Boston Rambles

Boston Rambles

A Rambler Walks and Talks About the Hub of the Universe

Marlborough, Massachusetts: Marlboro Country

Upper Boston Post Road #11 (UBPR #11)

Roadside souvenir.

“We begged he would recommend some tavern where we should be safe, he told us we could be safe nowhere but in his house; that the town was very violent, and that we had been expected at Col. Williams’s the night before, where there had gone a party of liberty people to meet us…”

From the Narrative of Ensign Henry DeBerniere and Captain William Browne describing their interaction with Henry Barnes, a prominent citizen of Marlborough and a Tory, March 1, 1775.


Part 1. Fordlândia and the Marlboro Man

(0.5 miles from Sudbury border to Wayside Country Store)

The power of advertising is undeniable, especially the jingle from a memorable ad that stays in your head like the worst kind of earworm. The most persistent ones often betray one’s age. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life and yet the familiar jingle of one ad from my childhood plays ceaselessly on the soundtrack in my mind as I wander through Marlborough, the next town along the route of my walk on the Upper Boston Post Road across Massachusetts, the theme from Marlboro Country.

The commercial for Marlboro cigarettes I recall dates to the early 1970s and is set to the iconic theme music lifted from the 1960 epic western The Magnificent Seven. A tough cowboy on horseback somewhere out “West” fills the frame, smoking while wrangling wild stallions, as a narrator laments that there aren’t many wild stallions anymore, a metaphor for the rugged individualist who chooses the path of freedom and smokes the right cigarette. The story behind the wildly successful Marlboro Man advertising campaign is a fascinating tale of how a brand of filtered cigarettes designed originally for women was rebranded by appealing to the rugged masculinity of the cowboy who, albeit reluctantly, tamed the wild west.1In brief, fearing a crackdown on unfiltered cigarettes as a result of the Surgeon General’s report, the idea was to try to convince men to smoke filtered cigarettes, previously sold primarily to women. The original strategy was to try to sell them as healthier than unfiltered cigarettes, but the advertising agency, Leo Burnett Worldwide, ultimately went in another, more successful direction, by ignoring the health implications entirely and selling a lifestyle instead. Although cigarette ads were banned from television in 1970 in the United States, they continued to appear for several more years in Bermuda, where I lived as a child. Hence I saw the Marlboro Man frequently as a kid. Fortunately I got a bad case of bronchitis as a child and my doctor told me I would die if I smoked cigarettes, which I believed until I got to an age where I realized he was probably trying to scare me, and by then I was old enough not to be interested. Thanks Dr. Harvey!

I am not humming the Marlboro Country music solely because the town of Marlborough is the name of the cigarette. I am also cognizant of the fact that, in the seventeenth century, Marlborough was the frontier of English settlement in New England, and that some of the most ferocious fighting in King Philip’s War took place in this town in March and April of 1676. A century later, on the first of March 1775, the English spies Captain William Browne and Ensign Henry DeBerniere traveled to Marlborough as part of their mission to investigate activities hostile to the government in the countryside around Boston and the narrative of their harrowing adventure is as exciting and action-packed as any Western. Finally, as this walk passes through long stretches that are today blighted by shopping malls and attendant automobile traffic, parking lots, and gas stations, perhaps I too am humming a lamentation for a simpler era, a time when walking, as the two spies did, or riding on horseback, as George Washington did when he stopped in Marlborough in 1776 and again in 1789, was the way to travel, an era before Henry Ford and others provided the average consumer with a machine that, in the words of Bill McKibben in a recent article in the New York Review of Books “has reconfigured the planet, with its carbon emissions melting the poles and raising sea levels. But it has also reconfigured every place on the planet as we have remade our landscape to accommodate its needs.” Perhaps I long for my own Marlboro(ugh) Country, the place as it was before all the familiar logos of corporate chains lined the road, the wilder Marlborough of yore. More likely I am humming the tune because I just walked past an empty packet of Marlboro cigarettes by the side of the road (see photo).


Alternatively, perhaps I am channeling the “pioneer spirit” of Henry Ford, whose legacy is on my mind as I cross the border between the towns of Sudbury and Marlborough along the relatively tranquil Wayside Inn Road and I leave one town for another but remain in “Fordlandia”. The American industrialist and automobile magnate purchased the Wayside Inn in Sudbury in 1923 with an eye toward creating a historically-themed village, a topic I discussed in the previous entry. Ford ultimately acquired nearly 3000 acres of property surrounding the Wayside Inn, extending more than a mile west along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road into the neighboring town of Marlborough. In what seems like an ironic joke, Ford planned to create a 300-person working “historic village” where life would be lived “off the land in the pioneer spirit” of our “pilgrim fathers.”2See Brian E. Plumb, A History of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, pp. 103-104. I assume the idea was that people would drive, in a Ford preferably, to see this village peopled by blacksmiths, millers, and carpenters performing tasks without the advantages of modern machinery, an idea which foreshadowed other versions of the idea such as Old Sturbridge Village(1946), Colonial Williamsburg(1926), and Ford’s own later version in Michigan, Greenfield Village(1933).

Ford’s ambitious project was never fully realized but there are one or two buildings of interest along the road ahead in Marlborough which hint at the scale of his ambition. One reason for his failure to complete the Wayside Inn project may relate to an even bigger project in the Amazon rain forest which Ford embarked upon only five years later. In an effort to evade the British monopoly on the rubber trade, Ford purchased 6,000 square miles of land, an area larger than the state of Connecticut and over 1300 times larger than his Wayside holdings, in the Brazilian state of Pará, with a plan to create a community of 10,000 inhabitants called Fordlândia dedicated to the production of rubber for the tires of Ford automobiles.3See Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Picador, 2010) for more details about this project. The project failed spectacularly, principally because it was a poorly-planned scheme in an area with infertile, low-quality soil and a climate that made for difficult working and living conditions, but also in part because of the excessively officious rules governing the lifestyle of the mostly Brazilian workers, which included banning soccer(!) and prevailing upon the residents to eat Ford’s quirky notions of healthy food, with lots of oatmeal, brown rice, and canned fruit on the menu, rather than the local Brazilian staples. I suppose if you don’t shoot you can’t score, but this pair of quixotic ventures do somewhat undermine Ford’s reputation for business acumen.


Wayside Country Store, Marlborough.

The first half-mile along Wayside Inn Road, the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road as it leaves Sudbury and enters Marlborough in the smaller Fordlandia here in Massachusetts, passes through an area with some modest suburban development in a relatively tranquil wooded setting. Ford’s plans were clearly never realized in this area and, judging from maps of the area produced over the past two centuries, this has been a quiet part of Marlborough for most of its history. The earliest official maps of towns in Massachusetts were done by order of the state legislature in 1794/1795 and generally lacked sufficient detail to draw many conclusions about density and development. The map of Marlborough, surveyed by Andrew Peters and dated December 30th, 1794 is no different in this regard; a sawmill is the only structure shown on the road from the Sudbury line to a box marking the meeting house in the center of Marlborough, a distance of over four miles.

Fortunately, a much more substantial map of the town of Marlborough was produced in 1803 by Silas Holman, a map that lists every house and all the roads in the town. Despite the detailed nature of the map, there is not a single house or structure shown along what is now Wayside Inn Road; the first structure encountered along the old road from the Wayside Inn on the map is the same sawmill of William Hager, which would have been located a little past the junction of Wayside Inn Road and Boston Post Road (US Route 20) on what is today called Hager Street. A map of the town by William Wood in 1830 also shows Hager’s sawmill as the only structure along this section of the Post Road in Marlborough. Walling’s map of Marlborough in 1853 shows a “shop” across the street from the sawmill but nothing else except woods (perhaps used by the sawmill) along the road. There is literally no building along Wayside Inn Road in Marlborough as late as the United States Geological Survey map of 1943 (see map below); the same USGS map from 1979 shows a half-dozen little squares indicating houses along the road and today about a dozen houses have been built in this historically sparsely populated area.

Detail of the area around Boston Post Road near the Sudbury/Marlborough border from a 1943 USGS Map. Today’s Wayside Inn Road is shown as Old Boston Post Road. There are no houses along that road from the border with Sudbury to the intersection with US Route 20, which is called Boston Post Road (BPR) on the map as it is today. Notice How Hager Street and Old Boston Post Road (OBPR) once merged and that the OBPR, Hager, and BPR intersection was much different from the contemporary intersection (see map at end of the entry). There are only three buildings along Route 20 (BPR) in the Hager Pond section; all three are eighteenth century buildings once owned by Henry Ford and all three still exist. Also notice a curved road north of Route 20 west of the intersection, below the “Sewage Disposal” area; most of this section of the original road has been obliterated but a small section remains today behind Don Patron Mexican Grill. See the main text below for more details.

Ford successfully prevented the expansion of US Route 20 along a 1.5 mile-long stretch of the old Upper Boston Post Road through his property by paying close to $300,000 in 1928 (a gazillion dollars in today’s money) for it to be redesigned and shifted about about 200 yards south of the old road away from the Wayside Inn. Unfortunately for me, Wayside Inn Road eventually intersects Boston Post Road, as US Route 20 is called in Marlborough and in many of the towns through which it passes. As I have shown in previous entries, although the route of the old Upper Boston Post Road and the road today called Boston Post Road sometimes overlap, there are many sections of the old road that do not correspond to Route 20 and the same is true in Marlborough, as evidenced by the fact I started on Wayside Inn Road and not on Boston Post Road for the first half-mile of this walk.

Site of Hager’s sawmill, for decades the only structure shown on maps of the Upper Boston Post Road in Marlborough for the first half-mile from the Sudbury/Marlborough border.

Just before I reach Route 20 and the start of a long tramp through a busy commercial area along a busy road I am granted a short reprieve. The intersection of Wayside Inn Road, Hager Street, and Boston Post Road/Route 20 was reconfigured sometime after 1979. The intersection of the three roads today is more direct and less complicated as the modern map at the end of the entry shows when compared with the map of 1943 above. A short (300 yards) section of what was then still called “Old Boston Post Road” was abandoned in the woods just north of Route 20 and can still (just) be followed on foot.

