Boston Rambles

Boston Rambles

A Rambler Walks and Talks About the Hub of the Universe

Worcester, Massachusetts, Part Two: The Heart of the Heart.

Upper Boston Post Road Entry #15 (UBPR #15)

Looking south at the old Worcester County Courthouse and First Unitarian Church on Main Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. Photo taken from the original location of Stephen Salisbury’s mansion on the north side of Lincoln Square, today a memorial to soldiers who fought in the First World War.

The township of Worcester is, throughout, divided into farms which wear a cheerful and prosperous aspect. The town is principally built on a single street, extending, from East to West, about a mile and a half on the road. It is situated in a valley and contains, as I judge, about one hundred and twenty houses, generally well-built surrounded by neat fences, outhouses, and gardens frequently handsome and very rarely small, old, or unrepaired. Few towns in New-England exhibit so uniform an appearance of neatness, and taste, or contain so great a proportion of good buildings, and so small a proportion of those which are indifferent, as Worcester. There is probably more wealth, in it, also, than in any other, which does not exceed it in dimensions, and number of inhabitants.

Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New-York, 1821.1Letter XXXVI, p. 366.


The Heart of the Matter

As I stand in front of the old Worcester County Courthouse at the corner of Highland Street and Main Street in Worcester, Massachusetts I notice that the street sign, like all the official signs in Worcester, is embossed with a heart. The city seal, adopted in 1848, reflects Worcester’s status as the “Heart of the Commonwealth,” a nickname acquired as early as 18222According to William D. Wallace, long-time director of the Worcester Historical Museum in this article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. A panel at the Worcester Historical Museum reads as follows: The earliest documented use of the phrase in print was in an 1822 edition of the Massachusetts Spy. Governor Levi Lincoln used it in a speech at the centennial celebration of incorporation in 1831, in reference to the entire county. In early 1848, residents voted to incorporate as a city, with 1,026 yeas to 487 nays. In December, the City Council selected a committee headed by Alderman Stephen Salisbury II to choose a seal, which they adopted unanimously. “The seal of the city of Worcester shall be circular in form, having in its center the figure of a heart encircled with a wreath and in the margin the words “Worcester a town June 14, 1722, a city Feb. 28, 1848.” owing to its central location as the second largest city in Massachusetts, halfway between Boston and the third largest city in the Commonwealth, Springfield, fifty miles to the west.3Residents west of the Connecticut River might quibble with this geography but as they make up less than ten percent of the population of the state their voices do not get heard as much. The short walk of slightly more than half a mile described in this entry is a walk through the center of Worcester along Main Street, the heart of the heart.

Timothy Dwight, traveling through New England in 1821, remarked upon the compactness of the town, “principally built on a single street, extending from east to west, about a mile and a half along the road.” 4Timothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New-York. New Haven: Timothy Dwight, 1821. p.366. The historic courthouse overlooks Lincoln Square at the north end of Main Street while City Hall overlooks the Common, 0.6 miles south of the courthouse along Main Street (Dwight got his compass points mixed up). In between these two traditional focal points of the “village,” as the center of town was historically called, Main Street is lined with interesting and important buildings and was the location of a series of taverns along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road with important connections to the road and to the history of the town, the county, the state, and the country. While today there are significant buildings and institutions, including hospitals, museums, and universities, that are not directly on Main Street, for the first century and a half from the foundation of the town in 1722 to the establishment of city government in 1848, the vast majority of buildings of historic significance were located within a half mile of either the courthouse on the north end of the village or the meetinghouse (and, by 1825, the adjacent town house which became city hall in 1848) at the south end of the village. This walk covers the “heart” of this already compact section of road, while the area north of Lincoln Square continuing along Lincoln Street to the border with Shrewsbury was covered in the previous entry and the area south of City Hall continuing along Main Street to the border with Leicester, the next town west along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, will be covered in the following entry. Unlike many of the previous walks, the route of the old road in this entry is very straightforward (and very straight), so the main focus of this entry will be on the structures that line (or once lined) the road, specifically those that have direct relevance to the road, although as usual there will be a few subjects I will be unable to resist discussing as I pass buildings or places whose sole relevance to this project is that they are physically located on the Upper Boston Post Road.

Detail of a map of Worcester thought to be from 1784 produced by William Young, from the collection of the American Antiquarian Society and found on Digital Commonwealth (here). This section shows the “post road” passing through the center of Worcester and shows the two important buildings, the “meeting hous” (sic) and the “courthous” (sic) that flank the center of the “village.” The walk in this entry is essentially a walk between these two buildings.


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a “resolve” in 1794 requiring each town to survey and produce a detailed town map to be submitted to the state from which an official map of the state was produced.5From the website of Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts Collections Online: “For the compilation of a state map, each town in Massachusetts (including those in the five eastern counties now part of Maine) was required by Resolves 1794, May Sess, c 101 (June 26, 1794) to make a town plan based on a survey no more than seven years old, to be submitted to the state secretary’s office. Rivers, county roads, bridges, courthouses, places of public worship, and distances of the town center to the county shire town and to Boston were to be included, drawn on a scale of 200 rods to the inch. Resolves 1795, May Sess, c 45 (June 24, 1795) repeated instructions and fines for those who had not yet submitted required plans. A map of Massachusetts proper and one of the District of Maine were compiled by Osgood Carleton from these plans and printed in 1802. The Massachusetts map is included in: Maps and plans ((M-Ar)50), no. 1616, 1617, 1617A and the map of Maine in no. 1618, 1618A. Three sets of these maps were sent to each of the states pursuant to Resolves 1794, c 77.” Each map was required to report the distance from the center of town, usually the meetinghouse, to the seat of government in Boston which, until 1798, was the Old State House previously known as the Town House, on the corner of what is now State Street and Washington Street. The maps were also required to record the distance from the center of town to the county court house, located in the “shire” town. As the shire town of the county of Worcester, distances from each town in the county to the Worcester County Courthouse were reported on town maps. The map of Leicester, the next town west of Worcester along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, is a typical example. On the map of the town prepared in 1795 by Peter Sylvester the distances are listed as follows: “Congregational Meeting House is 54 miles from Boston and 7 miles from Worcester Court House.” Incidentally, the map of Worcester produced by John Pierce and David Andrews (part of which is shown below), dated May 28, 1795, states “the distance from Boston to Worcester Court-house is 47 miles.” There is no need for a second distance as the courthouse is the center of the county.

It is not an understatement to say that the city of Worcester owes its position of importance to the establishment of a courthouse in the newly formed Worcester County in 1731. One of the major advocates for the formation of a new county in the center of the state was William Jennison, a wealthy landowner who moved to Worcester from Sudbury at the age of fifty in 1726. In 1728 he was elected as the representative from Worcester to the General Court (the provincial legislature of Massachusetts, held in the aforementioned Town House from which the distances on town maps and milestones were measured) and immediately “petitioned for the creation of a new county in the west, with Worcester as the shire town or county seat.”6William Moynihan, A History of Worcester, 1674-1848. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007. p. 44. Jennison’s petition was successful and the “westerly towns of Middlesex and Suffolk” along with a few towns from Hampshire County to the west joined to form Worcester County in April 1731, with the relatively young town of Worcester (officially formed in 1722), chosen as the shire town.

Worcester County Courthouse. The Worcester County Court met in a building on this property for 275 years, from 1732 until 2007, when the court moved into a new building 300 yards south along Main Street. This particular building is an 1898 reconstruction of the existing stone courthouse first opened in 1845 (the section on the left, mostly remodeled but retaining one of the original walls), when a new wing was added (the section on the right) with a connecting building between the old and new buildings (the middle section) to create the large building seen in the photo. There is also an addition from 1878 in the rear of the south wing and an extensive 1950s annex in the rear of the building. Today the building is part of an apartment complex called Courthouse Lofts. There is also a museum in the 1878 building dedicated to the early champion cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, who spent most of his life in Worcester.


Jennison subsequently offered land located near his house “at the north end of the principal street in the village, the Connecticut or Country road” for the construction of a courthouse, upon which the first and all subsequent courthouses until the newest courthouse (built in 2007 and located three hundred yards down Main Street) were located, on the corner of Main Street and Highland Street. That Jennison’s property was already an early focal point of Worcester is clear from Thomas Prince’s, Vade mecum, a “traveler’s guide” published in Boston in 1732. This pamphlet listed stops along the various roads leading out from Boston, including the road “from Boston, westward thro’ Worcester to Springfield on Connecticut River.” Worcester is represented by “Jennison’s,” listed as a “publick house” 5 miles past Ward’s in Shrewsbury and 44 miles from Boston. As we shall see, this pamphlet and most of the numerous “Almanacks” published in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries occasionally engaged in creative arithmetic in their attempts to calculate distances along the road. The actual distance between Ward’s tavern in Shrewsbury, which was located across the street from the General Artemas Ward Museum, is 6.7 miles, not five miles. As we know from the 1795 map of Worcester that the distance from Boston Townhouse to Worcester Courthouse is 47 miles, the calculated distance in the Vade mecum, 44 miles, is also not correct, off by roughly three miles. A Jennison’s Tavern is shown on the Pierce and Andrews map of Worcester from 1795, but it was located much further north, along Lincoln Street closer to the border with Shrewsbury, only four miles from Ward’s; more importantly, that particular tavern, run by a relative of William Jennison named Israel Jennison, did not begin operation until 1785, as I discussed in the previous entry.

