Upper Boston Post Road #7 (UPBR#7) Alternate Route Entry #2
“We then asked him for the inns that were on the road between the house and Worcester, he recommended us two, one about nine miles from his house, a Mr. Buckminster’s….”Ensign Henry DeBerniere, in his report to General Gage, February 23, 1775.
John Adams, in his Diary entry for August 10, 1774.
“The committee for the Congress took their departure from Boston….lodged at Colonel Buck’s”
Two spies, sent out from Boston to survey the surrounding countryside, stopped at the Golden Ball Tavern along the Upper Boston Post Road in Weston on February 23, 1775. The intended destination of the two men, Ensign Henry DeBerniere and Captain William Browne, was Worcester, a location suspected by the military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, General Thomas Gage, of secretly housing arms and ammunition for use against the government.
Upon discovering that the innkeeper, Isaac Jones, harbored Loyalist sentiment, they asked him for information regarding the route to Worcester. Interestingly, instead of sending Browne and DeBerniere to Worcester along the main road, the Post Road through what was then Sudbury (which divided in 1780 into today’s Sudbury and Wayland) through to Marlborough and Northborough, then on to Shrewsbury and Worcester, Jones recommended a tavern in Framingham along a different road to Worcester, one that cut southwest through Wayland and then west across the length of Framingham, through the towns of Southborough and Westborough, before rejoining the main road at a point near the 37 milestone close to the border with Shrewsbury in Northborough, a twenty one mile detour which avoided the towns of Sudbury and Marlborough (See the map below as well as the map at the end of this entry for details).1The total distance along this alternate route, from the point at which it deviates from the main road in Wayland at the Weston line to the point at which it rejoins the main road in Northborough, is 21.4 miles, while the route along the main road, at 20.6 miles, is slightly shorter. Thus, it is not a shortcut. It might have been slightly easier to traverse although that hypothesis seems unlikely as I will discuss in the course of the entries along the “diversionary road.”
Why Isaac Jones sent the men along this road remains a mystery, although my hypothesis is that he was well aware of the fact that the innkeeper at Buckminster’s, the aforementioned tavern in Framingham, was heavily involved in the very activities which the two spies were sent out to discover. As events turned out, it was probably a perceptive choice; the events at Buckminster’s described by DeBerniere in his report to General Gage take up a significant portion of the whole narrative and are quite interesting. Confirmation of the importance of Buckminster’s as a focal point for rebel activity in the hinterlands of Boston can be found in the diary of John Adams. On January 25, 1776, eleven months after the initial visit of Browne and DeBerniere to Buckminster’s tavern, after the dramatic events at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, John Adams recorded a visit to the tavern while on his way to Philadelphia as a representative of Massachusetts at the Continental Congress. In his diary Adams notes that “Coll. Buckminster after dinner shewed us the train of Artillery brought down from Ticonderoga by Coll. Knox.”2Diary of John Adams, Volume II, p.227. Thus, the pieces of artillery that would eventually prove to be the decisive factor culminating in the “Evacuation of Boston” by the troops of the British Army on March 17, 1776 were being stored at the time of Adams’ visit in the vicinity of Buckminster’s tavern, while Colonel Joseph Buckminster’s role in the situation was important enough that he was the man to show Adams the artillery.
The key to understanding this “Framingham Diversion,” as I have termed the walk through Framingham along a deviation from the main route of the Upper Boston Post Road, is clearly the tavern run by the elderly Colonel Joseph Buckminster and his son Thomas Buckminster. Three of the sources I have used to describe the historical route of the old post road west from Boston, which I call the Upper Boston Post Road to distinguish it from another important old road from Boston to New York, the Lower Boston Post Road through Providence, followed an alternate road west that detoured from the principal road and I have been curious to figure out why they did this. The common feature of the narrative of DeBerniere, the diary of John Adams, and the route followed by Colonel Henry Knox with his artillery, is the prominent role played by Buckminster’s Tavern in each of the stories. Since everyone else seemed to have gone there I might as well follow in their footsteps. In the previous entry I described the route from the point at which it deviates from the Post Road near the border between Weston and Wayland through the town of Wayland to the boundary with Framingham. This entry will follow the old road to Buckminster Square in the center of Framingham, once the site of Buckminster’s Tavern, and then continue west to the boundary between Framingham and Southborough, the next town along the old alternate road to Worcester.
The map which resulted from the adventures of Ensign DeBerniere and Captain Browne unfortunately is not very detailed much beyond Weston. Although the two men eventually returned to Weston and subsequently followed what DeBerniere called the “Sudbury Road, (which was the main road that led to Worcester)” a road I will discuss in a future entry, neither the “main”( Upper Boston Post) road or the “Road to Framingham” is shown in great detail. In the case of the “alternate” road that is the subject of this entry there is little but a slightly wavy line with the words “Road to Framingham” written alongside it that trails away into emptiness, failing even to cross the Sudbury River as the (“main”) “Road to Sudbury” at least does. There is no evidence on the map that the two men took the road over the “New Bridge” across the Sudbury River, as discussed in the previous entry on the walk from Weston through Wayland.
Nor is there any reason to assume they took anything but the main road to Framingham, which even into the nineteenth century, followed a route that today is called Old Connecticut Path in both Wayland and for the first few miles in Framingham. The report of the trip from the Golden Ball in Weston to Buckminster’s tavern in Framingham is almost as uninformative as the map produced by their survey: “The second day (Friday February 24, 1775) was very rainy and a kind of frost, with it however we were resolved to set off, and accordingly we proceeded to Mr Buckminster’s; we met nothing extraordinary on the road; we passed some time in sketching a pass that lay in our road, and of consequence were very dirty and wet on our arrival.” The “pass” mentioned in the text is likely the steep-sloped section of Old Connecticut Path near Reeve’s Tavern in Wayland as the road subsequently is relatively level through the rest of Wayland and Framingham up to Buckminster’s, rarely varying more than 30-40 feet from about 200 feet above sea level with few hills of any note rising up alongside the road until just beyond the tavern as we shall see.
