Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 4)

Published January 19, 2001 | Informational - Historic Articles | Automatically Archived on 6/3/2001

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Chapter 4

A Ride With Uncle Atherton Rogers

We children are sitting on the wooden steps of the Sudbury Town Hall this October morning of 1917, waiting for a special treat. Uncle Atherton Rogers has promised us a ride in his old Democrat wagon to show us the town as he remembered it sixty years ago when he was our age. Uncle Atherton is a successful businessman in Boston and has invested much of his wealth in the town. He lives in a big house called “Hilltops” on the hill behind the new Memorial Congregational Church in South Sudbury.

The sun is flashing from the weathervane of the First Parish Church which some people have said looks like Mrs. Loring’s bloomers hung out to dry, and the maples along the roadway are a riot of red and gold with streaks of green mixed in.

There’s Uncle Atherton now. He’s not our real uncle, but everybody calls him that, just the way they used to do to Uncle Johnnie Goodnow of East Sudbury who lived to be more than 100 years old. It is a term of respect.

“Come sit on the high seat where you can hear and see, children,” he invites as he walks the horses to the watering trough for a drink. “I will start by telling you about things here at the Center and work around the town.

“At the Center years ago were located all the churches,” he tells us. “Also the Town Hall–as it still is. The First Parish or Unitarian, Methodist and Orthodox were here. The school house for that district was very close to the Methodist Church. For a few years, a new building for school purposes has taken its place and has the different grades to high school in it. The old building is owned and occupied by the Sudbury Grange.

“The Town Hall is as it was as I first remember it. The Orthodox Society moved from its old quarters in 1891 to South Sudbury into a new building and is now called the Memorial Congregational Church. The first storekeepers I can remember here were Smith, Jones, Burbeck and Willis. Then Jonas S. Hunt, John Garfield, Edwin A. Powers, and the present owner, Mr. William M.Parmenter.

“The oldest cemetery and the newest are close together here, separated only by the street. One dates back to the early 1600s and the other a good many years later. The old tombs still are where they were built and judging from their condition, will remain for years to come.”

Uncle Atherton glances around the common once more, ticking off the familiar buildings of his youth.

“Sewall Taylor and Jonas Tower were the wheelwrights for many years. Taylor’s shop is still standing [285 Concord Road], but he has gone over the river. The Hurlbut Parsonage [233 Concord Road] and the Bigelow [254 Old Sudbury Road] are still standing and are as good to look upon as ever. They were made to withstand the storms of many years.

“The buildings haven’t changed, but the familiar faces are few. Wheeler Haynes was a familiar figure in the Center. For years he transported milk from the different farms to Cambridge. Webster Moore kept a small hotel in the house now occupied by Walter Stone [301 Concord Road]. When the Sudbury Rifle Co. paraded on old election day, his place was very attractive.

“Assabet, now Maynard, was part of Sudbury then and on town meeting days the old hall would be crowded with poll tax payers from the mill if that village wanted anything special. Now Maynard is a thrifty manufacturing town by itself.

“Sudbury is on the map with its two lines of railroads, telephone, telegraph and electric lights in houses as well as on its streets. It also has a private school, the Whiting School for Girls [now Featherland Park]”

The horses are rested and watered so it is time to start our ride. Uncle Atherton turns the team toward the road to Concord, past the Revolutionary War Memorial, the Revolutionary and Mt. Pleasant Cemeteries, the tombs and hearse house and over the hill to a large country estate owned by famous architect Ralph Adams Cram.

“A fine old country home made doubly so by Mr. Cram who has added to its beauty with some changes,” says Uncle Atherton. “Nearby he has erected a stone church of pretty design and has services there during the summer months when he occupies his lovely home. It is of the Episcopal denomination.” [This is today’s St. Elizabeth’s Chapel].

We pass along by good farms belonging to Bents, Hunts and Haynes, all descended from Sudbury’s old families, and finally come to a flatiron-shaped piece of land where the roads split, one turning right to Concord and the other bearing left to North Sudbury and Maynard.

“Here stood the old Pantry Schoolhouse, where the Bents, Hunts, Puffers, Haynes, Bartons, Lomasneys, Dewise and others got their first training as scholars,” says Uncle Atherton. “This old building has been moved away.”

He steers the team down the left fork, and soon we pass the old North Sudbury railroad station and the cemetery and turn left on the old North Road from Boston to Lancaster and points west. Uncle Atherton tells us that NahumThompson once had a small store near here, but it has been closed for many years.

“Let’s turn back by Uncle Leander Haynes and Captain Jones’ places,” he suggests. “At the beginning of the Civil War, 1861, I went to a flag raising at Capt. Jones [Barton Farm on what is now called Liberty Ledge]. The Sudbury Rifles and the Sudbury Brass Band were there, and it was a great afternoon for us boys. A good many of the old rifle company enlisted in the 13th Mass Volunteers. Some never returned alive, but they were brave and protected the flag as long as they had life.”

