Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A long trip for Hank Williams' coat

From a glass plate negative. The Neponset Mills in Canton.
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio. My wife and I stopped in while driving to Chicago when we needed a halfway point to rest. The hall of fame is a shrine to rock in all its forms — from jazz to punk and all genres in between. We received our tickets and began our tour through the labyrinth of exhibits.

Within two minutes, we found ourselves in front of a case of items that recognized the contributions of Hiram King Williams — “Hank” — the American singer-songwriter who is considered one of the most important country music artists of all time. In the case were his hat, his boots and a coat he wore. The coat caught my eye — hanging on the hook you could plainly see the label, and it read “designed by Monarch — Neponset Emberglo.” Turning to my wife, I explained that no matter how far we travel, Canton is never far away. In true wife fashion, she rolled her eyes and moved on. I lingered on and thought how far that coat had traveled.

The Emberglo coat was crème colored and a heavy wool dyed with a western pattern, and according to the description was made in 1950. Emberglo was a trademark of the Neponset Woolen Mills, located on Walpole Street. The label had the word Neponset neatly stitched. Hank Williams’ coat started in the hands of factory workers from Canton. The coat tells a rich story that reaches beyond Hank Williams and into American history and the age of our industrial revolution.

The mill on Walpole Street is gone, but only recently. One of the most important mills in America, this site was first developed in 1801. When you stand here, you are on the original site of the second cotton factory in the colonies, the first being the 1799 Samuel Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Today, a modern condominium complex, built by local developer John Marini, sits on this historic site.

The establishment of the cotton mill in Canton was due to the enterprise of a 22-year-old James Beaumont, a young man who had come from England to America in the spring of 1800. No stranger to manufacturing, Beaumont was born in Denby, a parish between Huddersfield and Sheffield, two important manufacturing towns in Yorkshire, England. Growing up on estates that produced wool and being part of a rather well-off family, Beaumont’s eye was on America. In 1799, Beaumont received a letter from two friends who had left England and settled in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The letter told of the opportunities that could be prospected in this new country. Beaumont sent a return letter with a draft of a spinning machine, which helped his friends begin their business in Lebanon. Soon thereafter, Beaumont decided he “got a hankering to go there and see what they were about.”

To leave England with secrets of manufacturing was risky, and if caught, Beaumont would face the full wrath of the English government. In order to avoid detection, he bought casks of hardware and cutlery along with bolts of cloth, and at the custom house in Liverpool he explained that he was simply a farmer’s son going to America on a trading trip.

Beaumont sailed to America on a trip that would take 56 days and would forever change textile manufacturing in the fledgling country. Landing in Salem, he visited a few factories, and by the winter of 1800 he had settled in Boston. An English acquaintance by the curious name of “Slimsey” (a nickname for sure) informed Beaumont that there was a fine mill-privilege in Canton, on which its two owners wished to set up a cotton factory, and that they were willing to erect a dam and the mill “if they could find somebody who would put in about $400, to pay for the machinery.”

Beaumont visited Canton, where he was so pleased with the mill-privilege that he agreed to furnish the machinery; his partners, Lemuel Bailey and Abel Fisher, would erect a substantial dam and a building for a factory. The construction of the dam and factory progressed during the year of 1801, and the machines were running by 1802. The first work of the factory was the manufacture of wickyarn for candle-makers. Soon thereafter, the mill began to make yarn for warp and filling for domestic fabrics. The first piece of cloth made was for sheeting. Beaumont said of it: “This, in 1802, was the first piece of cotton cloth ever made in America from mule-yarn, either all or in part produced.” Beaumont was mistaken: Cotton cloth had been made in 1794 in a factory in New York, but Beaumont’s mill was nonetheless producing fine cloth that sold for 50 cents a yard.

James Beaumont's House on Neponset Street
 (now demolished). Circa 1900. (Courtesy of the
Canton Historical Society)
Beaumont did very well in this venture, and by 1823 at age 45, he retired from manufacturing and became a gentleman farmer. For a time he had a small mill in what was known as the British Block, not far from his original factory. His innovations continued, and he produced some of the first satin products in America. In 1808 he had erected the second brick house in Canton, the first being the Endicott House on Washington Street. In this handsome house Beaumont spent time with his family and friends and lived an entire life in his adopted home. Beaumont died in Canton in 1868 at age 90 and is buried alongside his wife, Abigail (Gookin), and his children at the Canton Corner Cemetery.
On February 18, 1823, the factory on Walpole Street was sold to Joseph W. Revere for $3,500. Within a year, Revere sold the mill to Darius Blake Holbrook, Charles Parker, and Dexter and William Hill, of Boston, for $120,000. These gentlemen, along with others, organized the Boston & Canton Manufacturing Company. The area quickly built up around the massive stone factory and included boarding houses, a school and even medical facilities. In three years the area prospered, and great growth led to the construction of a dirt road across the Fowl Meadows to support shipments to Boston. Quite literally, Canton burst forward under the growth of the mills along this section of town. Unfortunately, the business failed in 1827 and the mill would be vacant for four years.

