Middlesex Canal Association P.O. Box 333 Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
|Volume 58 No. 1||September 2019|
At long last, the necessary permits and approvals are in order and construction may soon begin in conjunction with the effort to transform the cloth warehouse at 2 Olm Elm Street into the MCA Museum. Pictured here is the rear of the warehouse where an observation deck overlooking the Concord River Mill Pond will project outward from the structure. In the distance the Faulkner Street Bridge and the building currently housing the MCA Museum and Visitors’ Center are visible.
Please mark your calendars
MCA Sponsored Events
17th Annual Bicycle Tour North, 9:00 A.M., Saturday, October 5, 2019
Fall Walk, 1:30 P.M., Sunday, October 20, 2019Billerica-Chelmsford
Fall Meeting, 1:00 P.M., Sunday, October 27, 2019
Speaker: Dr. Robert M. Thorson, author of
The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years
Winter Meeting, 1:00 P.M. Sunday, February 9, 2020
The Visitor/Center Museum is open Saturday and Sunday, noon – 4pm, except on holidays. The Board of Directors meets the 1st Wednesday of each month, 3:30-5:30pm, except July and August.
Visit www.middlesexcanal.org for up-to-date listings of MCA events and other events of interest to canallers!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MCA Sponsored Events and Directions to Museum
President’s Message by J. Jeremiah Breen
Annual Meeting, MCA Officers & Directors: 2018-2019
A Book Review by Marlies Henderson of This Enchanted Land written Dr. Wayne Peters
From the Wilmington Town Crier an article on the Woburn Volcano by Capt. Larz Neilson
Tay: A Profile of Six Generations by John Ciriello
Part #5 in the Series A Social History of the Middlesex Canal a e-book by Rev. Alan Seaburg
A Poem by Tristan Macdonald
As the summer winds down, nights are already getting cooler and possibly frost on the car window this morning! With fall’s arrival comes a return to “Normal”: school, meetings, fairs, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas... Yikes! Getting carried away…
This issue is packed with activities and reading material to transition into the next season, starting with The Fall Bicycle Tour, The Fall Walk, and The Fall Meeting. This fall’s speaker will be Dr. Robert M. Thorson, author of The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years so be sure to mark your calendars.
After the President’s Message, descriptions of events, and a recap of the May Annual Meeting, there is a book review by Marlies Henderson, concerning a book written by the father of a past docent and an article (reprinted with permission) by Capt. Larz Neilson about the canal landscape.
As a special feature, John Ciriello has contributed his research on the Tay Family and the Tay Tavern and their relationship to the Middlesex Canal. The biographies compiled by Alan Seaberg from A Social History of the Middlesex Canal continue, and last to wrap up, a poem about the canal by Tristan Macdonald.
Deb, Alec, and Robert
MCA Sponsored Events and Directions to Museum
17th Annual Bicycle Tour North: On Saturday, October 5, 2019 riders are encouraged to meet at 9:00am at the Middlesex Canal plaque, Sullivan Square MBTA Station (1 Cambridge Street, Charlestown, MA 02019). The ride will follow the canal route for 38 miles to Lowell. There will be a stops for snacks at the Kiwanis Park across from the Baldwin Mansion (2 Alfred Street, Woburn, MA 01801 ~ 12:30pm) and for a visit to the Middlesex Canal Museum (71 Faulkner Street, North Billerica, MA 01862 ~ 3:00pm) The tour will arrive in Lowell in time for the 5:00 P.M. train back to Boston. Riders are able to choose their own time to join or leave the tour by using the Lowell line which parallels the canal. The ride is easy for most cyclists. The route is pretty flat and the tour group will average about 5 mph. Steady rain cancels; helmets are required. For changes and update see www.middlesexcanal.org. It is anticipated that the tour will be led by Bill Kuttner and Dick Bauer.
Fall Walk: The fall walk will take place on Sunday, October 20, 2019. Participants are encouraged to meet at the Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors’ Center (71 Faulkner Street, North Billerica, MA 01862) at 1:30pm. Pre-registration is not required. The 2½ hour walk will cover part of the Merrimack River branch of the canal in Billerica and Chelmsford, over about 3 miles of generally wooded terrain. Sites visited on the tour will include the recently restored guard lock, the anchor stone for the floating towpath that bridged the Concord River, and many stretches of the watered canal. The walk is jointly listed as a local walk of the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club and the MCA. It is anticipated that the walk will be co-led by Robert Winters and Marlies Henderson. For the latest information please refer to the MCA website, www.middlesexcanal.org.
A Note of Appreciation from Marlies Henderson: Five years ago, Billerica House of Correction inmates prepared the way for a Sunday Fall Walk, as sponsored by the Middlesex Canal Association and the Boston Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club: Forty-four participants showed up to follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau who described the same riparian route — also on a Sunday! The visionary wrote in his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers about the canal: “...in the lapse of ages, Nature will recover and ... gradually plant fit shrubs ... along its borders.” You bet Nature recovered, and I even get help sprucing up the towpath and / or berm side of the canal, lest we completely lose sight of the canal. So, praise those inmates for their efforts — and the Sheriff who made this Community Work Project (CWP) program a priority!
Sheriff Koutoujian told me afterwards that he was glad that the Middlesex House of Correction was able to assist the Association with this cleanup, because the Middlesex Canal holds a special historical significance for the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office; the principal driver in the design and construction of the Canal was Loammi Baldwin, who also happens to be the very first appointed Middlesex County Sheriff in 1780! Sheriff Koutoujian said, “Projects where our CWP crews can help clear trails and public areas for active and passive recreation are projects I want to do more of in the future.”
And indeed, for the past five years, inmates from the Middlesex Sheriff Community Work Program (CWP) have made maintenance of this historic trail their regular business. This fall we celebrate the fifth anniversary of a fruitful partnership: Middlesex inmates get used to being ‘outside’, while preparing Middlesex Canal trails – for the community to get outside!
