Boston Rambles

Boston Rambles

A Rambler Walks and Talks About the Hub of the Universe

Northborough, Massachusetts: The Quiet Borough

Upper Boston Post Road Entry #12 (UBPR #12)

View east at the junction of Davis Street and Old Colonial Road in Northborough, Massachusetts. Old Colonial Road at left is the “Marlborough” road of DeBerniere’s report while Davis Street at right is the “Framingham” road. The two roads join here and continue west as the “main road” or “Upper Boston Post Road” to Shrewsbury, Worcester, and beyond. Old Colonial Road today continues east for 250 yards before reaching a dead end at some woods behind a strip mall. West Main Street was straightened in the nineteenth century, and this original section of the road was bypassed.

“We went on unobserved by any one until we passed Shrewsbury, where we were overtaken by a horseman
who examined us very attentively, and especially me, whom he looked at from head to foot as if he wanted to know me again; after he had taken his observations he rode off pretty hard and took the Marlborough road, but by good luck we took the Framingham road again to be more perfect in it, as we thought it would be the one made use of….

…as we had succeeded so well heretofore, we were resolved to go the Sudbury road, (which was the main road that led to Worcester)
and go as far as the thirty-seven mile-stone, where we had left the main road and taken the Framingham road.”

From the Narrative of Occurrences during the Mission of Captain Browne and Ensign DeBerniere, Wrote by the Ensign, 1775.


All Roads Lead to Northborough.

Captain William Browne and Ensign Henry DeBerniere, the two British spies sent out to survey the restive countryside around Boston by General William Gage in late-winter of 1775, never made it back to the “thirty-seven mile-stone,” having been exposed by the time they reached the house of the Tory Henry Barnes in the center of Marlborough, a little past the site of the thirty milestone along the “main road,” which I have been referring to as the Upper Boston Post Road. Browne and DeBerniere initially traveled from the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston to Worcester and back between February 24 and February 28, 1775, following an alternate road which split from the “main road” in Wayland, a road I referred to as the “Framingham Diversion” when I walked it myself through the towns of Wayland, Framingham, Southborough, and Westborough. This alternate route to Worcester, traveled by John Adams on his way to Philadelphia in 1774 and again in 1775, was the road DeBerniere thought “would be the one made use of” by the rebels in the event hostilities were to break out. After crossing the Assabet River at the border with Westborough, the “Framingham” road passes through Northborough for about two miles, before it rejoins the “main road” a little under a mile east of the border between Northborough and Shrewsbury, the next town west along the Upper Boston Post Road to Worcester.

This entry will follow the route of both roads in Northborough; the route of the Upper Boston Post Road from Marlborough to Shrewsbury, the road the spies tried to follow on March 1, 1775, as well as the final two miles of the “Framingham Diversion,” the road the two spies managed to follow on February 25 and February 27, 1775. The two roads meet at the junction of Davis Street and West Main Street, near the site of what DeBerniere referred to as “the thirty-seven mile-stone.” The two spies never reached Northborough along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, nor did they mention that the “thirty-seven mile-stone” and the junction with the road to Framingham were in Northborough. Although Northborough in 1775 was technically still a district of Westborough and not yet a full-fledged town of its own, Adams mentioned the town by name a year earlier in his diary when he passed through on the way to Worcester. Adams aside, the town is rarely mentioned in narratives of travelers passing between Boston and points west; of the four “borough towns” formed from the original Marlborough Plantation in 1661 (Marlborough, Souhborough, Westborough, and Northborough), the town of Northborough gets the least amount of attention from travelers. The Worcester Gazette referred to Northborough, when reporting the events surrounding the centennial celebrations of town in 1866, as the “quiet little borough” and the Boston Herald similarly referred to the “usually quiet little town of Northborough.”1Newspaper accounts of the Centennial Celebration of the Town of Northborough were included in the official book published by the town and take up almost 10 pages of a 66 page booklet! As I have frequently found as I walk this old road, quiet doesn’t mean uninteresting, and there is much of interest to be found along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road in the “quiet borough.”


Borders and Frontiers.

Memorial stone for Mary Goodnow, murdered August 18, 1707, while picking herbs in the nearby meadows. This marker is located along a short trail accessible from the entrance road to Pheasant Hill Condominiums off Main Street in Northborough, near the border with Marlborough.

The town of Northborough is, let’s say, a granddaughter of the neighboring town of Marlborough to the east. Marlborough was the original town in the area and eventually split into four towns: Marlborough, Westborough, Southborough, and Northborough, which collectively are locally termed “the Borough towns.” Northborough was originally the northern section of Westborough, but the usual complaints about the difficulty of traveling to the meeting house led to a separation into two precincts in 1744, then a separation into two districts in 1766, and finally recognition of Northborough as a separate town in its own right in 1776. Thus, although originally part of the town of Marlborough, Northborough was part of the town of Westborough before becoming a separate town.

The early border between Marlborough and its granddaughter Northborough was originally a few hundred yards further west than it is today. Holman’s 1803 map of Marlborough shows the border almost at Stirrup Brook, but on Wood’s map of 1830 the contemporary border is shown, a few yards west of Boundary Street, a street which does actually run along the border between the two towns north of Route 20, just not at Route 20 itself. Holman’s map shows only one property along the road in the last mile to the border and so it is perhaps unsurprising that the still very wide town of Marlborough (7.3 miles from east to west along the Upper Boston Post Road) was not averse to losing a quarter-mile strip at its almost empty western edge.

Regardless of where the original border might have been, the contemporary line between Marlborough and Northborough is easy to discern: the four lanes of Route 20 quickly shrink to two lanes, the endless commercial development that characterizes most of the road from Interstate 495 west for nearly two miles vanishes instantly, replaced by woods for the most part, with only one or two signs of encroaching development. The border between the towns is also the boundary between Middlesex County and Worcester County. Curiously, Marlborough is the only one of the four borough towns in Middlesex County, as Southborough and Westborough joined the newly-formed Worcester County in 1731; as Northborough was a part of Westborough at the time it too joined Worcester County when it became first a district in 1766, then a proper town in 1776. The border also marks the edge of “Metrowest” as the western suburbs are sometimes called on some, but not all, maps of the region.2This map tries to have it both ways by placing Northborough and Shrewsbury in both Metrowest and Central Massachusetts! I suppose as the Boston metropolitan area expands there will be a constantly shifting transition zone. Northborough is the first town along the Upper Boston Post Road west from Boston that is not a member of the 101 cities and towns around Boston that make up the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. It feels very much like I am crossing a frontier.

The western settlements of Marlborough, the areas that eventually became Westborough and Northborough, were considered until well into the early eighteenth century to be the frontier of English settlement. Peter Whitney, who served as the second minister of the church in Northborough from 1767-1816, published a History of Worcester County in 1794, in which he says of the early history of “Greater” Marlborough: “This westerly part of Marlborough, being then, a frontier, having no town between it and Brookfield on the west, about 40 miles distant, did not settle so fast : Nevertheless, towards the close of the seventeenth century several families had here seated themselves.”3Peter Whitney, A History of the County of Worcesster in Massachusetts. Worcester: Isiah Thomas, 1794. pp, 120-121.

Detail of a map of Northborough produced in 1795 by Silas Keyes. Although sparsely detailed, the map shows both the “main” Upper Boston Post Road and the Framingham Road which merges with the the Post Road from the south near the border with Shrewsbury. The “Meetinghouse” is shown, as is the place where the Assabet River crosses the Upper Boston Post Road (“river” is written across the road a little east of the meetinghouse) and the Framingham Road (it forms part of the border with Westborough at bottom center). The town of Northborough was formed by the division of Westborough into a northern and a southern district in 1766. The town of Westborough was formed from the town of Marlborough in 1717. The border between Marlborough and Northborough was adjusted eastward after this map was produced; the new border can be seen on Valentine’s map of 1830 below.