On April 22, 1831, the Boston & Canton Manufacturing Company conveyed the mill to the Neponset Company. The new officers were well-known philanthropists and politicians from Boston. The certificate of which was recorded July 22, 1832, showing that the capital stock was $200,000, and that the officers were Harrison Gray Otis, president, Caleb Loring, Samuel Fales, and Robert G. Shaw, directors, and John S. Wright, clerk and treasurer.

Worth noting is the fact that this was the same Harrison Gray Otis, the prominent Boston businessman, lawyer and politician and arguably the most important member of the Federalist Party. Otis’ venture also failed, and by 1837 the site was again abandoned. Over the next 66 years many factories operated on this site, including a bleachery in the early 1880s, and by 1903 it was again making cotton and wool products for caskets and other uses under the name Neponset Woolen Mills.

The Neponset Woolen Mills survived into the mid 1950s, and this is where the Emberglo Jacket comes in. Some of the finest wool was manufactured and dyed in Canton in both the Neponset Mill and at Draper Mills. The trademark Emberglo figured prominently in advertisements and in store displays. Rich thick plaids were used for sportsman’s outerwear. The logo proudly proclaimed that the products were “loomed by Neponset craftsmen” since 1824 and featured the signature mill tower and the Canton Viaduct in the background.
A postcard view of the Neponset Woolen Mills
As the textile industry died in Canton, the site became the home of Emerson & Cuming, where they manufactured flotation devices for oilrigs. The early use of dyes and then the subsequent use and storage of advanced polymers on this property allowed the site to become heavily polluted. Eventually, the Emerson & Cuming site earned the dubious distinction of becoming one of Canton’s five hazardous waste “Superfund” sites.

In 2005 the original historic factory was demolished, and the site was remediated to deal with the chemical pollution. To pay tribute to the thousands of men and women who worked on this site for over 200 years, the Canton Historical Commission asked the developer to salvage some of the original stone and to build a replica of the bell tower. The original tower and bell was likely built during the 1800s, and around the turn of the 20th century it had been rebuilt. Used to mark the passing of the workday, the bell was likely melted down when the tower became unsafe and was removed around 1930.

The new complex, known as Rive­­r Village on Walpole Street at Neponset, is one of our town’s newest architectural landmarks. The focus is an impressive tower and stone lobby that serve as the grand entrance. But, honestly, what could match the original grandeur of the factory that once stood “stone-faced” on this property. And every time I hear an old Hank Williams song and slip on my wool coat on an autumn afternoon, I will think about Emberglo and the history of the Neponset Woolen Mill.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Our river runs through the meadows

The Neponset River as it winds through
the Fowl Meadows circa 1890. (Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

At the edge of my property is a small stream, the Pequit Brook, and its source is the Reservoir Pond past Pequitside Farm. Living on a brook is an amenity that allows for plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife and the marking of seasons. Over time we have come to know the animals that inhabit our small corner of Canton. We have watched muskrats, ancient snapping turtles, the great blue heron, red-tailed hawks, numerous rabbits, fox, and all manner of mallards. The jewelweed and grass is abundant and the meadows are filled with red-winged blackbirds come fall. The winter gives way to woodpeckers and more flocks of waterfowl, even an occasional fisher cat and coyote. So abundant is the wildlife that at times we feel as though we live in a suburban wildlife preserve.

