allied with the foundation.
Webster, Story, and Everett took an active part. The one
hundred subscribers required, at sixty dollars each, to complete
the purchase, were quickly secured. On the 24th of Septem-
ber, 1831, Mount Auburn was formally dedicated. The first
interment took place during the folloAving year.



MOUNT AUBURN TO NONANTUM BRIDGE, 339

Clashing interests between the society and the lot-holders
soon called for new measures. A small beginning had been
made with the proposed garden, but the income from the cem-
etery, greater than had been expected, promised to increase
beyond the calculations of the most sanguine. It became evi-
dent that the whole tract would be wanted for a cemetery. The
idea of separation from the parent society under a government
of its own suggested itself, and was at length proposed by
Marshall P. Wilder. The discussion on this point was warm
and protracted ; so much so that Judge Story, who acted as
chairman of the cemetery committee, one day took his hat and
left the meeting in anger, but was induced to return. The
terms of separation were hnally arranged and incorporated into
the charter of the Mount Auburn Association. The society
relinquished its rights upon payment, annually, of one fourth of
the income of the cemetery, after tieducting a fixed sum for. its
expend itiu'es.

This most popular of our societies has already received a very
large income from this source, — sufficient to enable it to ex-
pand and beautify with its touch the most remote parts of the
Union. Taste is developed. A hanging garden is suspended
above the door of every cottage, and Hesperides gives up its
golden treasures at our command. Not the least of its benefits
is the inauguration of Mount Auburn, where the weary

" Choose their ground
And take their rest."

In his address on the occasion of laying the corner-stone of
Old Horticultural Hall, in 1845, Mr. Wilder well said : —

" And be it ever remembered, that to the Massachusetts Horticul-
tural Society the community are indebted for the foundation and
consecration of Mount Auburn Cemetery, — that hallowed resting-
place, that garden of graves."

We entered the cemetery with a funeral cortege, and we now
depart with one. Once past the gate the staid and solemn
collection of carriages becomes dismembered, and its sinuous



340 HISTOEIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

black line parts in fragments. The driver cracks his whip, the
horses break into a rattling pace, while the countenances of the
so-called mourners are cleared as suddenly as if a cloud had
passed from beneath the sun. Here comes the hearse to join
the homeward race, and even the still weeping, reluctant friends
are whirled away in spite of themselves. Is it a burial with
military honors 1 At entering the band plays a dirge, the com-
rades following with arms reversed, downcast eyes, and meas-
ured tread. The coffin is lowered into the grave and a volley
discharged. Once lieyond the gate arms are shouldered, the
music strikes up a lively air, and the company marches away as
gayly as on a field-day. Decorum would seem to challenge such
observances. The contrast is somewhat too strongly defined ;
the revidsion from grief to joyousness something discordant
and unworthy.

Emerging from Mount ^uburn, Ave take counsel of the
swinging sign pointing to the lane leading to Fresh Pond,
which lies but a little distance away, embosomed among the
woody hills. In England our ponds woidd be called lakes,
and our lakes might vie Avith Caspian or Euxine. But our
ponds have this advantage, that, while bearing their miniature
billows in summer, they become in winter solid acres of ice,
to be harvested within the huge storehouses on their banks.
]S"ature has fixed these reservoirs where they may best slake the
thirst of the cities, so that whether ten or twenty miles away
we may drink of their waters.

Fresh Pond seems to be the natural source of numerous
underground streams, which are found whenever the earth is
penetrated to any depth between it and Charlestown. Its
shores have been looked upon with peculiar favor for country-
seats by such as have known its natural advantages ; we would
not attempt to fix a period when it was not a famed resort for
recreation. Big-wigged magistrates and college students came
here under the Colony, boating, angling, or haunting the cool
gi'oves. It was from the effects of exposure during a fishing
excursion here that poor Governor Burnet got his death.

Historically the place has its claims as ha^dng served as a



MOUNT AUBURN TO NONANTUM BRIDGE. 341

refuge for tlie panic-stricken women and children of the neigh-
borhood on the 19th of April, 1775, One of these fugitives
thus relates her experience : —

"A few hours with the dawning day convinced us the bloody
purpose was executing ; the platoon firing assuring us the rising sun
must witness the bloody carnage. Not knowing what the event
would be at Cambridge at the return of these bloody rutfians, and
seeing another brigade despatched to the assistance of the former,
looking with the ferocity of barbarians, it seemed necessary to retire
to some place of safety till the calamity was passed. My partner had
been confined a fortiught by sickness. After dinner we set out, not
knowing whither we went. We were directed to a place called
Fresh Pond, about a mile from the town ; but what a distressed
house did we find it, filled with women whose husbands had gone
forth to meet the assailants, seventy or eighty of these (with number-
less infant children), weeping and agonizing for the fate of their
husbands. In additiun to this scene of distress we were for some
time in sight of the battle ; the glittering instruments of death pro-
claiming 1)y an incessant fire that much blood must be shed, that
many widowed and orphaned ones nmst be left as monuments of
British barbarity. Another uncomfortable night we passed ; some
nodding in their chairs, some resting their weary Limbs on the
floor."