Although the traffic immediately increases and the landscape changes abruptly, there are still a few more Ford buildings in this area that make the transition from the “peaceful” stretches of the old road to the “difficult” sections along the busy highway a little less abrupt than is usually the case. On the south side of Boston Post Road is a large, simple Federal-style building in a quaint shopping plaza, with the words “Wayside Country Store” emblazoned above the cornice (I briefly read it as “Marlborough Country” before a delivery truck blasts past me and I am snapped out of my reverie). This intriguing building was originally built in 1790 and stood for over a century in the center of Sudbury. In 1928 Henry Ford purchased the building and had it moved with a team of oxen (the forerunner of the F-150) five miles west to its present location, adjacent to Hager’s Pond, the mill pond created by William Hager when he built a dam to take advantage of the water from Hop Brook to operate the sawmill visible on all the old maps of Marlborough, hence the sign out front touting the building as the “best country store by a dam site!” The store sells souvenirs and has an “old-timey” vibe, while the attached building next door sells candy. Nearby is a small gazebo with views over the pond. A short 200-yard walk east out of the parking lot along Hager Street brings me to the site of Hager’s sawmill; today there is a small dam with a five-foot waterfall cascading out of Hager Pond and down into a brook that runs underneath Hager Street and Boston Post Road, eventually leading to Grist Mill Pond near the Wayside Inn. A pleasant interlude before the rough part of the walk begins.


Part 2. They Put Up A Parking Lot

(2.4 miles from Wayside Country Store to Main Street at Concord Road)

Diamond in the rough?

The walk through Marlborough is the longest thus far in this series of Post Road perambulations as the town has a curious shape, resembling an elongated shoe box, befitting its long history as a shoe-manufacturing town. It is twice as long, over seven miles from east to west, as it is tall, a little over three miles from north to south. For much of its history, most of the population lived around the center of town. On an 1853 map of the town, most of the eastern third of the town is covered in forest. Today the once somnolent area in the eastern fringes of the town is steadily growing. Aside from the houses which have recently multiplied along Wayside inn Road, the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, which continues through this part of town along Boston Post Road East or US Route 20, passes an endless sea of accelerating development which threatens the few remaining traces of the old road. Nevertheless, even in what appears to be a historical and cultural wasteland, I manage to find a few bread crumbs to keep me going until I reach the more rewarding center of town, three miles distant from the Wayside Country Store.

A member of the Hager family operated the sawmill, from the earliest iteration built by Ebeneezer Hager around 1730, until the beginning of the twentieth century. On maps of the area predating 1853, along with the Hager sawmill, fewer than half a dozen buildings lined the Post Road to the next major junction at Farm Road and Wilson Road a mile west of the Wayside Country Store, most of them owned by a member of the Hager clan. The first of these houses along the road west from the sawmill was built by Ebeneezer’s son William Hager circa 1760 and is a prominent feature of Holman’s 1803 map of Marlborough. Amazingly, the house still exists at 929 Boston Post Road, only a few yards along from the Wayside Country Store in the middle of what is an unpromising stretch of road. This eighteenth century building looks as though it may have been jostled a bit over the years; today it is the front section of a larger building which, although Google maps has it listed as the White Lotus Massage Parlor (no joke), houses the offices for Metrolube Enterprises Inc. (yes, I thought so too, but apparently it is a legitimate business involving Valvoline Oil Change franchises). Even the old houses have been compromised to accommodate the needs of the automobile!

Hager House, built c. 1760, at 929 Boston Post Road East, Marlborough.

Even more astonishing is the presence of a second of the buildings on the early maps, this one across the street from the Wayside Country Store at 982 Boston Post Road. The house is shown on Holman’s 1803 map as belonging to Jonas Darling, whose father Amos is believed to have built the original farm house sometime after 1760. A brother of Jonas, Amos Jr., married a daughter of another Ebeneezer Hager, son of William Hager, and by 1830 the house is listed as the property of “E. Hager,” so the two families were clearly connected. Later the house was owned by George Jones, as shown on Walling’s 1853 map, and was operated as a tavern, according to the report for the Massachusetts Historical Commission produced by the Marlborough Historical Society.4Incidentally, the link above discusses all the historic properties along Upper Boston Post Road in Marlborough, including all the extant properties discussed in this article. For those interested in finding out more about the various properties I pass along the road just go to the website link and then click on the appropriate street for the section I am walking: for instance, the current section is Boston Post Road; the next section of the walk is along East Main Street, and so on. Both houses became part of the local “Fordlandia,” while another Hager family house along this stretch of the Post Road was moved a little east of the Wayside Inn in Sudbury by Ford (see the previous entry). All the Hager houses, the Wayside Country Store, and all the properties in Marlborough eventually were sold off after Ford bequeathed his property to the Wayside Inn Trust, who consolidated and stabilized much of the core property by selling off the periphery of the local “Fordlandia.”5See Plumb, A History of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, pp. 128-130.

As I reach what was once the border of the Ford property, which ends shortly after I cross the brook feeding into Hager Pond and pass the William Hager house, there is evidence of the old road just ahead that is intriguing, albeit not quite as enchanting as the discovery of eighteenth-century houses. As I commence my walk through a heavily-developed area of Marlborough, I find traces of the original curves of the road behind the newer buildings lining the now straight highway. The 1979 USGS map of the area shows a curved section of road on the north side of the straightened Route 20; leading away from the curved road is a road leading to what, on the 1943 map above, is bluntly called “sewage disposal,” but today goes by the portentous-sounding “Marlborough Easterly Waste Water Treatment Plant.” Today the eastern section of the old curved road has been obliterated by a parking lot for the Big Apple Restaurant and a landscaping service, but the western half of what is still called “Old Boston Post Road” can be found running for about 200 yards behind the Don Patron Mexican Grill. It’s not much to look at but it’s still there (see photo above).

This discovery of a trace of the original road counts as a small victory to be savored over the forces of development that have remade the landscape as I continue my walk through a truly brutal section of the Post Road. As if the Marlborough transfer station and the Raytheon Office Park and the numerous little shopping plazas one after another were not bad enough, the road itself doubles in size and becomes a four-lane highway. As if on cue, the development along both sides of the road also doubles accordingly, and for the next two miles I am buffeted by billboards and signs for an endless stream of new housing developments and strip malls housing the usual Home Depots and Targets and Chili’s and Walgreens box stores and, the most egregious of all to my eyes, Post Road Auto Parts. We all live in Fordlandia now (and Toyotalandia etc.).


Even along this depressing testament to mindless consumerism literally driven by the automobile, I find a couple of interesting and distinctive things to keep me occupied as I trudge though what superficially could be Anytown, USA, the soundtrack of my walk changing from the Marlboro Theme to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. Long experience of tedious walks through areas like this has made me keen at spotting the offbeat and unusual in the sea of monotony that is the suburban strip-mall landscape. The distinctive feature of this two-mile stretch in Marlborough is the abundance of Brazilian grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants, at least six that are obvious. There are more Brazilian-owned establishments that are less obvious; for example, I pass the Maranatha Christian Church, which I naively think is a church for people from South India, but upon further investigation discover is an evangelical church of Brazilian origin. Ford failed in Brazil, but Brazilians are clearly thriving here; maybe it’s the food!

To investigate this hypothesis further, I stop for lunch at Miranda Bread, a bakery serving sandwiches and a few hot dishes. After ordering a Frango sandwich (a grilled chicken sandwich the size of two chicken sandwiches at a nearby fast-food chain) with fries and a Guaraná soda, followed by a pedaço de bolo chocolate (carrot cake with chocolate frosting), all for under $20 with a tip thrown in, I cannot complain about being hungry or of spending too much. It’s not Alain Ducasse, but it was certainly enjoyable and better than any of the ubiquitous national chains nearby. Plus I learned a few new Portugese/Brazillian words, and that they put sweetcorn and potato sticks in sandwiches!

One of numerous Brazilian businesses along Boston Post Road East in Marlborough, Massachusetts

Marlborough is demographically quite distinct from the preceding three towns through which I have walked along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road. The total population of Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston, at 44,728 inhabitants according to the 2020 United States Census, is only slightly larger than the 41,793 residents of the town of Marlborough, although the combined area of the three towns, at 56.7 miles2, is almost three times the 20.9 mi2 of Marlborough, meaning the town is three times more densely populated than its eastern neighbors. Marlborough residents in general are less wealthy than their eastern neighbors; the median household income of each of the three preceding towns is over $200,000 (Sudbury $218,000; Wayland $204,000; Weston $221,000) while that of Marlborough is less than half that amount at $86,000.

The demographic makeup of the population of Marlborough is also strikingly different from that of the other towns along the the road. Despite the three towns of Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston having a large Asian population (15% of the total population of the three towns report being Asian only, another 2% report being mixed White and Asian), the White population (34,792) of the three towns combined is almost 78% of the total population and much higher than the 24,696 inhabitants of Marlborough who identify as White alone, 59% of the total. Marlborough is much more diverse than the other towns in the Metrowest area outside of Route 128 through which the Upper Boston Post Road passes (Waltham is more similar to Marlborough but is essentially an inner suburb of Boston); In addition to having a substantial Asian population (2,450 residents, 5.9% of the total population), there are twice as many Black residents (1294 in Marlborough versus 599 in the three towns combined) and four times the number of Hispanic residents (6631 versus 1714) as the three towns to the east put together.

Guaraná Antarctica, the logical accompaniment to lunch in a Brazilian bakery.