Concord River, Billerica Falls Dam, and Thoreau
Fall Meeting: Sunday, October 27, 2019, at 1:00pm, the Middlesex Canal Association, 71 Faulkner St, Billerica, will host a talk by Robert Thorson, the author of The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years. His 2018 talk on Thoreau’s river years is on video in the Internet Archive.1 His October 27 talk will be about the river, the Billerica dam and Thoreau, timely as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants to remove the dam as a barrier to some fish species.2 Dr. Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut.3
Suggested readings prior to the meeting
1. The River Years, https://archive.org/details/TheBoatman050218.
2. See Concord River Diadromous Fish Restoration: Feasibility Study: Final Report, Dec 2016, by Gomez and Sullivan, Engineers (Jill Griffiths, P.E.), http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/626310. N. B., the appendices, A - I, are separate files. See also “The 1825 Iron Bolt and the Great Billerica Dam Controversy”, http://middlesexcanal.org/towpath/TowpathTopics-Sept2013color.pdf, pp. 8-10.
3. Professor Thorson, home page, https://robertthorson.clas.uconn.edu/
4. “Agriculture and Industry” by Catherine Clement, Esq. Towpath Topics, March, 1994.
Directions to Museum: 71 Faulkner Street in North Billerica MA.
From Rte. 128/95
Take Route 3 toward Nashua, to Exit 28 “Treble Cove Road, North Billerica, Carlisle”. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Treble Cove Road toward North Billerica. At about ¾ mile, bear left at the fork. After another ¼ mile, at the traffic light, cross straight over Route 3A (Boston Road). Go about ¼ mile to a 3-way fork; take the middle road (Talbot Avenue) which will put St. Andrew’s Church on your left. Go ¼ mile to a stop sign and bear right onto Old Elm Street. Go about ¼ mile to the bridge over the Concord River, where Old Elm Street becomes Faulkner Street; the Museum is on your left and you can park across the street on your right, just beyond bridge. Watch out crossing the street!
Take Exit 37, North Billerica, then south roughly 2 plus miles to the stop sign at Mt. Pleasant Street, turn right, then bear right at the Y, go 700’ and turn left into the parking lot. The Museum is across the street (Faulkner Street).
The Lowell Commuter line runs between Lowell and Boston’s North Station. From the station side of the tracks at North Billerica, the Museum is a 3-minute walk down Station Street and Faulkner Street on the right side.
President’s Message - “Dam Removal”
by J. Breen
In August, an official of the MA Dept. of Environmental Protection and of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reportedly met with the manager of the Billerica Falls Dam, owned by CRT Development Realty, LLC, in the park aside the dam. The likely subject of the meeting was restoration of diadromous fish to the Concord River. The method of fish restoration preferred by Gomez and Sullivan, Engineers, in 2016 was removal of the dam except for the abutments.1 The Middlesex Canal Association board of directors voted to protect the now 191-year-old dam as part of the future Middlesex Canal State Heritage Park.
Some have said the dam won’t be removed as the Billerica water supply would be impacted. The engineers show that removal of the dam “would not be anticipated to have an impact on the Billerica water supply intake.” 2 Others have said no money for removal is available. But after Hurricane Sandy flooded New York City, the MA Division of Ecological Restoration was granted $4.5 million by the US Department of the Interior to remove ten dams.3 A hurricane flood occurs, and dams are removed in Massachusetts. No reason why this shouldn’t happen again.
Gomez and Sullivan in its 2016 report opined that the dam “does not meet dam safety regulations” as the abutments leak and the embankment is the public Faulkner St.4 The right abutment, looking downstream, is the old fishway, now blocked by concrete and the left abutment is the location of two former waste gates, the very large openings now blocked by wood. Whether the leakage is significant is a matter of opinion. Faulkner Street is higher than the design flood, el. 113.9’ NAVD 1988, of the MA Office of Dam Safety, and its inclusion as a basis for the opinion of Gomez and Sullivan is a mistake.
Geotechnical Consultants, Inc., in its 2015 inspection report found the dam to be in “fair” condition. It recommended remedial measures of more than $100,000.5 If the dam is removed, the river will flow in its ancient channel, worn into bedrock over millennia. Transect T-4 indicates the ancient channel is between 80 and 200’ with a water surface at elevation 100’ NAVD 1988 or less.6 Transect T-4 zero is the northeast corner of 2 Old Elm St7 and 240’ is the Faulkner Mill parking lot. The ancient river, 120’ wide, is 16’ below and 80’ away from the observation deck of the planned visitor center/museum.
The speaker’s topic at the Association’s fall meeting, “The River, the Dam, and Thoreau”, is timely. Eric Hutchins, NOAA fish restoration biologist, and Jill Griffiths, the engineer who wrote the 2016 fish restoration report, have emailed their intention to be there. The presence of many Association members will show support for an alternative to dam removal for restoring the fish. With the visitor center opening at noon, closing at 4, the conversation around the talk could be interesting too.
1. Concord River Diadromous Fish Restoration: Feasibility Study: Final Report, Dec 2016, prepared by Gomez and Sullivan, Engineers (Jill W. Griffiths, PE), p. 93. http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/626310 N.B., appendices are separate files.
2. Final Report, p. 96.
3. Press Release, US Fish and Wildlife Service, December 14, 2016, “Two Dams on the Shawsheen River to Come Down”, https://tinyurl.com/y4jlwt2q
4. Final Report, p. 60.
5. Final Report, p. 28.
6. “Transect T-4”, Final Report, Appendix A, p. A-60. http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/626310 N.B., appendices are separate files.
