Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 16, No. 1    January, 1978


PROGRAM - Our Archival Collection

January 15, 1978 at 2:00 P.M.

Lowell University, North Campus - Lydon Library

2:00 P.M. Middlesex Canal Display arranged by Library Director, Mr. Joseph Kopycinski

2:15 P.M. Old Glass Lantern Slide Show of MCA (followed by recent slides selected by members-that would be of general interest) Bring your best!

Refreshments followed by a tour of the Middlesex Canal Archives at the University Library.

Directions: Take Route 3 to Lowell Connector, to Thorndike St. Exit. At end of Thorndike St. a Stone Tavern will be facing you. Turn right. Take next left Crossing the bridge. The Library is on Left behind the building with the clock tower. PARK in lot off 2nd driveway after you cross the bridge.

by Robert E. Valyou

In 1969 the Greater Lowell Area Planning Commission issued a report which documented the natural resources and historical sites located in this area. In their report the Commission concluded that the most significant area-wide historical resource was the Middlesex Canal. They further recommend that each town take steps to preserve those remnants located within its borders. Thus was born what was probably the first area-wide restoration project in the State and perhaps the most important.

Area towns, including Chelmsford, Wilmington and Woburn initiated action on this project with notable success. Perhaps the most spectacular structure associated with the Middlesex Canal was, and still is, the Shawsheen Aqueduct, the point at which the canal crossed the Shawsheen River. It has been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and represents the most ambitious project in the entire length of the canal. Over the years, but at an ever increasing pace, erosion, both natural and man-made, have taken their toll. Restoration of this historical monument was undertaken by the Town of Billerica.

Early in 1975 the Billerica Planning Board applied for Federal assistance to restore it. Under the auspices of the Area Planning Commission, application was made through the Community Block Grant Program.

On April 3, 1975, the Billerica Planning Board held a pre-application hearing and on April 5 approval was given by the Town Meeting for the Selectmen to file an application. A public informational hearing on the project was held by the Planning Board on April B, 1975, and on August 29, 1975, the application was filed.

Coordination was handled by Mark Hall, Secretary of the Planning Board, with substantial assistance from Col. Wilbar M. Hoxie, President of the MCA.

Approval of the project was received on November 26, 1975, and the Billerica Historical Commission was designated by the Board of Selectmen as the administrative unit. On March 25, 1976, the Board of Selectmen received a letter of credit notifying them that, subject to an environmental review, $25,000 was available for the project.

For the next year Archaeological, Historical and Ecological surveys were conducted to satisfy the requirements of the Environmental Review. Final release was received on April 26, 1977. During that same period, the Historical Commission, with help of the Select-men's office and Public Works Engineers compiled and received approval of a set of detailed specifications in preparation for competitive bidding.

The job was advertised, and on August 11, 1977, the bids were received. Prices ranged from $14,500 to $22,900. The low bidder was E. C. Blanchard Co., Inc. of Lynn. A contract was signed on October 4, 1977. Work started the next day and was completed on October 27. Every effort was made by the contractor to keep the work moving to avoid conflict with the sewer project which passes through the same area. The effort was successful.

Except for a few rainy days, work proceeded smoothly. Expandable aluminum joints were suspended from the granite ledges and a staging was erected between the West abutment. Stones were lifted from the river banks and laid out on the canal banks, west of the aqueduct, for measuring and selection. Every effort was made to identify stones and place them in their original position. Only original stones were used with the exception of the long ashler on the South end of center pier. This stone could not be found and the Committee felt that it was of sufficient importance to the overall effect to warrant buying a replacement.

Stones to finish the top of the pier were dredged from the river bed. I am told that some of the workers had a chilly swim. Finally several yards of concrete were poured into the center of the structure in the hope that it will last for another 200 years.

This has truly been a cooperative project. In addition to the many Town Boards and Committees who took part in one way or another, much interest and assistance was given by neighboring residents and people from out of town. Perhaps with this as a start, other portions of the Canal can be saved.