The Pequit Brook winds down through Sherman Street and eventually finds it way to the East Branch of the Neponset River. And the Neponset in turn finds its way to the Massachusetts Bay. Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse wrote: “How he loved this river, how it enchanted him, how grateful he was to it! In his heart he heard the newly awakened voice speak, and it said to him: Love this river, stay by it, learn from it. It seemed to him that whoever understood this river and its secrets, would understand much more, many secret, all secrets.”
So, what secrets does the Neponset River hold for us? To begin with, the name itself is somewhat of a secret. Of course it is an Indian name, and when the famous Algonquin scholar G. Hammond Trumbull was asked, he vainly endeavored to learn the significance of this name. “That word in all its forms of Naponset — Aponset, or Neponset defies analysis.” Many have surmised it means “river that flows through meadows.” This would be a fair description, since it travels through nearly seven miles of beautiful grassy meadows — the Fowl Meadows, in fact. So attractive to the early settlers were these grasses that the seeds were harvested and exported to Europe to produce the same luxurious grasses there.
Overall, the Neponset River travels more than 29 miles, starting at Gillette Stadium and ending near the gas tanks along the Southeast Expressway. The historical significance reaches back more than 10,000 years. Imagine the scene as Paleolithic man camps near the river right here in what would become Canton. Archeologists, both amateur and professional, have recovered over 2,600 Clovis spear points as well as mastodon tusks and caribou bones. The site, called Wamsutta, has been studied for more than 20 years. What were once the shores of a Pleistocene Lake seems to have been an important workshop of sorts where tools were made and wildlife harvested.
The recorded history of the Neponset starts around 1619, when Native Americans would use the river as a route to trade furs, largely muskrat and beaver. The wildlife was amazing. An apt description of what the Neponset River must have been like is found in a quote in a book written by Edward Johnson in 1628, entitled Wonder Working Providence: “The cod-fish, holybut and bass, do sport the rivers in, and alewives with their crowding sholes in every creek do swim.” The alewives in particular caused major legal battles in colonial Massachusetts, and the early records record heated arguments between mill owners who would dam and control the river and the fishermen whose livelihood was constantly in jeopardy as industry advanced. The argument to restore the fish and breach the dams still continues today.
The industrial growth as a result of this power source is nothing short of amazing. The second dam in the new world was constructed by Israel Stoughton, who was given permission to build a grist mill in what was known as Dorchester Plantation in 1634. What came next was a series of “firsts.” In 1640 shipbuilding began at what was known as Gulliver’s Creek (yes, there is a connection to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels). Soon sawmills, a snuff mill, powder mills, tanneries, slitting mills, and fulling mills began to rise near the banks of the Neponset.
Several of the most famous mills in America were started along the Neponset. In 1728, the first paper mill was erected. In 1765, Dr. James Baker founded a chocolate mill in Milton, which would become the world-famous Baker’s Chocolate Company. Closer to home, the Canton River, which fed the east branch of the Neponset, was home to James Beaumont’s Neponset Mills, where arguably the first piece of cotton cloth in America was made in 1802. In 1801, Paul Revere made his home here in Canton and erected his copper rolling mill (another first in the nation) along the tributary branch of the Neponset.
To get the best view of the Neponset River in Canton, take a drive down Dedham Street, and as you pass the old Cumberland Farm Complex take a left onto the property owned by George and Nancy Bates. The Bates still own a small portion, but the largest is now owned by the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR). When you come here you are visiting Signal Hill. This is perhaps an oft-overlooked location from where you can “overlook” the Neponset Valley. The hike is easy and the views are entirely rewarding. The boundary line between Canton and Norwood follows the center of the river.
In 2002, George and Nancy Bates sold the development rights of 135 acres of upland and swamp to the then MDC. Signal Hill is the result of a 111-acre gift given to TTOR in 2005 by the Bates. While it is called Signal Hill because it once held signals to assist in the navigation of planes to the Norwood Airport, it might have been more historically named.
Historically speaking, this area was generally known as Taunt’s Farm. At one time there were two prominent hills here, each about 120 feet high. Turtle Hill (now known as Signal Hill) and Pillion Hill, which was removed for fill used in Boston’s Back Bay. What is left, the single hill, affords an easily accessible view of Boston. The first settlers here were John and Hepsibah Taunt. Likely settled in 1758, this land was rich with nutrients and made the perfect home for this private in the Stoughton Militia. Three generations of Taunts would live on this land until around 1844. Eventually Elisha White would buy the property, and by the 1930s the land would become part of the land acquisition program for the Canton Airport.
Dredging of the Neponset River in Canton, 1913.
 (Photo by I. Chester Horton, courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
The river we see today is not the same river that was used by the prehistoric or colonial people. In 1911, the legislature was pressed to act by allowing the dredging and straightening of the river. The Fowl Meadows had become “foul.” The stench and disease (most notably malaria) was dreadful. The legislature ordered the river to be repaired of these nuisances. The dredging operation began in 1913 and would widen and deepen the river. The refuse from the muck was merely deposited on the banks, and by 1923 complaints abounded from the landowners whose once fertile fields would now no longer drain properly. The straightening also bypassed the “horseshoe” curve in the river, which abutted Horseshoe Swamp. Even today the boundary line with Norwood follows the old course of the river and Horseshoe Meadow remains in Canton.
Dredging of the Neponset River in Canton, 1913.
(Photo by I. Chester Horton, courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