A few words are in order here to elucidate the reason for my obsession with the exact route the two spies might have taken on a wet February day nearly 250 years ago. One of the reasons I am even taking this diversionary walk through Framingham (and Southborough and Westborough, future chapters in this rather long diversion) is that the evidence I had been following to learn about the route of the original Post Road indicated that many of the sources I have utilized thus far, at least on some occasions, followed a route through Framingham rather than continuing along the main road through Sudbury. An analysis of early maps and diary entries has enabled me to form a fairly clear hypothesis of the exact route of this alternate road to Worcester. Unfortunately, the secondary sources have clouded the clarity of my hypothesis and so I must at least acknowledge the alternative arguments and make a case for the route I have chosen to follow.
The local histories of both Wayland and Framingham promulgate a story that our protagonists took what was called on Mathias Mosman’s 1795 map of Wayland the New Bridge over the Sudbury River. This route requires that, after following what is today Old Connecticut Path in Wayland to a point about 1/3 of a mile beyond the eighteen-mile stone opposite Wayland High School, travelers would turn right onto what is today Stonebridge Road, following it until they reached the Sudbury River. Today Stonebridge Road crosses Sudbury River over a modern bridge along a redesigned road, the result of a flood in the 1950s, but a version of the older bridge still exists nearby. The stone bridge from the 1850s at the original site, a newer version of the old wooden New Bridge can still be found at the end of the original road, now Old Stonebridge Road, about 100 meters north of the modern bridge. After crossing the bridge into Framingham, the route followed what is now called Potter Road and briefly Water Road to an intersection with Edgell Road, an old road leading from Sudbury to Framingham Center. Travelers would at this point turn left onto Edgell Road and follow that south to Framingham Common, where the major roads meet; Buckminster’s tavern was located a little south of the Common. Most local histories have not only Colonel Henry Knox but also the spies Browne and DeBerniere and other travelers crossing the New Bridge en route to or from Wayland and Framingham. 3See for example Wayland A-Z, p. 16.
I believe this is not a logical route for the following reasons. The first reason is that the distance along the “New Bridge” route is substantially longer. A walk along the route following Old Connecticut Path into Framingham from the junction with Stonebridge Road where the two routes diverge to Buckminster’s Tavern is 4.6 miles in length. A journey following the proposed route over the New Bridge along Stonebridge Road, then Potter Road and Edgell Road is 6.0 miles, 1.4 miles and 30% longer than the more direct route.4A counter argument is the idea that Knox wanted to keep the artillery a secret but this is belied by the fact that it was common knowledge that the artillery was making its way to Boston and that there are records of people coming out to lend a hand and even celebrate the passage through towns in Massachusetts. Also, the route had heretofore followed the Post Road for most of the route so why suddenly become secretive only to rejoin the Post Road in Wayland?
The second piece of evidence that this proposed route is not the main road to Framingham or even a principal road is an analysis of the map of 1794 produced by Lawson Buckminster and John Gleason for the Massachusetts General Court (see below); in other words, the first “official” map of Framingham. The principal roads of the town were required to be surveyed as well as all important buildings and bridges. Not only is the “New Bridge” not shown, there are only a few roads shown on the map and none goes in the direction of what is now Potter Road, although Edgell Road is shown leading to Sudbury and, more importantly, the route I am following is shown on the map, as is Buckminster’s Tavern, directly along this road in the center of Framingham. It seems unlikely that a road of such importance would be completely ignored on an official map unless the road was not a major thoroughfare.5There is a curious note on the 1795 map of Wayland surveyed by Mathias Mosman at the southwest corner of the map near the New Bridge on the Framingham side which state “This line between East-Sudbury and Framingham was surveyed in the year 1795 by Capt. Lawson Buckminster and planned and sent to me but without sending the courses and distances and theirfore (sic) is not inserted but it is likely they will be returned in the plan of Framingham.” see map at digitalcommonwealth. Buckminster’s map does not have the detail Mosman expected. In all honesty, the map produced by Lawson Buckminster is markedly less detailed than the maps of surrounding towns and I suspect one of the reasons there is no road drawn in the area is that he just didn’t do as good a job as other surveyors. However, it still stands to reason that he put what were considered the principal roads in the town on the map and may not have put Potter Road in because it was not a major road.
Third, there is physical evidence of the existence of the more direct road to Buckminster’s in the form of milestones, mostly from the late 1760s and early 1770s, that can still be found at regular intervals along the road, including a twenty-mile stone just over the line in Framingham along Old Connecticut Path, one mile past the site of the nineteen-mile stone in Wayland (which was moved to the center of Wayland and now sits in front of the building housing the Wayland Historical Society), and two miles past the eighteen-mile stone directly opposite the entrance to Wayland High School; the turnoff for Stonebridge Road (the route promoted by local histories of Wayland and Framingham) is almost halfway between the eighteen-mile stone and the site of the nineteen-mile stone. The milestones in this series literally lead to the front door of Buckminster’s Tavern, although the tavern is no more and the twenty-three mile stone which normally sits in what is now Buckminster Square is temporarily in storage as will be explained shortly.
It seems highly unlikely that our two spies, whose objective was to reach Worcester and to “mark out the roads and distances from town to town,”6Narrative p. 3. would stray from the main road, particularly as the milestones were laid out for them as they traveled in disguise through alien and hostile territory in the middle of winter.7A possible counterargument is that these stones may have been moved around over the course of time. Although moving a stone a few yards from its original location happens all the time in my experience, it seems unlikely that all the stones would be transplanted to a new road. Therefore it is more likely that the stones are all roughly where they were in 1775 and that they indicated the direct route to the center of Framingham, where Buckminster’s was located directly adjacent to the twenty-three milestone. As Stephen Herring says, in his book Framingham: An American Town, “Most of Framingham’s way stations for the weary traveler were found along a single road that entered Framingham via the Old Connecticut Path, swung east (sic: I am sure he means west) through the original town center at Buckminster Square, then followed Pleasant Street out to Southborough…Today, five of these 1768 mile markers survive in Framingham at or near their original locations. These, plus three in Wayland and two in Southborough, delineate a road that no longer can be followed or recognized on a map, but that kept Framingham involved in the flow of colonial commerce and communication throughout the eighteenth century.”8Herring, pp. 70-71. Although only four stones currently can be located in Framingham and I disagree with his statement that the road cannot be followed or recognized, he summarizes the details quite succinctly.