We pass on, going through what Uncle Atherton calls the Perry District [out today’s Marlboro Road, down Fairbank Road and Dutton Road. The Perry place was the Atkinson farmhouse previously owned by Babe Ruth].

“We remember Billy Moore’s cider mill near Capt. Jim’s. It was afterwards owned by my father, then by Edwin Gerry, then by Nathan Pratt and by his estate at present,” he says. “Down through the woods [the length of today’s Pratt Mill Road] a mile or so we find another mill owned by Charles Haynes, known today as Willis Mill. Each mill did grinding and sawing and sold grain.”

We go by the old Noyes and Hayden places [following Peakham Road south] by the old Walker Farm out on to the Marlboro Road [Route 20] and head west toward the Wayside Inn, made famous by Longfellow’s book of poems of the same name. Uncle Atherton ties his sweating team within reach of the watering trough near the door and we get down, walk around and look at the buildings while the horses drink.

“This was called the Red Horse Tavern in my boyhood,” He recalls. “This style of building was common along all the main roads of Massachusetts. The old inn had 18 rooms. The rooms had fireplaces and were low with the big beams encased and sides sheathed up part way from the floor.

“Squire Howe [Lyman Howe, the last Howe innkeeper] was there and had a housekeeper and Buckley Parmenter was the man of all work. The old bar room could tell of wonderful times if it could speak. I purchased the Inn in 1893 of Mrs. Newton, who was one of the original Howes, for ex-Mayor S. Herbert Howe of Marlboro and Hon. Homer Rogers of Boston, a Sudbury boy.

“I had charge of the place one season and we changed the old driveway barn so that the hill in front of the house might be seen. Parties from Marlboro, Framingham, Concord and other places would come and dance in the old hall, and Mr. Seymour and I would set the tables and serve the lunch they would bring with them. We had tables, chairs, linen, crockery, but no food, only what was brought by parties.

“Over the old bar we served soft drinks and cigars. We also had things to sell with the cut [picture] of the house on them and also the book, ‘The Tales of a Wayside Inn.’ Over 4,000 registered between May and December. People from all over the world. Today Mr. [Edward R.] Lemon has it beautifully fixed up and it is one of the showplaces for the state and country.

“Just above is the nail and tack factory and home of J.C. Howe which is now owned by William Bright [The Calvin Howe house burned down during the Ford era and the mill was dismantled after the Wayside Inn grist mill was completed in 1929].”

Uncle Atherton unties the team after one last draught of cool well water that we have helped to pump, and we head east along the Boston Post Road toward South Sudbury. Soon we pass the old Peakham district school and the old Bacon homestead [566 Boston Post Road] on the left, where he takes up his narrative once more.

“Mrs. Bacon lived to be 102 or thereabout, a fine old lady. Mr. Bacon lived to a ripe old age as well, but I’ve forgotten how old. The Osgoods now own the place and have remodeled it quite a bit. Here on the left is the Stone place which was a hotel, I was told, but not in my day.

“Now we come to Bonnie Brook Farm [now Raytheon Corp]. Mr. Borden has three farms, some 150 cows, milking machines and every convenience for feeding and watering, carriers for the fertilizers, rooms for cooling and separating the milk and cream, and washing machine for bottles. He makes cheese, butter and ice cream in season. He has a tea room and everything on quite a large scale. It is now owned by H.P. Hood and Sons and is doing a large business.”

On the right side of the street, we pass the greenhouses of Harland Rogers and James Tulis who grow carnations to be shipped by rail to markets all over the northeast. A little farther along we clatter across the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and later on the Central Mass branch of the Boston and Maine.

As we cross the bridge over Wash Brook above Parmenter’s Mill and pass by the machine shop of Hurlbut, Rogers and Co., Uncle Atherton tells us that the stream now supports four mills. At one time it supported seven: Hager’s in Marlboro, Howe’s near the Wayside Inn, Knight-Dutton on Dutton Road, Moore’s (Pratt’s), also on Dutton Road, Conners and Willis on Peakham Road, and the Richardson Mill in South Sudbury which was later purchased by Charles O. Parmenter.

“There’s not a log in the old Mill Lane anymore,” he says wistfully. “What times we boys had playing and hiding in and around them! In the rear of this old mill were the factories of S.B. Rogers & Co., manufacturers of leatherboards, shoe stiffings and box toes. That business has moved to Maine, but the Hurlbut-Rogers Machine Company is still going and is a busy plant. The overseas war [WWI] has made it so.”

