Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 22, No. 2    April, 1984

Spring Meeting -- Saturday, May 12

1 pm - - Canal Walk in Wilmington Town Forest to Bedel's Pond
5 pm - - Annual Meeting, Rumford House, 90 Elm Street, Woburn

By popular request, a walk along the canal towpath in Wilmington will be held with our annual meeting again. This section includes the "S" curve of the Oxbow, the boulder with grooves out by tow ropes, Maple Meadow Brook aqueduct, and the high banked filled section. The walk is in the Wilmington Town Forest and on the beautiful land given to us by Stanley Webber and Julia Fielding.

After the walk, the annual business meeting and election of officers will be held in the Rumford House, birthplace of Benjamin Thompson who became Count Rumford.

To Wilmington Town Forest   From Route 128 in Woburn, take Route 38 2.5 miles north into Wilmington. After passing Brewster's Lumber on the right, turn left into the town parking lot. Walk around the knoll to the left.

To Rumford House   From Route 128 in Woburn, take Route 38 north about 0.5 mile, turn left at traffic light onto Elm Street. Rumford House is on the right a few doors down.

by Tom Smith

All dedicated "canalers" are aware that the Loammi Baldwin Mansion on the Middlesex Canal in North Woburn has at long last been restored to its former elegance and charm. What follows are a few anecdotes concerning its past.

Deacon Henry Baldwin, one of the signers of Woburn's "Town Orders" of 1640, settled on a tract of land in North Woburn in 1643 building a small one room dwelling. In 1661 the Deacon added a two storied "salt-box" farmhouse which, much altered, is our Baldwin Mansion. It is the oldest house in Woburn.

The most noted Baldwin to reside in the manor house was Colonel Loammi Baldwin (1745-1807) a great grandson of Henry. A Colonel in the Continental Army during the revolution, Baldwin was perhaps one of the most influential men of his day. He was the first Sheriff of Middlesex County, a State Senator, State Representative and Court Justice.

Colonel Baldwin is chiefly remembered for his two outstanding contributions to the development of the early republic. As engineer and construction superintendent of the Middlesex Canal he was a pioneer in early civil engineering and internal improvements. As the disseminator of a wild mutant species of apple on a commercial basis the Colonel brought the "Baldwin" apple into prominence and made it a leading export of America.

At the time Colonel Baldwin was involved in the construction of the Middlesex Canal, he also began making additions and improvements to his own estate.

At that point along the canal route he located his "Landing" with a private wharf and basin. The estate, which the Colonel always called the "Homestead" encompassed some 150 acres of meadows, tillage and orchards. It was a tranquil country estate with the Baldwin Mansion situated amongst the walks, shrubs and flowers of an English garden extending to the water's edge.

From the "Landing", Baldwin apples and other products of the farm were loaded onto canal boats for shipment to the Boston market.

Great parties of guests would arrive in canal packets and alight from the private basin to attend the Colonel's balls or dinners.

Although his childhood friend the expatriate Count Rumford never returned to America, the count's daughter Sarah was a frequent house guest at the mansion.

On the occasion of one of the Countess's visits the Colonel staged an elaborate "Silk Stocking" ball in her honor in his ballroom at the "1790 House".

Previous to the dance itself, Colonel Baldwin presided at a great turkey dinner for the guests at the mansion house.

Now it happened that a light snow was falling at the start of the meal. By dinner's end, however, it had become a raging blizzard. The snow became much too deep for the servants to keep a path clear between the mansion and the ballroom.

Countess Rumford and the other ladies were "horrified" at the prospects of ruining their elaborate gowns wading through the ever-deepening drifts.

The Colonel was equal to the occasion. Gingerly scooping the Countess up in his arms he began his trek through the storm. The other gentlemen, of course, followed suit. Soon the whole party had been transported and the once threatened ball commenced.

Loammi Baldwin's scientific curiosity was keen. He was a particular admirer of Benjamin Franklin.

In the summer of 1771 Baldwin successfully repeated Franklin's famous kite experiment. He was discovered by his justifiably horrified family flying a silk kite in a severe thunderstorm, standing just outside of the mansion. That fact that he stood atop a rude platform supported by glass bottles did little to appease the concern of the startled family members since Baldwin was "as lucid as a glow-worm...seemingly enveloped in the midst of blue flames" .It is safe to say that this is about as far as most experimenters go without being electrocuted!

The Baldwin Mansion has long been looked on as an excellent example of Federal period architecture. It was altered to its present appearances, excluding the new ell, in 1803.