The “official” maps produced in 1795, required to be drawn to a scale of “200 Rods to one inch” (a rod is equal to 16 feet six inches, therefore a scale of 1:39,600), provide the first truly accurate descriptions of the roads in Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. The names of the taverns listed in the almanacs, published in roughly the same period as the maps, are fairly reliable as are the towns in which they are located, but they are often placed at incorrect distances along the road from one another and from the Town House in Boston, while many of the remaining milestones that once lined the road have been moved from their original locations over time for one reason or another. The “47 mile” stone, which most likely once stood somewhere in the vicinity of the court house, today rests a half-mile north of its “proper” location along the property fence of the Paine estate on Lincoln Street, a subject discussed in the previous entry. Milestones are frequently moved and it is my hypothesis that this particular stone was moved to a more “suitable” location near the historic house serving as the headquarters of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.


Milestones off Track

Milestone located on Wheaton Square off the Post Road a few yards from Lincoln Square. This stone, reading “48 Miles from Boston”, was likely located along Main Street west of City Hall near Clark University and was moved here in front of the old Worcester Historical Society building.

Worcester is lucky to have a second remaining milestone which has also been moved from its original location. This second mile stone is located in Wheaton Square, 300 yards north of the courthouse along Grove Street, in a place that is not now nor ever has been a part of the road to Boston. Thus, before beginning my walk along Main Street, I take a short five-minute detour off the main road along Grove Street to visit the stone. This stone reads “48 Miles from Boston” and is composed of the same sandstone material and has the same font as the “47 mile” stone located at the Paine estate on Lincoln Street. This stone was probably located somewhere along Main Street west of City Hall, near the intersection of May Street, according to my calculations (see my mile by mile map of the Upper Boston Post Road for details). It appears to have been in the collection of the Worcester Historical Museum at some point7According to Mary & James Gage in their very useful Milestones & Guideposts of Massachusetts and Southeastern New Hampshire. Amesbury, MA: Powwow Books, 2014, p. 79 “the stone was moved to the Worcester Historical Society Museum at 30 Elm Street and is currently in storage.” If so, it apparently was placed in Wheaton Square sometime after 2014. However, the official submission form for the National Register from 1971 (available at MACRIS here) states that milestone #48 was located at 39 Salisbury Street in Worcester (page 6). An attached form from 1960 (p. 96) at the end of the report states that in 1960 the milestone was located at 39 Salisbury Street which was the home of the Worcester Historical Society until 1988. This is all a bit confusing and further research is required. Regardless, the “48 mile” stone currently (Spring, 2024) sits opposite 39 Salisbury Street, in the middle of Wheaton Square in Worcester.and its current location may have some connection to the fact that the Worcester Historical Society occupied the lovely redbrick Romanesque building facing the milestone at 39 Salisbury Street (see the previous footnote), just as the location of the “47 mile” stone at the Paine estate may have a link to the fact that the building houses the Worcester chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

It seems then that these two stones likely are part of a series put up at the same time, although when that time was is unclear as there is no date inscribed upon the stones, something commonly done on the milestones in and around Boston. They are listed under the general heading of 1767 Milestones on the National Register but this is an almost meaningless designation: as I have discussed in previous entries (see Northborough for example), many of the stones along the road listed as part of the collection of “1767 milestones” predate 1767 and some may date from as recently as the 1920s, when Henry Ford likely had many of the stones near the Wayside Inn placed along the newly expanded and rerouted Route 20. The myth that Benjamin Franklin, in his role as Postmaster General, personally surveyed and placed milestones along the road in 1767, is a persistent one despite the lack of any supporting evidence.

Although there is little evidence to support the assertion that these stones were specifically put up in 1767, the distances marked on the stones indicate that they very likely date to the colonial era; the distance to Boston changed after the building of bridges over the Charles River from the 1790s onward, followed closely by a brief but frenetic period of turnpike construction. Belmont Street, which feeds into Lincoln Square and ends at the courthouse, is the current name for the Worcester section of the original Boston to Worcester Turnpike (today’s Route 9), opened by 1808. This new road shortened the distance between the two towns by seven miles, from 47 miles to 40 miles, and took traffic away from the original route to Boston, the Upper Boston Post Road, which followed what is today Lincoln Street north to the border with Shrewsbury, crossing Lake Quinsigamond at a narrow point four miles to the north of the turnpike road, which crossed directly over the lake via a long bridge. The changes to the traffic patterns as a result of the construction of the turnpike not only diminished the importance of the Upper Boston Post Road, it also rendered the milestones obsolete, increasing the likelihood that they were moved for aesthetic reasons or to preserve them from loss or destruction. The construction of the Boston and Worcester Railroad in 1835 consigned both the post road and the turnpike to a minor role in long-distance transportation until the advent of the automobile, when the roads again briefly became important links between the two cities prior to the construction of the Interstate highways beginning in the 1950s. The automobile also made it easier for city dwellers to move to newer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city and to nearby suburbs, a process which accelerated after 1945, giving both Lincoln Street and (Belmont Street) Route 9 new life. Today all of these roads are busy with traffic from near and far that feeds into Lincoln Square, the busy northern terminus of downtown Worcester.


Wheaton Square, Worcester, Massachusetts. The tercentenary plaque marking the location of John Wing’s mill and house from 1684 is visible behind the elegant memorial to the soldiers of the Spanish-American War. In the background is the Worcester Armory, one of the many impressive institutional buildings in the area built on land once owned mostly by the Salisbury family, who also funded many of the nearby institutions and whose name graces the street sign in the background.

A prominent embossed metal sign put up in 1930 as part of the tercentenary celebrations of the foundation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony sits only a few feet away from the milestone in Wheaton Square. This plaque commemorates the site of the first mill established along the “mill brook” in Worcester and reads: “A few rods east stood the house and mill of John Wing, built in 1684. This was the only house left standing after the breaking of the second settlement of Worcester.” The brook is shown on the earliest detailed maps of the town, including the maps from 1784 (Young) and 1795 (Pierce and Andrews), and is a prominent feature on Stebbins’s map of 1833 where it is labelled “Mill Brook,” by which time the brook passed through the property of Stephen Salisbury, whose house was on the north side of Lincoln Square and who owned a substantial amount of property in the area as shown on Phelps’s map of the village from 1829. The brook then crossed Lincoln Square, and continued south to its confluence with the Blackstone River a little more than a mile south of downtown. The section of the brook below Lincoln Square was eventually transformed into a part of the Blackstone Canal, a significant event in the development of industrial Worcester, about which more later. Today the waters of the brook flow unnoticed along underground pipes through downtown Worcester and through the “Canal District” along the appropriately named Water Street.

John Wing “erected a corn mill and a saw mill a short distance above the bridge at the north end of Main Street, near Lincoln Square, and also a house and a barn in the vicinity,” according to Charles Nutt, who wrote a four volume history of Worcester in 1919.8Charles Nutt, The History Of Worcester And Its Peoples, 4 Volumes. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1919. Volume I, p. 15. NB Nutt was former Editor and Publisher of the newspaper The Worcester Spy. Wing was a member of a second group of Puritans who attempted to settle Worcester after the first settlement failed during King Philip’s War. The second settlement was also abandoned by 1702 as a result of continued hostilities from Indians aligned with France in an ultimately futile effort to stop continued English expansion west from Boston. A successful third settlement began in 1713 and by 1722 Worcester had officially become a town. Nutt calculates from a study of proprietor’s records that the population of the town in 1718 was between 200 and 300 people living in 58 houses.9Nutt, Volume I, p. 24.