In the 1960s the river was once again polluted and described as a “noxious mess.” A canoe trip in August 1966 from Canton was described in the Patriot Ledger as follows: “The moment we set our canoes into the putrid, murky water on Neponset Street we were overwhelmed by the noxious odor caused by the industrial waste dumped into the river by the various firms along its banks. Globs of sludge floated past us in the water.” So polluted was the trip that day, the canoes were forced to turn back — great globs of paper and raw sewage made the trip unbearable. This was a turning point for the Neponset. Once again the legislature took up the reclaiming of the Neponset River. In 1974, a bond bill was filed to begin the process of creating improvements to the damaged waterway.
Construction of the bridge over the
Neponset River to Norwood, April 1915.
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
At the lead of the conservation efforts was the Neponset Conservation Association. Founded in 1965, their mission continues today as the Neponset River Watershed Association. With over 700 members, hundreds of volunteers and a staff of three full-time and four part-time employees, this is the future of the Neponset River. For over 45 years this group has been responsible for raising the public awareness of our great river. The advocacy continues — just last week the legislature’s Environment Committee held a hearing on the Sustainable Water Resources Act. This act will hopefully set the process by which the Department of Environmental Protection, with the cooperation of the Department of Fish and Game, will set the definition for the amount of water that makes rivers sustainable.
In 2008 a member of the Massachusett-Ponkapoag Tribal Council testified at a public meeting organized to discuss the future of the Neponset River. I leave you with his sage words: “The Neponset people, and there were Neponset people, were forced to leave the Neponset River because those persons who came later decided there was a better use for the Neponset River than our use, which contributed to the well-being of our universe and yours for centuries. Now I’m going to speak for the elders — I’m going to speak for the finned, the furred, the winged, and the ancestors, mine and yours. These are the voices you are not listening to. Put the river back the way it was. Allow the herring to come back and sing their song.”

To visit Signal Hill, take Dedham Street and immediately after crossing I-95 and railroad bridges, take a left on University Road. Proceed through the office park. Parking is on the right just before the last building, also on the right. Free and open year-round, sunrise to sunset. Allow a minimum of one hour.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dottie Shaw Takes Wing

Dorothy Shaw’s formal portrait
 in full pilot regalia, circa 1940s
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