There has been speculation as to the identity of the hand behind the architectural design of both the Baldwin Mansion and the adjoining 1790 House. No original drawings are known to exist. The family papers at Harvard offer few clues.

Charles Bulfinch, Samuel McIntyre or Thomas Dawes have all been considered at one time or another as possible architects, as all were intimates of Colonel Baldwin.

It seems more likely, however, that the designs were the Colonel's own. Baldwin was closely associated with Charles Bulfinch in 1803 in his capacity as construction superintendent for the latter's India Wharf project in Boston. The Colonel may well have reviewed his plans/ideas for the dwellings with the noted architect, but we may never know for sure.

The "Long Room" was located in the top level of the Baldwin Mansion's ell. It contained the largest and best professional library of engineering works in America. Colonel Baldwin began compiling the collection around 1803 and it was added to by his sons Loammi, James F. and George Rumford Baldwin who were all early engineers of national prominence.

Within the "Long Room" were accommodated some 4000 works of science, engineering and literature. The Baldwins, father and sons, were loath to dispose of personal papers. There were literally piles of trunks and boxes of letters, journals, diaries, plans and surveys dating from 1750 until 1888. In that year the last son, George Rumford Baldwin died in his sleep in a nearby bedroom at the age of ninety.

The "Long Room" was severely damaged by fire in 1899. Its contents were then distributed to Harvard, M.I.T. and the Woburn Public Library. Select items were retained by the family.

On his deathbed in 1807 Colonel Baldwin admonished his sons to "do all the good that you can and cherish the Middlesex Canal."

The second generation of Baldwin engineers, however, turned their talents to railroads and had a considerable hand in the demise of their father's greatest work.

In surveying for the route of the proposed Boston and Lowell railroad in 1830, son James Fowle Baldwin found amongst his father's papers in the "Long Room" an unused plan of a line surveyed in 1794 for the Middlesex Canal. The younger Baldwin used this survey as a base for the route of the new railroad which ran parallel to and frequently across his father's canal.

Son George Rumford Baldwin employed by the same railroad was in England at the same time researching the ways of railroad construction and sending them back to his brother for use in the construction of the Boston and Lowell Railroad from 1831-1836. Thus they delivered a "coup-de-grace" to the Colonel's beloved yet technologically outmoded work.


Baldwin Mansion Evolution

PHASE ONE: Henry Baldwin builds a one room dwelling house


PHASE TWO: Henry Baldwin adds a two story "salt-box" to front of 1643 house.


PHASE THREE: Loammi Baldwin remodels home in Federal style; adds a 3rd floor


PHASE FOUR: George Rumford Baldwin extends rear ell and adds the "Long Room"


PHASE FIVE: During relocation of house to new site, rear ell is removed


PHASE SIX: With rehabilitation of home into "Baldwin Landing", ell is replicated, though slightly larger


This past year has gone very quickly. We have broadened our horizons a bit with the visits to other canals and canal societies during the Roebling year. The talk on the Heritage Park development of the Blackstone Canal which ran from Worcester to Providence was interesting. We hope to set up a field trip to the Blackstone sometime.

Progress is being made in locating the buried lock at the bank of the Merrimac. The position has been plotted on a detailed drawing of the area by the civil engineering students of the University of Lowell. Now we are trying to determine seismically if any large pieces of stone are still there.

Boy Scout Troop 55 in East Billerica has helped us with our fall walks all these many years. Troop 519 in North Woburn will help us with our canal walk on May 12. We appreciate their assistance. This walk is the same as that of last year. That area is beautiful at that time of the year. The Rumford House is one of those delightful small historic sights sprinkled around New England. Please come and bring a friend.

Nolan Jones
Nolan Jones


Prof. Burton A. Segall, of the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Lowell, directed a group of students in unlocking the mystery surrounding the actual site of the Middlesex Canal Locks at the Merrimack River. He used an 1841 map found at the City Engineer's office to pinpoint the location.

Now for the bad news. A new building in an industrial park is on the site. But the news is not all bad. The building sits on the site of the first of the three locks leading to the river. The daughters of Judge Hadley stated that they remembered that the first two locks were taken apart by the farmers to make stone walls. The third lock, the one nearest the river currently rests in a parking lot which extends to the Boston & Maine property where the basin was located.

The next question is - what can be done to bring the third lock into view? The Association and the Middlesex Canal Commission should start discussion with the owner of the property and with the B&M railroad to see what can be done.

Joseph V. Kopycinski, Editor