Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 12, No. 2    September, 1974


Co-sponsors of the walk are the Appalachian Mountain Club, Boy Scouts of Troop 55, B.S.A., and the Middlesex Canal Association, which will provide a lecturer on the history of Canal. Scouts will serve as guides. Canal and camera enthusiasts welcome. Pot-luck supper served by the Mothers' Auxiliary, Troop 55, B.S.A., at the Hajjar School, Billerica, donation $1.50. Make supper reservations by September 25 with Edith J. Choate, 429 West Street, Reading, Massachusetts (944-0129, after 8 p.m.).

Meet at Hajjar School at corner of Call and Rogers Streets at 1:30 p.m. From Billerica Center proceed north on Route 3A to first traffic light, one mile, bear right on Pollard Street (stay off Route 129) for l mile, right on High Street. After crossing railroad tracks turn left on Rogers Street. School is on left. Four mile woodland route over prepared trails; short section along more obvious remains of Canal.

OCTOBER 19, 1974

On October 19, 1974, the Association will join with Civic officials and other canal and engineering Societies to dedicate the newly-restored section of canal in Wilmington, done as part of the Massachusetts D.P.W. relocation of Route 129.

2:00 P.M.   Ceremonies at the site (Railroad crossing - Route 129, Wilmington). All invited.

4:30 P.M.   Reception at Ramada Inn, Routes 128 and 38, Woburn, for publication of "The Old Middlesex Canal" by Mary Stetson Clarke.

6:00 P.M.   Dinner at Ramada Inn. Tickets: $6.50 each.
Reserve before October 7 with Prof. Douglas P. Adams, 58 Monument Avenue, Charlestown, Mass. 02129.

"The Old Middlesex Canal" by Mary Stetson Clarke

We are happy to announce the publication on October 19, 1974 of Mrs. Clarke's long awaited history of the Middlesex Canal. Copies of the book will be available for sale by the Association during the October 19th meeting at the price of $5.00 per copy plus 3% sales tax. Thereafter, copies may be ordered by mail from The Hilltop Press, 333 West Emerson St., Melrose, Mass. 02176. A review of the book will be found on page 8 of this issue.


On the excellent map that shows the route of the Middlesex Canal issued in 1967 by the Middlesex Canal Association the ruins of Richardson's Mill in East Billerica are located and designated as the site of "canal maintenance shops". Following this lead, which is based on a generally held view in the Association, the City College of New York Archaeological Fieldschool selected the overgrown foundations of the mill for test excavations this summer (1974). The origin of the "canal maintenance" function of the site probably derives from a reading of the most important secondary source on the canal, The Middlesex Canal 1793-1860 by Christopher Roberts (1938:65-66):

The requirements for the undertaking were simple. A black-smith shop, a sawmill wheelbarrows, gunpowder, and hand tools constituted the principal capital equipment. Henry Putnam received $200 "for his services in purchasing the Mills and Farms of Thomas Richardson in Billerica"; and here was built the company's first blacksmith shop. A master carpenter spent a month making wheelbarrows and other tools, "the best foreign gunpowder" was purchased, and the digging was properly under way. ...

This quote is also reinforced, at least if its primary sources (which appear as footnotes and are deleted here) are ignored, by a reference on "A Map and Profile of the Boston and Lowell Railroad" surveyed by James F. Baldwin and drawn by Henry C. Waters in April 1830. A site, located on Content Brook which is the present location of the foundations, is labeled "Richardson's Mill" and it is the only site that carries this name on the map. It should be noted, however, that the map is actually a copy traced in 1902 from the original which may be lost.

In early June I was directed to the location on Content Brook by Russell Young, a MCA member and resident of North Billerica. The site was subsequently cleared, photographed, and mapped and a series of test excavations were undertaken. Once the site was cleared it was possible to make out the remains of a gate structure that created a small pond for the mill, a long retaining wall probably connected with this pond, and the foundation-outlines of two small buildings besides the main wooden structure that must have spanned the brook. Within the main mill building an inset area in the foundation was noted that probably held the saw-blade at a right angle to the waterwheel.

A series of test pits were opened in different parts of the site in an attempt to date its various structures and determine their function. It was also hoped that a trash area might be encountered from the period of the canal (1793-1853), although it was obvious from documentary sources that the site had continued to be used as a sawmill after the closing of the Middlesex Canal. No specific trash areas were encountered and, although the testing nature of our excavations must be kept in mind, almost all recovered artifacts dated from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. A number of metal items representing hardware from mill activities were discovered but the most diagnostic artifact category, as far as chronology is concerned, is glass. A number of glass bottles found in the humus layer or at deeper levels had embossed company names that are traceable. One clear glass bottle, a "Guaranteed Full Pint", carried the name of "E.A. McQuade 73 & 75 Market St. Lowell, Mass." This company makes its first appearance in the Lowell Directory in 1892 but did not move to Market Street until 1897 and did not occupy the 73-75-77 address until 1905. It is also in 1906 that the phrase "Full Quart $1.00 Per Bottle", which is related to the phrase on the bottle, appears in one of his advertisements. McQuade stays in business until 1919 but the fact that the bottle did not have a seam running to its top (which only occurs after 1903 with the invention of the automatic bottle making machine) allows a closer dating of probably 1905 to 1910. A similar dating is produced by a search on the producer of another embossed bottle. "Chas. M. Joyce 9 & 15 Middle (Moody?) St. Lowell, Mass." Joyce first appears in operation in 1896 but did not use the address found on the bottle until 1899 and by 1903 had expanded to "31 Central St. and 5 to 15 Middle Street." Thus this bottle, which also has a pre-1903 form, was probably used at Richardson's Mill between 1899 and 1903.