I would like to share with you just some of the achievements of one who without question rates as our most productive and outstanding Middlesex Canaller and Board Member, Leonard Harmon.

1970-1977    Founder and 1st President of the Woburn Canal Society
1971-1977 Member of Woburn Historical Commission
1972-1977 Chairman of Woburn Historical Commission
  Chief Engineer of the construction of the packet boat Col. Baldwin and of procuring work horses
and staff for a summer of packet boat rides on the Woburn Middlesex Canal
Fall 1977 Procuring of $118,000 in CETA funds to help in the restoration of:
       Baldwin Mansion (one or two rooms to be devoted to the Middlesex Canal): $74,000
    Middlesex Canal Towpath in Woburn: $44,000
    Thompson Library in Woburn on Elm St. above the Baldwin Green Chairman of the
Board of Trustees and Historic Properties
Fall 1977 MIDDLESEX CANAL COMMISSION Originator and its first Chairman

Many of us sit around and talk about it, but here is Len who is unstinting of his time and energy! Thus it is that he makes the great news that emanates from Woburn and now from the State Commission. Anyone who has tried to obtain Federal Grants knows of the incredible time and energy required to do this and the stacks of paperwork. We are grateful and awed.

The first job of the Commission will be to obtain Engineering maps and Assessors' maps of the owners of the lands along the Middlesex Canal in all the Towns and Cities along its 27 mile length. The first meeting of the Commission took place at One Ashburton Place in the Office of State Planning, which is chaired by Mr. David Carter. Mr. Carter's Staff has done interesting preliminary studies. The second meeting of the Commission will take place in Lowell and be hosted by Mr. Joseph Kopycinski, our Vice President and Head Librarian of the University of Lowell, North Campus, Lydon Library.

Members of the Middlesex Canal Commission are as follows:

Eugenia Beal Boston  
Isabel Cheney Somerville  
Henry S. Condon Medford  
*Frances B. VerPlanck Winchester  
*Leonard Harmon Woburn President
Charles E. Stearns Billerica  
(not yet appointed) Wilmington  
*Janet Lombard Chelmsford Vice President
*Joseph Kopycinski Lowell  
*MCA Board Members
Frank Keefe Office of State Planning  
Carla Johnson M.A.P.C.  
Joseph Hannon of Lowell Northern Middlesex Area Commission      
Rep. Nick Paleologos    
Senator Sam Rotundi    
Commissioner Dick Kendall     Dept. of Environmental Management  

At the University of Lowell Library, Commissioners will, by examination of our Archives there, hopefully gain new insights into the Middlesex Canal's historic past. It is planned that each town or city along the canal route will take turns hosting the Commission Meetings, thereby making all members better acquainted with each town and its problems with reference to the canal.

So that all our MCA members can renew their acquaintance with our Archive Collection at Lowell University, our next meeting will take place there on January 15 at 2:00 P.M. and will be hosted by Joe Kopycinski. He will select some of our artifacts to show in the glass display cases. You will, I'm sure, enjoy the old glass lantern slides of the canal in its earlier times. I hope to see you there!

The Thompson Library in Woburn is also receiving display material and archives. Student Malcolm Lele of the Lynch Junior High School in Winchester has created a model of the Old Towpath with a horse pulling a packet boat along the Middlesex Canal. The boat is manned by people in old fashioned costumes. Malcolm's model won first prize in a Town-wide Historical contest last year. Congratulations! A magnificent steering oar or sweep now hangs overhead from the ceiling a gift of Harold Melzar of Wilmington and Laurence Melzar of Woburn. They bought it from the estate in Wilmington of Eldridge Brewster Carter (1830-1908). The steering oar looks almost new.

Our thanks go to Mal and Edith Choate and the faithful scouts of Troop 55 in Billerica and the Mother's Auxiliary who provided the pot luck supper the day we didn't get rained out, and for those who held the fort with a fine slide show on the day of the deluge, the official day for our annual Billerica walk on the canal.