Time out of mind the shores of the pond belonged to the
AVyeths, and one of this family deserves our notice in passing.
Nathaiiiel J. Wyetli was born and bred near at hand. Of an
enterprising and courageous disposition, he conceived the idea
of organizing- a party with which to cross the continent and en-
gage in trade with the Indian tribes of Oregon. He enlisted
one-and-twenty adventurous spirits, who made him their leader,
and with whom he set out from Boston on the 1st of March,
1822, first encamping his party on one of the harbor islands, in
order to inure them to field life. The voyagers provided them-
selves with a novel means of transportation, — no other than a
number of boats built at the village smithy and mounted on
wheels. With these boats they expected to pass the rivers
they might encounter, while at other times they Avere to serve
as wagons. The idea was not without ingenuity, but was



342 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

founded on a false estimate of the character of the streams and
of the mountain roads they were sure to meet with.

Wyeth and his followers pursued their route via Baltimore
and the railway, which then left them at the base of the Alle-
ghanies, onward to Pittsburg, at which point they took steam-
boat to St. Louis, arriving there on the 18th of April. Hith-
erto they had met with only a few disagreeable adventures.
They were now to face the real difficidties of theu' undertaking.
They soon discovered that their complicated wagons Avere use-
less, and they were forced to part with them. The warlike
tribes, whose hunting-grounds they were to traverse, began to
give them uneasiness ; and, to crown their misfortunes, they
now ascertained how ignorantly they had calculated upon the
trade with the savages.

St. Louis was then the great depot of the Indian traders,
who made their annual expeditions across the Plains, prepared
to fight or barter, as the temper of the Indians might dictate.
The old trappers who made their abode in the mountain region
met the traders at a given rendezvous, receiving powder, lead,
tobacco, and a few necessaries in exchange for their furs. To
one of these parties Wyeth attached himself, and it was well
that he did so.

Before reaching the Platte five of Wyeth's men deserted their
companions, either from dissatisfaction with their leader, or
because they had just begun to realize the hazard of the enter-
prise. Nat Wyeth, however, was of that stuff we so expressively
name clear grit. There was no flinching about him ; the Pacific
was his objective, and he determined to arrive at his destination
even if he marched alone. William Sublette's party, which
Wyeth had joined, encountered the vicissitudes common to a
trip across the plains in that day ; the only ditference being that
the New England men now faced these difficulties for the first
time, whereas Sublette's party was largely composed of experi-
enced plainsmen. They followed the course of the Platte, seeing
great herds of buffalo roaming at large^ while they experienced
the gnawings of hunger for want of fuel to cook the delicious
humps, sirloins, and joints, constantly paraded like the fruit of



MOUNT AUBURN TO NONANTUM BRIDGE. 343

Tantalus before their greedy eyes. They found the streams
turbident and swift ; the Black Hills, which the iron-horse now
so easily ascends, were infested with bears and rattlesnakes.
Many of the party fell ill from the effects of drinking the
brackish water of the Platte, Dr. Jacob Wyeth, brother of
the captain and surgeon of the party, being unluckily of this
number.

Sublette, a French Creole, and one of those pioneers that have
preceded pony-express, telegxaph, stage-coach, and locomotive,
in their onward march, had no fears of the rivalry of the Isew
England men, and readil}' took them under his protection. Be-
sides, they swelled his numbers by the addition of a score of
good rifles, no inconsiderable acquisition when his valuable
caravan entered the country of the treacherous Blackfeet, the
tliieving Crows, or warlike Xez-Perces. The united bands
arrived at Pierre's Hole, the trading rendezvous, in July, where
they embraced the fhst opportunity for repose since leaving the
white settlements.

At this place there was a further secession from AVyeth's
company, by which lie was left with only eleven men, the re-
mainder preferring to return homeward with Sublette. Petty
grievances, a somewhat too arrogant demeanor on the part of
the leader, and the conviction that the trip Avould prove a
foilure, caused these men to desert their companions wlien only
a few hundred miles distant from the mouth of the Columbia.
Before a final separation occurred, a severe battle took place
between the whites and their Indian allies and the Blackfeet,
by which Sublette lost seven of his own men killed and thirteen
wounded. None of "Wyeth's men were injured in this flght,
but a little later one of those who had separated from him was
ambushed and killed by Blackfeet.