If there is a member of the Middlesex Canal Association who lives in Lawrence and would like to help forward this chronological research he or she could help by attempting to trace the following company in the Lawrence directories:

"Frederick .? over
597 Broadway
Lawrence, Mass."

The directories are probably on file at the local library and dating of the company, which falls somewhere in the later 19th century, would be very useful as the bottle carrying the above inscription was found under some of the foundations of one of the structures on the site. Thus the building must date after the deposition of the bottle.

A late 19th to early 20th century date is also reinforced by almost all other categories of artifacts from the test pits. There were no equivalents to the ceramics or glass dating between 1825 and 1860 that the CCNY Fieldschool later uncovered in Lowell. It was not surprising that there was a dearth of domestic items at Richardson's Mill as it was probably only a working location and not a dwelling area, but the consistently late date of all activity was very unusual if in the first part of the 19th century the mill had been a focus of canal related work. Other indications that there might be something wrong with the identification of Richardson's Mill as the "canal maintenance shops" were also emerging from our historical research that was being conducted simultaneously with our excavations. The Library of the Lowell Technological Institute, under the direction of Joseph V. Kopycinski and the Special Collections Librarian Martha Mayo, had made it possible for us to examine the records of the Middlesex Canal Company. An almost verbatim reading was disturbing. There were detailed records of the movements of goods up and down the canal from various sites, such as the Chelmsford Glassworks, but not one mention of materials moving out of or into Richardson's Mill. At first we hypothesized that this silence might be a product of the fact that the company owned the mill, but a careful reading of reports on the state of the canal was also unproductive. These reports of expenses and repair work would follow the canal from one end to the other listing all locks, aqueducts, and other features. Each report would move enticingly up to Content Brook and then pass by it, and the mill site, without comment! Added to this silence was the fact that numerous references in the accounts to a large mill-supply complex, where the canal crossed the Concord River, were found. Was it possible that Richardson's Mill had been confused with the Concord location or was it possible that Richardson's Mill had been completely misidentified? These questions led me to plan research in the land records of Middlesex County, when I met Christopher Mills who was writing a local history of East Billerica. He had already done extensive research in the land records and confirmed that Richardson's Mill had never belonged to the Middlesex Canal Company if indeed this was even the proper name for the site. With his help I have since found the following sequence of events.

In the mid-18th century there was a mill in the general vicinity of the site and in 1766 William French Jr. sold it to a John White (Billerica 6:184, South District copies, Lowell Registry of Deeds) and in 1770 White in turn sold it to Thomas Richardson as part of:

... one parcel of land lying and being in Billerica aforesaid. Containing Forty six acres be the same more or less with the House and Barn the saw mill and all the Buildings thereon standing and all the tools and things to said Saw Mill belonging... (Billerica 6:556).

It is interesting that the survey committee under Loammi Baldwin in a report issued in 1793 mentions a 'Richardson's Mill', but it is near Medford Pond and thus not possibly associated with our site, and as they made the survey through Billerica they state that, "From this place to Billerica Bridge, over the Concord river, is about three miles, by way of French mill, upon Content-brook, (italics mine) and round the north side of Foxhill, in Billerica...' (Baldwin 1793).

In 1786 Thomas Richardson passed to his brother Oliver Richardson some land:

... near Content Bridge with one quarter part of the saw mill thereon standing with all the appurtenances there-to belonging with all the other buildings thereon standing ... (Billerica 8:54),

while in 1811 he also sold to John Chandler:

... one eight part of a saw mill content mill so called, with the privilege of one eight part of the stream and yard room about the same, also one eight part of the irons belonging to said mill... (Billerica 10:589),

and finally in 1822 it was also Thomas Richardson who assigned to Philip Mills:

... forever one forth part of the Saw Mill known by the name of supply mill with all the privileges and appurtenances thereto belonging situate in said Billerica on Content brook so called... (Billerica 17:438).

The crucial period of 1793 when the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal organised to 1803 when the canal opened, or indeed the later decades running up to 1863, show no record of the purchase of the mill on Content Brook by the canal company. Thomas Richardson, however, held several properties in the Billerica area including land and mills on the Concord. On April 21, 1794 Thomas Richardson sold to the Middlesex Canal Company land on the Concord, where the canal was to cross the river, and:

... all the Buildings and Priviledges to the above described Premises belonging including the Mills Mill priviledges and conveniences thereunto belonging being on the Premises and commonly known by the name of Richardson's Mills (italics mine)... (Billerica 9:81).