Fourth, it is my opinion that the Knox hypothesis is faulty, although most of my argument derives from the research of Wayland resident and local historian Steven Glovsky, which I discussed in the previous entry. To recapitulate briefly, A renewed interest in Knox’s route culminated in the dedication of a series of markers across Massachusetts and New York in 1927 to commemorate the (belated) 150th anniversary of the journey of Knox and his train of artillery. One of these celebrations took place in Wayland at the junction of Cochituate Road and Old Connecticut Path in which a local Framingham publisher and dignitary named John H. Temple gave a keynote address in which he argued for the purported route leading to the “new bridge,” one reason being that the bridge was a stone bridge and more solid for the heavy artillery to cross over. However, the bridge was not a stone bridge in 1776, it was wooden; it was named after the local Stone family and not the building material. The subsequent accretion of layers of mythology, including the notion that taking the back roads offered a layer of secrecy to the journey, and even a stone marker of dubious provenance placed at the site in the 1960s, has given a layer of solidity to an argument that was always tenuous, particularly as it required a longer and arguably more arduous journey than the more direct main road, a route that they seemed to have taken for almost the entire journey. It is only between Marlborough and Weston that there seems to be some confusion about the general route of Knox and the artillery.9I don’t really think the debate about whether it was a stone bridge or not is even that important; what strikes me is that these were large heavy pieces of artillery and the idea of adding an extra mile and a half of travel over more variable terrain rather than following the main road that passed over relatively flat terrain seems implausible. Perhaps there is evidence for this alternative route but I have yet to see it.
I would suggest that Colonel Buckminster himself, who had a role of prominence in the colonial militia as evidenced by repeated visits from Adams during the period of crisis, played some role in the decision to store the artillery in Framingham while the details surrounding their final deployment were worked out in Cambridge by General Washington and his staff. There was a clear road to take that left the Upper Boston Post Road in Northborough and continued directly to Colonel Buckminster’s tavern and there was a clear road from Buckminster’s to Weston and beyond. The simplest hypothesis is that a decision was taken to transport the artillery to Framingham for safekeeping until a plan was finalized and that the “train of artillery” followed the diversionary road from Northborough to Framingham and then from Framingham to Weston, rejoining the Upper Boston Post Road in Weston to continue on towards Cambridge and Boston. As we shall see in a future entry, there was even doubt in 1926 as to whether the artillery ever went through Marlborough at all, despite the fact that a marker was eventually placed near Marlborough City Hall.
The confusion surrounding the route of the artillery exists mainly because Knox failed to keep up his diary after his arrival in Springfield. All we know with any degree of certainty about Knox’s journey once he crossed the Connecticut River is that Adams saw the artillery at or near Buckminster’s Tavern in January 1776 and that it appeared around Boston in March 1776; we have no solid evidence which route it was carried along and so the entire edifice of the “new bridge” hypothesis rests upon the shaky foundation of the speculation of a man who presented it as fact at a celebration of the event 150 years after the action occurred. As a scientist I was taught to follow the principle that if I hear hoof beats I think of horses, not zebras. It just seems more plausible that the various protagonists in this story would all take what was clearly the main road to Boston from Framingham in 1775/1776 rather than an unmarked back road. Knox’s artillery train was no secret, people came out to see it pass and to celebrate its arrival along much of the route according to many written accounts of the time. Even the description by Adams of his inspection of the artillery is written in a casual manner that implies its existence was common knowledge.
The Buckminster name is hard to avoid in a discussion of the roads and travel through eighteenth-century Framingham. The first official map of Framingham (see above), surveyed in 1794 for the state of Massachusetts, was prepared by John Gleason and Lawson Buckminster (1742-1832), who was the son of Colonel Joseph Buckminster, Jr (1697-1780), he of the tavern at the center of Framingham. Incidentally, Lawson Buckminster also kept a tavern, along what is today Pleasant Street west of Framingham Common, and both taverns are indicated on the map of 1794 (see above map: Lawson Buckminster’s is the building at the left edge of the map). The senior Colonel Joseph Buckminster (1666-1747) was one of the main figures in the settlement of Framingham and played an outsized role in the early affairs of the town.
So what do we know about the road through Framingham to Buckminster’s tavern? First of all, it was not always called Old Connecticut Path. The first section of the road from the border with Wayland at the north end of Lake Cochituate is referred too on a map of Framingham from 1916, to take one example, as Cochituate Street., while the continuation of the road is Wayland is called Framingham Road. This does not surprise me as no map from the Colonial period refers to it as Old Connecticut Path nor do any of the sources that traveled along it refer to it as anything more than the “Framingham Road”. It is the “road threw (sic) Framingham” on Mosman’s map of Wayland from 1795, It is the “County Road” on Lawson Buckminster’s 1794 map of Framingham; by 1832 it is the “Great Road to East Sudbury” on Nixon and Clayes map of Framingham and the “Framingham and Boston Road’ on Grout’s 1831 map of Wayland. A 1943 USGS topographical map lists it as Old Connecticut Path, as do all subsequent maps I have examined. The road was renamed sometime after 1916 but before 1943, likely around the same time the various Knox markers and Washington Memorial Highways plaques began to appear along the side of these old roads. As I have discovered on numerous occasions as I walk these old roads, spasms of nostalgia for Colonial history have frequently resulted in name changes. Just as with Boston Post Road in Weston and Wayland, so too it likely was with Old Connecticut Path.