7. Two Old Elm Street is the address of the 150-year-old, former wool cloth storehouse of the Talbot Mills. Its renovation for use as the new Middlesex Canal visitor center/museum is planned. From the new 9’ x 33’ deck overlooking the summit pond of the Middlesex Canal, visitors will be able to observe the dam creating the pond, the iron rings at the entrance of the canal north to the Merrimack at Lowell, and the causeway on the other side of the pond at the entrance of the canal south to the Charles River at Boston. The 400’ floating towpath between rings and causeway can easily be imagined.
May 5, 2019 Annual Meeting - Cinco de Mayo
J. Breen, chair ex officio, called the meeting to order at 1 o’clock.
Betty Bigwood, chair of the nominating committee, stated all directors and officers had agreed to continue serving. Director, Treasurer Emeritus Howard Winkler, was nominated for election to the finance committee. The proprietors re-elected by voice vote the existing directors and officers and elected Howard to the finance committee.
Neil Devins, membership secretary, nominated fifteen members to be proprietors.
The proprietors elected all fifteen by voice vote.
The chair adjourned the meeting at 1:15pm. Betty introduced our speaker, Earl Taylor, President of the Dorchester Historical Society, who talked on “Tide Mill sites from Revere to Quincy”. Refreshments were quesadillas and strawberry shortcake by Traci and Betty. The Audience totaled 33 for a sum of 42 visitors.
The names of the elected officers and board members are as follows:
|J. Jeremiah Breen||President|
|Traci B. Jansen||Vice President|
|Russell B. Silva||Treasurer|
|Neil P. Devins||Membership Secretary|
|Howard B. Winkler||Corresponding Secretary & Treasurer Emeritus|
|Betty M. Bigwood||Director & Museum Building Committee Chair|
|Thomas H. Dahill, Jr.||Director & Artist in Residence|
|Debra Diffin Fox||Director & TT Copy Co-Editor|
|Roger K. Hagopian||Director & Videographer|
|Alec Ingraham||Director & TT Copy Co-Editor|
|Robert Winters||Director, Webmaster, and TT Publisher|
|William E. (Bill) Gerber||Leonard H. Harmon|
|Fred Lawson, Jr.||Jean M. Potter|
This Enchanted Land: Middlesex Village by Dr. Wayne Peters (1927-2011)
Book review for Towpath Topics by Marlies Henderson
With its title This Enchanted Land, and the cheerful cover illustration of horses trotting in tandem, towing a packet boat, its passengers in deck chairs, lazily on top: This ode to Middlesex Village immediately invites the reader in. Especially if that reader happens to be a fan of the Middlesex Canal, which I am, and obviously, so was its author Dr. Wayne Peters.
His novel came out in 1984, but it’s like time travel. It takes you back to the winter of 1833 and then even deeper in time, to the summer of 1823. These were the heydays of the Middlesex Canal; it was the dawn of the Lowell Mill Girls’ era, and when New England winters were worth writing home about. Particularly for remote farms. Embrace the themes of isolation, passion and fate! Illustrated with twentieth century photos of historic structures and artist renderings, it brings the past to life.
After ample introductions and a listing of historical facts, the fiction takes off, and soon a sense of impending doom haunts the reader. Finally, not until the Acknowledgements, Peters credits Edith Wharton “for blazing the trail for this novel”. [Note: Edith Wharton (1862-1937)]
Indeed, unmistakably, Ethan Frome (1911) inspired Peters’ character Jim Creech and plenty of the plot lines. Some components differ; Zeena is barren but Lu bore three children; contrary to Frome, but as the author’s ancestor (!), Creech is a blacksmith. Sure enough, the Ethan Frome drama takes place between 1890 and 1900; almost seventy years after the time in which Peters’ story is framed: Before the first wheel of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company was set in motion, and while the canal was frozen solid, Middlesex Village was much like Wharton’s isolated Starkfield. Lucretia is Zenobia; her cousin Mindy is Matty. The Widow Adair is the widowed Mrs. Ned Hale.
Other similarities abound, including the novel structure and point of view and its variations; from first person to a third, omniscient person. More than being a fly-on-the-wall, we get to read the minds of different characters - even more so in Peters’ novel than in Wharton’s. Peters actually invites a measure of mercy into the disastrous plotline; cruelly, Wharton keeps her characters alive, trapped in a deadlock, establishing Sartre’s No Exit’s (1944) philosophy that ‘Hell is Other People’.
In Peters’ version, all three characters in the, no less tragic love-triangle eventually find their more or less violent death, one after the other: A drowning in the Merrimack, a suicide, and ripped apart by a bear. Their fictional voices ring on, putting a spell on the remnants of the Middlesex Canal – keeping its memory alive. I admit to leaving readers groping for plot and action, but the books are worth a read, and I don’t want to spill any of these dark beans.
It is however noteworthy that Peters’ son Jim recounts what prompted his father to write the book: When across the street from his Middlesex Village home on Princeton Boulevard a new development caused the bulldozing of several historic structures, including Jesse Smith’s farm, Peters decided to write a book, and thus help preserve history.
Several historic structures including Jesse Smith’s Farm
Another anecdote Jim shared with me was that a local Indian legend, The Bride of the White Canoe; a love-triangle’s violent ending, with voices allegedly still spookily ringing, inspired the spine-chilling finale; fit for Halloween.
Thank you Dr. Wayne Peters for delightfully enchanting The Village!
Peters, Wayne R. - This Enchanted Land. Martin Publishing Company, 1984.
Wharton, Edith - Ethan Frome. C. Soubner, New York, 1950
Browne, Waldo G. - Tales of the Penacook. Rock Village Publishing, 2007
Editor’s Note: If Marlies’ book review has piqued your interest, This Enchanted Land: Middlesex Village is available for sale at the Middlesex Canal Museum store in North Billerica or through the MCA website. If you prefer not to purchase the book but would still like to read it, this volume is among a limited number of books available for loan through the MCA’s lending library.