Wyeth now joined ]Milton Sublette, the brother of "WUliani,
under Avhose guidance he proceeded towards Salmon Piver.
The Bostons, as the northwest coast Indians formerly styled all
white men, arrived at A'ancouver on the 29th of October, hav-
ing occupied seven months in a journey which may now be
made in as many days. The expedition was a failure, indeed,



3^:4 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

SO far as gain was concerned, and Wyeth's men all left him at
the Hudson's Bay Company's post. The captain, nothing
daunted, and determined to make use of his dearly bought
experience, returned to the States the ensuing season. His
adventures may be followed by the curious in the pleasant
pages of Irving's Captain Bonneville. Arriving at the head-
waters of the Missouri, he built what is known as a bull-boat,
made of buffalo-skins stitched together and stretched over a
slight frame, in wiiich, with two or three half-breeds, he con-
signed himself to the treacherous currents and quicksands of
the Bighorn. Down this stream he iloated to its confluence
with the Yellowstone. At Fort Union he exchanged -his leather
bark for a dug-out, with which he sailed, floated, or paddled
down the turbid Missouri to Camp (now Fort) Leavenworth.
He returned to Boston, and, having secured the means, again
repaired to St. Louis, where he enlisted a second company
of sixty men, with which he once more sought the old Oregon
trail.

This was forty years ago. Since then the Great American
Desert, as it was called, has undergone a magical transforma-
tion. Cities of twenty thousand inhabitants exist to-day where
Wyeth found only a dreary wilderness ; from the Big Muddy
to the Pacific you are scarcely ever out of sight of the smoke of
a settler's cabin. In looking at the dangers and trials to which
Wyetli found himself opi^osed, it must be admitted that he
exhibited rare traits of courage and perseverance, allied with
the natural capacity of a leader. His misfortunes arose through
ignorance, and perhaps, to no small extent also, from that
vanity which inclines your full-blooded Yankee to believe him-
self capable of everything, because the word " impossible " is
expunged from his vocabulary.

Fresh Pond has a present significance due wholly to its limpid
waters. In Havana, in San Francisco, and even in Calcutta,
you may read the legend " Fresh Pond Ice." What, ice afloat
on the Ganges ! N'ew England Avinter transported in crystals
to the bosom of the sacred stream ! How wondrous the first
transparent cubes must have looked to the gaping Hindoo, and



MOUNT AUBUKX TO NOXANTUM BRIDGE. 345

how old Gunga would have shivered had one of the solid blocks
fiillen into his heiy tide !

Little did John Winthrop and his associates dream that the
ice and granite which they saw with such foreboding Avould
prove mines of wealth to their descendants. The traffic in ice
was originated by Frederick Tudor in 1805, by shipping a
single cargo in a brig to Martinique. It was characterized by
tlie sagacious merchants of Eijston as a mad project, and the
adventurer was laughed at by the Avhole town. The cargo
arrived in perfect condition. The business prospered. INIr.
Tudor found other markets open to him, but Avant of means
prevented his extending his trade to the East Indies for nearly
thirty years after he had shipped his first cargo. He leased or
purchased rights at Fresh Pond, Spot Pond, Walden Pontl, and
Smith's Pond, — a railway being built to the former, solely for
the transportation of ice.

In 1835 JMr. Tudor was unable to meet his mdebtedness, but
by favor of his creditors was enabled to go on and pursue with
energy the business he had inaugurated. He discharged every
obligation in full. His house owned property in ^S^ahant,
Cliarlestown, Xew Orleans, Jamaica, Calcutta, Madras, and
Bombay, so that it was almost possible for him who at twenty-
two had founded a traffic so extraordinary to repeat the proud
boast of England, " that the sun never set on his possessions."

Let us once more take the route of the old Watertown road.
And first we greet the ancient hostelry standing in the angle
formed by the intersection of Belmont Street. This was known
in Bevolutionary times as Edward Bichardson's tavern, though,
as we have seen, it dated much fiirther back. The house has
been removed a short distance from its original location, and
has experienced changes in its exterior ; but within are still in-
tact bar-room, kitchen, and dining-room, with the spacious fire-
place, beside which hung the loggerhead. This was one of the
places where the Colony cannon and intrenching tools were
concealed. It Avas also a famous place of resort for Burgoyne's
officers, on account of the cock-pit kept on the other side of the
road. Some of these gentlemen, from the West of England,

1.5*



o4G HISTOEIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

were very partial to this cruel sport. We relate the answer of
a poor woman to whom they applied to purchase a pair of fine
birds.

" I swear now you shall have neither of them ; 1 swear now
I never saw anything so blood tliirsty as you Britonians be ; if
you can't be lighting and cutting other people's throats, you
must be setting two harjnless creatures to kill one another. Go
along, go. I have heard of your cruel doings at Watertown,
cutting off the feathers, and the poor creatures' comb and gills,
and putting on iron thijigs upon their legs. Go along, I say."