One of the earliest records of a visit to Worcester by a traveler along the old road from Boston is found in the diary of Judge Samuel Sewall, who mentions the town while on his way to Springfield to preside over a court session in August, 1698, mentioning only that “Between Worcester and Quaboag (later called Brookfield) we were greatly wet with rain; wet to the skin. Got thither before twas dark.”10Samuel Sewall, Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729. Volume I 1674-1700. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Volume V- Fifth Series. Boston: Published by the Society, 1878. Volume II 1699/1700-1714. MHS Collection Volume VI-Fifth Series. 1879 Volume III 1714-1729. MHS Collection VolumeVII- Fifth Series. 1882. (B. Mar 28, 1652- D. Jan 1, 1730). Volume I, p. 483. Sewall made the same trip eighteen years later and this time provided a still brief but more detailed description of his visit to Worcester. In an entry dated Tuesday, August 28, 1716, Sewall writes that he “din’d at Capt. Wings old house at Worcester; Writt to Mr. Parris at Rice’s…”11 Sewall, Diary, Volume III, p. 100. Wing had died in 1703 after abandoning Worcester, but the house he built in Worcester remained, as stated in the tercentenary plaque. Joshua Rice’s house, which also served as a garrison house, was located nearby, behind the eventual site of the courthouse.12Nutt, Volume I, p. 24.

Sewall mentions Worcester a third time in is diary, where he writes after passing through on his way home from Springfield, on September 24, 1718, “At Worcester are surprised to meet with Judge Palmer, Mr. Oulton, Waldo, who were also very glad to see us.”13Sewall, Diary, Volume III, p. 197. According to Nutt, in 1718 “the saw mill erected by Capt. John Wing, on Mill Brook, (was) then owned by Thomas Palmer, Cornelius Waldo and John Oulton of Marblehead.”14Nutt, Volume I, p. 24. Sewall obviously knew them and was perhaps unaware that they had taken possession of the saw mill. Sewall continued on to Marlborough and no mention of Worcester is found in the diary entries for the remaining ten years of his life. It is clear from these short entries however, that the area around Lincoln Square was already a notable stop along the road from Boston to Worcester before the town was officially established in 1722 and before the courthouse was built after 1731.

Detail of a map of Worcester dated May 28, 1795 and surveyed between October, 1794 and April, 1795 by John Pierce and David Andrews, found at Digital Commonwealth (here). The map shows the “road from Boston to New York” passing through the center or “village” of Worcester. All the important buildings of the town are shown on the map including (from north to south) the “Court House,” “Second Parish Meeting House” (later moved, see below), the “Gaol House,” Isiah Thomas’s “Printing House,” the “County Treasurer,” the “School House,” the “County Register,” and the “First Parish Meeting House.” Interspersed among the institutional buildings are three taverns along the east side of Main Street: “Barker’s,” Heywood’s,” and “Mower’s” taverns, all discussed below. The “mill brook, one rod wide” discussed above can be seen to the left of the “road from Boston” at the top of the map.


Institutional Distractions

As Charles Nutt says in his History of Worcester regarding the establishment of Worcester as the capital of the newly-formed Worcester County, “The shire town naturally became a trading center, and the merchants here prospered.”15Nutt, Volume I, p. 381. Merchants from Boston were quick to take notice of Worcester as a potential market for goods brought in to the docks lining Boston Harbor. The most important of these merchants proved to be Stephen Salisbury, who was sent to Worcester by his brother Samuel in 1767 to open a Worcester branch of their import business near the courthouse. Salisbury’s business thrived and he was able to build a large mansion/store in 1772 on the north side of Lincoln Square, where the World War One Memorial is located today. This mansion still exists, although it was moved in 1929 to a spot near the Worcester Art Museum “to support the construction of the Worcester Memorial Auditorium and allow the reconfiguration of Lincoln Square.”16MACRIS report WOR.389

Much of the property around Lincoln Square belonged for more than a century to one of the three Stephen Salisburys (father, son, and grandson). The first Stephen Salisbury (1746-1829) established the family business in Worcester in 1767; Stephen Salisbury II (1798-1884) expanded into banking and real estate speculation, and also financed the building of many of the factory buildings that enabled Worcester to become an industrial powerhouse in the nineteenth century; and Stephen Salisbury III (1835-1905) continued the philanthropic tradition of the family. Not only did the Salisbury family provide the land for the numerous nearby impressive institutions and parks, such as the Worcester Art Museum, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Institute Park, they often provided large sums of money to endow many of the prominent institutions in the city or to fund the construction of the magnificent buildings in which they are housed. Stephen Salisbury III never married and had no children, and upon his death in 1905 left an estate valued at somewhere between three and five million dollars, which was distributed to various public bequests.17See Nutt, History of Worcester, Vol. I, pp. 221-224 for detailed histories of each member of the fascinating Salisbury family.

View at the north entrance to the village of Worcester in 1841 by artist John Warner Barber.
This image can be viewed at the Worcester Historical Museum and on p. 25 (Volume I) of Charles Nutt’s History of Worcester. The caption accompanying the image reads: “Lincoln Square is historically the entrance to Worcester. The Boston Post Road (now Lincoln Street) was the earliest and most traveled route into town. The other seven roads clogging the intersection by 1950 all fed in from significant points elsewhere. In this woodcut, the carriage is traveling into town from the Post Road. The scene depicts (left to right) Court Mills, the Unitarian Church, the 1801 Charles Bulfinch court house, Salisbury Mansion and wareroom, and Stephen Salisbury II’s 1836 Elias Carter-designed house.” The 1836 house remains, situated behind the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, the 1772 mansion was moved next door to the Salisbury House in 1929, and both the church and the court house were subsequently rebuilt or remodeled (see photo below).
Photograph showing the modern view from Lincoln Street at approximately the same location as the image shown in the woodcut above. From right to left Worcester Boys Club, World War One Memorial, Worcester Memorial Auditorium (behind WWI Memorial), the former Worcester County Courthouse, First Unitarian Church, Wesley United Methodist Church, and buildings of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which occupy the area where Court Mills was once located, shown in the woodcut above.


The entire area around the “48 mile” stone, from Salisbury Street at the north end of Wheaton Square all along Grove Street back to the courthouse is lined with an impressive succession of buildings and monuments of historic and architectural interest, including the Spanish-American War Memorial (1917), Tuckerman Hall (originally called Worcester Woman’s Club, built in 1902, home of the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra), the Worcester National Guard Armory (1889), the original Worcester Historical Society building (1890), the Worcester Industrial Technical Institute (1909), Central Congegrational Church (1885), the Worcester Boys Club (1929), the World War One Memorial (1935), and, most impressive of all, the enormous Worcester Memorial Auditorium (1931-1932).

The original home of the Worcester Historical Society at 39 Salisbury Street; behind is Tuckerman Hall.

Timothy Dwight’s effusive description in 1821 that “few towns in New-England exhibit so uniform an appearance of neatness, and taste or contain so great a proportion of good buildings, and so small a proportion of those which are indifferent, as Worcester” is still an apt description of not only Main Street in Worcester but also of many nearby neighborhoods, most especially the area to the north of the courthouse. Immediately behind the impressive row of eclectic architecture on Grove Street are even more gems of architectural interest. The most obvious is the Worcester Art Museum (1898 with numerous later additions), which houses an outstanding collection. Nearby are the two Salisbury mansions; the earliest building from 1772, once located on Lincoln Square, now belongs to the Worcester Historical Society and can be visited at its more recent home at 40 Highland Street, while a second building next door, the Greek Revival Salisbury House built by Stephen Salisbury II in the 1830s, has recently become the headquarters of Preservation Worcester. Behind these buildings is the impressive campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), opened on the hill behind the museum in 1868, with a collection of interesting buildings like Boynton Hall (1868), Washburn Machine Shops (1868), and Salisbury Laboratories (1888). Finally, behind WPI is the American Antiquarian Society ( the AAS moved to this new building from a building near Lincoln Square, funded by Stephen Salisbury III, in 1909), the third-oldest historical society in the country founded in 1812 by Isiah Thomas, which houses an excellent collection of historical documents and artifacts. The AAS is situated in a leafy neighborhood full of superb homes built over a seventeen-year period from 1889-1906 listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District (MACRIS WOR.A) about which an entire walk could be devoted. This is not explicitly what draws me so far from the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, however nice the houses are in this lovely neighborhood. Instead, at #6 Massachusetts Avenue, much altered and modernized but still recognizably older than the surrounding houses, is the Trumbull House, dating to 1751 and moved to its current location in 1899.18This building has had a peripatetic existence to say the least. It was built as a courthouse in 1751 located at what today is the corner of Highland Street and Main Street. A newer courthouse opened in 1803 (the one in the woodcut above) and this building was moved by a team of oxen to the intersection of Franklin and Green Streets, between City Hall and Union Station, where it served as a residence for the Trumbull family for fifty years. Threatened with demolition in 1899, the house was purchased by Susan Trumbull, who had it taken apart, moved across town again, and carefully reconstructed at its current resting place on Massachusetts Avenue. See Charles Nutt, History of Worcester, Volume I, p. 384. This building was originally built as the Second Worcester County Court House, and its relatively diminutive size compared to the courthouse building now situated on its original site at the corner of Highland Street and Main Street gives some idea of the growth of Worcester over the course of two centuries.