Although there is need for further research in the land and probate records it now seems that the Billerica center for the Middlesex Canal Company was located on the Concord and there was never any direct connection between the canal company and the site on Content Brook. Of course, the building of the canal must have had some influence on the business of the sawmill on the brook, even if no indication of this impact is to be found in the written sources, but the independence of the mill is seen in its survival into the early 20th century well after the abandonment of the canal. The reason for the lack of any early artifacts from our excavations, when the documents indicate a mill, or different mills, on Content Brook at least as early as the mid-18th century, may be explained in two ways. Either the test excavations were too limited in extent or, and I prefer this possibility at the moment, there was more than one mill-site in the immediate area. In fact, there are what may be foundations of a smaller, perhaps earlier, mill near the main foundations.

Between 1794 and 1853 the Proprietors of the Middlesex Canal did have at least one supply-mill area. It was on the Concord and was far larger and more complex than many have suspected.

Robert L. Schuyler
Department of Anthropology
City College of New York


Too many canal histories confine themselves to dry correct facts. They are adequate for the record and are accepted as such by the ever growing number of "dyed in the wool" canal buffs.

"The Old Middlesex Canal" by Mary Stetson Clarke not only gives an accurate historical account, but transports one back to the days of that canal. The reader becomes a contemporary of Loammi Baldwin, the Sullivans, and all those who dreamed, built, operated and rode upon this fine waterway.

She has been more fortunate than most authors in that she has available, through the Middlesex Canal Association, the nearly complete records and correspondence of the Canal Company. These had been protected all these years by the Massachusetts State authorities from the inroads of file house-cleaners and other historical-data vandals.

The background of the Canal Officers and the Board of Directors is developed in just enough detail. One gets to know the group that poured so much of their finances and themselves into the realization of the canal in which they believed so fully.

The details of planning, building and operation are explained with an understanding of hydraulics that portray the author's knowledge of canal engineering.

The appendices contain a wealth of information and are in themselves an interesting study. They include: Wm. Weston's 1794 Report; Gallatin's 1808 Report; excerpts from Charles Francis Adams' study of the canal in 1829, and the author's updated "Guide to the Middlesex Canal" for current field trips with locations in reference to today's highway route numbers.

The book is completely referenced to original sources. It has a good bibliography and a very complete index. For the serious student of this canal, nothing has been omitted.

Many fine illustrations, reproductions of original maps and company notices are contributions to the completeness of this account.

Added to the wealth of research material, Mrs. Clarke's considerable experience in writing historical books and her penchant for meaningful, careful research create a solid readable, interesting story that is hard to beat.

If you want to live in the era of the old Middlesex, be a part of the building team with Loammi Baldwin and his men, experience first hand the matters of every day maintenance, worry about the finance and operational problems, and even ride the canal with Edward Everett Hale, David Thoreau, and Noah Webster, you will find that "You Are There", when you read this excellent, all inclusive account of "The Old Middlesex".

Arnold H. Barben
Canal Society New York State

Seneca Falls, New York
August 5, 1974


Saturday, October 19, 1974

The oldest "traction" canal in this country will hold dedication exercises of a restored "stretch" at the new highway crossing, Route 129 relocation in Wilmington, Massachusetts. These will occur in the afternoon and evening at the site and at Ramada Inn.
Proprietors and Members of the Canal Association, members of other American Canal Societies, participants in the restoration, government officials and friends are welcome!

2:00 P.M. at RR crossing of Rte. 129
Professor Douglas P. Adams, Pres. presiding

Music by Andover Bagpipe Band
Commonwealth of Massachusetts--Governor Sargent, Senator MacKenzie, Representative Cain
Canal Communities--Chairman Wilmington Historical Comm.
Mass. Dep't. Public Works--Commissioner Bruce Campbell.
Contractor--presents restoration to the public.
Society of Industrial Archeology--accepts for the public.
Canal songs, school children.
Battery---- Militia Company.
Unveiling of Canal Arch, Canal Barge.
Battery---- Militia Company.
Barge is drawn by horse thru the restoration.
Inspection of Canal Park.

* * * * * * * *

Ramada Inn, Middlesex Canal Park, Woburn
4:30 P.M. Reception at the Inn, featuring Canal Association Publications, especially the first release of "The Old Middlesex Canal", by Mary Clarke, Board Member of the Association.

5:00 P.M. Reception of visiting Canallers and officials. Cash Bar.

6:00 P.M. Dinner. Vice-President Wilbar M. Hoxie, presiding.

Slide presentation of the present Canal by Medford High School students.

Mr. Jerry Wagers, Director, North Atlantic Division, National Park Service, (Area I), U.S. Dep't Int.

Dr. Charles H. W. Foster, Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Comm. Mass.

Dr. Tom Liu, President, Boston Society of Civil Engineers of the American Society of Civil Engineers

Douglas P. Adams, Pres.
Middlesex Canal Association
58 Monument Avenue
Charlestown, Mass. 02129

Please make __ dinner reservations for me for October 19, Ramada Inn, Middlesex Park, Woburn. $6.50 per ticket.