Into the Woods.

One of these families was the Goodnow family, whose house served as a garrison house in the event of an attack by Indians.4Spelling of the family name is somewhat variable: I have seen it spelled Goodnow, Goodenow, and Goodenough to name three. I stick with Goodnow because that is on Mary Goodnow’s memorial stone. Such an attack did occur on August 18, 1707 during what in the United States is referred to as Queen Anne’s War, but which elsewhere is regarded as the American theater of the War of the Spanish Succession. Native American allies of the French government in North America often raided territories far into Southern New England and one of these raids occurred on a summer morning when Mary Goodnow and a neighbor Mary Fay were gathering herbs in the meadows near Stirrup Brook. Mary Fay managed to reach the garrison house but Mary Goodnow, who was “lame,” was caught and murdered by the attacking group.

A Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary plaque put up in 1930 about the incident is located along the side of the road and is the first thing I encounter only a few yards after entering the town of Northborough. In the nineteenth century a memorial burial stone was placed at the putative site of Mary Goodnow’s murder. It turns out that the marker still exists and can be accessed by following a trail from the entrance road of the nearby Pheasant Hill Condominium complex, a newer residential development surrounded by woods. The trail circles around the property through the woods along the flood plain of Stirrup Brook for a few hundred yards before reaching the modest memorial (see photo at beginning of previous section), surrounded by a recently-restored white fence. Regardless of one’s attitude to the settlement of Massachusetts by Europeans, one cannot help feeling sadness at such a brutal act of violence. In the grand scheme of things, the death of Mary Goodnow is a mere drop in the ocean, but standing in the woods looking at the grave of a poor, young, disabled woman, murdered while picking herbs in this lovely valley three centuries ago, drives home to me the senselessness of so much of the violence that has always been and continues to be a feature of the history of humankind. Reading the news, it is clear things haven’t changed much at all. Thousands of people are slaughtered weekly in wars and gang violence around the world and most of it is collectively shrugged off by the vast majority of people. And for what? Mary Goodnow was not a combatant, she was a person making the best of her situation and was murdered for nothing, except for a memorial gravestone erected almost two centuries after her death, hidden in the woods on the edge of a town few people even notice. The best thing one can say about it is that at least she got a memorial gravestone, unlike the millions of people slaughtered for no reason who died and have long been forgotten.

I need to move on from the woods as I am brooding. This project may seem trivial in light of such weighty issues but it is my hope that at least it is a record of a time and a place and that it shines a small light on a few of the people and places connected by a road that, although formerly the chief road west from Boston to Springfield and New York, has largely been forgotten. That is how I came to be standing in front of a modest gravestone in the tranquil woods on the edge of a mostly forgotten old road in this “quiet borough town.”

Once again I feel as though I have been rewarded for walking or, at least for not rushing, along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road. I saw the Goodnow roadside marker on a first visit in the summer, did some research and learned that the gravestone was in the woods off the road and, on a subsequent return visit along the road in December, followed the trail leading to the marker. Stephen Jenkins in his 1913 book The Old Boston Post Road dedicates most of his one-page discussion of the town of Northborough to Mary Goodnow,5Stephen Jenkins, The Old Boston Post Road. New York: G.P. Putnam’s & Sons, 1913, pp. 352-353. while Stewart Holbrook, who traveled the road fifty years later, writes only that “as we moved out of Marlboro on the Post Road into Northboro and Shrewsbury, the countryside turned woodsy.”6Stewart H. Holbrook, The Old Post Road. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962. pp.110. Spoken like a man behind the wheel of an automobile. Of Mary Goodnow, he writes merely that “I also missed a historical plaque, said to have been set near the tavern (an error, wrong side of town) marking the spot where Mary Goodenow, victim of an Indian attack, was buried.”7Holbrook, p. 112. While giving the appropriate attention to Mary Goodnow, I hope also to give the reader a bit more information about the route of the Upper Boston Post Road in Northborough which, after all, is meant to be the point of the aforementioned books and of this project.


Trailing Along.

A short section of the original road bypassed when Main Street (Route 20) was straightened in the 1920s. This section is near Stirrup Brook in the east part of Northborough.

Leaving the woods, I rejoin the road as it continues downhill to reach Stirrup Brook, which crosses under the road before joining the Assabet River a few hundred yards to the north of the road. Northborough has several valleys crossed by streams and rivers and most of its territory is located at a much lower elevation than hilly Marlborough, where I crossed only a couple of small brooks and no rivers as I followed the Upper Boston Post Road for more than 7 miles across the town. The third minister of Northborough, Joseph Allen, in his Historical Sketch of Northborough, writes that “Northborough lies principally in a valley, between the high lands of Marlborough on the east, of Berlin on the north, and of Shrewsbury and Bolton on the west.8Reverend Joseph Allen, Historical Sketch of Northborough. Source unknown, 1861. 11 pages. Allen was the third minister of the town of Northborough and the second to write a history of the area after Peter Whitney. The first minister, John Martyn, who was ordained in 1746, will appear later in this essay. Both the Upper Boston Post Road and the Framingham Road cross the Assabet River in Northborough, and the Upper Boston Post Road also crosses Hop Brook, another feeder brook of the Assabet River, at the border between Northborough and Shrewsbury, the next town along the road, five miles from the border with Marlborough. Silas Keyes produced a map of Northborough in 1795, the first official map drawn of the town for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although the map is not as detailed as later maps, such as the map by Gill Valentine of 1830, Keyes writes the word “river” at the point the Assabet River crosses both the Upper Boston Post Road and the Framingham Road.

At Stirrup Brook a small section of the original road curves away for a few yards from today’s main road, Route 20, which in this part of Northborough is also called Main Street. Along this short (barely 150 yards) stretch of old road is a plaque marking the location of the Goodnow Garrison House that Mary Goodnow failed to reach in time. Near the plaque is the entrance to the Stirrup Brook trail, which meanders alongside the brook and through the woods and fields near the road. I spend a productive hour wandering along the trail looking for birds. From a hilltop along the trail I can see the road off in the distance beyond the fields and the back of a lovely old farm house set back from the road. This house, a few yards east of Stirrup Brook and the garrison house marker, is the lone house shown on Holman’s 1803 map of Marlborough in the area that was eventually transferred to Northborough, where it was recorded as “Jonas and Joel Bartlett’s” house. The Deacon Jonas Bartlett House, once in Marlborough but now in Northborough at 453 Main Street, was built around 1753, according to the report for the Massachusetts Historical Commission.9The report can be accessed through the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information Center (MACRIS) map portal: On the map enlarge to the Northborough part of the map; the specific number for the Deacon Bartlett House is NBO.57. The house served as an inn for a period in the early twentieth century when travelers took trips along the old Boston Post Road and stopped along the route to visit sites like the Goodnow Burial Site. One goal of this project is to try to resuscitate this lost form of tourism.

Looking west from the intersection of Main Street and East Main Street in Northborough, Massachusetts. Main Street is Route 20 while East Main Street is the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road. While Route 20 and the Upper Boston Post Road often overlap, about a third of the route is comprised of these “bypassed’ sections, typically the result of the straightening of Route 20 in the 1920s. When I reach the west side of Northborough, Route 20 and the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road will again diverge, this time for forty miles.

This bypassed section of road is the first of three short sections that make up the next half mile of the original road. After crossing the main road another short section of the old road appears on the opposite side of Main Street, also leading to another entrance to the Stirrup Brook Trail which follows the brook south through wet meadows, more woods and fields, tempting me off the Post Road on another hour-long birding detour. This section of the road reaches a dead end after 300 yards, but a small path through the bramble leads up the embankment and back to Main Street for a mere 20 yards before the third deviation in succession appears in the form of Berkeley Road, another 300 yard curved section of the old road providing a pleasant respite from Main Street/Route 20 which, although not as busy as Route 20 in Marlborough, still has plenty of traffic and does not have a sidewalk, forcing me to walk along the breakdown lane and occasionally clambering over some scrub on the edge of the road.