Worcester Memorial Auditorium.

By now the reader will have ascertained that my ramble off the beaten path of the Upper Boston Post Road to examine a milestone was merely an excuse to meander further afield and examine the interesting architectural and cultural buildings of an area with multiple listings in the National Register of Historic Places including not just individual buildings like the Salisbury Mansion, but also entire neighborhoods like the Massachusetts Avenue District and the Institutional District, each worth an entry of their own in this walking project. If only this project was called Worcester Rambles and not Boston Rambles; as it is I have already rambled far from Boston but always with a specific purpose as the most recent series of rambles is dedicated to following the route of the Upper Boston Post Road. Thus this cursory summary of of a walk of well over a mile looking at the Institutional District, the Massachusetts Avenue District, WPI, and the legacy of three generations of Stephen Salisbury will have to suffice.

Incidentally, I am one of the many people to benefit from the largesse of the Salisbury family. Another reason for rambling off the main road is that I have been here before; as a student at WPI, I lived here for the better part of four years in the early 1980s. I received a degree in Biology in 1986 (as well as a degree in History which will prove relevant in the next entry) and spent a large fraction of my time from August 1982 to May 1986 in the Salisbury Laboratories, where the offices, classrooms, and laboratories of the Biology Department were located, a building funded by the Salisbury family.19The Biology and Biotechnology Department, to be more precise, now resides in the modern Gateway Center located just off Lincoln Square on Prescott Street near to where John Wing once had a mill and very close to the original location of the Salisbury Mansion. I also spent a good deal of time at the Worcester Art Museum and at Institute Park, both of which I have visited again over the years whenever I find myself in Worcester, including recently as part of these diversionary walks off the main road. Hopefully the reader will forgive me for indulging in this rather circuitous diversion, superficially because it allows me to paint a fuller picture of Worcester and its development, but principally because it allows me to ramble a bit down memory lane, even if most of the rambling is admittedly not contiguous with the Upper Boston Post Road.

My time as a student in Worcester does mean that I am already familiar with the area and with the route of the Upper Boston Post Road through downtown Worcester, although at the time I thought of it mainly as the way to the bus station or to the occasional night out at a concert, a club, or a restaurant. To be honest, although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Worcester and will always have a soft spot for the Worcester of the 1980s, the city was going through quite a rough patch, with most of the factories long-closed, the population fleeing to the suburbs, and more than a few of the buildings along Main Street shuttered or in a state of decay. A walk along Main Street in 1984, especially at night, was not for the faint of heart. Even today, although the population has rebounded and redevelopment has had some positive effects, as the local journalist and historian of Worcester Albert Southwick put it in his 1998 History of Worcester, “If Worcester folks from either 1848 or 1898-or 1948- could visit downtown Worcester today, their first question might be: Where is everybody? There is no bustle on the sidewalks, no throngs leaving shops and factories at noon, no crowds at Harrington Corner, once the crossroads of Worcester, and not much traffic on downtown streets.”20Albert Southwick, 150 Years of Worcester: 1848-1998. Worcester: Chandler House Press, 1998. p. 75.

Symbolic of the decline of local fortunes are the buildings and monuments lining Lincoln Square, which are in various states of disrepair. The otherwise impressive Worcester World War One Memorial (1935, MACRIS # WOR.908) is littered with the soiled blankets and trash left behind by someone who appears to have slept there. The memorial is isolated from its surroundings as it faces the busy traffic flowing through Lincoln Square from Lincoln Street and Route 9 (Belmont Street, which becomes Highland Street) while behind it sits the Worcester Boys Club building (1929, MACRIS # WOR.373), empty and, quite literally, falling apart. Directly across Grove Street to the west is the empty and fenced off Worcester Memorial Auditorium (1931, MACRIS # WOR.372), once the main venue for touring musical acts such as Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue (November 19, 1975), which has been closed since 2009 although there have been intermittent but as yet unfulfilled plans to renovate the building. Across Highland Street, the old courthouse building, unoccupied for a decade after the new Worcester County Court building was opened a few yards down Main Street in 2007, was renovated from 2019-2021 and is now an apartment complex called Courthouse Lofts, part of an effort to revitalize what had once been one of the two bustling squares anchoring downtown Worcester. It is probably not a great sign, however, that there was a shooting in broad daylight directly in front of the old courthouse a hundred yards from police headquarters, literally in the place I was standing five hours earlier. The Worcester Police Department Headquarters is housed in an ugly concrete bunker on the southeastern corner of Lincoln Square, once the site of the Worcester County Jail, shown below (#5 and #6) on the excellent map of the center of Worcester produced by Edward Phelps in 1829. The Worcester County Courthouse is the building labelled #14 on the map; there is also a sketch of the courthouse building of 1829 on the top left side of the map below.


A superbly detailed map of the center of Worcester drawn by Edward Phelps and included in the Worcester Directory of 1829 complete with a numbered list of all the occupants and owners of the buildings along Main Street in downtown. The map is shown here with the north end of Main Street (Lincoln Square) at the right and the south end of Main Street at the left. Click on the map to open a larger version in a new window to see the numbers more clearly. The buildings labelled #3 and #4 on the map at right represent the mansion and “wareroom” of Stephen Salisbury (who died the year this map was drawn) shown in the woodcut by John W. Barber above. Salisbury also owned buildings #8-12 and #15 around Lincoln Square on the map. Other buildings discussed in the entry will be tagged with the appropriate number so that the reader can find them on this map. The putative beginning of this walk is at #14 on the map, the Worcester County Court House, an image of which is also shown on the map and which can be seen in the above woodcut as well. The walk ends at Worcester City Hall, which on the map is represented by Town Hall (#93), built in 1825 and the South Meeting House (#94) next door. Both of these buildings were replaced by Worcester City Hall in 1898, shown in the photo at the end of the entry below.


Court Proceedings

Knox passed this way, as did a host of other luminaries including Washington and Adams, who also have their own plaques outside the Worcester County Court House on Main Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Fortunately there is no evidence of the aforementioned unpleasantness when, after a not so brief detour off the Upper Boston Post Road, I find myself back in front of the Worcester County Courthouse. This is not the first time there has been a violent confrontation on the steps of the courthouse. In September 1786 “several hundred armed men had formed ranks and prevented the judges from entering the courthouse.”21Moynihan, p. 99. The circumstances behind this dramatic confrontation ten years after the Declaration of Independence and a year before the drafting of the United States Constitution involved the difficulties farmers and landowners encountered paying debts and taxes as a result of a lack of hard currency. As creditors sought remuneration for nonpayment of loans from the courts hundreds of men in Worcester County and Western Massachusetts, many serving in town militias at the time, undertook to render the courts inoperable to delay judgments in order to foment a more equitable system to redress the difficulties many men had in paying debts and taxes, much of it incurred during the Revolution when provincial governments issued paper money as payment to soldiers and to pay for food provided by farmers to feed the army, paper currency that had devalued over time and become essentially worthless by 1786.

By 1786 Artemas Ward, a resident of Shrewsbury (discussed in a previous entry) and the commander of the Massachusetts militiamen fighting the British Army around Boston until the arrival of George Washington in the summer of 1775, was the Speaker of the Massachusetts House and a circuit court judge for the Western District, which included Worcester County. On September 4, 1786 Ward attempted to convene the Court of Common Pleas at the Worcester County Court House (in the second courthouse building now located at 6 Massachusetts Avenue as discussed above) but was met by a group of men calling themselves the “Regulators” determined to stop the courts from functioning. Ward, who was personally known to many of the men, some of whom had served under him during the events of 1775, tried to pass through the crowd to the court but was stopped by bayonet-wielding men on the steps of the courthouse. After giving a speech critical of the actions of the men, Ward and the other justices retreated to the United States Arms Tavern across the street, a tavern I will return to shortly, where the “court” was immediately adjourned to the next day. As many of the Regulators also served in the local militia, it proved difficult to raise troops to dislodge the men from the courthouse steps and by the end of the next day, unable to enter the courthouse, the judges left without holding court. A second attempt to hold court in November was also forcibly disrupted. In January, 1787, the legislature dispatched a special state army to Worcester, by which time the regulators had focused their attention on the Springfield Armory and the Worcester County Court House was once again opened for business. The events of late 1786 and early 1787 have been termed Shays’s Rebellion, a more detailed analysis will be provided when I reach Springfield, as the events in January, 1787 marked the high point of the crisis.22See Moynihan pp. 98-101 and Charles Nutt, Volume I, pp. 567-575. For a wider perspective see Leonard Richards, Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

The area in front of the courthouse is teeming with plaques and markers and monuments testifying to the importance of the Upper Boston Post Road and to the significance of the courthouse in the development of Worcester. The first plaque, located along the curve of the courthouse property wall where Main Street intersects with Highland Street, marks the site of “the home and blacksmith shop of Timothy Bigelow, leader of the Minutemen from Worcester on April 19, 1775, Colonel of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment.” Bigelow later commanded the Springfield Armory (before the events of 1787) and also was one of the founders of the town of Montpelier, Vermont, but died at the age of fifty when, in poverty and in poor health, he was jailed for debt in early 1790.23Nutt, Volume I, p. 59. The Worcester chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was named in his honor, and a large memorial to him can be found on Worcester Common behind City Hall.