About the Author: Wayne Robert Peters was born in Cherokee, IA on May 1, 1927. He enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 and served during WW II aboard the USS Charles P. Cecil. Following his enlistment in the service, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, IA, where he also experienced success as a football player. Wayne earned his Master’s Degree at Drake University in Des Moines, IA and in 1964, his PhD from the State University of Iowa. He began his career as a teacher/coach in Barnum, IA and later as a principal in Coralville, IA before working as Superintendent of Schools for school districts in Cosgrove, IA; Harvey, IL; Lowell, MA; and Holbrook, MA. While in Lowell he served on the School Committee and on the City Council. In August of 1950, Wayne married Jeanne Lucille Ollerich. He passed away in Naples, FL on July 13, 2011 at the age of 84 and was survived by his wife of 61 years and nine children. (Ref: Lowell Sun, July 17, 2011) Wells, a book about a coastal town in Maine was also authored by Dr. Peter. His son, James, married U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas’ sister, Vicki, and did volunteer briefly as a docent at the Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors’ Center.
Note: Reprinted by permission by the Wilmington Town Crier
By CAPT. LARZ NEILSON, Founder of the Town Crier
Few people who drive to Woburn by way of Main Street realize, when they near the Woburn - Wilmington line, that they are driving through an ancient volcano.
Alongside the road is a cliff of basaltic rock. On top, where it may be seen in springtime, is a slight depression, which fills with water in the spring rains. This is the throat of an ancient volcano, up which was thrown hundreds of thousands of tons of molten lava, all of this having been hundreds of millions years ago.
There is no danger that the old volcano will ever erupt. It can be recognized for what it is only by persons trained in geology.
The history of the land which is now Wilmington began about 500 million years ago when what is now New England emerged from the ancient seas. Beneath the land which emerged, there was hot molten material known as magma, which kept trying to force its way to the surface. It would explore and find cracks, and then cool into enormous masses of igneous rock - rock which we today call granite.
The Quincy granites were formed at this time, as were granites all over New England. The type and grade of granite depended entirely on how close to the earth’s surface the molten magmas were able to get. If the magma was close to the surface, it cooled rapidly and formed a fine granite. If it did not get too close, it took longer to cool, and became coarse granite.
In the period of which we are writing, there was no Boston Harbor. It was yet to be made by the sinking of the Boston Basin, but it was as a direct result of that sinking that the volcanoes of Eastern Massachusetts were formed volcanoes in what is now Woburn, Winchester, Reading and Wilmington.
After the granites of which we have spoken had been formed there was a new geologic era in what is now the Boston suburbs, one in which the pudding stones of Roxbury were formed. The seas had again covered the land. Slates were formed in some places, from clays that were deposited on the bottom of that sea. In Wilmington, the soils that were deposited became schist, although not much of it exists today. That which does can mostly be found in South Wilmington from Wood Hill, over by the Burlington line, to Suncrest Acres, off West Street.
Schist is a soft stone which breaks easily into layers, an important feature, for it was this tendency together with others which led to the bankruptcy of a Nevada firm which tried to drill through the rocks of Wilmington’s volcano.
The hard coals of eastern Pennsylvania and the soft coals of western Pennsylvania and other regions were laid down during this same period, in which the pudding stones and schists were laid down in New England. Hence, the period is known as the Carboniferous Period.
When Boston sank
All of what today is Boston Harbor and the nearby cities once sank for thousands of feet, as the result of the weights of rocks in the area. The hole which resulted (and which has since nearly filled) can easily be marked off, in such places as Malden, Arlington and the Blue Hills.
The sinking of the land in and near Boston was a gradual process which took thousands of years. There was great stress and strain in the nearby hills. Cracks and curves appeared in the rocks.
Through these cracks, the molten rock beneath found a way to escape to the surface, and dozens of volcanoes appeared around Boston.
In the vicinity of Woburn, there were dozens of volcanoes, all pouring thousands of tons of lava and basalt upon the surface of the earth. Three volcanoes surround what is now Woburn Center. Horn Pond Mountain, now the reservoir of the City of Woburn, was a volcano. Today’s pond is in the old volcano mouth. The hill known as Blueberry Hill, on the Woburn - Winchester line, was a volcano. In the early to mid 1900’s, a quarry there provided hundreds of thousands of tons of rock for road building and railroads in eastern Massachusetts.
The northernmost of these volcanoes was just north of the Woburn - Wilmington line, today called Cook’s Hill.
It is a mere shadow of its former self, for the ice ages, which began about one million years ago, ground down what had been an imposing mountain into a small hill but the lava rock, the basalt, and the throat of the volcano can still be seen.
The most interesting point to be seen without climbing the hill is the cut where Route 38 runs through the hill. This cut was done about 1927, when Main Street was relocated. Previously, the road ran around the hill and around a pond known as Squaw Pond, which was filled in at that time.
The name Squaw Pond arose from the accidental killing of an Indian woman there in 1705, which resulted in the Harnden massacre but that is another story.
The contracting firm which took the job of cutting through Cook’s Hill and building the new road went bankrupt because of the nature of the rock left by the volcano. Because the hill is a mixture of granite, schist and basalt, the drills refused to go into the hard rock and instead bent and turned into the softer schist. Unable to maintain its drills and unable to finish the job, the company went bankrupt.
Atop the hill for many years, there was a stone chapel, built by a Greek - American. He had built it with the intention of it becoming an Orthodox Church. But it was abandoned, and during Prohibition it became a hangout for bootleggers.
Tay: A Profile of Six Generations
by John Ciriello, March 3, 2003
The Tays were an integral part of the historic fabric of early North Woburn. Their name was passed on from generation to generation for nearly 300 years in this area.