The first 0.4 miles walk in Framingham along the old road to Buckminster’s tavern by whatever name it is or was called is uneventful; on the left are views of the large Lake Cochituate (referred to as Long Pond on older maps) as I pass through an unremarkable residential neighborhood. At the junction with School Street I reach the first identifiable place clearly marked on Buckminster’s map of 1794. Here a “Tucker’s Tavern” is marked at the spot where two “County Roads” diverge; the northern route heading west and entering Framingham Common from the north side, while the southern branch continues on to Buckminster’s and reaches Framingham Common from the south side. As it is half a mile longer to get to Buckminster’s via the northern road, it is likely the southern road was the road taken to the tavern, but it is slightly shorter to follow the northern branch road10To follow this road the traveler would have headed west on today’s School Street to Concord Road, turned left or south on to Concord Road to Summer Street, followed Summer Street west in a big arc to the junction with Central Street, then continued along Central to Prospect Street, then Kellogg Street, which rejoins Central Street to cross the Sudbury River just before it ends at Edgell Road. From Edgell it is only a two-minute walk south to reach Framingham Common. The meetinghouse has been located at the northern end of the Common since the 1730s. to reach the meetinghouse from this junction and the road passes the house built in 1747 for the longtime minister David Kellogg en route (and is called Kellogg Street along this section). I have walked this road as well, but as it is yet another diversion from what is already a diversion, I will continue along on the main diversion, Old Connecticut Path.
The next half-mile walk along Old Connecticut Path has two significant artifacts of note that hint at the older road. The first, at the junction with Hamilton Street is a mile stone indicating “20 miles from Boston 1768”. This stone has the same carving style as the milestone indicating 19 miles to Boston, also from 1768, which is now in front of the Wayland Historical Society. The nineteen-mile stone originally was located at the intersection of Plain Street and Old Connecticut Path in Wayland, almost a mile away from the twenty-mile stone, and the similarity in carving style indicates that they were likely done by the same craftsman, who left no initials, unlike most of the carvers of the milestones around Boston.
A curious dilemma I have yet to resolve is that the mileage on the stones along this road does not really work. This stone, for example is “20 miles from Boston” but the route to Boston along the old road through Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown is about 22 miles, regardless of whether continuing on through Cambridge or through Brookline. I have tried other permutations but none works. As the stones themselves generally agree in the sense that milestone 19 is about a mile from milestone 20 and so on (it is 4 miles from the Wayland line, near the site of the 19-mile stone to the site of Buckminster’s tavern and the 23-mile stone, so again, the math works internally) it seems the problem is more about the initial measurement of the distance.
Buckminster’s 1794 map of Framingham shows the road taking a sharp curve to the south and crossing a brook and the road today does the same, arriving at a bridge across Cochituate Brook only five minutes walk south of the mile stone. On the old map there are mills along the brook near the bridge. These mills were begun in 1748 by William Brown and were an early indication of the general fate of most of the waterways in the area. The Sudbury River was dammed in multiple places in Framingham, most notably in the northeast corner in the area today called Saxonville; much of the commercial, cultural, and demographic development of Framingham in the nineteenth and twentieth century is a direct consequence of the large factories that evolved from the small-scale dams erected in the eighteenth century such as the one that once existed yards from the bridge. Today most of the the mills are gone and there is a bike path along Cochituate Brook; the scene is quite bucolic.
Brown’s dam and grist-mill were approved by the town after some dissension, particularly over worries about the movement of fish to Long Pond (Lake Cochituate). The town records are illuminating for another reason as they indirectly touch upon the road I am following. Specifically the town records from May 5, 1748 state: “to see if the town will give Mr. William Brown leave to erect a dam over the brook in the place where the bridge now is by his barn; he being obliged to keep the highway there in good repair for passing teams and other travelers at his own cost.”11Temple, Josiah H., History of Framingham, 1640-1885. Framingham: New England History Press, 1987. A Centennial Year Reprinting of the 1887 edition. p. 16. Clearly, this was a major road for travelers, not merely a local road.
Brown was involved in another incident two years later involving a more famous historic personage. In October, 1750 Brown placed an ad in the Boston Gazette offering a reward of 10 pounds for the return of a runaway slave: “Ran way from his master William Brown of Framingham, a Molatto (sic) fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispas.”12Herring, Steven W. , Framingham: An American Town. Framingham: Framingham Historical Society, Framingham Tercentennial Commission, 2000. p. 61. To see a reproduction of the actual ad in the Boston Gazette see the page on Crispus Attucks on the Revolutionary Spaces website This man, thought to be of mixed African and Native American heritage, was Crispus Attucks, who apparently worked at the mills here on Cochituate Brook and decided to leave of his own will on September 30, 1750. Attucks, a surname believed to be of Algonkian origin, seems unlikely to have returned to Framingham, and spent the next decades working on the docks of Boston and likely sailed to the Bahamas and other far flung ports. Attucks is much more famous, however, as one of the victims of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, when British soldiers fired on an angry mob, killing five civilians and helping to ignite the long fuse that led to the American Revolution. The current bridge across Cochituate Brook is named for Crispus Attucks and passes over a tranquil, tree-lined stream before the road crosses the nearby Cochituate Brook Reservation Trail, a far cry from the centuries of industrial activity that was begun literally with the labor of Crispus Attucks.
My brief experience of tranquility around Cochituate Brook is abruptly ended less than five minutes further along the road. First I head up a slight incline to cross the modern equivalent of the Upper Boston Post Road west to Springfield in the form of the Massachusetts Turnpike (US Interstate 90), blasted through Framingham in the early 1950s and opened to the public in 1957. Framingham has the dubious distinction of being the only town, other than Boston, with not one but two exits on the Turnpike,13Herring, pp.315-317. one of them almost adjacent to the old road I am following. The next 2.5 miles of the old road runs along the northwest edge of an extremely busy commercial area encompassing large sections of the towns of Natick and Framingham referred to as the Golden Triangle. This once somnolent area was pulled into the modern era by the arrival in 1951 of Shopper’s World which, along with another project outside Seattle that opened a few days earlier, were the first modern regional shopping malls and ushered in a new era of living.14Herring, pp. 307-310. Shopper’s World, built along an already burgeoning commercial “golden mile” stretch of the old Worcester Turnpike (Route 9, about which more shortly), boasted a massive, white, futuristic-looking domed Jordan Marsh “anchor” department store, a large self-contained complex containing 44 stores facing a park-like central common away from the traffic of busy Route 9, and 6,000 parking spaces for all the cars coming off busy Route 9 and the new Massachusetts Turnpike. No longer did shoppers have to make their way to a crowded downtown, to wander busy streets on a cold wintry day; they could drive to the mall, park and meander from store to store under covered walkways (note that the mall was not indoor yet, these were still a few years off). Unsurprisingly, downtown Framingham, which had developed around the arrival of a railroad depot in 1834 near the junction of Waverly Street and Concord Street in what was then South Framingham, suffered from the loss of business to the new, more easily accessible mall, particularly after exit 13 (today’s exit 117 in accordance with the new numbering system of highways based on distance) of the Massachusetts Turnpike was opened leading directly to Shopper’s World.