Fortunately a sidewalk appears when I regain Main Street after Berkeley Street curves back around to rejoin the current main road just past the entrance to Algonquin Regional High School, which serves students of Southborough and Northborough. I follow it for only 200 yards, passing two curious granite columns engraved with the initials “MHB,” one column on each side of Route 20/Main Street, before a much more substantial and interesting fourth deviation from Main Street appears in the form of East Main Street, a nearly mile-long curved section of the original Upper Boston Post Road that has one or two real treasures along its tree-lined route. This fourth deviation from Route 20 means that of the first 1.8 miles in Northborough, only 0.5 miles are spent on Route 20/Main Street. Over 70% of the first part of this walk is along old sections of road that have been bypassed by the straighter, busier, usually less interesting road pushed through primarily in the 1920s. This is a promising start to my walk through Worcester County, foreshadowing an even bigger deviation: after nearly thirty miles following the Upper Boston Post Road principally along Route 20 the two roads will soon diverge for more than forty miles.


Mileage May Vary.

Milestone, adjacent to 137 East Main Street, Northborough, Massachusetts.

After walking along peaceful, tree-lined East Main Street for five minutes I come across the first genuine milestone along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road.10As I discussed in the last entry on Best of the Upper Boston Post Road in Middlesex County, the 19 mile stone in Wayland was moved to the Boston Post Road from the Framingham Road in the recent past. There are numerous milestones along the Framingham Road as well as a surprisingly large number in the city of Boston, but there are none along the 25 miles of the Upper Boston Post Road in Middlesex County from Watertown Bridge to the border between Marlborough and Northborough. Worcester County is up 1-0 and I have traveled barely a mile along the Upper Boston Post Road so far in the county. This milestone is engraved very clearly with the words “33 Miles to Boston.” There are no initials nor is there a date on the stone. A quick google map query on my phone of the walking distance from this spot to the Old State House in Boston, the zero point of all the milestones in Massachusetts, tells me that I am 33 miles away from the seat of government in the colonial era. So far so good.

However, I would not have been 33 miles away from the seat of government before 1793. This was the year the West Boston Bridge, today’s Longfellow Bridge, was opened over the Charles RIver to connect Boston and Cambridge. This bridge shortened the distance to Boston from the west by two miles, as I have discussed in previous entries (and this one). I am in the process of creating a map that color codes every mile from Boston along the old roads in all directions. Milestone 33 here along East Main Street in Northborough is located almost at the end of Mile 35 (34.8 miles from the Old State House along the original road to be as precise as possible) on this map, nearly two miles further away than the distance inscribed on the stone.

It is my hypothesis that this stone was erected after 1793. For one thing, if the stone was placed by Benjamin Franklin (see the photo below of the information marker located in the center of Northborough describing this milestone) in 1767, an event I am deeply skeptical ever occurred, it would be in the wrong place. An argument could be made that it was moved to the current location at some point afterwards to correct for the change in the distance. I discount this argument for two reasons: first of all, the stone is large and would require a great effort to move when it would be just as easy to prop up a nearby stone and engrave it instead and leave the original in place. One might argue that it was moved at a later date using a truck, perhaps as part of the nostalgia tourism boom of the early-twentieth century but then why place it on the quiet side road that is today East Main Street when a more prominent location along what is now Route 20 would attract more attention?

An act of the Massachusetts General Court in 1794 required a survey to be produced of each town in the Commonwealth; the resulting individual maps were then used to create the first official state map of Massachusetts, prepared in 1795 by Osgood Carleton.11Although the idea to produce a state map was Carleton’s in the first place, as the Massachusetts Historical Society website explains “After Carleton completed his map, a state committee, including members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, examined the engraved plates and judged them to be unsatisfactory. Working from Carleton’s design and the information he gathered, the official map was re-engraved by Samuel Hill and Joseph Callender and published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1801. The first edition of the map was for the use of the state and the towns; a second edition (1802), for the use of court officials, legislators, and schools.” Two of the town maps produced at this time provide evidence to support my hypothesis. The first and obvious map is that of Silas Keyes, who dated his survey of the town of Northborough “February 23, 1795.” Each map was required to record the “reputed distance” from the center of town, which was considered to be the location of the meeting house, to the county courthouse as well as to the “seat of government” which, in 1795, was still the Old State House on the corner of State and Washington Street in downtown Boston (The “new” State House, the current building on Beacon Hill with the gold dome, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was completed in 1798; the two buildings are only 0.4 miles apart). Keyes states on his map that “the centre of the town of Northborough is reputed to be 11 miles from the courthouse in Worcester and 36 miles from Boston.” Using my “mile-by-mile” map I calculate the distance from Northborough meeting house to the Old State House to be 36.4 miles, within the bounds of Keyes’s less precise calculation. The actual distance from the church (today the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist) to the “33 mile” stone is 1.6 miles. As I have calculated the distance of the “33 mile” stone from the Old State House to be 34.8 miles, a simple addition of the two distances puts the church at 36.4 miles from the Old State House, meaning the stone is mislabeled or misplaced using the original route to Boston through Roxbury and Boston Neck.

The myth that refuses to die: Benjamin Franklin and his milestones. I will soon be addressing the origins and accuracy of the “1767 milestones” story in a separate series dedicated solely to the milestones along the old roads in Massachusetts and beyond.

A complication is that the West Boston Bridge was opened in 1793 so it is theoretically possible that the surveyors of the various towns used the route of the new bridge in their calculations. Keyes obviously did not do that, but the map of Sudbury is interesting, as the surveyor Matthias Mosman states on his map “From the Meetinghouse to Cambridge, the shire town of the county, the distance is about 17 miles and from Sudbury to Boston, the Metropolis of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, threw [sic] Watertown and Roxbury is 22 miles and threw Watertown and over West Boston Bridge is 20 miles [my italics].”12All of the maps discussed are available to view and download at Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Cultural Collections Online. Mosman acknowledges that, by 1795, there are two routes into Boston, which is something I have to be careful to note when viewing maps of individual towns and also when viewing maps over time: maps from the 1830s often report different distances between locations from earlier maps not only as a result of bridge-building in Boston but also because of the straightening of roads and the creation of new roads and turnpikes. However, with regard to the “33 mile” stone, much as I want this to be an eighteenth-century stone, it almost certainly dates to a period after Keyes produced his map in 1795. An interesting artifact to be sure but not a “1767” milestone.


Rivers, Brooks, and Aqueducts.

Wachusett Aqueduct crossing the Assabet River, Northborough, Massachusetts. The Aqueduct crosses underneath East Main Street a little past Allen Street on its way to the Sudbury Reservoir in Southborough.

The house just beyond the milestone at 137 East Main Street is clearly an old house. As it happens, after exchanging hellos with one of the owners, who was unloading groceries from his car as I passed the house along the road, I casually inquired about the history of the house. The owner graciously stopped what he was doing, invited me in and gave me a tour of his eighteenth-century gem, showing me the sloping floorboards and some of the original framing. He told me the house had been in the Patterson family for generations (it is shown on Gill Valentine’s 1830 map as belonging to “A. Patterson”) and then the Collins family and that there had been talk of knocking it down, like the equally ancient house across the street that was recently demolished, but fortunately the current owners were able to acquire it and, hopefully, it will be in safe hands for some time. If the owners happens to read this, I want to thank them for their gracious hospitality; this was the first and thus far only time that has happened to me along the road.