John Adams taught here and slept nearby.

The next plaque a few yards south along the wall of the courthouse property indicates that “In front of this tablet stood the first schoolhouse in Worcester where John Adams, second president of the United States, taught 1755-58. Placed by the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter DAR 1903.” A great deal is known about this story because John Adams began keeping his diary while living in Worcester, having taken a teaching job shortly after graduating from Harvard in July, 1755.24John Adams, Diary & Autobiography of John Adams, Four Volumes. L.H. Butterfield, Editor. New York: Atheneum, 1964. Volume I, p. 1. footnote. The diary begins on November 18, 1755 with a dramatic entry when, visiting his family in Braintree, Massachusetts, he “had a severe shock of an Earthquake. It continued near four minutes…and (I) awoke out of my sleep in the midst of it. The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us.” Not all the entries are as exciting as this one but the entries continued intermittently for another quarter century and describe in some detail many of the trips he took along the Upper Boston Post Road to Worcester, Springfield, New York and Philadelphia. The diaries have proven valuable already in this project and there is much more to come of interest as I move west along the road.

The diary entries are quite detailed from January 4, 1756, when he made his first entry following the description of the earthquake, to August 23, 1756, when he writes “Came to Putnam’s and began law. And studied not very closely this Week.”25Diary, Vol. I, p. 44. After a year of teaching Adams decided to become a lawyer and began his studies under James Putnam, a Worcester lawyer, while continuing to teach school. The entries then cease for over two years, until October 5, 1758, after he had finished his studies and returned to Braintree to begin the career that ultimately led him to the presidency of the United States. However, many interesting things can be gleaned from his entries for eight months in 1756, particularly because of the social connections he made in Worcester. He was particularly close to the Chandler family, one of Worcester’s principal families, not least because James Putnam was married to Elizabeth Chandler and Adams boarded with them for most of the time he studied law in Worcester. The Putnam house was located on the corner of Franklin Street and Main Street, just beyond City Hall. This entry ends as I reach City Hall and I will begin the next entry in this project at City Hall and describe the area in more detail, especially as this was the other important center of town. All I will say about Adams here is that the short walk in this entry is essentially the walk Adams made from his house to his place of employment (see the photo below).

1878 addition to the Worcester County Courthouse. There is a museum in the 1878 building dedicated to the early champion cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor, who spent most of his life in Worcester.

The remaining two plaques are versions of markers we have seen before in other towns along the road. The first is another in the series of markers indicating the route followed by Colonel Henry Knox and his men, who transferred artillery seized at Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in the winter of 1776, passing along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road for most of the journey east from Springfield. The second plaque, almost invisible in the wall across the street from the courthouse indicates that “General Washington passed this spot July 2, 1775, on his journey from Philadelphia to Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army,” as it happens, from Artemas Ward, the man who was refused entry to the courthouse in 1786.

Before finally moving along Main Street and actually walking along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road which is ostensibly the point of these entries, there is one more part of the courthouse that draws my attention, the 1878 addition to the main building, a charming building of its own which today quixotically serves as a museum dedicated to the life of a champion cyclist from over a century ago, Marshall “Major” Taylor. Taylor moved to Worcester from Indiana as a teenager with his employer, a bicycle manufacturer, Worcester being a center of the industry at the time. Taylor turned professional in 1896, and won the mile sprint at the 1899 World Cycling Championship; he went on to a highly successful career as a well-known international cyclist setting numerous world cycling records. What makes his accomplishments more remarkable is that in the era in which he competed black athletes were not allowed to compete in many parts of the country and many cycling organizations specifically banned black riders from membership. On the occasions when he could race, he encountered other obstacles: nails were thrown on the ground in front of his bike by “fans” and objects were thrown at him while competing. Even his fellow riders were not averse to treating him roughly principally because of his skin color, a subject which Taylor discussed in detail in his autobiography published in 1928, not because he wanted to settle scores, but rather to inspire children to overcome prejudice to achieve their goals, stating “life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart and that is why I have no feeling against anybody.”26The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds: An Autobiography. Worcester: Commonwealth Press, 1928. p. 422.


Finally Back On The Road?

John Adams’s walk to work. View down Main Street from the front of the First Unitarian Church. The tower in the distance is City Hall, the end of this walk through the heart of Worcester. The building to the right of City Hall in the photograph is the site of the house of James Putnam, where Adams boarded during his time as a law student under Putnam. he also taught at the grammar school in Worcester located adjacent to the courthouse on Court Hill, a few yards behind the spot where the photograph was taken.

After this stirring story it behooves me to get moving and make some progress of my own in this entry. Although the official walk is only a little over half a mile it is through an area so densely packed with interesting stories and, in the words of Timothy Dwight, “so great a proportion of good buildings” that it has been difficult to make literally any progress. It doesn’t make it any easier that the next building along the road from the courthouse is the First Church Unitarian, first gathered in Worcester in 1785, with a long and interesting story deeply rooted in the complex history of Worcester. Much as I would love to dig into the weeds of this fascinating topic, I will keep it brief otherwise this entry will quickly devolve into a long history of the second largest city in New England, a topic which has already been covered in great detail by many more knowledgeable writers. So, briefly, the First Meeting House, long-located on the spot where City Hall sits today, was the sole church in Worcester for the first half-century of its establishment in 1722. A complicated internal dissension in the Puritan church toward the end of the eighteenth century erupted in towns all over New England and the church in Worcester split into two parishes in 1785, the first crack in the religious monopoly the more traditional Congregational Church held at the time over almost every town in New England. By 1848 the increasing diversity of churches characteristic of modern Worcester (and most towns in America) was well underway, with a Baptist church, an even more dogmatic Calvinist church, two Episcopal churches, a Methodist church, a Universalist church, a “Union” Church, St John’s Catholic Church, and “one or two societies of Colored persons,” along with “Old South,” the original Congregational Church and the breakaway “Second Congregation,” later to be called the First Unitarian Church.27See Southwick, p. 9. By 1909 there were, according to Charles Nutt, “one hundred and eleven or more churches and synagogues making up the ecclesiastical system of the present city,” and today, with storefront churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples, mosques, and online churches, who knows how many more.28Nutt, History of Worcester, Volume II, p. 203.

The newly-formed congregation, led by Reverend Aaron Bancroft (minister from 1785 to 1839), father of historian George Bancroft, first met in the courthouse building but soon built their own church on Summer Street, near the current Police headquarters. In 1828 they returned, according to the official history of the church (2010), when “land on Court Hill was purchased from Isaiah Thomas, next to the courthouse where early Second Parish services had been held, and as (Alonzo) Hill (second minister) said, on ground made sacred by the first pulpit bible in America having been printed there. The new building was finished in 1829.” This structure burned in 1849 and the current building was put up in 1852, although the hurricane of 1938 required the steeple and much of the sanctuary to be rebuilt.

Isaiah Thomas (1749-1832), one of the founders of the church, lived in and ran his publishing empire from a building next door to the courthouse for over fifty years. Thomas arrived in Worcester after having sneaked his printing presses out of Boston under cover of darkness in early 1775, where he resumed publishing the Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper stridently critical of the government, the reason he was obliged to escape from Boston. Thomas’s press, the first in Worcester, thrived after the Revolution and, with his partners, by 1802 when he passed his business on to his son, he ran five bookstores (one as far away as Baltimore) and operated sixteen printing presses, becoming one of the largest publishers of the day.29Nutt, Vol. I, p. 246. A testament to the fame and stature of Thomas can be found in the diaries of the French writer Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville, who wrote in 1788 while traveling through Worcester, “this town is elegant, and well peopled: the printer, Isaiah Thomas, has rendered it famous through all the continent. He prints most of the works which appear; and it must be granted that his editions are correct. Thomas is the Didot of the United States.” 30Jacques Pierre Brissot De Warville, New Travels in the United States of America, Performed in 1788. Translated from the French. Bowling Green, Ohio: Historical Publications Company, 1919. Letter III, p. 122. Incidentally, François-Ambroise Didot was a well-known French printer and publisher. In addition to his monumental achievements in the publishing world, Thomas also founded the American Antiquarian Society and, importantly for this project, had numerous direct links to the Upper Boston Post Road. Not only was his house located along the road, Thomas’s press published an Almanack from 1775 until 1819, listing the distances, towns, and taverns along the various roads leading from Boston, including the “Western Post Road to Hartford, Fish-Kill, and Philadelphia,” otherwise known as the Upper Boston Post Road. Thomas was also an early advocate of the construction of the Boston to Worcester Turnpike which, conveniently, stopped almost at his front door on Court Hill, next door to the Worcester County Court House, in the Heart of the Commonwealth.31Incidentally, the new express train that is being proposed to run between Boston and Worcester is called the Heart to Hub Express.


Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science, one of a string of modern, uninviting buildings along the east side of Main Street in Worcester. This building, with a wall separating it from the sidewalk, along with the truly awful AT&T Building nearby, literally suck the energy out of the street. The marker indicating the site of the United States Arms Tavern (see photograph below) is located along the sidewalk to the left of the fire hydrant.

Court Hill, as the reader might surmise, is elevated above the surrounding area. This is obvious as I finally manage to move a few yards downhill and down the road away from the courthouse. An important early stop along the Upper Boston Post Road was originally located across the street from the Worcester Court House in the area currently occupied by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS). In order to get over to the other side of Main Street I have to circumvent a bizarre tunnel that divides Main Street in two as it leads into Lincoln Square. This tunnel, designed by Ole Singstad (who also designed the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York) was opened in 1956 to connect Salisbury Street to Main Street, but has been closed since last May, ostensibly for four months, although there seems to be no sign of any work being done. On this particular day the entrance to the tunnel is being used as a parking lot for trucks associated with a performance at the nearby DCU Center, a large concert hall located a block behind Main Street, which opened when I first arrived in Worcester in the fall of 1982. The most memorable of the bands I managed to see at the Centrum (as it was called then) during my time at WPI was probably U2 during the Unforgettable Fire Tour in 1984. I also took a pass on some concerts friends tried to convince me to attend, including the “farewell” tour of the Who (Sorry John, it wasn’t), as well as Judas Priest (sorry Tony, but my ears have thanked me ever since) and, most unfortunately, The Police, who I thought would be around much longer than they were and so opted to wait for trivial reasons even though they were my favorite band at the time. I’m still waiting. Life lesson.

The tunnel effectively divides Main Street in two for the first two blocks south from Lincoln Square. The west side of the street, with the courthouse, the First Unitarian church, and a Methodist church built in 1926 just beyond, has managed to maintain most of its original institutions and most of its older architecture, although the same cannot be said of the east side of the street, which is today dominated by the modern buildings of the MCPHS campus for the first two blocks from Lincoln Square, on the following block by the brutally ugly AT&T building, one of the most unpleasant and soulless buildings I have ever encountered, likened by one writer to a Death Star landing in downtown Worcester, and finally by the modern Worcester County Court House building on the following block, a far less interesting building than its former home a couple of blocks back up Main Street. Having spent literally thousands of words on the area around the original courthouse, I have said all I need to about the contemporary court building and its neighbors, which reflect a mostly unsuccessful effort to revitalize downtown.

The aforementioned buildings might contribute to a small increase in the daytime population of this section of Main Street in downtown, but the complete absence of any aesthetic appeal combined with the seemingly deliberate manner in which the buildings fail to engage with the street lend a bleak atmosphere to the area, a far cry from the bustling and attractive street described by visitors to the area dating back to at least John Adams, who lived along Main Street between 1755 and 1758. We have already heard from Timothy Dwight, writing in glowing terms about Worcester in 1821, and as late as 1842 Charles Dickens described Worcester in positive, if typically faintly sarcastic terms in his American Notes, saying “a pretty New England town… all the buildings looked as if they had been built and painted that morning.” The map of the town of Worcester from 1795 by Pierce and Andrews (see above) shows the short stretch of Main Street in the center of the town crowded with government buildings including the County Court House, the County Registry, and the County Treasury, the schoolhouse (moved after Adams’s time to a more central location) and the Printing Office of Isiah Thomas, as well as the religious buildings of the First and Second Parish at either end of “downtown.” So crowded is the map in this part of town that none of the many residences that also lined the street are shown.

A small sign that people once walked along a now lonely section of Main Street in Worcester.

Interspersed among the residences and institutional buildings along Main Street in the shire town of Worcester County in the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century were numerous taverns, likely owing to Worcester’s position about a day’s journey from Boston along the Upper Boston Post Road. It is for this reason alone that I linger along the sidewalk on the bleak east side of Main Street near the entrance to the tunnel to nowhere looking for signs of that bustling atmosphere. The sole piece of evidence is a marker on the edge of the sidewalk near the MCPHS building that reads “In the year 1826 the holy sacrifice of the mass was offered for the first time in Worcester by the RT Rev. Benedict Fenwick in a room in the United States Arms Tavern which stood on this site.” (see photo above). Not only does this marker provide more evidence of the changing nature of religion in Worcester and, by extension, the changing population of the town, it also marks the location of one of the important early taverns shown on the 1795 map of the town of Worcester, a tavern visited by numerous travelers of note who passed along the Upper Boston Post Road.

A tavern called the United States Arms was first opened here on Main Street opposite the courthouse by Nathan Patch in 1784. It was here that Artemas Ward repaired to after failing to enter the courthouse and it was here that his former rival George Washington “breakfasted” on the morning of October 23, 1789 on his journey to Boston.32Southwick, p. 7; Wall, p. 275; Nutt, p. 1039.The Patch tavern appears in Nathanael Low’s Almanack for the Christian Year of 1787 and in Bickerstaff’s Genuine Boston Almanack for 1791. By 1793 Patch had transferred ownership of the tavern to William Barker, and a tavern called Barker’s is listed in Isaiah Thomas’s Almanack for the year of our Lord 1802, 1/4 mile past Butman’s Tavern which, as I discussed in the last entry, was just north of Lincoln Square. Thomas lived across the street so he was presumably knowledgeable about this and the other taverns in his neighborhood. Barker’s tavern is one of three shown along the south side of Main Street in Pierce and Andrew’s 1795 map of Worcester (see above for the map. Barker’s is opposite the Court House). The tavern was purchased in 1807 by Reuben Sikes, who was the partner of Levi Pease in the establishment of commercial stagecoach travel in the United States. According to Caleb Wall, in his Reminiscences of Worcester, “Col. Reuben Sikes from Connecticut, the celebrated stage proprietor, purchased the estate, and managed the hotel for seventeen years until his decease, Aug. 19, 1824, aged 69. He made this hotel the leading one in the town, and the grand centre of arrival and departure of all the different stage lines connecting Worcester with all sections of the country.”33Wall, p. 275. Ownership then passed for sixteen years to Captain Samuel Thomas of Brookfield and the building, number 25 on the map by Edward Phelps above, is listed in the 1829 Worcester Directory under the name Samuel B. Thomas, when it went by the name of Thomas’s Exchange House (and NOT the United States Arms as the plaque states incorrectly), eventually becoming the Exchange Hotel, visible on Phineas Ball’s 1860 map of Worcester on the northeast corner of Market Street (a street no longer in existence) and Main Street. Incidentally, the exchange in the name is a reference to the fact that the stagecoach stopped here and horses from the previous “stage” were “exchanged” for fresh horses for the next stage of the journey. As Wall points out, “the opening of the various railroads, beginning in 1835, carried the leading hotel business farther uptown,” although the hotel continued until about 1877, when its 110 feet of frontage on Main Street were transformed into stores; Triscott’s map from 1878 shows the building broken into smaller units. As Wall, writing in 1877, eloquently summarized “for half a century or so of the ninety-three years since this hotel was opened to the public, it was the leading hotel of the town, and of the county, where distinguished travelers always stopped, and where the judges and others connected with the courts were entertained during court time.”34Wall, p. 275. Today, save for the marker, there is no trace left of the eighteenth and nineteenth century on the east side of Main Street, from Lincoln Square to Martin Luther King Boulevard just beyond the modern courthouse.


Detail of a map by Samuel Triscott showing Main Street in Worcester in 1878 from Lincoln Square (at right) to “Clark’s Block,” just beyond Mechanic Street, a half block from City Hall (at left). Some of the places discussed in the text are shown on this map, including the Court House, the Bay State House, Mechanics Hall, Lincoln House, and Clarks Block.


A typical block along Main Street in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. These two buildings on the west side of Main Street between Sudbury Street and Maple Street are directly opposite Mechanics Hall (see photo below). The building on the left is the Romanesque Revival-style Worcester Five Cents Savings Bank Building from 1891 (MACRIS #WOR.451) and the building on the right is the Day Building from 1898 (MACRIS #WOR.450). Notice how the streets heading west rise steeply from Main Street, which sits in a valley about 480 feet above sea level, surrounded by (supposedly) seven hills. The Day Building is located on the site of the house of Major Nathaniel Greene, with whom John Adams first resided when he came to Worcester in 1755 to teach at the Grammar School near the courthouse. Adams later moved in with the Putnam family further down Main Street across from what is now City Hall.