The location of the Mall 20 miles west of Boston near two major highways was not an accident. As the website massmoments project puts it: “Framingham had demographic as well as geographic advantages. Home to a growing number of middle-class families, the town was an ideal laboratory for new goods and services. As one reporter wrote, “If soap didn’t appeal to Framingham, the reasoning went, it wouldn’t wash in America either.” Framingham was considered such a barometer of national demographic trends, a group of medical researchers chose it for a major longitudinal study of the effect of lifestyle on heart disease. The Framingham Heart Study was initiated in 1948 and continues today.”
Over the years the commercial area expanded, newer areas such as the enclosed Natick Mall opened nearby and, in an ironic twist, Shopper’s World, once a byword for modernity, came to be seen as a relic, until it was finally demolished and replaced with a newer more modern mall. The mall itself did not survive, but the lifestyle persists and the commercial area of the Golden Triangle is far larger and busier than it was in 1951. I have linked a short video of Shopper’s World just before it’s demolition in 1994 for anyone interested (an even longer one is here narrated by local historian Stephen Herring).
My destination is Buckminster Tavern, a focal point of commercial, cultural, and political activity in eighteenth-century Framingham, located a few yards from Framingham or Centre Common. The arrival of the railroad in the 1830s resulted in a shift of activity in Framingham two miles south of the “Centre” to a new “Downtown” Framingham, while the development of the Massachusett’s Turnpike and Shopper’s World shifted the focus of commercial activity northward again but two miles east of Buckminster’s, to the area along the south side of Old Connecticut Path in the Golden Triangle. The old neon sign from the Route 30 side of Shopper’s World has been saved and is on exhibit, along with nine other superb artifacts, in the excellent Framingham History Center Exhibition space at the old Edgell Memorial Library on Framingham Common. Next to the lit up sign is a quote attributed to former State Representative and past President of the Framingham Historical Society, J. Christopher Walsh: “The Centre Common was the common of the horse and buggy. The Downtown Common was the common of the railroad. Shoppers’ World was the common of the automobile.”
I discussed the development of transport corridors out from Boston in a previous entry, particularly the change from Post Roads to Turnpikes to Interstate Highways. One of the points I made in that article was that the Upper Boston Post Road was located four or five miles north of the Worcester Turnpike (Route 9) and Interstate 90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), and that this isolation helped to preserve the character of the old road in contrast to the fate of the Lower Boston Post Road, which was constantly criss-crossed by both Route 1 (the “Providence” Turnpike) and Interstate 95. The “more historical” character of the Upper Boston Post Road relative to that of the Lower Boston Post Road has, in my opinion, led to a mistaken idea that the Upper Boston Post Road was the more important of the two.
Is it possible that, because the historic “Framingham Road” passes through miles of heavy commercial development, the relative importance of the road as a historical alternative to the “main road” as Browne and DeBerniere referred to the Sudbury Road, or Upper Boston Post Road, has been obscured? It is certainly true that I have thus far failed to come upon a milestone along the “main road” since I left Cambridge and Boston; no milestones in Watertown, Waltham, Weston, or the Post Road section of Wayland (or Sudbury and Marlborough as we shall see in future entries). Yet as I walk along the edge of this busy road past big box stores like BJ’s and Target, I come first to the John Butler house (1750) at 350 Old Connecticut Path and, immediately thereafter, to yet another in a series of milestones that I have encountered on this “diversionary road” through Wayland and Framingham. This particular milestone, sitting a couple of feet off the sidewalk on the lawn of the house at 328 Old Connecticut Path, is carved in the same style as the previous two stones (numbers 19 and 20), and reads “21 Miles Boston 1768”, accurately reflecting the mile I have covered since the previous stone just before Cochituate Brook. This is also the fifth milestone I have encountered since I departed from the Upper Boston Post Road at the Coach Grill in Wayland near the border with Weston. Is it possible that the “alternative route” was actually a preferred route? My faith in the importance of the Upper Boston Post Road through Wayland and Sudbury is being tested by the plethora of artifacts testifying to the obvious significance of this road through Framingham.
A few yards past the milestone Old Connecticut Path intersects Concord Street (Route 126) and seemingly merges with this major thoroughfare which continues for three quarters of a mile, crossing first the busy Cochituate Road (Route 30), shown on Nixon and Clayes 1832 map of Framingham as “The New Road to Newton” and then the very busy Worcester Road (Route 9), before continuing into what is downtown Framingham. However, a surprise awaits as I cross Concord Street: Old Connecticut Path still exists as a twisting side road that runs roughly adjacent to Concord Street for a half-mile before merging with Cochituate Road for a quarter mile until the junction with Route 9. I have been spared the traffic and development of the Golden Triangle for 10 minutes as I walk along a quiet, undulating residential road. Finally, Old Connecticut Path ends at a cul-de-sac with a pedestrian path leading back onto the busy road, but there is a final treat at appropriately-numbered one Old Connecticut Path, the Thomas Hastings house built in 1750 .
Apparently even the zealous nostalgic citizens who “created” Old Connecticut Path gave up at this busy area, where Route 30 and Route 9 converge. The final few yards of this section of the old “Framingham Road” continue along Cochituate Road (Route 30), passing along the southern shore of the distinctively shaped Sucker Pond, the same distinctive “‘snowman” shape of today’s pond clearly visible on Buckminster’s 1794 map. Sucker Pond is located at the junction of Route 9 and Route 30 and, for the next half-mile, I am obliged to walk along the old Worcester Turnpike, which co-opted this section of the original road for it’s own when it opened in 1810, charging people for a section of road that had previously been free for at least a century. Ostensibly the 22-mile stone is located somewhere around this busy junction but has apparently gone missing in recent years. Unfortunately my own sleuthing fails to find the stone, a photograph of which graces the cover of the book of poems, entitled Milestones, of local author Jim Parr, who will reappear shortly in this story.