A few yards further along East Main Street I take a brief detour along Allen Street down to the Assabet River to investigate an early site of manufacturing. The damming of the river at this location provided water power to run a grist mill; Gill Valentine’s 1830 map shows the grist mill as well as a “Cotton Factory” at the site. Today, in addition to an old mill building, there is a charming collection of nineteenth-century worker cottages lining the roads near the rivers. There is also an imposing and elegant aqueduct that crosses over the Assabet River. According to the Massachusetts Historic Commission report “the Aqueduct Bridge carries the Wachusett Aqueduct across the Assabet River flowing through Northborough. The Wachusett Aqueduct was constructed in 1896-1898 to convey water from Wachuset Reservoir (on the Nashua River) to Sudbury Reservoir, the largest of the seven reservoirs in the Sudbury River watershed as part of the Metropolitan Water Supply System of Greater Boston, which was one of the most advanced civil engineering projects in the United States in the late 19th century.”13MACRIS NBO.905 The Sudbury Reservoir, as I discussed in my entry on the town of Southborough, submerged a large section of the “Framingham” road that Browne and DeBerniere followed in 1775. The former aqueduct passes under East Main Street in Northborough just west of Allen Street and can be accessed via a path from the road. Another pleasant and interesting diversion along this quiet road in the quiet borough.


Dining out on Route 20.

The Bird on the Post Road.

Prior to embarking on this project I knew only one solid fact about the town of Northborough, that it was the home of former Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Fidrych. Fidrych was a very big deal in the late 1970s when he pitched for the Detroit Tigers and briefly in the Boston Red Sox system, before injuries cut his promising career short. Nicknamed “the Bird” Fidrych was notorious for his curious rituals on the mound, which included talking to the baseball among other things. It seemed to work as he was 19-9 with a major-league leading 2.34 E.R.A. in his Rookie of the Year debut season in 1976. Massachusetts does not produce many Major League baseball players and baseball was a much bigger deal in the 1970s than it is today in the national consciousness, so Fidrych, especially because of his appealing personality was a well-known celebrity in the late 1970s. He moved back to a large farm in Northborough after his playing days ended.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find a memorial plaque dedicated to Mark Fidrych, who died in an accident in 2009, just past Allen Street and the Wachusett Aqueduct along East Main Street at Memorial Field. A few yards beyond the field is the back parking lot for Chet’s Diner, a classic Worcester Lunch Car Diner (#177) at which Fidrych apparently occasionally helped out as his mother-in-law ran the diner. Wikipedia says that the diner was later operated by Fidrych’s daughter. Perhaps that who was working the griddle the day I stopped in for breakfast; she certainly has the big and friendly personality I would have expected of a child of Mark Fidrych. I would have gone in anyway as I am a sucker for classic diners, but I was made to feel very welcome.

Technically Chet’s Diner is on Route 20 (Main Street) and not strictly on the original route of the Boston Post Road, but since the rear parking lot opens onto East Main Street and I cannot resist a classic diner, I have decided to include it as part of my walk along the Upper Boston Post Road through the town of Northborough. The day I eat at Chet’s I happen to be wearing my “Route 20” t-shirt. This is not by chance, to be honest; it is because Northborough is where Route 20 and the Upper Boston Post Road separate for forty miles before reconnecting a little east of Springfield. I have essentially been following Route 20 for most of this project, with the frequent deviations along bypassed roads that I have described in detail over the last 25 miles or so.

Chet’s Diner on Route 20. Technically the Upper Boston Post Road is visible in the back of the photo.

My usual narrative conceit in these essays contrasts the horrible, busy, overdeveloped Route 20 with the tranquil, interesting, and pleasant deviations off the main road and this has generally been an accurate characterization of my experience. Now that I am on Route 20 for what will be the last day for a long while as I make my west through Worcester County, I cannot help feeling a bit sentimental about the road that winds its way eventually to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, hence the shirt. I feel a little guilty that I have used Route 20 as a straw man to contrast the pleasures of the old road with evils of modern development. While still mostly accurate, I do appreciate that it would take a very long time to walk all the way to Oregon on Route 20 and that a journey along the whole of that road appeals to a different sort of traveler, one clearly better-served by car or motorcycle (I ran into a group of senior bikers once in the town of Chester in Western Massachusetts, where I bought my t-shirt, who were doing just that, riding Route 20 on their choppers). Chet’s Diner, built in 1931 after the reconfiguration of the road in the 1920s, is exactly the kind of place I would expect to find along Route 20.14It is on MACRIS: I feel like the combination of centuries-old architecture along the quieter stretches of the Post Road and the diners like Chet’s, and Wilson’s in Waltham on the more modern stretches, complement each other quite well. If only I could ditch the shopping malls and the traffic!

White Cliffs, summer house of the Wesson family. Daniel Wesson was the co-founder of Smith and Wesson Revolver Company of Springfield.

I leave Chet’s through the back parking lot and walk along the last 200 yards of East Main Street before the road reconnects with Main Street and I am back on Route 20 with no deviations or bypass roads for the next two miles before the Upper Boston Post Road deviates from Route 20 for a very long time. Fortunately my general rule about Route 20 being less interesting is immediately shown to be somewhat untrustworthy as I am almost immediately confronted with an astonishingly large, somewhat run-down Victorian mansion on the north side of the road. This elaborate Queen Anne mansion, called “White Cliffs,” was built in 1886 by Daniel Wesson as a summer home for his family. Wesson was the co-founder of the Smith and Wesson Revolver Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, and he became very wealthy selling revolvers to the government during the Civil War. Wesson earlier worked in Northborough as an apprentice gunsmith for his brother where he met his future wife Cynthia Hawes, which partly explains why he chose to build this elaborate Shingle Style mansion here in the “quiet borough.” Situated at the top of a hill thirty feet above the road at an elevation of 340 feet above sea level, the massive house dwarfs all other houses in the area with 32 rooms and 17 fireplaces. It also has an incredible amount of detailed woodwork and stained glass among other fine artisanal craft work, as can be seen in this report on the website of the Northborough Historical Society. For decades after Wesson’s death in 1906 the building operated as a restaurant and function hall. Eventually the house was abandoned and scheduled for demolition, but voters in Northborough approved the purchase of the building by the town in 2016, thus saving it from the wrecking ball.


Into the Village.

Captain Samuel Wood House (1750) near the Assabet River in the center of Northborough.

From White Cliffs the walk down to the Assabet River is only 400 yards, but the elevation drops from 310 to 260 feet above sea level, a fairly sharp drop in this town but nothing like the varying terrain of Marlborough. The Assabet river marks the eastern boundary of the center of Northborough, where the road is lined with interesting buildings from three centuries. The Reverend Joseph Allen tells us, in 1861, that “the Village, by way of distinction, consists principally of buildings standing on half a mile of Main Street, (which runs east and west, being part of the old stage route from Boston to Worcester) with such other buildings as are in close proximity to the Main Street. Besides a goodly number of dwelling-houses, the village contains three handsome church edifices, two hotels, four English goods stores, a large shoe manufactory, a two-story brick school-house, the bank, the post-office, the rail-road depot, the engine-house, and the town-house.”15Allen, p. 3. The depot, the shoe factory and the hotels are no longer extant, but for the most part Allen’s description is an accurate depiction of the “village” today.

Immediately east of the surprisingly vigorous Assabet River is the house of Captain Samuel Wood at #97 Main Street which dates to 1750. A plaque over the door states that Wood “led his company (of Minutemen) from this site on the alarm of April 19, 1775.” Adjacent to a waterfall on the river on the opposite side of the road, is a building at #88 Main Street which once served as a grist mill. A plaque at the river details the numerous enterprises here: “In the eighteenth century, an iron works, a fulling mill, and a clothier’s shop were among the industries along the Assabet River where it flows under Main Street. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came items as varied as baby carriages, nails, cabinets, cameras, and lamps. Pictured is the factory where Milo Hildreth and his workers made ornamental combs.” Today little remains of these cottage industries; instead, a motorcycle shop, an office building and a farm stand fronting a small park join the former grist mill as the only remnant of the little area around the river called “Assabetville.”