Childhood should be a time of innocence, of youthful diversions and a time when you begin to see the world as your own and find a place within. You do, however, grow up fast when a family depends upon you to bring them together, even if you are just a child.
Dorothy Shaw grew up on Everett Street, that small street at the intersection where Chapman and Spaulding streets meet. “Dottie,” as she was affectionately known, was born in 1910 and was surrounded by a loving family that included a sister and two brothers. The house, still standing, had a magical turret and is one of the prettiest houses facing Chapman Street. Dottie’s father was a well-respected builder and her mother filled the house with love and affection.
Fannie Shaw, Dottie’s mother, was born in 1878, and her parents died shortly after she was born. Adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cushman, the girl thrived at the Crane School and was married at age 19 to Walter Shaw in 1897.
Dottie’s catapult from childhood into adulthood happened when she was 13 years old. Her mother had been seriously ill from the time Dottie was 10 years old. The illness was quite bad, and for three years Fannie Shaw endured several strokes and convulsions, leading to diminished eyesight and poor speech. At 1 a.m. on February 23, 1923, Fannie Shaw died, leaving the family in the care of her only daughter. It would be an understatement to suggest that this was difficult. Taking care of her brothers and father became a full-time job, and in addition to her schoolwork, there was always a mountain of chores to be attended to across the day and late into the night.
Taking care of siblings Walter Jr., Howard and Florence was only part of her job; balancing school was the other. Dottie excelled in all her subjects. As part of the Canton High School graduating class of 1926, Dottie graduated at the top of the class and was not only the class president but the valedictorian as well. In short, this was an extremely smart young woman.
As it turns out, there were several smart women around town in those years. Dorothy Spear would go on to attend Bates College in Maine, while Kay Draper attended Wheaton. Not to be outdone, Dr. Rubin’s wife, Sophie, went to Radcliffe, and so many of her friends began life after Canton in wonderful and far-flung places. In writing her introduction to the Echo Yearbook, Dottie noted: “Years ago, there might have been excuse for students not going to college, but in this era of opportunities there is no one who cannot go to a higher institution … there are many ways for poor students to earn tuition.” Dottie wanted to desperately go to college, yet it was not to be. Keeping the family together was her focus, and soon she found a job in the local Boston Edison office in Canton Center where she was always a smiling face well known to many of Canton’s residents.
An aerial view of Chapman Street with the
Canton Airport in the background.
Photo taken by Dottie Shaw in 1933. (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
It would be the skies that would capture Dottie’s dreams. Everett Street is at the top of the Neponset Valley, and photographs from the turn of the last century show a broad expanse across which one could see straight to Norwood. By the early 1930s, the Canton Airport was in full throttle, and Dottie could see and hear the “airships” taxiing and lifting into the sky and roaring over her house. The idea of flying was one that captured many young hearts in those days, and Dottie’s was not excepted.
Perhaps it was Amelia Earhart who made an impression on 18-year-old Dottie Shaw. On June 17, 1928, it was Earhart who set off from Trepassey Harbor in Newfoundland and 21 hours later landed at Burry Port, Wales. The headlines were fantastic, and while three women had previously died attempting a transatlantic crossing, it was Earhart who was greeted by ticker tape and President Calvin Coolidge. Whoever it was who influenced her, Dottie Shaw was indeed influenced to take to the skies. While other young women were off in college, Dottie decided that one thing she could do to set herself apart would be to fly. To fly – to soar – to glide – to dream. Saving a small portion of her $16 paycheck each week, Dottie was able to scrape enough together to begin flying lessons at the Canton Airport. Walking to the airport, less than a mile from her house, was a weekly ritual. And if she was lucky, she could grab a ride from friends — including Ralph Beasley or his son Ralph Jr. These were heady days in aviation. Takeoffs were easy; it was the landings that would prove tricky. In August 1932 a flight permit was issued to the intrepid D.B. Shaw. One of the early masters of aviation took on Dottie Shaw as a student. G. Bancroft Hall, or “Banny” as he was known, would teach Dottie how to fly.
G. Bancroft Hall was a fixture in early New England flying, and by all accounts he favored Dottie with his vast knowledge of piloting. In 1929, Hall was a partner in the Wachusett Airways Company in Fitchburg and at the same time the chief pilot at Canton-based Wiggins Airways. In an old, dog-eared scrapbook, Dottie writes of Banny — “God’s gift to women students.” Taking to the skies for women became pretty extraordinary in the early 1930s, and yet there were several notable examples, largely from well-to-do families.
The “gang” hanging out at the
 Canton Airport in 1933 (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
Flying was as much about the freedom of being in the skies as it was the camaraderie of the fellowship, and Dottie loved the people and the stories that were part of this sport. At the municipal airport in Canton there was a close-knit group of friends, and Dottie was certainly included. The “Gang” was Chin Jung, Ralph Beasley and his son, Ralph Jr., Dick Chase, Sumner Fischer, Charles “Scottie” Scott, Appellino “Red” Janeskus — from Stoughton, Uno Frederickson and several other “guys.” Dottie was the only woman flying in the group. Even in her canvas coveralls and grease-smudged nose, Dottie was a beautiful woman with a ready smile and a winning personality.