A curious detail on the Census report is that more than 6% of the population of Marlborough (2,657 residents) identifies as some other race alone, and another 10% of the population identifies as two or more races, four times the number of Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston combined and three times the rate of the population of Massachusetts. The answer to this statistical anomaly is visible as I walk along the busy stretch of Route 20 in Marlborough and observe the ubiquitous Brazilian flags in the windows of the many Brazilian businesses along the route. Many Brazilians do not consider themselves “Latino” or to fit the Hispanic category and there is a much more complicated sense of race in Brazilian culture, which results in more complicated self-reporting of racial identification by Brazilian immigrants on the US Census form. Together with the adjacent town of Framingham, a town I visited recently on a walk along an alternate road west from Boston to Worcester, Marlborough is a major center of Brazilian culture in the Greater Boston area, itself home of one of the largest concentrations of Brazilians in the United States.

After my satisfying Brazilian lunch at Miranda I certainly need a walk. With the exception of the numerous Brazilian businesses, the walk along Boston Post Road East in Marlborough is mostly forgettable. The most notable feature of the road is its remarkable undulating quality. The road after Hager Pond heads uphill before descending fairly steeply to a valley, crossed by a brook, before rising again to the next high point, continuing this pattern for more than two miles. A look at the USGS map shows the road skirting the many hills in the area but occasionally unavoidably having to climb a hillside, occasionally more than 100 feet, something I have rarely had to do thus far along the course of the Upper Boston Post Road out of Boston. From a low point of 233 feet above sea level at the Wayside Country Store next to Hager Pond the road climbs eventually to almost 425 feet just before reaching the center of Marlborough.

Fortunately a couple more architectural Easter eggs are hiding in plain sight nearby along Boston Post Road in Marlborough. First I take a brief detour to visit Evergreen Cemetery a few yards north of Boston Post Road along Wilson Street, prominently marked as “Grave Yard” on Wood’s 1830 map, where I see the graves of William Hager and his family, and the tombstones of other prominent families from the east side of Marlborough, including many members of the tavern-keeping How family of Wayside Inn fame and taverns in Marlborough shortly to be discussed. Back on the road I eventually reach the top of another incline and discover, nestled in a new housing development across the street from the Marlborough Country Club golf course, a red house that is clearly very old at 91 Boston Post Road. A sign indicating its origin is almost unreadable but I discover from the Marlborough Historical Society that the house is thought to have sections dating to the second half of the eighteenth century. Although it is referred to as the Joseph Williams house, it is thought to have been built by a member of the Stow family (some of whose graves can be seen in the Evergreen Cemetery) who owned much of the land in this area, including the country club property. Williams married Anna Stow and the two houses near each other shown in this area on Wood’s 1830 map are both owned by members of the Williams/Stow clan.

#1 Boston Post Road East, Marlborough, c. 1750. Today home of the Post Road Art Center.

A second house sits at Number 1 Boston Post Road East, right at the major junction where the road from Concord and the road from Boston merge to become East Main Street. This house, which dates to 1750, “still retains its typical form as a 2 1/2-story, side-gabled, five-bay, center-chimney farmhouse of the end of the eighteenth century,” in the words of Anne Forbes, consultant to the Marlborough Historic Commission.6See the link I referenced earlier. Click on Boston Post Road link to reach the report for the houses mentioned. Today the charming lilac-colored house prominently located at the busy junction visible on Peter’s 1794 map, appearing on Holman’s 1803 map as the house of Simon Maynard, and on Wood’s 1830 map as the house and store of S(tephen) Howe, a blacksmith, is the home of the Post Road Art Center. A pleasant end to the long Boston Post Road East section of the Upper Boston Post Road in Marlborough, which continues around the sharp bend as East Main Street for the next mile.


Part 3. How(e) About The East Village

(0.8 miles from East Main Street at Concord Road to Main Street at Brown Street).

Post Road Plaza at 222 East Main Street in Marlborough. The road climbs steeply beyond the entrance to the shopping mall.

This section of the walk along the Upper Boston Post Road through the town of Marlborough follows East Main Street, as the road is now called west of the Concord Road and Boston Post Road East junction, through an area once known as the East Village, to the intersection with Main Street in what is today downtown Marlborough. A promising start beckons as I follow the sweeping curve of the road and a prominent Greek Revival mansion comes into view. Older maps of the town show many more houses along the old road west to Worcester in this area compared to the preceding three miles of the road from the border with Sudbury through East Marlborough. One of these is the late eighteenth-century Greek Revival house at 334 East Main Street, which is clearly marked on Silas Holman’s 1803 map of the town of Marlborough as the house belonging to John Stow.

As I mentioned earlier, Marlborough is a very elongated town and, for much of the early history of the town, there were essentially two “downtowns.” The first meeting house was built in the seventeenth century in an area called the West Village on the west side of today’s downtown. In 1806 a contentious decision was taken to put up a newer building in the East Village. The most recent version of the First Church in Marlborough, built in 1853, can be seen today in the same location at the top of Union Common on the corner of Bolton Street and High Street in the East Village. Readers may remember from previous entries that the location of the meeting house was often the most contentious issue facing residents of towns in colonial New England. Marlborough was no different, except that this is one of the rare occasions where the town did not split in two over the often divisive issue.7See Charles C. Hudson, History of the Town of Marlborough, Middlesex County from its First Settlement in 1657 to 1861; With a Brief Sketch of the Town of Northborough, a Genealogy of the Families in Marlborough to 1800, and an Account of the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Town. Boston: T.R. Marvin & Sons, 1862. pp. 204-208.

This explains in part why the walk in Marlborough is so long compared to all my previous walks across towns through which the Post Road passes. A walk across the city of Boston, which has more than twice the area (48.3 mi2) of Marlborough (20.9 mi2), is at most between eight and nine miles in length, regardless of which of the roads I take out of town (the Upper Boston Post Road to Watertown, the Lower Boston Post Road to Dedham, or the Upper or Lower Braintree Roads to Braintree and eventually to Plymouth). Any of these walks is unnaturally long mainly because Boston annexed some neighboring towns like Roxbury, Dorchester, and Brighton in a growth spurt in the nineteenth century. Not until I reach Worcester will I have as long a walk through a town, and that walk will likely be split into two parts since Worcester, as the second-largest city in New England, is a very important stop along the Upper Boston Post Road.

Not to take anything away from Marlborough which, despite the commercial development of the past few miles, has still provided much of interest relating to the Post Road and promises to deliver much more as I proceed along the next few miles through the center of town. I pass a second Greek Revival house, only a few yards further along from the John Stow house, at the junction of East Main Street and Hosmer Street (labelled “the Road to Stow” on Wood’s 1835 map). Unfortunately, just beyond Hosmer Street and Mowry Brook, visible on Walling’s 1853 map as it passes under the Upper Boston Post Road as it still does today, I must endure one final slog past a shopping mall, the aptly-named Post Road Plaza. Facing the plaza on the opposite side of the road at 255 East Main Street, there is an intriguing one-story brick building lined with thick glass-block windows originally built in the 1930s as a Coca Cola Bottling plant which attracts my attention and makes this section slightly less disagreeable.

After one more steep uphill climb the road levels out at about 420 feet above sea level and, for the first time, takes on a more consistently residential character, with several of the houses dating to nineteenth century. For example, the Jason Howe House at 200 Main Street, despite its current ignominious state as an office building covered in vinyl siding and fronted by a large parking lot, is a Federal-style house dating back to at least 1818.8The Marlborough Historic Property Survey, which was first researched in 1978 and then revised in 1995, has conflicting information about the date of the building’s construction; the later report, by Anne Forbes, suggests that Jason Howe, who remarried in 1818, built the house at the time of the marriage. That there was a house there earlier than 1818 is attested to by the presence of a residence at the same location on Holman’s 1803 map of Marlborough owned by “John How,” Jason Howe’s father and a descendant of the original settler John How. Several other older residential buildings, including a collection of interesting Queen Anne-style houses, also line this section of the Upper Boston Post Road, which finally ceases to be a four-lane highway as it takes a sharp turn south for the final four hundred yards before reaching the center of Marlborough. But it is the old How house that has the most interesting potential connection to this project.


In 1732 Thomas Prince, minister of the Old South Meeting House in Boston, published a “Companion for Traders and Travellers” which went by the title Vade Mecum for America.9One will search in vain for the name of the author on the pamphlet itself. However, as Thomas Prince was a graduate of Harvard, Sibley’s Harvard Graduates has an entry on Prince in which the Vade Mecum for America appears on his lengthy list of publications. “Vade mecum” is a Latin phrase meaning literally “come with me” and was another name for a reference book for travelers. The book contains lists of all sorts of information such as times for meetings of different churches in all the provinces covered, lists of simple and compound interest, the names of towns in all the provinces, and “several other Instructive Tables in Arithmetick, Geography &c.”10Thomas Prince, Vade Mecum For America Or a Companion For Traders and Travellers, published by S. Kneeland and T. Green, Boston N.E. for D. Henchman at the Corner Shop the South side of the Town-House and T. Hancock at the Bible and Three Crowns in Ann Street, 1732. 220 pages. The most interesting sections are the descriptions of various routes between Boston and points north, west, and south. Part IV describes the route from “Boston, westward, thro’ Worcester to Springfield on Connecticut River,” the route I have been following and referring to as the Upper Boston Post Road.

Image of page 198 of the Vade Mecum for America, showing the distances from Boston Town House to various taverns along the road to Springfield in 1732.

The format, which is reproduced in the image above, is a simple chart: the first column on the left starts with the words “TOWN HOUSE” and is followed by a list of “publick houses”; the second column records the distance in miles of the publick house or tavern in question from the previous stop on the route; The third column is a cumulative record of the total distance to the tavern in question from the Town House; and the fourth column is the name of the town in which the tavern is located, with the word “BOSTON” at the top of the column indicating the location of the Town House. For example, the first tavern listed after the Town House in Boston is Shippey’s, which is 2 miles from the previous stop which is the starting point or Town House, so column three also says 2 miles and the the tavern is located in the town of Roxbury (now a neighborhood of Boston). The subsequent tavern on the list is Larneds, 7 miles from Shippeys, and 9 miles from the Town House; Larned’s tavern is located in “Watertown-Mills,” in other words in Watertown along the river by the mill near the Watertown Bridge.