They were a family which was rich in military and political influence, were socially respected by their community and an integral part of our local history. They were truly representational of what our forefathers believed in: hard work, community involvement, and patriotism!
My interest in the Tay family’s genealogy started during my research on the history of my house. It seemed that the more I learned about this fascinating family, the more questions I had about them.
Artifacts uncovered during work on my property disclosed layers from different time periods of those who lived here. Each small fragment of pottery had a story of its own to tell. I was able to determine when it was made and used, what socio-economic status the people who used it had, and what use it may have performed. Leather soles from handmade shoes found throughout the site whisper about people who once owned them. Where those shoes may have walked or what they may have seen is a secret only they know. The black, charred insides of a white clay smoking pipe appears as if its owner has just finished smoking it a few moments ago and then tossed it aside for me to find.
Three small round clay marbles once heard the voices of children’s laughter and then watched them grow up from a spot in the tall grass where they were dropped by them many years ago. The mightily old hand-hewn beams of the old house itself also speak sometimes. They hint at my house’s age but refuse to surrender the secrets they overheard from generations of families which they sheltered. One learns to sharpen their senses by gathering and deciphering miscellaneous pieces of this very large “puzzle”.
I’ve learned that each piece is like a fingerprint in time.
Perhaps one day far in the future, someone may discover something that I’ve lost in the backyard, pick it up and wonder who I was.
The Profile of Six Generations
The Tay surname is very common in Woburn’s early town records. The actual origin of the family is unknown, but suggest a British genesis. Early writers point out that the old pronunciation of Tay was “toy.” (Cutter, Page 7) This suggests a possible British accent. In fact, there’s an entire area in Scotland known as the “Tay Valley.”
The earliest mentioned Tay, was a distiller named William who is known to have been in Boston in 1643. His spouse Grace Newell, was from Roxbury, and they married on September 14, 1644. William received a “single share” of land which was a ten-acre grant in what is known today as Billerica in 1656. Two years later, he was granted an additional 56 acres, described as: “a house standing upon it, bounded on the east and south partly by ye comons.” In 1664, he is listed as the town’s clerk. It’s believed that William, his spouse Grace and their seven children, left Billerica and fled to Boston some time later because his name does not appear on the “Garrison List of 1675”. This may have happened just before the Indian alarms of that same year and they may never have returned to Billerica because William’s death was recorded in Boston in 1683, not in Billerica.
William’s son Nathaniel inherited the family’s property in Billerica upon his father’s death and it was later sold on April 8, 1691. They may have moved to North Woburn soon thereafter. (Hazen, Page 148) Nathaniel married a girl by the name of Barthsheba Wyman, daughter of Lt. John Wyman of Woburn on May 30, 1677, and they had 7 children together.
Upon Nathaniel’s death, his son Lt. William Tay I, became the sole executor of his father’s last will and testament. (Probate 22158) William inherited the family homestead which was located on the easterly side of Main Street, at the northeast corner of East Nichols and Main Street in North Woburn. (Cutter, Page 53.)
The Samuel Tay Homestead once located at the corner of East Nichols and Main Streets.
On July 11th, 1726, a son was born to William I and his young wife Abagail (Jones). The baby was named after his father and became one of thirteen brothers and sisters. Not much is known about William Jr.’s childhood, except for the fact that he was most likely a typically inquisitive and exploratory youngster. His family lived across from an area once known to the locals as Berry Meadow (Cutter, Page 5). There, he must have played in the rolling fields among the groves of abundantly growing wild berries which earned the location its name. Berry Meadow Brook ran through the field (today’ s Halls Brook) and little William must have delighted in exploring along its banks, collecting frogs and turtles and perhaps returning home covered in mud from head to toe. Since their house was located very close to the old road, (today’s Main Street) he would have met travelers daily as they made their way past the Tay Farm to points north and south on what was already one of early Woburn’s first busy thoroughfares (known then as “the Great Road to Andover”).
When William was 12 years old, his brother Samuel was born. Samuel followed in his father’s military footsteps, and grew up to be a Sergeant during our country’ s war for freedom. He was one of the men who marched in Captain Fox’s 2nd Regiment, toward Concord and Cambridge on the alarm heard on April 19th, 1775. (Military Rec’ds, Woburn Public Library) He possessed quite an impressive military history, becoming a Lieutenant in 1775, Captain in 1776, and then a Major in 1784. (Cutter, Page 53) Upon the death of his father in 1780, Samuel inherited the family’s homestead. (Probate #22163)
Together with his wife, Sarah (Johnson) whom he married in 1769, they went on to raise their own family there. Samuel’s wife was almost certainly not alone in raising and caring for their large family though. The Tays apparently owned a servant, a black woman named “ Kate”. Not much is known about this mysterious woman except for the mention in the local newspapers of when they discovered her lifeless body laying in a nearby pasture. At the time of her death, all that is mentioned is that she was “elderly” (Cutter, Page 53) and that body went undiscovered for quite some time.
Samuel’s older brother, William Jr., purchased his own piece of land in 1752, at the young age of 26. This parcel was just a short distance north on the same old road. In 1798, his property was described as containing 255 acres, 2 dwelling houses, one with a shop attached, 2 barns, and 1 horse shed. (Cutter, Page 54) The farm was located at what is today, the Woburn/Wilmington boundary line. Young William Jr. married Susana (Jones) of Marlboro, and over time they had 7 children together.
William Jr. also held the title of Lieutenant, and is remembered for his bravery during the British and Minutemen skirmish on April 19th, 1775 in Lexington and Concord.