Assabet River in the center of Northborough, Massachusetts.

The Grout House from 1750 at #75, the Town Offices now housed in the old High School (1938) at #63, the former Baptist Church (1860) at #52 missing its steeple toppled in the Hurricane of 1938, now the Northborough Historical Society, Captain Cyrus Gale’s house from 1776 next door to the elegant Greek Revival Cyrus Gale General Store (1855), a brick house from 1800 that is now a French bistro, the lovely Stephen Ball house from 1730, the charming library building (1895), and the imposing red brick Old Town Hall (1868, burned 1985 and rebuilt) are just some of the buildings found along the Main Street Commercial District, the short but interesting stretch of the Upper Boston Post Road that passes through the center of Northborough.

Various markers acknowledge the importance of the road and a few of the travelers who passed through the village of Northborough. In front of the Art Deco former Northborough High School building that currently serves as the Town Offices (1938, MACRIS #NBO.97) is another of the stone markers that I have encountered in almost every town along the route commemorating the route of Colonel Henry Knox and the train of artillery that were transported from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to the hills surrounding Boston in the winter of 1775-1776. As I discussed in the entry on Marlborough, I am not convinced that the artillery came through the center of Northborough and Marlborough; Knox did not keep a diary after crossing the Connecticut River but we know from John Adams that the artillery was stored in Framingham in January 1776. It seems more plausible that, like Browne and DeBerniere, Knox and the artillery followed the Framingham Road when reaching the split in Northborough. A little further along, in front of the Old Town Hall, is a boulder with a plaque showing an image of the “33 mile” stone that I encountered along East Main Street a mile and a half further east along the road. As I discussed in the section above, I dispute the description of the provenance of the stone although I do not dispute the importance of the road that passes through the town center. A few yards beyond the “Boston Post Road” boulder, in front of the CVS, is one of the Washington Memorial Highway plaques that have been a feature of all the towns along the Upper Boston Post Road, the route followed by Washington in 1775 on his way to take command of the newly formed Continental Army in Cambridge and the route he followed as President of the United States on his tour of the New England States in 1789. Washington certainly passed this way, as his diary mentions passing through Northborough’s neighbors Shrewsbury to the west and Marlborough to the east but, sadly, no mention is made by Washington of poor Northborough. Perhaps the low-lying topography of the town led it to being overlooked.


Eager in Northborough.

Main Street in Northborough looking west. The blue house is the General Cyrus Gale House (1766), the Cyrus Gale General Store is next door and the steeple of the Congregational Church is visible in the background.

The one definitive mention of Northborough by travelers passing through along the Upper Boston Post Road can be found in the diary of John Adams, who first recorded a visit to the town in his diary entry of May 1, 1771, while traveling home from Worcester: “Saturday I rode from Martins in Northborough to Boston on horseback.” A month later, on May 31, 1771, Adams passed through Northborough again, this time on a trip west; departing in the morning from Sudbury, Adams then “turned out (his) horse at Coll. Williams’s Marlborough. Dined at Martins, Northborough, where I met with my Class Mate Wheeler of George Town the Episcopal Priest.”

Even Adams occasionally overlooked Northborough: twenty-five years after he recorded his previous visit, Adams recounted, in a letter to his wife Abigail written in Stratford, Connecticut and dated November 27, 1796, the details of his journey to that point while on his way to New York, writing that he “Lodged at Monroe’s in Marlborough on Wednesday night.” It appears Adams made a mistake here as there was no Monroe’s in Marlborough; however there was a “Munroe’s Tavern” in the center of Northborough, located roughly where the old Town Hall is located today. It can be seen on Gill Valentine’s 1830 map of the town of Northborough below, and was a place to which public meetings often adjourned, so the eventual location of the town hall here seems a logical decision. It was also the same tavern Adams had visited twenty-five years earlier but perhaps the fact that he was on the verge of being elected President of the United States caused him to be preoccupied with other matters.

Munroe’s Tavern was the later incarnation of the tavern run by Lt. John Martyn, the son of Rev. John Martyn, the first minister of Northborough.16William H. Mulligan, Jr. Northborough: A Town and Its People, 1638-1975. Northborough American Revolution Bicentennial Commision, 1982. p.38. Martyn died in 1772, shortly after Adams’s earlier visits, while Martyns’s wife died in 1776, leaving the three children in the care of John Martyn’s brother Michael, a loyalist, who left town in 1778. Apparently part of the stables of Munroe’s tavern were incorporated into the building (NBO.236) directly behind the old Town Hall, which now houses a bowling alley; to be fair, it does look like it might have once been a stable.

Detail from Gill Valentine’s map of Northborough, surveyed in 1830. Munroe’s tavern is in the center, a little southeast of the “Meetinghouse.” The Assabet River is a prominent feature of the map and some early manufacturing can be seen as well along its banks. Notice also the triangle of roads at lower left where the “road to Framingham” splits from the main road, the “road to Marlborough.” See the main text for a more-detailed discussion.

There were were longstanding connections between the tavern and the meeting house in most New England towns, but the ties were particularly close here in Northborough. The Reverend Martyn’s meeting house was located not on the the Upper Boston Post Road, but about 300 yards northwest of the road along what is today Church Street, on the site of the First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist, the current incarnation of the original congregation. The land on which the meeting house was built was donated by Captain James Eager, one of the early settlers of the part of the town of Westborough that became Northborough. Eager was a major player in the formation of a separate meeting house for the north district of Westborough, and was the second-wealthiest man in town, according to a tax list for the town of Westborough.17Mulligan, p. 216. Eager’s house was located along the Upper Boston Post Road where he kept a tavern that was listed in the Vade mecum for America, a sort of eighteenth-century travel guide produced in 1732 by Thomas Prince, minister of the Old South Meeting House in Boston. “Agar’s” tavern was listed in the town of Westborough (as Northborough was not yet a separate town), five miles from “How’s,” the previous tavern located in Marlborough, and thirty-five miles from the “Town House” in Boston. Perhaps not coincidentally, in 1713 James Eager married Tabitha How, the daughter of the proprietor of How’s Tavern in Marlborough.

The Eager house and tavern was located just past the center of Northborough, where the road curves southwest around the large hill behind the center of town, shown on Valentine’s map as “Liquor Hill,” but which today is called Assabet Hill. This would place the tavern 36.4 miles from the Town House in Boston, about 1.4 miles further along the road than the Vade mecum reports, an uncharacteristic error by the fastidious Reverend Prince. The following tavern on Prince’s chart is “Ward’s” in Shrewsbury, which he places 4 miles distant from “Agar’s” and 39 miles from Boston. The actual distance between the site of Eager’s and Ward’s houses is 3.3 miles, putting Ward’s about 39.7 miles from the Town House, so it seems the main error is the location of Eager’s tavern, which Prince puts a little too far east in the town.

Washington was here, but he didn’t mention it.