While it is nominally free today to walk along this stretch of the Worcester Turnpike (Route 9), which thankfully has a sidewalk, there is still a heavy toll to pay as four lanes of busy traffic roar past at 40 miles per hour, all the while zipping in and out of the adjacent parking lots of the stores lining the road, including a large Whole Foods a short distance past Sucker Pond, where I stop for a quick refreshment and run into an old friend. After catching up on events with my buddy I regain the busy road. Fortunately after only a few yards, I cross the busy highway and leave Route 9 behind as I continue along the route of the old road through Framingham, which along this stretch is more promisingly called Main Street.
After two minutes’ walk along Main Street the roar of traffic from Route 9 diminishes as I reach the junction with Warren Street and the house built in 1799 by tanner and general-store owner Isaac Warren, of which a Warren descendant claimed “there is no spot in all Framingham that appeals more strongly to one’s love of poetry and romance than this old estate.”15Herring, p. 116. Although I wouldn’t go that far, the road is, if not bucolic, at least much more peaceful to walk along than most of the previous two and a half miles along the Framingham Road. It gets even nicer as I cross a short bridge over the Sudbury River, where the atmosphere changes almost instantly. It is immediately obvious that I have reached the center of old Framingham; nineteenth-century houses line both sides of the road, and the disorderly gravestones of the Church Hill Cemetery crowd the hillside along the north side of the road just before I reach the intersection of Main Street, Maple Street, and Union Avenue, today’s Buckminster Square, the historic site of Buckminster’s Tavern. The cemetery is the original Burying Ground in the town of Framingham and, as the name suggests, was the site of the first meeting house, before the church was moved to its current location in 1735, on Framingham Centre Common, about a half mile away.
Many members of the Buckminster family, including the owner of the eponymous tavern, are buried in the nearby Burying Ground, which was established before 1700, along with the settlement of the town of Framingham. Unfortunately the Burying Ground is one of the only artifacts from the period remaining in the area, although at least one artifact remains that is currently not in its usual place. A milestone, the “23-mile stone” that once stood in front of Buckminster’s Tavern, still exists. The milestone is currently in storage for safekeeping as the entire square has undergone a major redesign, with new sidewalks and traffic-calming measures. Sources at the Framingham History Center indicate that the stone will be returned to a prominent location in the square at some point in the near future.
It is a little disappointing to finally reach the site of the famous Buckminster’s Tavern and to have no tangible evidence of it’s existence or of the importance of this particular spot in the history of America. Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of local historian and poet Jim Parr there is video evidence of the existence of Milestone 23. Parr declaimed his poem Milestones while standing next to the milestone in its “usual” location in Buckminster Square three years ago (at least the video was posted three years ago in early March 2020).
Buckminster’s Tavern is prominently shown on the official 1794 map of Framingham, although that may have had something to do with the fact that one of the surveyors of the map was Lawson Buckminster, son of Colonel Joseph Buckminster, Jr. and the brother of the proprietor in 1794, Thomas Buckminster, Colonel Joseph having died in 1780. Incidentally, Lawson Buckminster ran his own tavern a mile or so west of his father’s/brother’s tavern along the road to Southborough, also prominently displayed on the map and a place to which we will return shortly.
The original tavern was not opened by a Buckminster but rather by a Frenchman named François Moquet sometime in the 1720s, although on land owned by the original Framingham Buckminster, Colonel Joseph Buckminster, Sr. The elder Colonel Buckminster arrived in Framingham in 1693 from Muddy River (what is now Brookline), and quickly became an important landowner and powerful figure and even somewhat of a litigious gadfly in the early years of the town’s history, which begins officially in 1700.16Herring, p. 36. He figures prominently in virtually every event in the first forty years of Framingham’s history until his death in 1740; as one columnist in a local paper put it: “There’s no bucking Framingham’s Buckminster.”
Apparently Moquet moved to another part of town and opened another tavern and the senior Buckminster moved in and had taken over the operation by 1728, when the young minister of Westborough, Ebeneezer Parkman, mentioned in his diary that he “rode away to Colonel Buckminster’s and lodged there.” Tavern ownership passed to Buckminster’s son and grandson over the next half century. The younger Colonel Joseph Buckminster was also “conspicuous in the transactions of the town.”17William Barry, History of Framingham (Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1847), pp. 201-202. The younger Joseph not only ran the tavern, he also served for many years as Framingham’s representative to the General Court (including every year between 1751 and 1770 with the exception of 1753),18Temple, History of Framingham, p. 419. was for 28 years a Selectman, served as Town Clerk for 32 years, and was also a member of the Committee of Correspondence for the town of Framingham. The Committees were an important underground network of communication throughout the colonies formed to coordinate opposition to the policies of the British Parliament. Buckminster was one of a handful of members from Framingham and, because of his military experience, important political role, social position, and age (he was born in 1697, so would have been in his seventies during the turbulent mid-1770s), was likely the most senior member of the Committee of Correspondence in Framingham.
Thus it is unsurprising that Buckminster’s name and his tavern crop up repeatedly in narratives and diaries of the period. John Adams first mentions Buckminster’s in his diary on April 22, 1771, when he writes “In the Morning mounted for Worcester, with Pierpont, Caleb, and Rob. Davis, Josa. Quincy, &c. Baited the horses at Brewer’s (Waltham), and at Coll. Buckminsters.” John Adams next mentions Buckminster’s in his diary on August 10, 1774, when he traveled as a member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He stopped again on November 8 of the same year on his return from Philadelphia to Boston. Buckminster’s appears on an expense account sheet for his second trip to Philadelphia (August to December 1775), where Adams paid 5 shillings presumably for food and lodgings. The final diary reference to Buckminster’s tavern is the famous visit of January 25, 1776, when Colonel Buckminster showed Adams the artillery brought down from Fort Ticonderoga by Colonel Henry Knox.