Suiting the action to the word, the old woman raised her
crutch, and threatened to execute summary justice on the offi-
cers, who did not consider it indiscreet to beat a hasty retreat.
This tavern — subsequently Bird's, and also kept by Bellows —
is now the residence of Joseph Bird, known tiirough his efforts
to discover a remedy for the prevention of conflagrations.

It is not known where Eev. George PhilHps, first pastor of
the church of Watertown, lies buried, but tradition having
assigned the little knoll a short distance beyond the tavern and
near the highway as his resting-place, Mr. Bird caused excava-
tion to be carefully made there, without finding evidence of
any remains.

A short walk brings us to the ancient burial-place of Water-
town. It is not a garden but a field of graves. The stones are
scarcely visible above the clover-tops and daisies. The red
brick and blue slate contrast somewhat sharply with the marble
and granite of the neighboring cemetery. If anything, the place
wears an even sadder aspect of neglect than its contemporary
of Old Cambridge. The very cedars seem dying. The mossy
old stone-wall which forms one side of the enclosure is half
concealed by climbing vines. One little pathway divides the
groimd in twain, giving thoughtless pedestrians a short cut
from street to street. A short cut through a graveyard !

" Good frend for lesvs sake forbeare."

This graveyard is tliought to have been used as early as
1642, although the situation before mentioned on the Bird



MOUNT AUBURN TO NONANTUM BRIDGE. 347

estate was conjectured to have preceded it, — a supposition
"whicli the examinations of Mr. Bird may be considered to have
settled. Opposite, and ■well withdrawn from tlie highway, is
the house whicli tradition, that ignis fatuus 'of history, alleges
to have been the home of Eev. ]\Ir. Phillips, — perhaps that
built for him by Sir Eichard Saltonstall. This would place it
in the front rank of old houses, where it clearly belongs, though
it has for fifty years lost the distinctive EngUsh character it
once possessed.

The second graveyard in the town, according to its present
limits, is at the junction of Mount Auburn and Common
Streets. It was established, about 1754, tlie year the meeting-
house afterwards used for the sessions of the Provincial Con-
gress was built on the same ground. The neighborhood of
the first cemetery is the supposed site of the first or second
meeting-house, it being usually placed beside Mr. Phillips's
house. The almost invariable custom of that day Avould seem
to indicate its location within the limits of the old Irarial-place.

The church, to which the sittings of Congress gave political
consecjuence, had a lofty steeple with sipaare tower and open
belfry. The entrance was on the east side. It had galleries,
and was furnished with the old-fashioned box pews, having
those movable seats Avhich every one at the conclusion of the
service felt obliged to turn back with a concussion repeated
throughout the house like an irregular volley of small-arms.
Eev. William Gordon, author of the History of our Eevolution,
officiated here as the chaplain of Congress. The vane which
belonged to this house now adorns tlie pinnacle of the ]\Ietho-
dist church.

Before you come to the bridge in "WatertoAvn, first built
in 1660, there stood until recently, within the foundry-yard
of Miles Pratt & Co., an old dwelling-house notable for its
dilapidation. It seemed scarcely able to bear its own weight,
and, as it encumbered the ground, was pidled down. During
the work of demolition the workmen found a numl^er of old
copper coins, which had remained concealed in chinks or crev-
ices a century or more. This is said to have been tlie old



348 HISTOKIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

printing-office of Benjamin Edes, who removed his type and
press from Boston in the spring of 1775. He printed for the
Provincial Congress, and many of the old broadsides of the
time bear his imprint.

dossing the bridge, the first old hoTise on the east side of the
way — now the residence of Mr. Brigham — is the Coolidge
tavern of Bevolutionary times, kept by Xathaniel Coolidge from
1764 to 1770, and afterwards by " the Widow Coolidge." Con-
temporary with this was Learned's tavern, on the site of the
Spring Hotel. Nathaniel Coolidge's was known in 1770 as the
" Sign of Mr. Willves near Nonantum Bridge." The house was
appointed as a rendezvous for the Committee of Safety in May,
1775, in case of an alarm. President Washington lodged here
in 1789, and styled the Widow Coolidge's house a very indif-
ferent one indeed.

Opposite Mr. Brigham's, and near the river-bank, is another
old house, which is situated on ground belonging from the earli-
est settlement to the Cook family. John Cook lived here during
the Eevolution, and some of the officers of our army boarded
with him at the time of the siege, of whom Colonel Knox and
Harry Jackson, bosom friends, enjoyed each other's companion-
ship during brief intervals of rest. It was probably to this place
Knox afterwards brought his wife. In a chamber of this house
Paul Eevere engraved his plates, and, assisted by John Cook,
struck off the Colony notes emitted by order of the Provincial
Congress. Lying contiguous to this estate along the river were
the old fishing- wier lands of the town.

Our rambles extend no farther in the direction avc have pur-
sued than the vicinity of the " Great Bridge," so called in the



Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 30 of 39)