A simple calculation of the distance along the old road that I have attempted to follow in this project places the Watertown bridge almost exactly 9 miles distant from the “Town House,” what today is called the Old State House at the junction of State Street and Washington Street, once the seat of government in Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In other words Prince was quite accurate with his calculations, as I discovered when I used his charts as I followed the Lower Boston Post Road to New York, which is perhaps unsurprising given his reputation as a polymath.

The Vade Mecum lists the location of How’s in Marlborough as 10 miles from Balding’s in Sudbury and 30 miles from the Town House in Boston. I have created a map which attempts to color code each mile along the old roads out of the city in every direction. It is still a work in progress but I have mapped it west as far as Worcester thus far. The upshot is that Baldings’, or Baldwin’s as it was more likely known, is listed in the Vade Mecum as 20 miles distant from the Town House and the site is almost exactly 20 miles away from the Old State House on my map, in what is today Wayland. This section of the walk along East Main Street is the thirtieth mile of the walk from the Old State House using my “Mile by Mile” map. Mile thirty ends on East Main Street in Marlborough just before reaching the intersection with Main Street in the center of Marlborough a little south of the junction of Lincoln and Stevens and East Main Street in the East Village. If Prince’s chart is accurate one would reasonably expect to find How’s tavern somewhere in the neighborhood of this junction.

The difficulty is that the How (later Howe) family is connected to a number of taverns in Marlborough (and, of course, the Wayside Inn in Sudbury) and thus it is hard to know which How is the one mentioned in the Vade mecum. John How, the original settler, had a license to operate a tavern before 1670.11See Hudson, p. 381. However, the violence of King Philip’s War, in which How’s eldest son was killed, essentially left Marlborough depopulated for almost a decade. The elder How died in 1687 and by 1696 his son Thomas Howe had a license to run a tavern.12Hudson, pp. 382-383. Whether it was the same building is uncertain. Another John Howe, a nephew of Thomas, also ran a tavern along the road.

Jason How House, 200 East Main Street, Marlborough. This house, c. 1818, is likely a newer house at the same location, once owned by John How, Jason’s father, who died in 1818. The original house may have been the How’ Tavern mentioned in Prince’s Vade mecum.

So, where is the How tavern from the Vade Mecum? It is difficult to say with certainty except that it would very likely have been somewhere in the vicinity of “mile 30” on my map, along the roughly half-mile stretch of road from about 200 East Main Street to the junction of East Main and Main Street. It could be an earlier incarnation of the building I passed at 200 Main Street, as there is a house belonging to “John How” in the same location on Holman’s 1803 map and to “J. Howe” on Woods’ 1830 map. Alternatively, the foundations of the first John How’s original house are reputed to be found in the structure at 29 Fowler Street, about 400 yards north of the junction of Stevens and East Main Street. About the only certainty is that it was not the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, which was established as a tavern in 1716 by David How, one of John How’s grandsons.13The most obvious reason is that the Wayside Inn is located in Sudbury and not in Marlborough. A second reason is that the Wayside Inn is only six miles from Baldwin’s in Wayland, and I have confidence in Prince’s calculations, having rarely been steered wrong in the past.

On August 27, 1716 Judge Samuel Sewall, at the time an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court set off from Boston with several other justices to oversee a session of the Superior Court for Hampshire County at Springfield.14Springfield was then a part of Hampshire County; Hampden County did not separate from Hampshire County until 1812. According to Sewall’s diary, the justices “got to How’s about 1/2 hour by Sun.”15Diary of Samuel Sewall, Volume III, p. 100. I interpret this to mean that they arrived at How’s tavern in Marlborough about half an hour after sunset (or before, I’m not sure). Others have interpreted this as How’s tavern in Sudbury,16See my article on the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Chapter Ten. but I find this unlikely for a number of reasons, not least being that How’s tavern in Marlborough, regardless of its exact location, was the more established tavern further along the route of the Post Road to Springfield, which makes more sense in the context of the time it would take to travel from Boston by horse in the eighteenth century, especially in August when the sun set later than in the winter.

Sewall mentions Marlborough specifically in 1718 on his return to Boston from Springfield after another circuit tour through Rhode Island and Connecticut, “stopping at Marlborough about Sunset,” although he does not mention a specific tavern. His diary also referenced an earlier trip to Springfield, in 1698, where he “lodged at Marlborow (sic)” on both the outward and return journey. Although the How tavern was not mentioned, it seems likely that this tavern was familiar to Sewall from his trips over the years as attested to by his familiarity with Marlborough in his diary entries; he obviously felt no need to put in details as he often did with other less familiar stops.

Marlborough was a favorite stop for travelers along the route west of Boston. By the middle of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century the favored stopping place was Williams tavern on the west side of town, but the choice of the town made sense, especially for travelers on horseback, being a little more than thirty miles distant from the town of Boston, a plausible distance for a day’s travel. I will return to this subject when I reach the site of the Williams tavern, about a mile beyond the East Village of Marlborough, where the How tavern, the first tavern in the town of Marlborough once stood.


Detail from Henry Walling Map of the “East Village” of Marlborough. The “Orthodox” (Congregational) Church is at left center. The makeup of the roads in the area has been dramatically transformed since this map was produced as discussed in the text. Notice also how two streets connect to the eastern end of Main Street: the straight one (near H. Loring & Co.) is East Main Street, while the slightly curved road to the left of East Main Street is Brown Street, which may have been the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road (see text).

Just before I arrive on Main Street in Marlborough I have one more Post Road-related question to resolve. As I have walked literally hundreds of miles of old roads I often sense when the road feels wrong; that is to say that some aspect of the road makes me suspect it has been changed, moved, rebuilt, that something has been done to it making me think I need to look more carefully at the old maps before continuing. The final three hundred yards of the descent south from the curve at Stevens, East Main, and Lincoln Street to the junction with Main Street is one of these moments. The main problem is the presence of a high retaining wall along the right as I make my way down the hill. Another road almost adjacent to this road called Brown Street is situated along the top of the retaining wall, about 20 feet above the current road. Could Brown Street be the original road?

Other aspects of this section of East Main Street also “feel” wrong. For example, the road seems too straight. On all the old maps there is clearly a pronounced curve as the Upper Boston Post Road merges into Main Street, something that Brown Street has as it too slopes down to Main Street. A third clue that something is not quite right is the driveway in front of the large Greek Revival house at 60 East Main. On the older maps 60 Main Street appears to be directly on the road, but now there is a curved elevated driveway leading up to it; perhaps the driveway was once part of Brown Street that has since been slightly rebuilt to connect to a newly rebuilt Main Street. Today Brown Street reaches a dead-end at a metal barrier which overlooks a twenty foot drop off down to the driveway in front of the property at 60 Main Street listed in 1853 as the Susan Williams residence.

Maps prior to 1853 show only one road coming into Main Street at its eastern edge in downtown Marlborough. On Wood’s map of 1830 there is a single road which curves a little as it joins Main Street directly in front of what at the time was a Universalist Church; the later straight road, today’s East Main Street, joins Main Street at a point east of the church on the 1853 map. However, on Walling’s 1853 detailed map of the East Village, two roads are shown coming into the eastern part of Main Street but, importantly, Brown Street, instead of reaching a dead end at its northern terminus, joins East Main Street directly in front of the Susan Williams residence, the Greek Revival house at 60 Main Street. Sanborn’s Insurance map of 1890 also shows Brown Street continuing directly onto East Main Street instead of reaching a premature end. As late as 1916 maps show Brown Street as a through street.

View north from Main Street in Marlborough. On the left is Brown Street, now a road that reaches a dead end a few yards beyond the black car in the photo. On the right is East Main Street, the newer straighter road that replaced the old road in the nineteenth century.

In other words, there is a non-trivial possibility that Brown Street was the original road into Marlborough Center and that a straighter, more level section of road was built sometime in the mid-nineteenth century that now makes up the last 200 yards of East Main Street. On the 1916 map of the area elevations are provided for all the major intersections. The elevation at the junction of Lincoln and East Main Street is 424.8 feet, after which the road descends; the elevation at the junction of East Main and Front Street, two hundred yards down the street is 422.5 feet; that of Brown and High 405.2 feet; and that of Brown and Main 386.6 feet. In other words, the elevations are consistent with Brown Street being the original road as there is a more gradual drop along this (now) slightly higher road. Despite the appearance that today Brown Street is merely a road leading to the Spring Hill Cemetery after which it peters out at an overlook, it is likely that the original Post Road for many decades, perhaps for over a century, passed along this quaint, slightly crooked, nearly forgotten little lane that today ignominiously ends at a metal barrier, before being bypassed by a more modern, straighter road.

The meeting house that nearly divided the town of Marlborough was built in the East Village in 1806 at the junction of Bolton Street and High Street. High Street continues east and ends at the intersection with Brown Street. As Brown Street once continued north from this spot past the Williams house at 60 East Main Street, it seems plausible that churchgoers from the east of town would have walked this route to reach the church for Sunday services rather than take a long detour along Lincoln Street or down to Main Street and back uphill to the meeting house. Incidentally, Spring Hill Cemetery is the first and oldest cemetery in the town of Marlborough. It seems curious that today the only access is from a path leading away from the end of Brown Street near the dead end. It is much more likely that a visitor to the cemetery before the modern street reconstruction entered the cemetery directly from what was once the main road along that small “forgotten” section which today is called Brown Street. Woods’ 1830 map, released in a much more readable commercial lithographic version in 1835, does not show High Street as Walling’s 1853 map does (see above) but it shows the “graveyard” near the new church building close to the main road and between the houses of “widow Barnes” and “A Brown,” whose house on the main road is probably the source of the name Brown Street.