In between the third and fourth visit of Adams, the spies Browne and DeBerniere paid their visits in February, 1775. The first visit, on February 24, was uneventful and it appears the spies neither gleaned anything from their visit nor did the owner or any other customers treat them with hostility, unlike the server at Brewer’s Tavern in Waltham (incidentally, Jonathan Brewer, eponymous tavern keeper as well as a member of the Committee of Correspondence for Waltham and Colonel in the militia, who led a regiment at the Battle of Bunker Hill later the same year, was married to Frances Buckminster, the daughter of Colonel Joseph Buckminster, Jr.). The two spies ate well, slept in a room of their own, and departed for Worcester in the morning.
The return trip on February 27 proved more eventful. After encountering a man on horseback somewhere after leaving Shrewsbury center who questioned them suspiciously and then rode off towards Marlborough on the Post Road, the two men “by good luck took the Framingham Road again.” Upon their arrival at Buckminster’s about 6 p.m. they encountered “the company of militia… exercising near the house, and an hour after that they came and performed their feats before the windows of the room we were in; we did not feel very easy at seeing such a number so near us; however, they did not know who we were, and took little notice of us.” DeBerniere allows himself some sarcasm at what he clearly believed was an inferior collection of men and spends a few sentences mocking the speech of their commander. After the troops were dismissed “the whole company came into the house and drank until nine o’clock, and then returned to their respective houses full of pot-valour. We slept there that night, and no-body in the house suspected us.”19DeBerniere Narrative, pp. 9-10 The next morning they “uneventfully” returned to the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston, before resuming their journey along the Post Road to Marlborough.
It is interesting to look back at DeBerniere’s comments about the militia, describing “one of their commanders (who) spoke a very eloquent speech, recommending patience, coolness and bravery (which indeed they very much wanted)… and to charge us coolly and wait for our fire…that the regulars must have been ruined but for them,” and to reflect upon the events that transpired in the following months. Indeed DeBerniere finished his two-part report with a sequel describing the events now known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord which he closes with this terse statement: “So that in the course of two days, from a plentiful town, we were reduced to the disagreeable necessity of living on salt provisions, and fairly blocked up in Boston.” This is immediately followed by a long list of the “killed, wounded, and missing as of the 19th of April, 1775,” which came to 73 killed, 174 wounded, and 26 missing. Major Strasser in Casablanca immediately comes to mind.20Strasser (German baddie, poor Conrad Veidt! He was forced to leave Germany when Hitler came to power and then was stuck portraying Nazis for most of his short career.): “You give him (Rick Blaine, proprietor of Rick’s Cafe Americain, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American.” Captain Renault (French head of security in Casablanca, Claude Rains gets all the best lines!): “We mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.” Notwithstanding the fact that it never happened, the sentiment is very similar, as was the outcome.
The visitors to Buckminster’s tavern were all traveling through Framingham. Not only were they going to Boston, in the case of Colonel Knox and the fateful artillery train, but they continued west beyond Framingham; to Worcester in the case of the two spies, and to Philadelphia (via Worcester) in the case of John Adams. One traveler who visited Buckminster’s many times was the Reverend Ebeneezer Parkman, who served as the first minister for the town of Westborough for the astonishingly long period from 1724-1782. We know Parkman visited Buckminster’s because he kept a diary for decades which ran to over 4,000 pages. The diary has been transcribed and is available, along with other manuscripts and letters, as part of the Ebeneezer Parkman Project. The detailed descriptions of the places, people, and events of this period in the towns around Westborough are a valuable source of information. For example, between 1728 and 1776 Parkman visited Buckminster’s on dozens of occassions. We learn from Parkman (March 25, 1747) that the Reverend William Williams of Weston stopped through Marlborough on his return from lecturing in Worcester “on his journey… to see old Colonel Buckminster who draws near his End.” Two weeks later (April 6, 1747) Parkman writes “that old Colonel Buckminster now lyes dead.” On December 26, 1757 Parkman “set out for Boston-the morning Cold, the road in lower towns very icy. Called at Mr. Stones (minister of the town, more on him in the next entry) in Southborough, at Coll. Buckminster’s in Framingham (before noon)…was at Boston before Dark.” This entry is informative in that it hints at the route he must have taken and also gives a sense of the time it took to travel the more than 30 miles from Westborough to Boston.
Framingham is a large town and the road to Southborough continues for nearly four more miles before reaching the border with Southborough. The road from Buckminster’s tavern headed northwest toward Framingham Centre Common, curving around the northern base of Bare Hill, a large hill looking over the Common. Today the hill is the home of the pleasant campus of Framingham State University, but in 1808 Daniel Bell painted a watercolor of the view from the hill which is on exhibit at the Framingham History Center. This remarkably detailed painting presents a lovely snapshot of the area thirty years or so after Adams and the British spies, Colonel Knox and Reverend Parkman passed through. Buckminster’s Tavern, if it still existed, would have been just out of sight on the bottom right edge of the painting. Although some of the scene must have been familiar to the earlier travelers, almost all the buildings, including the brand new meeting house (completed in 1808) sitting prominently at the north end of the open Common, date from the period immediately after the formation of the United States. Also prominent in the painting is the brand new Worcester Turnpike which looks serene compared to the sunken highway that today cleaves through this formerly quiet area. Framingham Common was roughly the halfway point along the Turnpike between Boston and Worcester and newer taverns and businesses, many of which are visible in Bell’s painting, sprang up along the road to cater to the travelers along the new main road west. This new highway perhaps epitomised the dramatic transformation of even the small rural villages of America in the short span of 30 years.21Herring, pp. 121-124. Lest you think that Daniel Bell is a refreshing new name after all the Buckminsters, He married Nancy Buckminster, and is in fact the son-in-law of Lawson Buckminster, the map surveyor and tavern keeper. It’s hard to escape the Buckminster name in this period of Framingham’s history! See Temple, p. 491.
After I cross over Route 9 and past all the exit ramps, Main Street becomes Edgell Road, which was the road from Sudbury I described earlier. Here, at the corner of Edgell Road and the busy Route 30/Route 9 entrance road sits another of the Knox markers, commemorating the route of the artillery from Ticonderoga. As discussed previously, many local historians cling to the belief that the cannon were taken north via Edgell Road from this spot and carried across the Sudbury River via Stone’s Bridge rather than turning south and passing Buckminster’s to continue along the main road to Wayland. Since there is a similar stone in the town center of Southborough at least there is consensus among most writers that the route followed the old main road west from here.