On the morning of April 19th, 1775, William is said to have been awakened from his sleep by an alarm which sounded on the “sudden march of British troops towards Concord”. The British soldier’s intention was to destroy the colony’s magazine deposit which was located there. Along with 180 well-armed townsmen, they marched hastily toward west Woburn, and then over what is known today as Woburn’s “Battle Road” toward Lexington. Upon their arrival, the men became angered by the bloody massacre which had fallen upon their unsuspecting neighbors. The men witnessed what is described by witnesses as “cruel butchery of the elderly, bedridden new mothers, the poor and the helpless”. Upon their retreat, the British were said to have left behind a trail of devastation and destruction. The minutemen became enraged, and a pursuit of the British soldiers ensued towards Boston. William Jr. and several others eventually arrived at a location in Charlestown. There, they were suddenly fired upon from within a nearby house. Three British soldiers had planted themselves inside to ambush anyone passing close by.
William Jr. and his group immediately returned the gunfire and managed to kill two of the British soldiers. They rushed inside and captured the remaining one. The commotion attracted other fellow minutemen who were nearby, and during the confusion of securing the irate prisoner, a lieutenant named Joseph Howard from Concord, carried off the captured British soldier’s gun as his souvenir. A petition with the General Court of Massachusetts was filed by William for the return of that firearm which he believed was rightfully his. This request was granted by the court in May, 1775, but as of September of that year, it’s documented that Mr. Howard still hadn’t surrendered the prized firearm to William Tay. It’s a mystery whether William ever actually received his souvenir, but his complaint to the General Court in September of 1775 is well documented in grievance records and he begs that the law “rightfully and legally” retrieve his awarded property. (Frothingham, Page 368)
In May of 1750, William Jr. and Susanna had their first son, whom they also named William. William III was one of six children who would also grow up to hold the proud military title of a lieutenant. At some point, an inn was established by the Tays as an additional source of income for their family. Busy Andover Road (today’s Main Street), passed right by their farm, and would guarantee an ongoing flow of customers for their new business. Thus, a familiar establishment, becoming known as the Tay Tavern, came into existence and the timing couldn’t have been any better!
In 1794, Boston was about to embark upon its first truly monumental engineering project,… one that more aptly deserves the title of “big dig” than our modern one, ... the construction of the Middlesex Canal.
In 1794, a surveying team was sent out to take measurements of two possible routes considered for the new proposed canal. A “western” or “eastern” passage would connect Lowell to Boston and it was being evaluated by surveyors and engineers. The western route would take the canal right past the Tay homestead and tavern. The Tays surely witnessed these teams of strangers arriving and assembling close by on the road in front of their farm. There, the men discussed, measured and wrote down detailed notes of their findings.
The surveyors measured slopes, heights, and dimensions of the existing topography in the area near the Tay farm in order to evaluate whether the western route would be better suited than the eastern one.
In May of 1795, the surveyors recorded having tracked what they termed “the correct level” for the new canal. Since the water had to be almost at a constant “level”, with just a slight pitch southerly, extremely precise measurements were essential. In written documentation, the engineers arrived near the Tay homestead and “hit the level” that they were seeking at “the rocky points a little north-west of Tay’s Tavern” (probably near today’s Jimmy’ s Gas Station in Wilmington), and then again at his “Hop Kiln.” They arrived at a rise in the road, described as a “nole,” which was “10 feet above the level required, just south of Tay’s Tavern” (which is the steep rise in Main Street just south of North Maple street today) and then proceeded down into a “valle” (or valley known at that time by locals as an area called “Sandy Bottom”) until they reached the “level” again. (Baldwin Collection, box 2 folder 2) The Canal Proprietors eventually decided to use this westerly route by the Tays for the canal and in 1800 construction began along this section along this section. The canal’s dimensions would be 30 feet across at the top, 20 feet across at the bottom and the water’s depth was only 3 feet.
The entire project was dug by hand, with the assistance of work animals which helped haul soil. Many new challenges were met along the way since a project of this magnitude had never been undertaken before in the state. The canal was required to cross over rivers and streams without intermixing the water . This was accomplished with the use of aqueducts and culverts. Blasting was used in areas where rock prevented hand digging and the first eminent domain land taking was executed and recorded in Massachusetts. When completed, the canal boasted the construction of 50 bridges and a series of 20 locks.
Passenger boats and commercial barges were pulled by horses, mules or oxen from the abutting “ tow path” by way of a rope which was secured to a metal ring placed 1/3 of the length back from the front of each vessel. Workers for the project arrived from afar and farmers living along its length found badly needed employment as well.
A note in the “Regulations of Acceptance,” dated June 13, 1795, mentions Woburn’s well-known citizen, Loammi Baldwin. In it, it states: “June 6, 1795, voted that the Hon Loammi Baldwin Esq be superintendent of digging the canal from Mystic Pond to Johnathan Beard’s house in Wilmington.” (Baldwin Collection, Box 2 Folder 2)
The Tays capitalization on the canal project was great. Tay family members were directly employed in its excavation and in a note dated September 14, 1799, the names of William, Samuel and Benj. Tay appear on a “List of names of the people who wish to apply for work on the canal traveling through Woburn.” (Baldwin Collection, box 3 folder 3) A later memorandum, dated December 8, 1800 states, “ Tay and Hunt’s job between Wilmington line down by Converse place progresses very well.”
Their tavern provided housing for the migrant workers who needed housing during construction. (Leander Thompson, Woburn Journal, 3/27/1885) Upon the canal’s completion, the tavern became a lodging place for its travelers, and also a place for “changing horses” (or sometimes mules) of the passage boats. (Woburn News, April 25, 1891)
In October of 1800, a memorandum was sent to the directors of the canal regarding the purchase of land from Mr. Tay for a portion of the canal’s route. In this memorandum, the negotiator wrote that the agreement which was discussed, acquitted the Canal Proprietors from “all damages Mr. Tay may ever experience from the depositing of earth, the water that may happen to flow into his cellars, or injury to his cellar walls”.