Sad news was reported that Thunderbolt, who so faithfully pulled the packet boat Col. Baldwin last summer, died of a stomach ailment. Lightfoot is being trained to take over. Len Harmon has purchased 2 horsedrawn snowplows and at home is working on a pung. This is to exercise the horse during the winter months so that pulling packets on the canal next summer will come naturally. So keep your eyes open in North Woburn this winter!

Canal materials and books will be on sale in Lowell January 15, so come prepared to buy.

Your President,
Fran VerPlanck

by Thomas Andrew Smith

Once the Middlesex Canal began operation, taverns quickly became the nucleus of its social and commercial life. Here were entertained the weary teamster or boatman, and the passengers of the canal packets. Since travel on the canal was not allowed after dark, taverns along the route became essential to those "unfortunate" enough to be stranded at dusk.

The greatest concentration of taverns along the canal was at Horn Pond in Woburn. It was here that the famous triple sets of locks were located. Passage through these locks was often most time consuming, and a good opportunity to rest and eat was amply provided. Horn Pond quickly became the principal pleasure stop on the Middlesex, attracting many notables such as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, who rode the packets from Boston.

The first canal tavern at Horn Pond was constructed by the Canal Proprietors early in the canal's existence, possibly before 1810. It was small and had an open shed to one side for the accommodation of horses. Located on the east side of the towpath, opposite the upper locks, it quickly did a thriving trade.

A second tavern was constructed before 1824. Substantially larger than the first tavern, it was enlarged and improved in 1827. This public house was located at the middle set of double locks.

With the increase in trade along the Middlesex Canal, the two taverns were not adequate to meet the demand. A third tavern was constructed just south of the site of the first one. This tavern, the most popular of all the Horn Pond houses, had two wings and twenty sleeping rooms.

The fourth and final canal tavern was erected on a hillside, between the lower and middle locks. This house is chiefly known as the "Horn Pond House". This tavern was at its social height between 1840 and 1843. On a cold winter's night in 1843, the Horn Pond House was raided by local authorities in the middle of a cock fight. Many locally prominent individuals were present, and there was quite a scandal. The game cocks were destroyed on Woburn Common, and the men tried in the vestry of the Baptist Church. After the canal ceased operation, the house was eventually sold to E.W. Hudson, who used it as his residence. Known as the Hudson Mansion, it was altered into an opulent Victorian palace.

According to the map of the Middlesex Canal, drawn by the late Harry Lasher, on display at the University of Lowell's Lydon Library; the names of the four canal taverns at Horn Pond were: Smith's Tavern, Innitou Tavern, the Cold Square Tavern, and the Horn Pond House.

As a result of the canal landing (Abbott's) located in the center of Woburn, many of the taverns located there prospered by their closeness to the canal. Travelers and teamsters hauling goods all utilized the town's public houses.

At the corner of present day Main and Walnut Streets was located Benjamin Wood's Tavern. A huge sign located out front of the house had suspended from it a huge golden ball on a chain. Hence the tavern came to be known as the "Golden Ball Tavern". When the ball was lowered to the bottom of the post, it was a signal to stage drivers to stop and pick up passengers. If the ball was raised, it meant that the stage could pass on without delay, hence the term "high ball". Benjamin Wood was known locally for his good food and drink, and was quite a successful innkeeper. At one time, the Woburn Post Office was located in a corner of the tap room. It was here, in 1817, that an unusual event occurred. The first elephant ever seen in Woburn was exhibited in the shed of the Golden Ball. The huge mammal caused quite a stir amongst the locals, who in all probability had never seen any animal as large before.

The Old Fowle Tavern, built in 1691, was also a popular watering spot. It was a sinister looking old place--complete with a resident ghost. A single chamber in the second floor was never occupied by quests due, legend said, to "rattling chains and ghostly groans". The Woburn Minute Men were organized here, and marched off to combat the enemy at Lexington and Concord. The Old Fowle was torn down in 1840 to allow construction of the more famous Central House hotel.

Moving along the "Great Road", as Main Street was then called, towards Hawkers Square and New Bridge Village, the traveler would soon come to an ancient public house, nearly hidden from view behind a giant buttonwood tree. A sign suspended from the tree, showing Noah's Ark, identified the concern as the famous "Ark" tavern.