The house of James Eager is long gone. Eager himself died in 1755 and his son, also named James, died in 1761. the grandchildren of James Eager endured a more complicated fate: like their brother-in-law Stephen Martyn, the son of the Reverend Martyn and the guardians of the children of his brother John Martyn the tavern keeper, James and John Eager were loyalists, along with another brother-in-law, Ebeneezer Cutler, who served in the British Army during the Revolutionary War. All of them eventually left the town and the country.18Mulligan, p. 217. In the nineteenth century the property was owned by the Fisk family, and the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information Service (MACRIS) has a report on the Horace Fisk House (NBO.208), located at 65 West Main Street, which appears on G.M. Hopkins 1855 map of the town in the shadow of “Mt. Assabet.” However, despite the fact that there is a building shown on Google Maps at the site, when I arrive there is little but a muddy empty lot. Apparently the building was demolished a few years ago after being vacant for over a decade; plans are now in the works to move the Northborough Fire Department to the location.19Norm Corbin, personal communication The “Area and Site Survey” report for the West Main Street Area on MACRIS (NBO.E) says, under the section for “comment on the Historical or Architectural importance of this area” that West Main Street was “the main street out of town, the Boston Post Road and stage route” and that the “Tavern” was the “only one between Marlboro and Brookfield in the 1740’s,” a point easily disproved by the list of taverns in the Vade mecum. It may not have been the only tavern, but it was important enough to rate a mention in the traveler’s guidebook of the day.

Despite the attempt to imbue the area with some historical significance, the road west of the center today is, in truth, of much less architectural interest than along the eastern portion of the “village”. After the junction with Church Street, apart from the Northborough Town Common Park, the area is mainly commercial, with three gas stations in the space of 300 yards, a pizzeria, an ugly bank, a Dunkin Donuts drive through, and some newer residential and commercial development. The road passes through a mildly more interesting residential area for a short distance before the junction with Lincoln Street. From there to King Street and beyond, where the Southwest Cutoff leads south away from West Main Street and Route 20 and the Upper Boston Post Road diverge for many miles, the road passes the modern (and ugly) St Rose of Lima Catholic Church, a modern post office, and a series of forgettable strip malls.


Diversions, Deviations, Bypasses, and Junctions.

Goodbye to all that…for now!

The triangular junction encompassing the Southwest Cutoff (Route 20) and King Street on one side, the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road and West Main Street on another side, and the Framingham Road and Davis Street on the third side has a long history and the configuration of the roads today is substantially different from what it would have looked like when Browne and DeBerniere made the sensible decision to take the Framingham Road at the junction with the road to Marlborough. Before we get to the junction, I need to take a brief detour back along the road Browne and DeBerniere did manage to follow through the town of Northborough. As promised when I left the Framingham Road at the Assabet River, which marks the border between Westborough and Northborough, I will now return to that road and follow it to the point where it rejoins the Upper Boston Post Road and continues west to the border with Shrewsbury.

Neither DeBerniere in his report nor Adams in his diary mentions the town of Northborough, despite the fact that they both had to traverse nearly two miles of what is today Davis Street from Westborough through the town of Northborough to rejoin the Upper Boston Post Road, which then continued for nearly a mile west through Northborough before reaching the town of Shrewsbury. Davis Street is an almost entirely residential road along the course of its two-mile length from the Assabet River border with Westborough to the junction with West Main Street, a little less than a mile from the Shrewsbury border. However, it is quite challenging to walk as it is a busy road, despite its narrow width, and lacks sidewalks for most of its length.

Davis Street is cut in two by the Southwest Cutoff, a road built to link Route 20 with Route 9 and to reorient Route 20 to the south. When US Route 20 was first created in the 1920s, the route closely followed that of the Upper Boston Post Road from Watertown Square through Waltham, Wayland, Sudbury, and Marlborough, to Northborough then continued west through Shrewsbury, Worcester, to Brookfield and eventually to Springfield. However, the route west from Northborough was shifted south in 1933 with the construction of the Southwest Cutoff, which was built as a more direct and faster connecting road west rather than following the rather convoluted route of the Post Road, which snakes around steep inclines and follows the topographical path of least resistance. Likely owing to the greater population density of the towns along the eastern section of the road and the relative lack of topographical “obstacles” along that section of the road, rather than reroute Route 20 along the portion that still aligned for the most part with the original route of the Boston Post Road, the route behind me to the east through Northborough and Marlborough to Boston that I have followed thus far on this project was instead merely straightened and widened as I have described in previous walks.

The expansion and rerouting of Route 20, along with the construction of the Interstate Highways, I-495 and I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), which pass close to but not through the town, and I-290, which passes east to west through the town north of the Upper Boston Post Road, the new roads resulted in a dramatic demographic transformation of the town of Northborough. In 1940 Northborough was principally an agricultural town of 2,382 residents, most of whom worked in the town itself. By 1960 the population had nearly tripled to 6,687 residents, and by 2020 the population had more than doubled again to 15,741 residents, most of whom drive to work in other towns, especially around Boston and Worcester.20Mulligan, Northborough, pp. 190-191. The number of houses in the town also increased dramatically in the postwar period: between 1940 and 1975 the number of houses went from 742 to 2,662, many built along previously tranquil streets like Davis Street, hence the many cars traveling along this tight road.

The town is wealthier and whiter than neighboring Marlborough; Median Household Income (HHI) is $160,801 in 2022, according to the US Census bureau, compared to the $94,199 for Marlborough and a median HHI of $96,505 for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Northborough is 76% White, and only 219 residents (1.4%) identify as Black in the most recent Census. About 1 in 8 residents identify as Asian and many of them are of South Asian descent; the presence of a sporting goods store in the strip mall around the junction selling cricket bats is evidence that the area is an increasingly important hub for the South Asian community in Massachusetts, a subject I will return to in a future entry on the town of Shrewsbury.

Phineas Davis house from 1730 at 405 Davis Street, near the Assabet River border with the town of Westborough along the “Framingham” Road followed by Browne and DeBerniere as well as by John Adams in 1775.

Davis Street is not particularly exciting and is a little tricky to walk along. The main areas of interest are at each end of the long street. The border with Westborough is demarcated at the east end of Davis Street by the Assabet River. Close to the river are a cluster of houses built by the Davis family whose name graces the street on which they are located. The most prominent is the Phineas Davis house (405 Davis Street, MACRIS #NBO.48, see photo above) from 1730, which overlooks the small bridge across the Assabet River. Nearby, at 385 Davis Street (NBO.19), is the lovely brick mansion of a later Davis family member, the William E. Davis house of 1830. For some reason the historic reports also refer to it as the Governor John Davis house. Davis (1787-1854) served as a Congressman in the US House of Representatives from 1825-1834 before continuing on to serve twice as Governor of Massachusetts (1834-35 and 1841-43), as well as Senator from Massachusetts (1835-1841 and 1845-53). Perhaps he grew up in a house on the location, but by 1830, when he was not in Washington, Davis resided in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he died in 1854. Along with one or two other houses along the road, the large farmhouse at 375 Davis Street (NBO.47) built by George C. Davis completes the Davis house collection in this charming corner of the eponymous street.

Davis Street continues along a flat plain in a straight line for half a mile, past a horse farm and then through a neighborhood of widely-spaced modern homes, before turning sharply and winding north and west for another half-mile to reach the very busy Route 20/Southwest Cutoff. After crossing Route 20, Davis Street continues winding through a more “woodsy” residential area before reaching a short side road called Old Colonial Road. I am intrigued by the name of this underwhelming little side street and it turns out that my interest is well-rewarded, as this easy to miss little road is the route of the original Boston Post Road and the nondescript junction of Davis Street and Old Colonial Road is the fork in the road that played such an important role in the narrative of the British spy Henry DeBerniere.



1943 USGS Topographical Map of the “Northborough Triangle,” the old intersection between the “Framingham Road” and the “Marlborough Road,” as well as the route of King Street, which eventually was built over by the Southwest Cutoff of US Route 20. Notice the dotted path which runs east from Davis Street south of today’s West Main Street before curving up to meet the road. Compare with Valentine’s 1830 map of the same area below.