Block by Block

Aside from the dispiriting few blocks on the east side of Main Street there remains an impressive array of interesting architecture along the eight blocks of Main Street from the original location of the Worcester County Court House at Lincoln Square to the site of the First Meeting House, now City Hall, many of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places and most of them with reports in the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System (MACRIS). Many of Worcester’s early elite lived along Main Street in the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, and three more taverns from the period were interspersed among the estates along the road leading to City Hall, all with some historical connection to the Upper Boston Post Road. Unsurprisingly for a city the size of Worcester, none of these original buildings survive, but some of the buildings that replaced the mansions and taverns along the road are much more interesting than the painfully inappropriate architecture that characterizes the first few blocks along the east side of Main Street, and the streetscape for the half dozen blocks to the end of this walk is quite pleasant, albeit less bustling than it might have been two centuries or even fifty years ago.

The west side of Main Street has all of the interesting architecture for the first few blocks leading south from Lincoln Square. After the courthouse and the churches are a series of nineteenth-century brick buildings including the Victorian Gothic-style Armsby Building at #144 Main Street (MACRIS #WOR.446), home of the fantastic Armsby Abbey tavern, where I take a break from looking for old tavern sites and instead stop at a contemporary tavern for a great lunch and a beer from their superior selection. Refreshed after my lunch in a place that I hope represents the direction Main Street and Worcester is headed, I continue towards City Hall, along a street that is a veritable survey of urban architecture in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. The building next door (#154 Main Street, MACRIS #WOR.447) has a marker indicating that the current building, dating to 1831, replaced an earlier building put up by Daniel Waldo in 1782 that was Worcester’s first made of brick. One or two large parking lots break up the unity of the architecture along the west side of Main Street, depressing reminders of buildings that once stood in the now empty spaces, but the buildings still standing are eclectic and intriguing, including the lovely curved facade of the Worcester Five Cents Savings Bank Building (1891) at the northwest corner of Maple and Main (see the photo above). Next door, at #300-310 Main Street, the Day Building from 1898 (see photo above) is located on the site of the house of Major Nathaniel Greene, where John Adams initially boarded when he first arrived in Worcester to teach at the Grammar School just down the street, as he tells us in his notes for an aborted autobiography: “For three months I boarded with one Green at the Expence of the Town and by the Arrangement of the Select Men.” Adams later took up the study of law with James Putnam and moved into the Putnam family home for remainder of his stay in Worcester at what is today the southeast corner of Main Street and Franklin Street, close to City Hall.35Wall, p, 173.

A view behind Main Street. This photograph, taken from Exchange Street shows the Palladium Theater, with its vibrant mural, from the rear. Next door to the Palladium Theater is the new Worcester County Court House (visible at right, behind the smiley face logo on the rear of the theater, a symbol designed in Worcester). The new building opened in 2007 a few hundred yards south of the original location of the courthouse on Court Hill for 275 years, from 1732-2007. On the south side of the Palladium is the remnant of the building first opened in 1856 as Bay State House. Compare the contemporary version of the building on the left with the original in the image below. Heywood’s Tavern, one of Worcester’s earliest taverns, operated on the site from 1722 until 1809.

The architecture on the east side of Main Street becomes markedly more interesting south of Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly called Central Street). On the southeast corner of Main Street and MLK Boulevard is the Palladium Theater, an Art Deco theater from 1928 (MACRIS #WOR.715) that has long been a venue for up and coming bands and another place I spent more than a few hours inside when it was called E.M. Loews, in the era of big-hair bands.36In 2012, the owners unsuccessfully asked for a waiver to demolish the historic structure. Since then new (and obviously better) owners have revitalized the building and have plans to revitalize downtown. Just beyond the Palladium is an inconspicuous commercial building housing two restaurants, a law office, and a nail salon that is the remaining portion of what was once the grandest hotel in Worcester and the site of one of the oldest taverns in Worcester, established by Daniel Heywood in 1722.

The two-story building on the northeast corner of Exchange Street and Main Street (#279-289 Main Street, MACRIS #WOR.716) was once a four-story Italianate-style building opened in 1856 as the Bay State House, a building that extended for nearly the entire block behind Main Street. Before that, three generations of the Daniel Heywood family ran the tavern from 1722 until 1809, a tavern shown on the 1795 map of Worcester by Pierce and Andrews (above). Although it is not listed in Prince’s 1732 Vade mecum, it is listed in Thomas’s 1802 almanac, 1/4 mile past Barker’s Tavern. After the death of the youngest Daniel Heywood in 1809 the building was operated under various names by numerous owners; it is shown on the map by Phelps from the 1829 Worcester Directory as owned by Cyrus Stockwell and operated by Samuel Banister (#63 on the map above from 1829) and for some time went under the name the Central Hotel.37Wall, p. 268. After the death of Reuben Sikes in 1824 the stagecoach operations shifted their business here from the Exchange Hotel until the end of the 1840s, when the building was moved to make way for the grander new Bay State House, visible on Phineas Ball’s 1860 map of Worcester and on Samuel Triscott’s 1878 map of the city.

Hard to believe, but this ornate building is the same one as the brown building on the left in the photograph above. The top two floors were removed in the twentieth century along with the ornate facade; the shape of the windows is about the only thing the two seem to have in common.

The pace of the architectural show quickens both sides of Main Street as I continue along the route of the old road. The next two buildings along the east side of Main Street, the Central Exchange (1895, MACRIS WOR.452) and Mechanics Hall (1855, MACRIS WOR.453) fill the entire next block with their elegant facades. Mechanics Hall in particular is an outstanding building and the concert hall inside is unparalleled for its sound quality, justifiably touted “as the finest pre-Civil War performance hall in America.” It is worth a trip to Worcester solely to hear a concert in this iconic hall. Surrounding Mechanics Hall is an eclectic string of buildings comprising the Mechanics Hall Historic District including the Burnside Building (1886) next door and the Second State Mutual Life Building, built in 1894 after the company outgrew their earlier headquarters, a Second Empire building from 1870 located at 270 Main Street (MACRIS WOR.448). The company later merged with Hanover Insurance and moved to a new headquarters 2.5 miles out of the center of town on Lincoln Street, along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, a topic discussed in the previous entry.

Mechanics Hall, “the finest pre-Civil War performance hall in America.”

It would be easy to continue listing buildings along Main Street but at this point the reader should just pay a visit and see for themselves. Most of the architecture was put up in Worcester’s period of peak economic success, from 1848, when the town became a city, to the 1920s, after which the Great Depression, the Second World War, the decline of industry and commerce in Worcester, and the concomitant loss of residents to the suburbs and the Sun Belt resulted in a dramatic economic decline, something the city still struggles with today, although prospects are much rosier than they were in the dark days of the 1980s. I will continue this discussion of the economic growth and decline of the town and city of Worcester in the following entry. For now my main objective is to describe the remaining eighteenth century taverns that once lined the route to the meeting house that served as the religious and civic center of town for most of the period before the opening of City Hall in 1898.

The entire block between Maple and Elm is taken up by the Guaranty Bank Building (1971), a rare skyscraper (12 stories, 187 feet tall) in Worcester, which replaced the brick commercial buildings along what was formerly called the Lincoln Block. The block was named not for Abraham Lincoln, but rather for the Lincoln House, which operated on the site from 1832-1877, “for many years a rival in popular favor with the Bay State Hotel.” (see the map below). 38Nutt, p. 1040; Wall, pp. 266-267. Before that, from 1811 until the early 1830s, it was the estate of Governor Levi Lincoln who hosted many notable political figures of the day here, including Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, and most notably was the scene of a lavish reception for the visiting Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.39Wall, p. 266. The property is listed in the Worcester Directory as owned by Levi Lincoln, and is labeled #80 on the 1829 map above. The Lincoln House can be seen on Phineas Ball’s 1860 map of Worcester and on Triscott’s 1878 map above, where it sits behind the newly built commercial buildings of the “Lincoln Block.”