The "Ark" was the first public house kept in Woburn, and was built in 1683. Mr. Samuel Walker was the first innkeeper. It was a great gathering place for the earliest settlers going to and from worship. The early militia companies gathered here in great numbers.

The tavern's most noted proprietor was Bartholomew Richardson. He was awkward in manner, and had enormous feet. The patrons nicknamed him "Old Clownter". Unfortunately, with the opening of other taverns better located about Woburn, the ancient "Ark" went out of business and was torn down in 1828.

Just south of Hawkers (now Central) Square stood the most famous and prosperous of all Woburn inns--the Mishawum House.

The Mishawum House was doubly blessed to be located not only on the main turnpike between Boston and Portsmouth, N.H. but also sat only thirty rods from the banks of the Middlesex Canal. A thriving enterprise was all but insured.

Originally operated by Ichabod Parker, the tavern became the site of the first post office in Woburn in 1797. Parker's tavern was renowned far and wide for his particular variety of "flip", a concoction of rum and molasses.

When the tavern was later operated by Thomas Murphy in the early 1800's the grounds were improved to include beautiful gardens and walkways along the canal, and several pavilions and bowling alleys. Dunham's Pond nearby, drained in 1834, provided patrons with excellent fishing and hunting in the surrounding woodlands.

By the time Mr. Thomas Smith (alas, no relation) became the master of the Mishawum House, the structure had been substantially enlarged to provide a huge dance hall on the second level. Here were held a wide variety of sleigh parties, military musters and balls, and canal outings.

After the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the inn was the half-way house for the daily stages between Boston and Lowell. In all, there were some fourteen stages changing horses. As might be anticipated, there was quite a rivalry between stage lines. When Tom Smith was proprietor, some of this rivalry took on tragic consequences. Twenty horses were poisoned by rivals in the tavern's stable on a single day.

In Hawkers Square there also stood the infamous Clapp House. Although this brick-ended tavern operated from 1807 until shortly before it was razed in 1850, its chief notoriety comes,' not from the fact that it once stood--but that it once fell; with deadly results!

On July 14, 1807, the frame of the massive building was being erected. Because of the unusual size of the undertaking and the traditional festive atmosphere which always accompanied a house-raising, a considerable crowd had congregated to celebrate the event.

At 6 P.M., after the entire frame had been erected, the structure suddenly lurched to the left and collapsed-to the horror of those present. Some forty men were on the frame as it tumbled. The deadly crash of timbers could be heard, it is said, for miles.

The bodies of the dead were removed from the debris, horribly mangled. Samuel Wright and Joshua Richardson had been killed instantly. John Lyman of New Bridge, after excruciating suffering, died that night. A fourth man, Nathan Parker, died during the week.

Thirty or forty of the "strong men" of the town were wounded in a variety of ways. Some of these lingered months, years-and even unto death to be relieved of their suffering. Some were made cripples for life. The fall of the Clapp House Tavern was the single greatest tragedy to befall early Woburn.

A wealthy leather manufacturer, Jonathan Tidd, constructed a three-storied brick-ended public house on Elm Street in New Bridge in 1809. Previously, the only tavern in the north village had been that of Sheriff Abijah Thompson, built in 1779, a few rods to the south of the Tidd Tavern.

The Tidd Tavern, catered to the needs of coach passengers between Boston and Portsmouth with hearty meals and overnight lodging. The tavern was the scene of many balls and soirees. It was here that the people of Woburn celebrated the end of the War of 1812, at the Great Peace Ball of 1815. The ell of this tavern was built from material from the bowling alley pavilion that was located on Horn Pond Island.

The last of the many old inns which were once the life-blood of this old canal town, was Tay's Tavern located at the Great Road on the Wilmington line. Although not built or operated on the grand scale of the Horn Pond House or the Mishawum House, it was nonetheless reputed to have been the most popular stop along the old canal for the tough barge and raft men whose craft made up the bulk of the canal traffic.