As mentioned above, the Upper Boston Post Road follows what is today West Main Street from the intersection with Church Street in the center of Northborough in an arc of almost 90 degrees around Assabet Hill, continuing in a southwest direction for about a mile before reaching the intersection with King Street. King Street once formed the eastern side of the triangle shown on Valentine’s map of 1830 below and was a short cut from the center of Northborough connecting the old road to Framingham and the Upper Boston Post Road. By the 1930s US Route 20 had been rerouted away from the Upper Boston Post Road by the construction of the Southwest Cutoff and King Street had mostly been built over by the new road. There is still a short four-hundred yard section of the narrow old road, slightly elevated above the “new” Route 20 road, behind the buildings that line the east side of the Southwest Cutoff, before King Street merges with, and is subsumed by, the newer road.

Detail from Gill Valentine’s 1830 map of Northborough, showing the “Northborough Triangle Junction.” Notice how after the split at King Street what is the Post Road also drops for a short distance before turning west and how the Davis Street Junction is below today’s junction.

The original route of the Upper Boston Post Road continued to the junction with the Southwest Cutoff 100 yards past King Street the road. A new section of West Main Street was built sometime between 1830 and the 1850s, shown on the 1855 Hopkins map of Northborough. Before 1830 the layout of road from here was substantially different from what it is today. A comparison of the area on Gill Valentine’s 1830 map with the 1943 USGS Topographical map above is a useful way to illustrate the changes that occurred. First notice the red road on the 1943 map going from right to left (the “top” side of the triangle); this is today’s West Main Street. Notice how straight it is and how it continues smoothly west after the junction at the left side of the map with today’s Davis Street, the “Framingham Road” of DeBerniere’s description. Also notice how the road cuts directly across a low-lying marshy area, something the original route of the Boston Post Road rarely does and only when there is little choice (see for example the “causeway” over the Sudbury River in Wayland. There is clearly a choice here as the area slightly south of the modern road is slightly higher in elevation.

Now notice Valentine’s “top” side of the triangle. His line is not straight at all: first it splits earlier (with King Street as the Southwest Cutoff had yet to be built) and continues southwest for a few yards before shifting west and following a somewhat crooked path to the intersection with the “Framingham” Road. After the two roads merge, the Upper Boston Post Road then follows a northwest trajectory for a short distance before shifting west and continuing on to the Shrewsbury border.

This old road is distinct from West Main Street and vestiges of it can be seen on the 1943 map, visible as a dashed line a little below the red “top” line of the triangle, although it does not quite reach the Southwest Cutoff. Notice how, unlike West Main Street which cuts across low-lying marshy areas, the dashed line runs across higher terrain and skirts the watery areas, consistent with my experience of the pattern of the old road thus far. The vestigial road also is not straight but meanders slightly along its track. The eastern-most section of the original road had been obliterated by 1943 and the vestigial track turned sharply north 300 yards before connecting with the original section of the road on the eastern side of the “triangle.”

The western half of the track represented by the dashed line on the 1943 map is today Old Colonial Road, which continues for 250 yards before ending at a stone barrier behind which are woods. On the eastern side, from the Southwest Cutoff, the old road would have continued through the rear of the Times Square strip mall that fronts West Main Street before disappearing into the same woods that I encountered on Old Colonial Road. Of the roughly half a mile of lost road, 200 yards is in the back of the strip mall, 250 yards runs through some inaccessible woods, and 250 yards runs along Old Colonial Road. The actual junction between the old road to Framingham and the Upper Boston Post Road is not Davis Street at West Main Street but Davis Street at Old Colonial Road, 300 yards further southeast along Davis Street. I tried to follow as much of the original road as possible, wandering behind the strip mall and along Old Colonial Road, but I was forced onto West Main Street for a few hundred yards. The black line on the Google map I created to accompany this entry, entitled Old Roads of Northborough (see below), indicates this vestigial section of the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road and the purple marker indicates the original junction where Browne and DeBerniere would have “left the main road and taken the Framingham road.”

The original route of the Upper Boston Post Road passed through the parking lot on the backside of the oddly-named “Times Square” strip mall at the junction of West Main Street and SW Cutoff in Northborough.

DeBerniere mentions that they wanted “to go as far as the thirty-seven mile-stone, where we had left the main road and taken the Framingham road.”21Narrative, p. 10. Using my “mile by mile” map of the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road, the location of the “37 mile” stone would have been somewhere around 400 West Main Street, about 0.4 miles further northeast along West Main Street from the junction with King Street, and nearly 0.8 miles from the junction of Davis Street and Old Colonial Road. As the two spies would have already passed the “38 mile” stone on their way back from Worcester and Shrewsbury, which likely would have been located about where Davis Street and West Main Street intersect today, it is possible that DeBerniere meant that the “37 mile” stone was the next stone they would have reached had they not turned off the main road. Alternatively they could have reached the stone and then made the decision to backtrack a few yards to take King Street south to connect to the Framingham Road. A third possibility is that they made a mistake and meant the “38 mile” stone. We will likely never know, but in truth they were not off by much in their description, which is consistent both with the distance on my “mile by mile” map and the distance given on the 1795 map of Northborough by Silas Keyes. They also did not have the luxury that I have of being able to meander back and forth with maps from three centuries to assist me in reconstructing the road. Given the dangerous position in which they found themselves as spies in hostile territory, the relative accuracy of their description of both the Upper Boston Post Road and the Framingham Road deeply impresses me as I attempt to follow in their footsteps nearly 250 years later.


Standing at the site of the original junction at Old Colonial Road I walk north along Davis Street to the intersection with West Main Street, the modern junction between the Framingham Road and the Marlborough Road. At this point I finally complete my walk along what I have termed the Framingham Diversion, a walk of 21.4 miles from the border between Weston and Wayland, through the towns of Wayland, Framingham, Southborough, Westbrough, and Northborough. The route of the Upper Boston Post Road between these same two points is 20.6 miles, about 0.8 miles shorter. Perhaps the major difference between the two roads are the hills of Marlborough, which might have been one factor in the decision of Colonel Henry Knox to go to Framingham. More likely there was a prearranged plan to store the artillery in Framingham under the supervision of Colonel Joseph Buckminster. It is my contention that Knox very likely turned away here from the Upper Boston Post Road, as this was the start of the “Framingham Road,” rather than continuing on the main road through Northborough and Marlborough before turning south for Framingham as the “official route” has it. Similarly Adams likely went via Framingham to communicate with Colonel Buckminster on his way to Philadelphia and to view and report on the artillery. Browne and DeBerniere, who also visited Colonel Buckminster’s tavern in Framingham, thought this was the road likely to be used and they seemed to have been proven correct in their assessment. In any case, after following in the footsteps of these travelers along the “Framingham Road” I have finally closed the loop of this diversionary walk and now continue west along the one and only Upper Boston Post Road from this point until I reach Springfield more than fifty miles away.


Not out of the Woods Yet.

Davis Street north of the intersection with Old Colonial Road. This 300-yard section of Davis Street up to the contemporary intersection with West Main Street just over the little hill, is part of the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road.

From the modern junction between the Framingham Road and the Marlborough Road at the intersection of Davis Street and West Main Street the Upper Boston Post Road continues west for 0.8 miles along West Main Street to the border with Shrewsbury. Immediately beyond the strip malls around the intersection is a company selling loam, stone, compost, mulch, and firewood, all in large piles spread around a large lot. The opposite side of the street has only one or two houses, the most notable a lovely redbrick Federal style residence now housing the Nicholas Michaels Spa at 422 West Main Street. According to the MACRIS report (NBO.211) “West Main Street, leading west into Shrewsbury, was sparsely settled by 1830. The house at 422 was one of a half dozen houses along this street, owned by J. Brigham. Town records show a construction date of 1760 and a portion of the house may be that early. By 1855 J. Boydon owned the property in addition to the property to the immediate west. Both properties were labeled as the “Northboro Bakery” on the atlas. Boydon maintained ownership into the 1870s, although the bakery no longer appears on the 1870 atlas.” Beyond the loam and stone supply company, back on the south side of the road, is the large property of Bigelow Nurseries. Nestled in among the plants and greenhouses is another redbrick Federal style house, once belonging to Colonel William Eager, a member of another branch of the Eager clan who supported the cause of the patriots. This is the last house shown on the 1830 map of Northborough by Valentine Gill on the sparsely-populated road west to Shrewsbury. As late as 1855 there were still only a handful of houses along the road west from the Davis Street junction to the border.