Behind the busy intersection lies the Common, a refreshingly tranquil space lined with historic buildings, including the Edgell Memorial Library, built as a both a library and as a memorial to the soldiers of Framingham who died in the Civil War. Today the small space serves as the exhibition hall for the Framingham History Center and is well worth a visit. Also nearby are two churches, the latest version of the First Parish Church (1927) at the north end of the Common and the nearby modern Plymouth Congregational Church, the Framingham Academy (first opened in 1792), the old Village Hall (1834, the last one on the Common before political and commercial life moved to Downtown Framingham in the late nineteenth century), and several elegant nineteenth century residences. It is very tempting to linger here and talk about the historic development of the Common but again, that is diverting my attention from the road, which is itself a diversion from the Upper Boston Post Road that I should be following. So, with a sigh, I pick up my backpack, get up off the bench and head back to the road.
The main road west in the eighteenth century continued along the south side of the Common and followed what is today Pleasant Street. Despite the fact that this is also a continuation of Route 30, the very busy road I followed earlier, this section of the route is much less busy and less developed. The road shifts away from Route 9 almost immediately and becomes essentially a residential road the rest of the way to Southborough. In fact the next half mile is part of the “Jonathan Maynard Historic District”, named for the grand Federal-style mansion at 113 Pleasant Street, a house marked on Nixon and Clayes 1832 map of Framingham. A number of old houses can be found along this winding road including one at 201 Pleasant Street with a sign indicating it is the George Newell House (1805). Josiah Temple, in his History of Framingham, reports that Lawson Buckminster, Jr., son of the surveyor and tavern keeper, “lived on the old Capt. Geo. Newell place” until his death in 1835.22Temple, p. 491. Nixon and Clayes’ map of 1832 shows three houses in a row after the Maynard house on the old road west all listed as “L. Buckminster”, the third one labelled more specifically as “L. Buckminster Jr.’s old House.” One of these, likely the third, is the house at 201 Pleasant while one of the others is very likely the tavern kept by Lawson Buckminster, which was located near the 24-mile stone.
Lawson Buckminster, tavern keeper and surveyor of Framingham, played a role similar to that of William Brown, another member of the Committee of Correspondence. Buckminster, like Brown, had a slave whose fame rose as a direct result of the conflict with the Crown. In early 1775 Jeremiah Belknap sold Peter Salem, 25 years old at the time, to Lawson Buckminster. Buckminster then emancipated Salem, who then went on to fight at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. He is perhaps most famous for his participation at the Battle of Bunker Hill, where “Colonial observers attributed the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill to Salem.”23https://www.nps.gov/people/peter-salem.htm#ftref9 Salem continued to serve for many years in the Continental Army. In 1780 he resigned from the army and settled first in Salem, then in Leicester, where, according to the National Park Service Website “he earned his living by weaving chair seats. For additional income, he gardened, wove baskets, and repaired chairs. On August 16, 1816 Peter Salem, age 66, died in the Framingham poorhouse. He was interred in a pauper’s grave at the Old Burying Ground in Framingham. When Peter Salem died in 1816, veterans could not receive a pension. Congress did not pass a pension law granting pensions to Revolutionary War veterans who had not been disabled until 1818. In 1882, the (then-)Town of Framingham established an annual Peter Salem Day. The town spent $150 to erect a monument in his memory in 1882 at the Old Burying Ground.”
The tranquility of the historic district is suddenly disrupted by the appearance of the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90), which passes underneath the road here. Immediately before reaching the bridge over the highway I see the signs of a new rail trail being planned to replace the now defunct line that ran through here in the nineteenth and twentieth century, a reminder that even before the arrival of the highway this area was no stranger to traffic, including the traffic along this very road before the Worcester Turnpike was built over two centuries ago. I spoke with a passing local resident who explained that the new trail here would link up with the Cochituate Rail trail that I passed near the Crispus Attucks Bridge and the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail that passes through Wayland center.
I asked her if she was aware of any old milestones along the road that she walked frequently and she said she was unaware of any stones. Yet, a mere 200 yards along the road after we separate I discover another of the old milestones, prominently situated at the corner of Pleasant Street and Mill Street. I turn to call back to the woman but she has turned the corner out of view and so I am left to celebrate my discovery alone, slightly baffled that she never noticed it in all the time she has passed this spot. The conundrum over the identity of the three Buckminster houses is unresolved, unless the stone has been moved from another nearby location.
Shortly after passing the milestone I cross the first of three creeks along this road to Southborough which are shown on the 1832 map of Framingham. The next section of the walk passes through a more modern and less interesting housing development along a relatively flat and open area. There are one or two eighteenth-century houses to liven up the walk through this area, including a wonderful old house from 1741 that is sadly literally falling apart at 613 Pleasant Street, in stark contrast to the lovely, well-kept 1758 Daniel Hemenway House at #713 Pleasant Street. On Nixon’s 1832 map the Hemenway house is probably the one listed as “P. Johnson”, after Patten Johnson bought the old Hemenway estate.24Temple, p. 608.
A little past the Hemenway house I cross the second of three creeks and continue for another half mile through the quiet and slightly dull neighborhood. Along the south side of the road are the large reservoirs formed by the damming of the Sudbury River in the nineteenth century, about which more in the next entry on Southborough. At Waveney Road I leave Pleasant Street and Route 30 behind to follow the original road along the final half mile in Framingham. This road is even more quiet than the one I just left and is livened only by crossing the third and final creek and passing the John Harvey House from 1770. Finally, after seven miles of meandering through Framingham, I reach the town line with Southborough just before Pine Hill Road, just as the residences begin to give way to a more rural setting. I leave the Buckminsters behind to venture off into the “boroughs” as the towns formed from Marlborough are collectively called, using the diaries of Ebeneezer Parkman as my guide into the unknown. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Total distance traveled in this entry: 7.0 miles
Total distance covered on the Framingham Diversion Route: 10.6 miles
Total distance covered for all the walks described in Boston Rambles: 72.1 miles