Finally, I might add here that I would never have noticed this possibility had I not walked the road. One critique I have regarding previous books about the Post Road is that all of my predecessors drove along the road and perforce missed the nuanced changes that to me give the road its true romance. It is easy to wax lyrical about stagecoaches and the pioneer spirit when you are zooming past everything at thirty miles an hour, stopping only occasionally to visit a big-ticket site like the Wayside Inn. I would argue the superficiality of the narratives of my predecessors and the not infrequent mistakes about the road found in those books are a direct result of the rate of speed at which they traveled the road. Walking the road enables me to meander along the frequent little detours away from the main road. These “detours” are often the most interesting sections of the original road and tracing on foot the quirky appendices that were once part of the main road is the driving force of this project, pun intended. The intriguing prospect of Brown Street being part of the original road, like the discovery of the two hundred yards of old Boston Post Road on the way to the sewage treatment plant behind Don Patron’s Mexican Grill, gives me a frisson of delight that makes the slog through all the shopping malls and past all the parking lots worth the effort.


Part 4. The Twain Shall Meet

(0.6 miles from Main Street at Brown Street to Marlborough Public Library)

John Brown Bell on Union Common. Behind is the First Church of Marlborough, the modern version of the original congregation. The original meeting house was in the West Village but was relocated to the East Village in 1806. The version currently standing dates to 1853.

At the junction of East Main Street and Main Street the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road diverges once again from US Route 20, which continues south of downtown and follows Granger Boulevard as it sweeps west before merging again with Main Street in the West Village. The route of the Upper Boston Post Road follows Main Street for about half a mile through downtown Marlborough, an area rich with interesting architecture and historical anecdotes relating to the Post Road. The reconfiguration of Route 20, among other changes to the layout of the East Village section of Main Street, occurred sometime after 1979, in an effort to reduce through traffic along Main Street. Route 85 once followed Maple Street to Main Street before briefly following Main Street and then continuing north along Bolton Street as it does today, but along with the change to Route 20, Route 85 was pushed directly through downtown along a newly built extension of Bolton Street. The effect is to open up the eastern part of downtown Marlborough. There is another lovely Greek Revival building on the southeast corner of the intersection, the John Cotting house from 1825, but the area is overall less appealing than the more densely built area only a few yards further along Main Street and it feels as if something is missing.

It turns out there is something missing, a massive building that transformed Marlborough from a sleepy village like its neighbors to the east into a busy manufacturing town populated by large waves of immigrants. Most of the area along the south side of Main Street was at one time the property of the Boyd and Corey Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company; the large five-story factory built in 1871 had over an acre and a half of floor space and the nearly one thousand employees at the peak in the late nineteenth century produced millions of shoes and boots. The death of Samuel Boyd, the head of the company, in 1892 (his partner Thomas Corey, an Irish immigrant, had died in 1875) was followed by financial difficulty and the company moved to Augusta, Maine in 1897 and went bankrupt shortly thereafter. Incidentally, most of the information above comes from one of the 24 excellent and informative panels placed throughout the center of Marlborough by the Marlborough Historic Commission, which are also available online, as part of the Museum in the Streets program.

The factory had a tremendous impact on the evolution of the town. Marlborough and the neighboring town of Sudbury each had a population under 2,000 inhabitants in the 1800 Census (Marlborough 1,735; Sudbury 1,303); by 1860 the population of Sudbury had increased only by a few hundred residents (1,691), but the town of Marlborough had more than tripled to 5,911 residents, and by 1890 the population had more than doubled again, to 13,805 residents, while Sudbury had actually declined to 1,197 residents (partly because it lost a chunk of its territory to the newly-formed town of Maynard). After the closure of the factory, the population growth of Marlborough stalled until the end of World War II, when all the suburban towns of Boston grew rapidly as residents left the city for the more open spaces of suburbia; Marlborough went from 15,154 residents in 1940 to 41,793 residents in the most recent census in 2020, while Sudbury, closer to Boston, exploded from 1,754 residents in 1940 to 18,934 residents in 2020, ten times larger than at any point in the previous history of the heretofore tranquil town.

The earlier discussion of the demographic makeup of Marlborough and its neighbors becomes a little more clear in light of the historical population data. Marlborough long ago diverged from its neighbors to the east and the contemporary pattern of development reflects the early divergence; more white residents with money settled in the towns like Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston, although in recent years wealthier Asian families have also begun to settle in the affluent Metrowest suburbs. Marlborough’s factory workers were mainly Irish immigrants, but in the nineteenth century the influx of foreigners was often met with hostility, as I have discussed in previous entries. An early historian of the town of Marlborough, Charles Hudson, wrote in 1862 of the effects of manufacturing on the town with a remarkably enlightened attitude to what was perceived as a problem:

“There is one evil incident to manufactures, which generally shows itself in a greater or less degree, viz., the introduction of a foreign and floating population, which may not harmonize with the native population. But this evil is destined to cure itself. The children of foreigners, born in this country, and educated in our schools with our own children, will soon become Americanized, and so make us all a homogeneous people. We must remember that our ancestors, as well as theirs, were of foreign birth; and may we not trust that time will work the same change in them, as it has in us; and eventually blend in harmony what is now somewhat discordant? This foreign population, though perhaps disorderly in some respects, is nevertheless loyal, and as ready to sustain our institutions, as any other portion of our citizens, as recent events have clearly shown. As the tide of emigration has already abated, and the emigrants which now come to the country are a more intelligent class, we believe that a century hence, this foreign element will become so amalgamated and blended with our native population, that the distinction which is now so apparent will in a good degree be obliterated.”17Hudson, p. 264.

Marlborough’s growth continues to be principally the result of foreign workers immigrating to the city in search of opportunity. In the 1850s the workers were principally Irish, while in the twenty-first century the immigrants to Marlborough come from many more regions, principally Brazil as I discussed earlier; there is still much hostility to the “foreign element” and much discussion of the “evil” of a group of people who do not “harmonize with the native population,” yet it seems far more likely that the “foreign element will become so amalgamated and blended,” and that the latest periodic wave of anti-immigrant fever will break, just like the one in the 1850s and all the subsequent ones. Marlborough is the model for what “Small Town America” is now and has been for more than two centuries, not the outlier.


The north side of Main Street in the East Village area has changed over the years as well, but fortunately a few of the older buildings remain to lend more character to that side of the street. Immediately after turning the corner from Brown Street/East Main Street onto Main Street, there is a charming building which dates to 1750 at 27 Main Street housing various offices. A few yards further along, at 57 Main Street is yet another Greek Revival building adjacent to Union Common, a large park that slopes uphill to the First Church. At the corner of the of the park sits a small bell tower. During the Civil War, according to Panel 11 of the Museum in the Streets, “Marlborough’s Company I of the Massachusetts 13th Regiment was stationed in Harper’s Ferry. On orders from Special Services, they seized anything that was of value to the Confederates, including one of the brass bells from the ill-fated Armory firehouse.” The bell, named for the famous abolitionist John Brown who unsuccessfully attacked the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 in an attempt to foment a slave uprising, ultimately ended up on Union Common. Although it is obviously named for the preservation of the Union as a result of the Civil War, the name could also apply to the fact that, despite the movement of the First Church from the West Village to its current prominent location at the head of the Common, the town of Marlborough did not split into two towns as a result, but remained unified.

Portrait of Henry Barnes by Prince Demah, one of three slaves owned by the Barnes family. This painting, along with one of Christian Barnes and another of a Scottish merchant William Duguid, are three of the earliest known portraits by an African-American artist. The paintings of Henry and Christian Barnes are currently in the collection of the Hingham Historical Society.

Directly across the street from the John Brown Bell and Union Common, where the Colonial Revival building from 1909 that was built as a Fire Station sits, now occupied by a restaurant and offices, was once the substantial estate of the wealthiest resident of Marlborough at the start of the American Revolution and an important player in the saga of the British spies Captain William Browne and Ensign Henry DeBerniere, an adventure I have been literally and figuratively following as I make my west through the towns along the Upper Boston Post Road.

Henry Barnes built a grand mansion in 1763 on the terraced hillside overlooking Main Street. According to Panel 13 of the Museum in the Streets at the site of the estate, Barnes “established the town’s first manufacturing firm, first retail store, and a cider distillery. Around these activities, the area known then as the East Village became the commercial center of Marlborough.” Barnes was the highest taxpayer of Marlborough in the 1771 Assessment and also owned two or three slaves, one of the few slaveholders in the town. One of these slaves, Prince Demah, was an artist who produced portraits of Barnes and his wife Christian in the early 1770s (see painting above). Barnes was also a “friend of the government” and his political and commercial activities increasingly ran afoul of the interests of the majority of town residents. He was burned in effigy in 1770 in full view of his house from the top of nearby Fairmount Hill after being named in a list of people who were called out for violating the Non-importation policy approved at Town Meeting. The worst was yet to come.

Browne and DeBerniere set out on a snowy Wednesday, March 1, 1775 from the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston to investigate the situation in the town of Marlborough and to map the road leading there from Boston. Rather than recapitulate their story I will let Henry DeBerniere tell his own exciting story:

“At two o’-clock it ceased snowing a little, and we resolved to set off for Marlborough, which was about sixteen miles off; we found the roads very bad, every step up to our ankles; we passed through Sudbury, a very large village, near a mile long, the causeway lies across a great swamp, or overflowing of the river Sudbury, and commanded by a high ground on the opposite side; nobody took the least notice of us until we arrived within three miles of Marlborough, (it was snowing hard all the while) when a horseman overtook us and asked us from whence we came, we said from Weston, he asked if we lived there, we said no; he then asked us where we resided, and as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived at Boston; he then asked us where we were going, we told him to Marlborough, to see a friend, (as we intended to go to Mr. Barns‘s, a gentleman to whom we were recommended, and a friend to government) he then asked us if we were in the army, we said not, but were a good deal alarmed at his asking us that question; he asked several rather impertinent questions, and then rode on for Marlborough, as we suppose, to give them intelligence there of our coming, — for on our entering the town, the people came out of their houses (tho’ it snowed and blew very hard) to look at us, in particular a baker asked Capt. Brown where are you going master, he answered on to see Mr. Barnes.– We proceeded to Mr. Barnes‘s, and on our beginning to make an apology for taking the liberty to make use of his house and discovering to him that we were officers in disguise, he told us we need not be at the pains of telling him, that he knew our situation, that we were very well known (he was afraid) by the town’s people.– We begged he would recommend some tavern where we should be safe, he told us we could be safe no where but in his house; that the town was very violent, and that we had been expected at Col. Williams‘s the night before, where there had gone a party of liberty people to meet us,– (we suspected, and indeed had every reason to believe, that the horseman that met us and took such particular notice of me the morning we left Worcester, was the man who told them we should be at Marlborough the night before, but our taking the Framingham road when he had passed us, deceived him)– Whilst we were talking the people were gathering in little groups in every part of the town.– Mr. Barnes asked us who had spoke to us on our coming into the town, we told him a baker; he seemed a little startled at that, told us he was a very mischievous fellow, and that there was a deserter at his house; Capt. Brown asked the man’s name, he said it was Swain, that he had been a drummer; Brown knew him too well, as he was a man of his own company, and had not been gone above a month– so we found we were discovered.– We asked Mr. Barnes if they did get us into their hands, what they would do with us; he did not seem to like to answer; we asked him again, he then said we knew the people very well, that we might expect the worst of treatment from them.– Immediately after this, Mr. Barnes was called out; he returned a little after and told us the doctor of the town had come to tell him he was come to sup with him– (now this fellow had not been within Mr. Barnes‘s doors for two years before, and came now for no other business than to see and betray us)– Barnes told him he had company and could not have the pleasure of attending him that night; upon this the fellow stared about the house and asked one of Mr. Barnes‘s children who her father had got with him, the child innocently answered that she had asked her pappa, but he told her it was not her business; he then went, I suppose, to tell the rest of his crew.– When we found we were in that situation, we resolved to lie down for two or three hours, and set off at twelve o’clock at night; so we got some supper on the table and were just beginning to eat, when Barnes (who had been making enquiry of his servants) found they intended to attack us, and then he told us plainly he was very uneasy for us, that we could be no longer in safety in that town: upon which we resolved to set off immediately, and asked Mr. Barnes if there was no road round the town, so that we might not be seen; he took us out of his house by the stables, and directed us a bye road which was to lead us a quarter of a mile from the town, it snowed and blew as much as ever I see it in my life; however, we walked pretty fast, fearing we should be pursued; at first we felt much fatigued, having not been more than twenty minutes at Mr. Barnes‘s to refresh ourselves, and the roads (if possible) were worse than when we came; but in a little time after it wore off, and we got without being perceived, as far as the hills that command the causeway at Sudbury, and went into a little wood where we eat a bit of bread that we took from Mr. Barnes‘s, and eat a little snow to wash it down.– After that we proceeded about one hundred yards, when a man came out of a house and said those words to Capt. Brown, “What do you think will become of you now,” which startled us a good deal, thinking we were betrayed.– We resolved to push on at all hazards, but expected to be attacked on the causeway; however we met no body there, so began to think it was resolved to stop us in Sudbury, which town we entered when we passed the causeway; about a quarter of a mile in the town we met three or four horsemen, from whom we expected a few shot, when we came nigh they opened to the right and left and quite crossed the road, however they let us pass through them without taking any notice, their opening being only chance; but our apprehensions made us interpret every thing against us. — At last we arrived at our friend Jones‘s again, very much fatigued, after walking thirty-two miles between two o’clock and half-after ten at night, through a road that every step we sunk up to the ankles, and it blowing and drifting snow all the way — Jones said he was glad to see us back as he was sure we should meet with ill-usage in that part of the country, as they had been watching for us sometime; but said he found we were so deaf to his hints, that he did not like to say any thing for fear we should have taken it ill: we drank a bottle of mulled Madeira wine, which refreshed us very much, and went to bed and slept as sound as men could do, that were very much fatigued. The next morning, after breakfast, we set off for Boston. Jones shewed us a road that took us a quarter of a mile below Watertown bridge, as we did not chuse to go through that town. We arrived at Boston about twelve o’clock, and met General Gage and General Haldiman, with their aid-de-camps, walking out on the neck, they did not know us until we discovered ourselves; we besides met several officers of our acquaintance, who did not know us.
A few days after our return, Mr. Barnes came to town from Marlborough, and told us, immediately on our quitting the town, the committee of correspondence came to his house and demanded us; he told them we were gone; they then searched his house from top to bottom, looked under the beds and in their cellars and when they found we were gone, they told him if they had caught us in his house they would have pulled it about his ears.– They then sent horsemen after us, every road; but as we had the start of them, and the weather being so very bad, they either did not overtake us, or missed us. Mr. Barnes told them we were not officers, but relations of his wife’s, from Penobscot, and were gone to Lancaster; that, perhaps, might have deceived them.”18According to my calculations, the distance between the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston and Henry Barnes house in Marlborough is a little more than 14 miles one way, so 28-29 miles round trip. That’s still a lot of miles to travel, in the snow, in one day, and on foot, but it is not 32 miles. The entire narrative can be found in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Barnes family relocated to England in late 1775, and Henry Barnes died there in 1804 at the age of 84. Prince Demah “self-liberated” after the departure of Henry Barnes, joined the Massachusetts Militia, and died of smallpox in 1778; he left a will in which his mother (also a former slave of the Barnes family) Daphney, inherited his estate. A fuller discussion of his short but significant career can be found on the webpage of the Hingham Heritage Museum. The Barnes estate was seized by the state in 1778 and ended up in the hands of William Cogswell who, with his brother-in-law William Dawes of Midnight Ride fame, moved here from Boston and took over Barnes’ potash manufacturing operation. Dawes lived across Main Street in a house later owned by Thomas Corey of the Boyd and Corey shoe company. In the early twentieth century the former Barnes property came into the hands of the City government, who tore the house down and built the building that was for decades the Marlborough Fire Station on the corner of Main Street and Bolton Street.

Charles Hudson, so (relatively) charitable towards immigrants was less kind to Henry Barnes, about whom he wrote in his history of the town “Marlborough seems to have been cursed with at least one man, who was known and acknowledged to be a devotee to Royalty,” after which he provides a long description of the actions of Barnes, with a particular focus on the visit of Browne and DeBerniere.19Hudson, p. 156. He goes out of his way to assure the reader that he was unrelated to any of the numerous members of the Marlborough Barnes family in his extensive genealogy of the early residents of the town, where he continues his withering assessment of the man “He is spoken of as an “impostor,” and probably came to Marlborough from some of the seaport towns (the nerve!). He was denounced as a Tory. He entertained the spies sent out by General Gage in 1775, and left the place that year.”20Hudson, p. 319. Barnes may have left the town of Marlborough and his house is long gone, but his portrait still exists as does the historical record of his activities in the town and his legacy as the early developer of the East Village of Marlborough.

Barnes was not the only Loyalist to leave the town of Marlborough; Benjamin Potter, who was born in Marlborough in 1749 and married Sarah Angier of Framingham in 1773, eventually moved to Nova Scotia along with many other Loyalists from New England after the evacuation of Boston by British troops in March 1776. Benjamin Potter had a son Benjamin in 1789 who married Ruth Weare in 1811; their daughter Emmeline Potter married Joseph Weare Robbins and their son Charles Robbins married Minnie Harris, whose daughter Annie Robbins is my great-grandmother who I remember well in her antiquated rooms in Spanish Point, Bermuda asking a seven year old me to go up the hill and buy her some cigarettes!21I don’t remember the brand; could they have been Marlboros? Regardless, the proprietor, who grew up with my mother, sold me the cigarettes, presumably knowing who they were for. Still, times have changed! This makes Benjamin Potter senior my fifth great-grandfather and gives me a connection to Marlborough! 22 To be fair, there are 128 direct ancestors in my family tree at this generation (64 5th great-grandfathers and 64 5th great-grandmothers), so it is perhaps unsurprising that I would eventually reach a town where one of my 128 direct ancestors was born. Having said that, half the relatives on my mother’s side come directly from England (my grandmother was from Yorkshire) and a big chunk of the rest on her father’s side also came from England to Bermuda so the math becomes a little more interesting.


View west down Main Street in Marlborough. City Hall is the prominent building on the south side of the street.

Rudyard Kipling, author of the poem The Ballad of East and West, with the famous opening line “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” obviously never visited Marlborough, where the two villages did eventually merge into a single cohesive downtown linked by the Upper Boston Post Road in the guise of Main Street in this section. In the 1830s the quarter mile space between the two villages was still almost completely undeveloped as the north side had a looming cliff and the south side was swampy. Drainage of the wetlands and blasting of the cliff opened the center up and on Walling’s 1853 map the town hall has moved to the area.23Plaque 21 of the Museum in the Streets series at the corner of Newton and Weed Streets describes this in an entry entitled Overcoming Geography: The Making of a Downtown. Hudson summarizes the evolution of the town succinctly: “The two centre villages were formerly considered as distinct from each other, being about a mile apart. But the location of the two railroad stations in a central position between them, has contributed, among other things, to fill up the space, so as to make the two villages one. Some of the largest buildings in the place are situated upon the isthmus which formerly connected the two settlements. The old villages have not only extended their borders towards each other, but have opened new streets, and multiplied their dwellings, so as to become large villages of themselves; and the union of the two, by filling up the space between them, has created a village of some five hundred dwellings, and nearly three thousand inhabitants.”24Hudson, p. 265.

Indeed, the most prominent building along Main Street, the Beaux Arts City Hall from 1906 (Marlborough became a city in 1890) sits almost exactly in the middle between the two former villages, at the site of the town hall shown on the 1853 map. Until well into the nineteenth century, the role of the meeting house was both civic and religious and town meetings were usually held at the meeting house. But as religious diversity increased in the nineteenth century the civic space became increasingly separate from the religious space and the town hall became a familiar building in the center of New England towns.