Even today, with the exception of an old barn converted to a house at 536 West Main Street, there are only a few newer houses as the road begins a slow rise out of the valley; the last few hundred yards along the road west to the border with Shrewsbury runs mostly through woods, much as it did on the east side of Northborough. And yet, even here at the quiet edge of this quiet town, it would be easy to overlook (as indeed I did at first) that there is much of interest to be discovered. William Maynard, whose house was located (and still is) in Shrewsbury, but whose property straddled the border and included the barn converted to a house at #536 West Main Street in Northborough, was having a drainage trench dug in 1884 when workers discovered the remains of a mastodon (Mammut americanum) “a few rods north of the highway” just east of the border with Shrewsbury. Researchers recently dated a sample of collagen from a tusk and have determined the mastodon likely lived over 13,000 years ago.22Robert S. Feranec*, Martin Christiansen, David “Bud” Driver, and Stuart J. Fiedel. 2021. “Man and the Mastodon”: Revisiting the Northborough Mastodon. Eastern Paleontologist 9: 1-22.

Border between Northborough and Shrewsbury showing property of William U. Maynard where, in 1884, remains of a mastodon were discovered near the barn (shown with an “X” in Northborough).

My efforts to retrace the earliest documented route of the old road west from Boston reach a limit around the end of the seventeenth century. Almost all documented evidence of the road dates to the the last three centuries; it is the rare occasion that I find a reliable source (Judge Samuel Sewall is one example) making specific references to the road before 1700. To think that the mastodon was wandering in this valley 13 millennia before the earliest written reference to the road is humbling. The discovery of a nearby human skull (the circumstances are disputed) at the same time as the discovery of the mastodon suggests the tantalizing possibility that the human may have had some connection to the mastodon and that perhaps the earliest traces of what is now the Post Road are 13,000 years old. Speculative to be sure, but intriguing nonetheless; It is clear that this project is literally merely scratching the surface of a much richer story, not just historically, but archaeologically, geologically, and biologically to name a few other ways I could approach the walk along this thread laid across the landscape of New England.23Thanks to Norm Corbin for alerting me to the article about the mastodon and for his many contributions to the elucidation of the history of Northborough.

“Woodsy” it may be in the quiet borough and, while it is true that the town was often overlooked by travelers in their rush to get to more glamorous and important destinations, there is so much of interest in the town of Northborough along the route of both the Upper Boston Post Road and the Framingham Road, and even a few other roads (see below), for the traveler willing to spend a little time wandering at a leisurely pace. Besides, I would rather walk along a quiet woodsy road than through a shopping mall along the interstate anytime. There is history and more to be found even in the woods. At the very least, I can always spend some time looking for birds and maybe trip over a mastodon tusk.


Just because it is “woodsy” doesn’t mean it is not interesting: this photo looking northeast into the woods was taken at the end of Old Colonial Road in Northborough. It is, in fact the original route of the Upper Boston Post Road. The woods run behind a strip mall and the road once passed this way before a major reconstruction of the roads in the area left this section to be reclaimed by nature. Note that the photo above of the parking lot behind the strip mall is the view west along this same defunct section of the Upper Boston Post Road. The woods can be seen on the far side of the parking lot.




Although the site of the original meeting house on Church Street is not technically part of the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, I include here a short description of a short (0.7 mile round trip) detour I took off the main road as it includes one or two artifacts related to the history of the road. The latest version of the original first church is the First Parish Church Northborough Unitarian Universalist, built in 1945 after a fire destroyed the previous incarnation. The lovely white building is easily visible from the junction of West Main Street and Church Street, perched on a little hill on the land donated by James Eager. The church is reached by crossing the modern version of the bridge over Cold Harbor Brook, another feeder of the Assabet River. Behind the church is the Howard Cemetery, where the graves of the Eager and Martin families are located. The gravestone of James Eager, benefactor and tavern keeper, is located here as is that of his wife Tabitha (How), the daughter of the tavern keeper in Marlborough. The graves of Reverend John Martyn and his wife are here as is the grave of his son John, also the keeper of a tavern in Northborough, next to that of his wife Abigail, who died in 1776. As discussed above, the children of John and Abigail Martyn went to live with John’s brother Stephen, who had married a granddaughter of James Eager. The descendants of James Eager were principally Loyalists and eventually left Northborough and the United States. The taverns are both long gone: Martyn’s tavern became Munroe’s which was eventually replaced by the Town Hall building, while the Eager house was replaced by the Fisk Estate and today is an empty muddy lot. The sole remaining evidence of the old taverns along the Post Road through Northborough are the gravestones of the families who once ran them. Rather than show a photograph of an empty lot, I prefer instead to include the photos below as testament to the lost history of the road in Northborough.

Intersection of Main Street (left) and Church Street (right) in Northborough Center. The church described above can be seen in the distance at right. Howard Cemetery is behind the church.


Distance traveled in this entry along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road from the Marlborough/Northborough line to the Northborough/Shrewsbury line: 5.0 miles.

Note: I never count any of the diversions from the main road, such as the short side trip to Howard Cemetery above, as part of the total mileage in the lists presented here. The only exception is the Framingham Diversion as this was an important road traveled by many of the sources I have used while researching this project.

Distance traveled in this entry along the route of the “Framingham Diversion,” the old County Road to Framingham, now Davis Street from the Westborough/Northborough line to the junction with the Upper Boston Post Road at Davis and Old Colonial Road in Northborough: 1.8 miles.

Total Distance traveled along the original route of the road from the Old State House in Boston for this project: 39.1 miles.

Total distance covered on the Framingham Diversion Route: 21.5 miles

Total Distance covered for all the walks described in Boston Rambles: 100.5 miles

5 Responses to Northborough, Massachusetts: The Quiet Borough

  1. WOW! I’m very impressed with the thoroughness of your information. I was on the Historic District Commission for 17 years and learned a lot from your work. Especially the Framingham Diversion, the intersection of Davis St and the old Post Road and your observation regarding the 33 miles marker. I’ve forwarded this link to Mr. Ruediger Volk who gave you a tour of his home. The next time I am at Chet’s Diner I will mention you to Jessie Fidrych who runs the diner and does all the cooking. Along the Old Post Road near the Shrewsbury line was the discovery of a mastodon and human skeleton back in the 1800’s. Below is a link to recent reevaluation of the remains. If you ever find your way back to Northborough let me know, I’d like to meet you. Norm

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Your own research on the town has helped me greatly in the preparation of this essay. Also I will definitely append some of the fascinating information about the discovery of the mastodon to the end of this entry.

      • Did you receive my email from a week or so ago? Norm

  2. Thank you Mr. “Rambler”: A big thank you also from me. It was my pleasure to show you my ‘farmhouse’ and you are always welcome e.g. as a overnight guest, when you need it. Your information is absolutely impressive for me, since I am a “newcomer” 3 1/2y in the town, while Mr. Cobin is an “Old-Timer” and definitely THE Historian of the town. I am dedicated to preserve what I can for many Generations to come of the American society, which should always be reminded to times, when it was harsh to live on this ground. This alone brings me to a ‘life-mind’, living in a paradise.

    I wish we could invite you to the Northborough Historical Society, to give and share your detailed knowledge of Northborough to the wider audience. Definitely ring my bell if you are back in town. (you know where I live). With my best greetings and thank you also for all other marvelous articles on your website

    your Ruediger


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