An even earlier building on the northwest corner of Elm and Main Streets housed the tavern operated by Thomas and Mary Stearns from 1732-1784. Mary Stearns was the daughter of Judge William Jennison, the man largely responsible for the formation of Worcester County and whose house in Worcester was listed in Prince’s 1732 Vade mecum, 40Wall, p. 58. Did the Stearn tavern replace the Jennison place as the tavern of importance in Worcester? Daniel Heywood also operated a tavern nearby as did one operated by Moses Rice, but none of these taverns is mentioned by Prince. Mary Stearns continued to operate the tavern after the death of her husband in 1773, a tavern also known as the Kings Arms, until the sign was tactfully pulled down during the events of 1774-1775.41Nutt, Vol. II, pp. 665-666. Nutt quotes from the Massachusetts Spy of July 24, 1776 when, after reading the Declaration of Independence from a balcony of the Meeting House “a select company of the Sons of Freedom repaired to the Tavern lately known by the Sign of King’s Arms, which odious signature of despotism was taken down by order of the people which was cheerfully complied with by the inn-keeper, where the following toasts were drank, and the evening spent with joy on the commencement of the happy area.” Stephen Jenkins, in his book The Old Boston Post Road, claims that “before the Revolution, it was the favorite resort of the Tories.”42Jenkins, p. 335. However, most of the documented visits to the tavern during that period indicate that, despite the sign, it was unlikely to be a Tory stronghold. According to Kenneth Moynihan, in his History of Worcester, “fifty-two delegates from the towns of Worcester County assembled at the public house operated by Mary Stearns in Worcester on August 9, 1774,” to endorse an order enforcing the non-importation of British goods.43Moynihan, p. 72. George Washington was reported to have stopped there on his way to take command of the Continental Army on July 2, 1775, and John Adams records in his diary entry for January 26, 1776, that he “stopped at Sternes’s in Worcester” on his way to Philadelphia. From 1785 the tavern was operated by John Stower and appears in various almanacs of the time from Thomas in 1785 to Bickerstaff’s in 1791.44Nutt, p. 1040.

Image of Clark’s Block, at the corner of Mechanic and Main Street in Worcester, taken from the map of Worcester produced in 1860 by Phineas Ball. Compare with a contemporary photograph of the building below where half the building has been covered with leftover material from a 1970s science fiction movie.

I continue along past yet another block of interesting buildings, including the Slater Building from 1907 at #390 Main Street (MACRIS WOR.765), the Worcester County Institution for Savings Bank (1851) on the block across the street at #365 Main Street (MACRIS WOR.762), and Grout’s Block (1871) at #379-385 Main Street (MACRIS WOR.764), to reach the southeast corner of Mechanic Street and Main Street, site of the last of the four major taverns along Main Street in eighteenth-century Worcester. The building currently occupying the corner is called the Walker building (MACRIS WOR.766) after Joseph Walker, who expanded the building he purchased from William Clark in 1884. The Clark Block is shown on Triscott’s map of 1878 above and an image of the building as it looked in 1860 is shown on Phineas Ball’s map (see above image). In recent years a clown posing as an architect saw fit to redesign the facade of the southern half of the building, turning a fantastic block of architectural gems into a couple of great buildings bifurcated by a travesty. Until recently the Walker building was also covered in a strange (but different, see this 2011 Google Maps image) material; fortunately new owners have restored the facade to a semblance of its earlier more majestic version, so hope springs eternal that the same can happen to the other half of the building! In the 2011 image the occupant of the retail space on the ground floor is a clothing store called Shack’s, a Worcester institution since 1928, which moved here in 1971 from a spot across from City Hall, and closed in 2017. Today a branch of Bank of America is located on the ground floor, better than nothing but hopefully just a stepping stone to something more useful in the future.

A tavern was first opened at this location in 1719 by Moses Rice, who moved to Rutland in 1742.45Wall, p. 20. John Chandler then purchased the property and built a large house on the sizable estate, which comprised the entire block to City Hall. Chandler, one of Worcester’s wealthiest and most important citizens, resided here until 1775 when, because of his Tory sympathies, he was obliged to leave town. John Adams was a frequent guest at Judge Chandler’s house when he lived in Worcester in the 1750s, a topic I will expand upon in the next entry. Chandler’s property was seized by the new government and eventually fell into the hands of a nephew, Ephraim Mower, who opened a tavern in the house, listed in various almanacs including Nathanael Low’s of 1787, Bickerstaff’s from 1791, and in Isaiah Thomas’s Almanack of 1802, where it is reported to be “1/4 mile beyond Heywood’s Tavern.” A drawing of the Chandler house that became “Mowers’ Tavern” can be seen on the 1795 map of Worcester by Pierce and Andrews above, the building next to the “First Parish Meeting House.”

In 1818 the estate was sold to William Hovey who put up the new Worcester Hotel, which was owned and operated by a number of different people over the course of more than three decades. In 1829 it was listed in the Worcester Directory as the property of G.T. Rice and S. Burt and was operated by James Worthington. Worthington eventually took over ownership of the hotel and partnered with his former clerk William Clark to run it as the United States Hotel until 1854, by which time William Clark owned the property outright, closed the hotel, and built the Clark Block building shown in the image above and the photograph below.

Harrington’s Corner (1850), also on land that was part of the Chandler estate, is located unsurprisingly on the corner of Front Street and Main Street, the last building before the City Hall block. Various members of the Chandler family owned estates in the eighteenth century on three sides opposite what was then the meeting house. As the story of the Chandlers is an interesting one and the area around the meeting house, including the Common and the cemetery, was the other focal point of Worcester at the opposite end of Main Street from Lincoln Square where this entry began, this seems an appropriate place to stop. The next entry will focus on this other important center of Worcester before continuing south and west along Main Street on the Upper Boston Post Road out of Worcester and on towards Leicester and Springfield.


Clark’s Block in 2024. Notice that the southern half of the building has a modern facade that was apparently designed by a simpleton, probably inspired by the lousy “futuristic” special effects from Logan’s Run, which was filmed in a shopping mall in Dallas. Honestly, WTF? Harrington’s Corner is at the far end of the block behind which is the tower of City Hall, where the next entry will start.


Worcester, which claims to have seven hills, enjoys the comparison with Rome. After wandering along Main Street admiring the impressive but somewhat forlorn collection of architectural treasures I am put in mind of a rather less flattering comparison, “the glory that was Rome is of another day,” the line from the famous Tony Bennett song. The writer of the article (from 2018) on the brutalist AT&T building accurately described the state of Main Street, saying “Massachusetts’s second largest city does not generally boast a very healthy downtown. That said, much of it still has the bones for revitalizing potential. It simply isn’t there yet, and it’s largely obvious by the unloved streetscape and neglected buildings.” Six years on from this article, four years on from the beginning of the disastrous shutdowns during the pandemic, and nearly forty years on from the days I wandered along Main Street as a college student, I see signs of an incipient revival. Some of the buildings, like the Walker/Clark building, have been restored to their former glory, and restaurants like Dead Horse Hill in the old Bay State House and Armsby Abbey in the Armsby Building are serious, high quality restaurants flanking the exquisite Mechanics Hall and the classic Palladium Theater. A little more density on the street would be nice, and if city officials could refrain from approving the demolition of great old buildings in favor of soulless, uninviting buildings like the MCPHS campus, get out of the way, and allow a new generation of people who appreciate the fantastic buildings and who value the urban environment to come in to downtown and revitalize the area organically, perhaps opening more restaurants and cafes, small art galleries, clothing stores, book stores, or something nobody has thought of before, Worcester could fulfill its potential to be a really happening place. Please, no more Death Stars. The Luke Skywalkers of Worcester, where are you? Let’s bring the heart back to the Heart.


City Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts.


Distance traveled in this entry along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road from the Worcester County Court House to Worcester City Hall: 0.6 miles.

Total Distance traveled along the original route of the road from the Old State House in Boston for this project: 47.5 miles.

Total Distance covered for all the walks described in Boston Rambles: 108.9 miles

4 Responses to Worcester, Massachusetts, Part Two: The Heart of the Heart.

  1. Another excellent post! if I may observe, the increment of length, the Rod, is used more than once, and you define it as 16.5 feet, which is correct. It might help readers not familiar with old-timey units of measure to explain that it’s 1/4 of a Chain (66 feet), which gives a mile (80 chains), furlong (10 chains), and acre (10 square chains). Keep the installments coming!

    • Hi Mike, Thanks for the feedback! I think that your suggestion is an excellent idea and I will do that in future entries where perhaps there will be fewer topics to distract my attention, admittedly an unlikely scenario, but I will find a way. I love the whole “groundedness” for lack of a better word of the “old-timey” units; you can even see chains and rods measured out on the 1795 maps, especially along the borders between towns. Apparently surveyors really did carry around an actual rod although it apparently folded into something smaller so they did not have to lug a metal rod 5+ yards long with them as wandered off into the wilderness. Forget the metric system, maybe we can bring these units back into fashion!

      • Here’s the beast:'s_chain

        I know a surveyor, who still occasionally runs into it, on old deeds, etc. He converts the distances to feet, on his paperwork.

        • Wow, How much did that thing weigh? The coolest thing I learned in the article, besides the history of surveying devices, is that a cricket pitch is one chain in length. I should explain that I played a lot of cricket as a kid in Bermuda and I have never once thought about the length of the pitch. This is the sort of thing I absolutely love about this project, the random stuff that pops up.


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