Detail from Silas Holman map of Marlborough produced in 1803. This section is a detail of the central part of the town from today’s Hosmer Street on the far right (The road to Stow, the road leading off the map next to Daniel Brigham’s house), continuing through just past Williams Pond (now Lake) on the West. The route of the Upper Boston Post Road is somewhat convoluted as it passes through the area. At first it is due west, but then takes a sharp left downhill into modern center of Marlborough, after which the road continues west again through town and past the old meeting house in the West Village visible on the map near the “burying ground.” The road then sweeps southwest to the southeast corner of Williams Pond and then takes another sharp turn near “Captain Williams/Silas Gates” Tavern to follow the northern shore of Williams Pond, before heading west for another mile to reach Northborough. The Barnes estate is the “William Cogswell” House near the triangle that will become Union Common. John How’s House, a possible location of How’s Tavern from the 1732 Vade mecum is visible at the far right of the map.

A variety of interesting buildings, mostly dating from mid-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century, line both sides of Main Street. The hill that separated the two villages still looms over the street on the north side, and there is an occasional empty lot that testifies to the fact that the commercial development outside the center of town along Boston Post Road East (and Boston Post Road West as we shall soon see) has impacted the economic importance of downtown. However, the streets are being repaved, the sidewalks are newly improved, the Museum in the Streets project has done a good job of highlighting the history of downtown, and there are a few interesting restaurants and stores along Main Street that make it a very pleasant place to linger. I stop at a little Indian “fusion” restaurant along Main Street called Street Kitchen and have a delicious kathi roll and a sweet lassi before pushing on.

At Prospect Street the view opens up as we head uphill and enter the area formerly known as the West Village. Prominently situated up the hill overlooking Main Street is Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, opened in 1871 to serve the increasingly large population of Irish Catholics who had arrived to work in the shoe factory. In the little park between the church and Main Street is another in the series of stone markers indicating the route taken by Colonel Henry Knox and his men as they transported artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in the winter of 1776. The putative route taken through the town of Marlborough is a curious one., According to the “official” route map,25Decided by a legislative committee in the 1920s as I discuss in this entry from the neighboring town of Northborough to the west Knox followed the Upper Boston Post Road as he had done all the way east from Springfield. However, when he got to Marlborough, instead of continuing along the Post Road through East Marlborough into Sudbury, Knox and his men apparently turned south along today’s Route 85 (Maple Street) and followed the road to Southborough, where they then turned east and continued along the road to Framingham, stopping at Buckminster’s Tavern in Framingham Center, as I have discussed in a previous entry. I am not convinced that this is the correct route as I shall explain in the next entry when I walk through the town of Northborough.

World War One Memorial, Marlborough. Behind the monument on the hill is the Walker Building, original site of the First Meeting House in Marlborough from 1661-1806.

Prior to the settlement of the Marlborough Plantation in 1660 by a dozen families from Sudbury, An Indian Praying Village called Okammakemesit, had been established on Prospect Hill in what is today most of the northern section of Marlborough. The English settlers established the first meeting house on the hill where today the old high school building, now called the Walker Building, stands on land belonging to the Praying Village, which was a point of contention for the Indians whose planting fields occupied some of the area where the meeting house was built. After the outbreak of hostilities during King Philip’s War, the meeting house was attacked by Indian forces during Sunday sermon on March 26, 1676. The parishioners all escaped to a nearby garrison house but the meeting house was burned as were most of the residences of the early white settlers. Many of the Indians living in the village were subsequently taken prisoner and sent to Deer Island in Boston Harbor, where many died. They were almost all later acquitted of any crime, but the damage was done to the Indian community which soon collapsed.26Eric B. Schultz and Michael J. Tougias: King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict. Woodstock, VT. Countryman Press, pp. 206-210. Also extremely helpful was this slide show by local historian Paul Brodeur Plaque 6 of the Museum in the Streets series. It also took nearly twenty years before the English settler community fully returned to Marlborough. Eventually the Indian lands were “sold” 27Paul Brodeur, local historian of Marlborough, put it best in one of his slide shows: “The Illegal purchase of Indian land was fraudulent and remains a stain on our proud history.”and a cemetery was opened behind the meeting house on the hill, the last remaining evidence that this was the original area of settlement in Marlborough. Incidentally, the cemetery contains one of the tallest larch tree in Massachusetts, for those keen on that sort of thing. It seems big to me but I don’t know much about larch trees.

Just beyond the Walker Building is the intersection of Main Street with Mechanic Street, Granger Boulevard (Route 20), and West Main Street. At this point US Route 20 follows West Main Street and the Upper Boston Post Road rejoins Route 20 again and continues past the Carnegie Library (from 1904) along West Main Street. The area around the intersection is known as Monument Square and there are a number of fine war memorials commemorating the service of Marlborough residents in various conflicts over the course of three centuries. My particular favorite is the “Doughboy” memorial for the victims of the First World War which sits at the base of the hill in front of the Walker building (see photo above).


Part 5. West! West! West! in Search of Fame and Fortune (or at least evidence of the Upper Boston Post Road)

(3.0 miles from Monument Square to the border between Marlborough and Northborough)

Marker indicating the route of George Washington in 1789, in the park near Williams Lake in Marlborough.

West Main Street (US Route 20), which curves sharply southwest and steeply uphill away from Main Street in downtown Marlborough, is the route of the Upper Boston Post Road for the next 0.6 miles through the “West Village” until the junction with Williams Street and Lakeside Avenue near Williams Lake. This part of the road threads between the summits of two large hills to the west of downtown and the road reaches a new high point at close to 500 feet above sea level before dropping down to 450 feet at Williams Lake. The uphill section past the library is through a pleasant residential neighborhood, lined with Italianate and Queen Anne Victorian houses as well as a few more Greek Revival houses from before 1850, including the house at the corner of West Main and Broad Streets in which a young Horatio Alger was raised. Horatio Alger Senior was a minister at the second parish church in the town, established as the West Meeting House (later the Unitarian church) on nearby Pleasant Street when the first church (Congregational) moved to the East Village; clearly the discord amongst the parishioners was not solely about geography but also had a doctrinal element. The building today houses the Abba Church, not a cult devoted to the Swedish Pop band, but rather another Brazilian Evangelical church. At the top of the hill and tumbling down the hillside toward Williams Lake along the south side of the road is the Unitarian society’s Brigham Cemetery dating to 1808, shown as the “Graveyard” on Woods’ Map of 1835 (below).

As the road descends toward Williams Lake the residential architecture gives way to a gas station, a U-haul storage facility, and pizza and sub joints at the junction of West Main Street, Williams Street, and Lakeside Avenue. The Upper Boston Post Road then follows Lakeside Avenue along the north shore of Williams Lake for the next 0.6 miles until it reaches a cloverleaf intersection with Interstate 495 on the west side of the lake. This area used to be considered the end of the West Village and the start of West Marlborough but nowadays that is considered to be the area west of the Interstate and this area is considered to be the “Lakeside” area. After crossing the Interstate, Route 20 changes name again and becomes Boston Post Road West for the remainder of the 1.7 miles in “West Marlborough” to the border with the town of Northborough. This particular section of the road promises to be the worst of the whole walk; not only do I have to contend with the interstate ramps, but the entirety of Route 20 west to the border is a very busy four-lane highway that passes an endless series of malls, office parks and hotels. Any hope of more traces of the Upper Boston Post Road seem lost as I prepare myself for a long march.

It turns out all is not lost! Almost hidden amongst all the traffic signs at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue, Williams Street, and West Main Street, planted in the dirt fronting the parking lot of an ugly little strip mall, is a rust-covered Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Historical Marker commemorating the site of Williams Tavern, one of the principal stops in the Colonial era along the road from Boston to Worcester along the Upper Boston Post Road (see the photo below).

Site of Williams Tavern, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Note the sweeping curve of the road, a noted feature on all the old maps of Marlborough. The tavern, later known as the Gates Hotel, is located at the bottom of the curve, just east of Williams Lake. See the maps above and below.

Abraham Williams, one of the first proprietors of the Marlborough Plantation, built a house near the lake as early as 1663. The house was fortified as a garrison house but was burned in 1676. As the plaque states, a tavern stood on this spot for more than a century. Although the Vade Mecum lists How’s Tavern in Marlborough, it does not mention the Williams Tavern. Many travelers along the Upper Boston Post Road do mention it though and it is clear that, by the second half of the eighteenth century, this was the place “historic personages tarried” on their way to and from Boston. John Adams, in a diary entry for Friday, May 31, 1771 “turned his horses out at Coll. Williams’s Marlborough” on his way to Worcester. He also “dined at Coll. Williams’s” on his return trip to Boston on June 13, 1771. George Washington made the long journey from Springfield to Marlborough on July 1, 1775 on the way to taking command of the newly-formed Continental Army, and returned on his tour of New England in 1789, where he was met by “Jonathan Jackson, Marshall of this State, who proposed to attend me whilst I remained in it.” He reports dining in Marlborough but does not say where; Hudson suggests it was at the Williams Tavern.28Washington Diary, pp. 30-32.; Hudson, p. 235.

A later Abraham Williams (1695-1781) is the “Colonel Williams” mentioned in the Adams Diary and other narratives, including the report of Henry DeBerniere, in which Henry Barnes is quoted as telling the two spies that “we had been expected at Col. Williams’s the night before, where there had gone a party of liberty people to meet us”29Narrative of Browne and DeBerniere, p. 12. Colonel Williams’s first wife Prudence How, was the daughter of Colonel Thomas How, a son of John How and a later proprietor of How’s Tavern. Colonel Thomas How died in 1733 and it is possible that he is the How referenced in the Vade mecum. Francis Parkman, minister of Westborough for over 50 years, whose diary has proven valuable in identifying people and places along the roads in the area, mentions many visits to Colonel Williams, but then Parkman’s second wife was Hannah Breck, the sister of Colonel Williams’s second wife Elizabeth Breck, both daughters of the minister of Marlborough Robert Breck. Lest we forget, the population of Marlborough in 1740 was estimated at about 900 residents and even by 1790 had reached only 1,554 inhabitants. It is unsurprising that many people in Marlborough and neighboring towns were related, particularly as many women died in childbirth and husbands tended to remarry quickly. Parkman’s first wife Mary Champney died on January 29, 1736, leaving five children, and Parkman married Hannah Breck 19 months later on September 1, 1737, with whom he went on to father eleven more children, not counting two miscarriages!