We stop in front of the large house [today’s Sudbury Professional Building, which still retains the configuration of the old tavern] nearly at the corner of Boston Post Road and Concord Road which Uncle Atherton tells us was once a busy tavern. “The proprietor, I remember, was Samuel Fessenden,” he says. “It had two big driveways and places for horses. Loads of hay, furniture or anything bulky could get in the barn as the entrance was high and very wide. The stalls for the horses were for two horses together.

“The tavern was a big square building connected with the barn by a big shed. I have been over the house many times since it was closed as a hotel. The office and bar room were the most attractive parts.”

We leave the horses drinking at the water trough erected by Mr. Goodnow and follow Uncle Atherton across the busy intersection. He points out a large square building with huge windows overlooking Mill Lane. “The old Kidder shoe shop,” he says. “Handmade shoes and boots and they would look ancient and honorable today. We got a good deal for our money in those days. Capt. Kidder is gone, the old hotel and big barns torn down….”

We cross again and investigate Hunt’s general store on the opposite corner. George W. Hunt is the owner but is in ill health so George Grover is running things. Uncle Atherton tells us what it was like when he was a boy and Gardner and Luther Hunt were the first proprietors, followed by Charles, Emory and George W. Hunt.

“In the beginning, wet groceries [liquor] were kept as well as dry, I was told, but the C&E Hunt store was dry to my recollection. It had everything you can think of that was for sale in any country store: dry goods, hats, caps, boots, shoes, rubbers, groceries, furniture, carpets, crockery, tinware, hardware, stoves, feathers and all the other things of the day. A tailor shop and a first class tailor. Nice suitings and trimmings.

“Back of the store there was a large barn. This barn was owned by Gardner and Nicholas Hunt. In the inside it was partitioned off so each one knew just where his part was. An old eyesore in the village was the two cow yards, right beside the street. Today [1917] the barn has been torn down, the yards filled in and a nice house [10 Concord Road] has taken its place.

“I mustn’t forget to tell you about the amount of business in straw braid once done at Hunt’s store. People all over town and towns around, braided straw for hats. They brought it to the store and sold it according to the quality–very fine, medium or coarse–and took their pay in goods out of the store. Several times a year a team would come from the hat factories and takeaway quantities of the different kinds. People came 20 miles to trade their straw work for goods.

“There were the old firms of butchers, of J.D. and C.A. Cutter, also Goodnow and Rogers. The old stage line went from South Sudbury via Sudbury, Wayland and Weston to Stony Brook. Thadeus Moore, for years the owner and driver, carried the U.S. Mail, did express work, had passengers and baggage and brought us our daily paper. At the start of the [Civil] war, 26 people were on the coach besides the usual amount of baggage. It took two and a half hours to get to Boston in those days.”

As Uncle Atherton turns the team east on the Post Road towards East Sudbury we pass the old shop of Edwin Arnold, the wheelwright [today’s frame loft]. He tells us that there was a school over the shop for a short time and that the blacksmith shop of John P. Allen was nearby. “He and Squire Cutler and Dana Hunt always were in the old store ready to get their paper when the stage arrived,” he says. “In those days, you couldn’t see across the store because there was so much smoke from pipes and cigars. Not so today, nor for several years. Goods delivered after orders taken; nothing to come for often. Free delivery of all mail outside village, so nothing in that line.”

We pass over Green Hill to the old Landham School House. Uncle Atherton remembers when it used to stand in the flatiron of land at the intersection of the roads leading to Saxonville and Wayland. It has since been moved and burned and another takes its place.

“There were so many scholars that plank seats were put in the front of the first row of desks, and our feet were on the recitation platform,” Uncle Atherton recalled. “The big boys would try to step on our feet so we would tuck them under our seats until class was over. Some of the boys and girls were grown up and as large as they would ever be, and there were all sizes down to five-year-old children.

“Now the school is for the first grades and only a very few scholars; but in my day, nearly 100 packed in. I’m not quite sure of the number.

“Down on the Saxonville road lived Uncle Johnnie Goodnow. He wore his hair braided like a Chinaman in a pig tail down his back. He lived to be between102 and 103 years of age. We thought him a wonder and he was to most of us young people. I can’t think of one person who was at the head of a family in my boyhood days in Landham District who is alive today and so it is all over town.

“We did not have the steam or electric railways, bicycles, autos and so many ways to get around as now,” Uncle Atherton muses as he turns the horses back toward home. “The beaches, mountains and places of resort were away off, in our minds, and only the few who had fine horses and carriages were able to enjoy the things that are so common today.”

The sounds of war could already be heard in Sudbury, and well before the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the town’s young men were answering the call to conflict as had every generation before them. Little did they know that this war would change Sudbury and the entire world for all time. Atherton Rogers died on November 11, 1933, fifteen years to the day after the signing.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.