The First Public Projects

It took a few years before the town of Marlborough gained traction. The years 1657 through 1661 were concerned with building houses, negotiating with the Praying Indians, collecting taxes and settling a minister. The town was incorporated in 1660, but it may have been a few years before it became a real community.

The minister’s house was contracted to be built in April 1661 even though William Brinsmead had been named minister much earlier. It appears that the house was scheduled for completion in March of the following year and payment was to be made to the builders in crops on the streets of Sudbury. This shows that many of the settlers were still living in Sudbury at the time and that the building of the house proceeded slowly. There is great detail in the Colonial Records concerning this house and it surely could be recreated today. It was a frame house, a rarity at that time. On the 3rd of October, 1662, it was officially given to Mr. William Brinsmead, minister.

In December, 1661, Town Meeting contracted with Peter Bent to construct a  bridge over the Sudbury River. This means that the first public roads project undertaken by the town of Marlborough was built out of town. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, but it certainly made sense. At the time there was no bridge over the Sudbury River on what we now call the Post Road (Route 20). In order to cross the river on the way to Boston, the cattlemen of Marlborough would have to travel to Sudbury, go north to the present Route 27 and cross the river near the Wayland Country Club. The new bridge was built on the southern path which would take one down Farm Rd, then onto Broadmeadow, right on Parmenter, continuing on Edmands Road in Framingham, straight across to Water Street, then a left at the fork to Potter Road.

The Sudbury River crosses Potter Road just beyond the intersection at Landham Road. This is the boundary with Wayland. There is a modern road bridge here, but about one hundred feet to the north, there is a stone bridge. The current bridge, named Stone’s Bridge after the Stone family that lived nearby, is a replacement to an earlier wooden horse bridge.  This is most likely the location of Peter Bent’s bridge. The cattlemen of Marlborough could continue on this road until they reached the Old Connecticut Path where they would eventually intersect with the Post Road. It would cut miles off their trip to Boston.

Stone’s Bridge, Walyland, MA

A similar oddity was that they also built their first public building out of town. Unfortunately, this project had serious repercussions. At the same meeting wherein William Brinsmead was given the minister’s house, a tax rate was set for the building of a Meeting House. Unlike the minister’s house, there was no contract, no detail, and no timetable for the erection of the building.

The next mention of the building in the Colonial Records is the spring of 1663, just a few months later. The town fathers had decided that the best location for the Meeting House would be near the minister’s house, so it was located on the north side of the main road, where the Walker Building now sits. They somehow overlooked the fact that it was sitting on Praying Indian land.

We know from the Indian deed that the building had already been erected in April of 1663. Chief Onamog, never one to ignore the trespasses of the English, appealed to the colonial authorities who soon intervened. A deal was struck wherein the English would pass multiple laws concerning the control of animals. This was a major concern to the Praying Indians whose planting field was constantly being overrun by cattle and swine. In return, Onamog would give over the Meeting House land to the English.

On April 3rd and 4th, 1663 the deal was consummated. On the 3rd, the selectmen of Marlborough reinforced the law concerning swine ensuring that they be “yoaked and rung.” In addition, they forbade wandering cattle, mandating that they be accompanied by a “Keeper.” They appointed nine men to “looke to ye fences in their streete” to make sure that no animal might escape.

Severe penalties accompanied the new rules. On April 4th, Anamaks (Onamog) deeded the Meeting House land to the English, including “a Square Tenne foot round About ye sd Meeting House” for “divers causes and consideration,” meaning that no money changed hands. The ten foot boundary would mean that there would be no room for a burying ground.  The Meeting House land is now occupied by the stately Walker Building, a monument to the generosity of the Praying Indians.

Meeting Hall land, Walker Bldg., Marlborough, MA

Marlborough may well be the only town in existence where the first public building and the first public works project were built outside the boundaries of the municipality.

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One thought on “The First Public Projects

  1. Your articles give me a number of “1st” that I find fascination; The intrigue and politics of the early settlement, and now, the fact that the Walker Bldg. was built on the land owned by the Praying Indians. Seems, even our founding fathers were complicit in the mal-treatment of the native population. Interesting!

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