Colonel Williams’s son “Captain” George Williams took over the tavern by 1781. George’s daughter Catherine Williams married Silas Gates, who also helped run the tavern with his wife. On Holman’s map of 1803, the tavern is listed as “Capt. Williams & Silas Gates” but by 1835, on the Woods’ map of Marlborough, it is called “Gates Hotel.” The building ceased being a tavern/hotel at some point before 1853 when the building is listed on Walling’s map of Marlborough as the residence of “J.S. Witherbee” (Jabez S. Witherbee, according to Hudson, who resided at “the Old Williams Tavern Stand by the Pond.”)30Hudson, p. 473. Thus ended generations of tavern-keeping in Marlborough by the linked How and Williams families, although the Wayside Inn in Sudbury continues today (albeit no longer run by the How family). The How family legacy of tavern-keeping went beyond the borders of Sudbury and Marlborough and included a tavern in the town of Northborough, as we shall see in the next entry of this project


The real Lakeside Avenue: the modern busy version of the road can be seen at left. This little side road was once the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road along the north shore of Williams Lake in Marlborough.

The Williams tavern plaque is just the first of a surprising number of pleasant little discoveries. On the opposite corner, at Lakeside Avenue and Williams Street near the edge of a small park with a gazebo on Williams Lake, is a plaque marking the route traveled by George Washington, the latest in a series of similar markers I have encountered in other towns along the Upper Boston Post Road. Lakeside Avenue, which promises to be a nightmare as it has no sidewalks and is built flush against the northern shore of the lake, turns out to have a surprise as well. As it happens, the modern incarnation of Lakeside Avenue was built a few yards away from the original Lakeside Avenue, from which the busy road is separated by a grassy shoulder. The old Lakeside Avenue, the actual route of the original road, is a tranquil street lined with houses in various states of repair, a few of which turn out to be quite old. A prominent red house at #99 Lakeside Avenue, was built possibly as early as 1710 but certainly by the Revolutionary period, according to the report by Anne Forbes for the Marlborough Historical Commission (1995), which also added that the “house is significant as the home of at least two generations of the Gates family, several of whom established homes in the vicinity of “Williams Pond” (later also called “Gates Pond”) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was certainly the home of Capt. William Gates (1762-1848). Captain Gates was the son of Silas and Elizabeth Gates, who lived nearby on the site of 643 Lincoln Street, and the brother of Silas Gates, long-time proprietor of the Williams Tavern opposite the foot of Lakeside Avenue. He was a carpenter, and could have either built the house, or enlarged it from an existing one.” A little further along, where Lincoln Street joins Lakeside is another interesting building, the Federal-Style Captain William Holyoke house from 1805.

William Gates House, likely late-18th century, Lakeside Avenue, Marlborough.

My reprieve from the incessant traffic along Route 20 is short-lived as I rejoin the main road after 0.2 miles. As I continue my walk west the noise of the Interstate grows louder and I feel a bit like the protagonists in countless movies (The African Queen, Deliverance and many, many more) who are blithely paddling downriver when they start to get nervous as they hear the rumbling sounds of an approaching waterfall. Although I am heading directly for the Interstate 495 cloverleaf, at least there is a sidewalk. Plus there is a third interesting house along this section of the Upper Boston Post Road, the Brown/Maynard House from c. 1825, close to the road at 231 Lakeside Avenue near a Holiday Inn, and only a few yards from the interstate. Despite the fact that the house today is the office of “Empire Pest Control” and that the area has been ravaged by the interstate and the accompanying development, it is pretty exciting to discover that, of the nine buildings shown on the 1835 Woods map that lined the road for the roughly one mile from the Williams Tavern/Gates Hotel to the intersection of the Upper Boston Post Road with Felton Street on the west side of the interstate, at least three still exist.


After ten to fifteen minutes of carefully threading my way though access ramps to the interstate and entrances to the adjacent office parks, I find myself on Boston Post Road West at Felton Street and in the middle of my worst nightmare: a road that, but for the name, could be found anywhere in the country. I find myself debating which is worse as I walk through this horror show, a highway cloverleaf surrounded by office parks and malls with chain stores and hotels and those manicured useless grassy areas lining the road here in West Marlborough or the more haphazard and variable strip mall development of East Marlborough where the road is dotted with small businesses, filling stations, a house tucked in here and there, and the occasional box stores dropped in as if from space? I conclude that the latter at least has the advantage of being relatively unplanned and now and again offers a hidden treasure: No such luck in this vast soulless wasteland. I discover, to give one example, that a nearby house at 31 Northboro Road East listed on the Marlborough Historic Commission report in 1995, was dismantled and moved I know not where in 1997 so they could put up an Extended Stay America, a strong contender for the ugliest of the numerous (I count at least nine) chain hotels in the area.

About the only point of interest along this section is that the road drops fairly steadily in elevation. From the heights of the West Village, where the road was nearly 500 feet above sea level to the area around Williams Lake, where the road is steady at about 450 feet above sea level, the road descends about 150 feet from Felton Street to the border with Northborough at an elevation of 299 feet above sea level. Incidentally, I cross no bridges at all on the Upper Boston Post Road in Marlborough, the first town in which I have not had to cross a significant body of water; all the brooks are channeled under the road and are barely noticeable; it is likely they were not much of an obstacle even in the eighteenth century as the old maps of the town show no bridges at all along the Post Road. Here in Marlborough, the hills are the noticeable topographical feature, along with lakes and ponds that bookend the town, while no rivers cross the path and the brooks are irrelevant.

Northboro Road Central, one of three sections of Northboro Road, the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road in West Marlborough, that diverge from Boston Post Road.

As is evident from my focus on topography, I am not expecting much along this part of the road; Not only has the area been transformed by robust commercial development, even Holman’s 1803 map of Marlborough shows only six buildings along the Upper Boston Post Road from what is today called Felton Street, the first street connecting to the Boston Post Road west of Route 495, all the way to the border with Northborough. Fortunately, I have one more stroke of good fortune for the last section of my walk through Marlborough. The modern road was designed to improve traffic flow and, in the process, bits of the old road were jettisoned along the way, as has frequently been the case thus far, to make Route 20 more straight. In this area there are three main sections of the old route of the Upper Boston Post Road remaining that are bypassed by the modern incarnation of Boston Post Road, each of varying length and level of interest. All three sections go by the name Northboro Road; collectively they make up about 0.8 miles of the remaining 1.5 miles of the walk. In other words, half of the route of the Upper Boston Post Road in west Marlborough is NOT on Boston Post Road West after all and, as usual, the “forgotten” sections are much more interesting than the officially-named Boston Post Road.

The first and most interesting of the the three sections is called Northboro Road East, which arcs north behind the office parks and malls beginning at the intersection with Glen Road for a half mile before cutting through a big shopping mall to rejoin Boston Post Road West. The most significant building remaining in the area is the elegant building at 139 Northboro Road East, the Gershom Rice house of 1804 (see photo below) which, according to the Historical Commission report, “stands nearly alone among modern residential and large commercial buildings as a reminder of the former farming community of west Marlborough. It is an excellent example of the large, square, hip-roofed brick-ended house of the Federal period, and the only one in Marlborough to retain all four of its high corner chimneys.”

Gershom Rice House, c. 1804, at 139 Northboro Road East, Marlborough.

I am forced back onto the main road for ten more minutes past the Boston Post Road Corporate Center (I really don’t like that name!) before a shorter section of Northboro Road Central appears on the south side of Route 20, forcing me across the busy road. This section is only 0.2 miles and does not have any significant artifacts of note, but it is quiet and wooded and I hear the calls of various songbirds as I pass along before regaining the main road again. Immediately across the street about one hundred yards further along is the last section of the old road, Northboro Road West, the shortest section at less than 200 yards with little of interest but again, it keeps me off the main road for a minute or two. This last section of Northboro Road ends at the junction with Elm and Boundary Streets. As might be surmised from the name, Boundary Street runs primarily along the border between Northborough and Marlborough, although at this particular spot I must walk another 200 yards to reach the actual border between the two towns. It is not at all difficult to know the exact moment I cross into Northborough as the highway immediately shrinks down to two lanes and both sides of the road are lined with woods. Literally I am back in the woods but metaphorically, with respect to the commercial development, I am finally out of the woods.

Marlborough is the last town in Middlesex County along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road and as I walk into the town of Northborough I also enter Worcester County. George Washington, on his tour of 1789, wrote that “On the line between Worcester and Middlesex I was met by a troop of light Horse belonging to the latter, who escorted me to Marlborough where we dined.”31Diary of George Washington, Friday October 23, 1789, pp. 30-32. Having also passed the outer ring of Interstate 495 (on average about 25 miles as the crow flies from downtown Boston) I have also technically left the “metrowest” suburbs of Boston. Whether I have truly left the orbit of Boston is a question I will address in the next entry. However, crossing these two boundaries does put me on some sort of new frontier. So, while I won’t light up a cigarette, I will take a moment to reflect on my wild adventures across Marlborough Country and tip my hat to the Marlboro Man as I head off into the western sunset on my journey to new frontiers.


1835 Map of Marlborough by William Woods. One of the best town maps of the early nineteenth century I have encountered as I walk along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road. Notice that even as late as 1835 there are only half a dozen houses in the western part of the Boston and Worcester Post Road (the dotted road) in the last two miles to Northborough and the same in the eastern part of the Boston and Worcester Post Road in the two miles to Sudbury.


Distance traveled in this entry: 7.3 miles from the Sudbury/Marlborough line at Wayside Inn Road to the Marlborough/ Northborough line.

Total Distance traveled along the original route of the road from the Old State House in Boston for this project: 34.0 miles.

Total Distance covered for all the walks described in Boston Rambles: 93.6 miles

One Response to Marlborough, Massachusetts: Marlboro Country

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