The price for 110 rods of land, 5 rods wide through his property needed for the canal prompted much debate between the two men. They finally arrived within a difference of just one dollar. Tay wanted $13.00 per rod, but the canal negotiator’s highest offer was $12.00 per rod. The date of this memorandum was October 27th, 1800, and a final decision was expected to be made that same day on whether the deal was “on or off.” (Baldwin Collection, box 3 folder 3) On November 11th, 1801 William Tay III and his wife Hannah, sold this parcel to the Proprietors of the Canal for much less money. The record at the Cambridge Registry of Deeds shows that William received a sum of $200.00 for the 110 rods. (Grantor Index 147/143) That comes to only $1.82 per rod! Why such a drastic decrease from the previous higher offer being negotiated? Had the threat of taking land by eminent domain become a strong bargaining tool which worked in favor of the Canal Proprietors?
By 1800, the canal’s excavation near Tay’s farm was making great progress. Just south of Tay’ s house, the canal had to cross from the western side of Andover Road (Main Street), to the eastern side. At this previously mentioned “nole,” the canal passed about 10 feet below the level of the road. At this location a wood bridge was constructed and was known by the locals as “Tay’s Bridge”. In December of 1800, workers rushed to complete as much work on the bridge as possible to avoid the approaching cold winter months. December 12th’s minutes of the Canal Committee state that; “The bridge over the highway at Tay’s Tavern is to be prepared and stedded down. The stones for the abutments will be brought this winter in order to prevent delay and interruption in the spring.” (Baldwin Collection, box 2 folder 9)
The following spring, on March 16th, 1801, a letter was sent to the carpenter hired to build the bridge, Mr. Hall. The letter stated; “Let 6 or 7 carpenters come on to Woburn as soon as possible to put up the bridge at William Tay’s. Send on the planks for Tay’s bridge, letting each be broader at each opposite acute angle, put on the coppers and 2 outside stringers.” (Baldwin Collection box 3 folder 14)
Stop gates were used every so often along the length of the canal in order to stop the flow of water for any repairs that may have been required downstream. One of these gates was installed at Tay’s Bridge. In the minutes of Committee of August 3, 1801, it states that there is to be “one by Tay’s bridge,” and that “these gates are not to be expensive or heavy. There must be a sill across the canal and the gate above the two leaves may be only three feet high where they are placed against a bridge. The abutments will afford them support. They will of course shut toward the place where the highest banks are.” (Baldwin Collection box 1 folder 1)
A large natural outcropping of stone ledge was located across from the Tay homestead and it may have caused some problems during the canal’s excavation. This northwest point located immediately after Tay’s Bridge must have required removal of stone. The following minutes from a meeting of Committee of Operation hints at the issue; November 27th, 1801, “ Ordered that as the work closes, the tools and implements be collected, listed, and secured; that the month and day laborers be continued this season as long as the superintendent and overseers shall consider it expedient under all circumstances; but at all events, to remove the ledge at Converse Place and the one at Tay’s. (Baldwin Collection box 2 folder 10)
But the strangest story about the Tay family by far is this one ... A very brief paragraph found at the Woburn Public Library reads, “He was in the Revolutionary War (William III), his son William (IV), lived nearby just where the old road came out (North Maple Street). One Robert Wood, a brother of Benjamin, Isaac, and William, lived with this Mr. Tay for several years, having no stipulated pay, other than his board; he was never married, was rather peculiar in habits, and considered not shrewd intellectually, yet is said to have managed so that after Mr. Tay’s death, he came into possession of his real estate. He filed a bill for services rendered during his stay with him sufficient to cover the value of the place, which was granted by the court, and so the heirs were left minus.” (Newhall’ s Article No. 5)
As strange and improbable as this statement may have read, the truth behind it explained what really occurred.
Upon the death of Lieutenant William Tay III in 1829, his Last Will and Testament was due to be executed by his son William IV, the appointed sole executor. Many well-known names from Woburn’s past were present at its reading; Charles Thompson, Benjamin Wyman, Stephen Nichols, Jeremiah Converse, Joseph Gardener, and Archelaus Tay.
The inventory of William’s personal estate was extensive. He had amassed a great deal of wealth in his lifetime, partially attributed to the income generated by his large farm and successful tavern business. In total, his probate records show that he owned 269 acres of land and many personal household possessions. (Probate 22165)
Although the Tay Tavern itself was never mentioned by name, the inventory does show an unusually high number of chairs (20) and tables (8), which is not typical for a small residential home of that time.
Then on October 7, 1828, a petition to remove William IV as the sole executor of his father’s will, was filed in Middlesex Probate Court, and stated that he is “unfit” to execute it.
Joseph Gardener, friend of the family and a town selectman, was appointed by the courts as the new executor of the late William III’ s will. A new inventory of the deceased’ s possessions was ordered by the Honorable Samuel Fay, Esq., Judge of Probate in Middlesex County, Cambridge. Josiah Tay, Charles Carter and Ezra Kendall are responsible for the task of carrying it out. What happened?
In a letter dated June 27, 1828, we learn what transpired. A petition signed by 17 community members was submitted to Woburn’s selectmen and it states; “We the subscribers certify that in their judgment, William Tay of said town, does by excessive drinking, so spend, waste and lessen his estate, as thereby to expose himself and family to want and suffering circumstances, and we think a guardian ought to be appointed to said Tay.”
In July a letter was sent to the Honorable Samuel Fay, Esq., Judge of Probate in Cambridge by the town selectmen. In it, it states that William “endangers and exposes the town of Woburn to a charge or expense for his and their maintenance and support.” They request that the court appoints a guardian for him immediately.
On August 28, 1828, the court appointed Joseph Gardener as the legal guardian for William and his estate. Over time, debts against the Tay Estate had accumulated and needed to be settled in William’s death.
On August 11, 1829, Joseph Gardener became legally empowered and licensed by the court to sell off some of Tay’s land in order to pay for his own guardianship fees, which had amounted to $1,191.48, and $30. more for incidental charges. Records show that William’s Real Estate at that time was worth $2,400.00. (Probate 22166)
In December, 1832, Robert Wood’s character enters our story. Wood filed for damages with the Supreme Judicial Court in Concord, for the amount of $508.11 which he claims is owed to him by said William Tay’s Estate. He requests that legal fees be added to the sum as well. He goes on to state that William IV should be taken to the Cambridge or Concord “gail” (jail) and held there until he agrees to pay the debts owed.
Accompanying Mr. Wood were Stephen Nichols, Oliver Tay, and Samuel Leathe, who swore to have acted “faithfully and impartially” in their appraisal of William IV’s Real Estate. They place a value of $525.00 on the following Tay land; a parcel called “Sandy Bottom”, sandwiched between Andover Road (Main Street) and the Middlesex Canal, totaling 3 acres. Also, the “house lot, bound on the north, east and west by land owned by Cyms Right and south on the road that leads to New Boston (Step Rock Rd, now North Maple St), with the buildings thereon, containing 1/3 of an acre, more or less.” Also, another parcel south of this “back road,” containing 6 3/4 acres, then 3 more acres east of these properties bordering northerly on a swamp.
On December 22, 1832, Moses Richard, Deputy Sheriff of Middlesex County, executes that Robert Wood “seizes and possesses” the above listed “lands and tenements,” in order to satisfy the debt and costs amounting to the sum of $525.02, which includes legal fees, travel and appraisals. Suddenly we realize that the earlier improbable story is indeed true!
Two years later, on April 22, 1834, William Tay IV writes a letter from a location in Lowell. He petitions the court to remove Joseph Gardener of Woburn as his guardian. He explains that guardianship is no longer necessary, due to the fact that he has “reformed his habits” and was perfectly capable of taking care of himself and his estate. He explains that neither Woburn, nor any other town, is “exposed to expense” for his support. His letter is supported by an accompanying one from the Woburn Selectmen, who confirm his claims. (Book of Executions, Page 190)
The Tays played a major role in North Woburn’s early history, as they helped sculpt the future of the city through their social involvement and influence. Sadly, the surname is said to have become “extinct” in 1930, with the passing of the last Tay family member, ... Miss Anna F. Tay. (Newhall, Page 94)
Research on the Tay surname and history associated with Woburn is constantly ongoing and updated.
Baldwin Collection, Baker Library, Harvard Business School
Book of Executions, Cambridge Registry of Deeds, p. 190
Grantor Index, Cambridge Registry of Deeds, 147/143
History of Billerica, Rev. Henry A. Hazen, 1883
Mogan Library, Lowell, MA (Diagram of Tay’s Bridge)
Newhall’s Articles, Woburn Public Library, Book #W93N53W.A
Probate Dockets, #22158, 22163, 22164, 22165, 22166, Massachusetts Archives Building, Boston, MA
Woburn Historic Sites and Old Houses, W.R. Cutter, Book #W91C9W
Woburn News, Cyrus Thompson, April 25, 1891
Note: After a visit to the Museum, the author was inspired to write the following poem.
by Tristan Macdonald
“This canal …is the oldest in the country, and has even an antique look beside the more modern railroads…but in the lapse of ages, Nature will recover and indemnify herself, and gradually plant fit shrubs and flowers along its borders…..This all works pass directly out of the hands of the architect into the hands of Nature, to be perfected”
-Henry David Thoreau
This canal is now divided, devolved
Back Issues - More than 50 years of back issues of Towpath Topics, together with an index to the content of all issues, are also available from our website http://middlesexcanal.org/towpath. These are an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to learn more about the canal and should be particularly useful for historic researchers.
Estate Planning - To those of you who are making your final arrangements, please remember the Middlesex Canal Association. Your help is vital to our future. Thank you for considering us.
Membership and Dues – There are two categories of membership: Proprietor (voting) and Member (non-voting). Annual dues for “Proprietor” are $25 and for “Member” just $10. Additional contributions are always welcome and gratefully accepted. If interested in becoming a “Proprietor” or a “Member” of the MCA, please mail membership checks to Neil Devins, 28 Burlington Avenue, Wilmington, MA 01887.
Museum & Reardon Room Rental - The facility is available at very reasonable rates for private affairs, and for non-profit organizations to hold meetings. The conference room holds up to 60 people and includes access to a kitchen and restrooms. For details and additional information please contact the museum at 978-670-2740.
Museum Shop - Looking for that perfect gift for a Middlesex Canal aficionado? Don’t forget to check out the inventory of canal related books, maps, and other items of general interest available at the museum shop. The store is open weekends from noon to 4:00pm except during holidays.
Nameplate - Excerpt from an acrylic reproduction of a watercolor painted by Jabez Ward Barton, ca. 1825, entitled “View from William Rogers House”. Shown, looking west, may be the packet boat George Washington being towed across the Concord River from the Floating Towpath at North Billerica.
Web Site – The URL for the Middlesex Canal Association’s web site is www.middlesexcanal.org. Our webmaster, Robert Winters, keeps the site up to date. Events, articles and other information will sometimes appear there before it can get to you through Towpath Topics. Please check the site from time to time for new entries.
The first issue of the Middlesex Canal Association newsletter was published in October, 1963. Originally named “Canal News”, the first issue featured a contest to name the newsletter. A year later, the newsletter was renamed “Towpath Topics.”
Excerpt from an August 1818, drawing (artist unknown) of the steam towboat
Merrimack crossing the original (pre-1829) Medford Aqueduct,
probably on its way to service on the Merrimack River.
Towpath Topics is edited and published by Debra Fox, Alec Ingraham, and Robert Winters.
Corrections, contributions and ideas for future issues are always welcome.