On Thursday, June 8, 1933, Dottie climbed into the single cockpit Spartan C2-60 monoplane, the “Trusty 902.” At 5’4” and 100 pounds soaking wet, the blonde, blue-eyed kid slid behind the controls. This would be her first solo flight, and she was probably quite nervous. Inscribed in the front of her scrapbook is an old saying: There are “old” pilots and there are “bold” pilots, but there are no “old, bold” pilots.
At 23, Dottie Shaw was certainly not old, but as for being bold, this is up for interpretation. It was a beautiful summer evening; a slight breeze kicked up the smell of sweet grass from the nearby hayfields. The runway was dusty as she taxied out and made the turn for her takeoff. At exactly 7:11 p.m., Canton’s first female pilot took flight from the soft grass meadow at the airport at the edge of the Fowl Meadows. Aloft above her beloved town, it was a magical evening. The small engine could get her up to a top speed of 93 mph and she must have reveled in the private view of Canton. Pulse quickened as she maneuvered on her own without Banny to gently guide her. After six hours of training spread over the course of a year, this was her moment, her dream of flying realized.
Dorothy Shaw, Canton’s first aviatrix,
posing in front of her “solo” ship in 1933
at the Canton Airport (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
On the ground a welcome committee was sure to be waiting. Perhaps her fellow students had stopped by, and certainly her instructor. At the head of the pack may have been Joe Garside. Joe came from a wealthy family in Hyde Park that had made a small fortune developing a special paint for canvas-covered planes. In 1927, he piloted his mother across the English Channel from Paris to London — Joe was only 13 at the time.
As far as formal instruction, Joe learned to fly in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a year later we find him soaring around the nation’s capital and the Washington Monument. The 14 year old soloed in 1928 at Hoover Field in Washington, D.C. (now the site of the Pentagon). Joe had tried to persuade the chief of the Department of Commerce (now the FAA) to waive the 16-year-old age requirement for private pilots. At the time, Joe Garside was the youngest pilot to solo in the world. The flight was a success; the waiver was not. Despite not having a pilot’s license, Joe flew extensively and by age 16 became a full-fledged pilot, owning several air-ships.
At 19, Joe Garside, very well known in early flying circles, became the manager of Wiggins Airways in Canton. Close to his home in Milton, Joe was an early pioneer of commercial aviation and attended MIT, studying aeronautical engineering. Of the 40 students who came for lessons, Dottie stood out. Spending more of her time at the Canton Airport, she soon became an assistant to the dashing, young airport manager. It would not be long before the two became an item. Eventually, the “air-pair” fell in love and began an extended courtship. In October 1938, Joe and Dottie were married and moved to the beautiful stone house at 180 Chapman Street.
Joe and Dottie were a well-suited pair — smart, ambitious and very friendly. In fact, both were described as having magnetic personalities. After ten years of trying to have a child, they turned to a family attorney in Brockton, who arranged for them to adopt a nine-day-old baby girl. Jane Garside said that from the time she was old enough to know, she knew she was adopted. “I was a very fortunate child,” she recalls. “I never desired to hunt for my birth mother, and Joe and Dottie were my mom and dad.” Jane was told from day one that she was special.
Dottie flew until the 1940s, joining the famous Ninety Nines, a women’s pilot organization founded by Amelia Earhart. After Jane was born, Dottie never piloted again. The family did fly together in small private planes, but Dottie exchanged her wings for the caring arms of a mom.
When Jane was 13 years old, her mom and dad divorced. In the mid 1950s, Joe engaged in a particularly public and forbidden love affair with a neighbor’s wife. Dottie asked him to move on by simply stating in rather stoic terms: “You can do whatever you want. I am keeping our house and Janie.” Jane continued to see her dad, but certainly was closest to her mother. The split was amicable even under the circumstances. In later years, Joe would reflect that his divorce was perhaps the biggest mistake he ever made in his life. Dottie remained on benevolent terms with her ex-husband, most likely because they were such close friends. Today we call people like Joe and Dottie soul mates.
Dorothy Shaw Garside in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her daughter
 Jane, in 1963 (Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
 Dottie’s life in Canton continued to be a proud and lasting tribute to the things she loved. A member of the Garden Club, the Sweet Adelines, and the Canton Historical Society, she remained active her entire life, and was frequently seen volunteering at Norwood Hospital as a “pink lady.” Jane recalls that her mother “had a beautiful voice” and loved organizing community activities, including the 50th anniversary of her Canton High School graduating class. In the winter of 1978, Dottie battled a nasty flu, and soon it was discovered that she was suffering from heart disease, which quickly led to two heart attacks, the second fatal. On January 4, her 68th birthday, Canton’s first female pilot departed this earth.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Grave Matter

The Gridley Cemetery, 1764.
After my last story, the one that helped rediscover the Boston milestones around town, I headed out to repaint the ancient relics. I had done this before, about five years ago. This time, my brother Jonathan and I dutifully drove to the stones around Canton and took some time painting in the carving and cleaning up the faces. At one point, Jonathan turned to me and asked, “What else can we paint?” The question was simple, almost asking, “What else has been lost that we can rediscover?”
It seems to me that there are plenty of long-neglected sites in Canton that could use a bit of sprucing up. Case in point: what is historically known as the Gridley Graveyard. Few people realize that it exists, but in fact it is closer than you may think. As you drive toward Cobb’s Corner, and just after the waterfall at Shepard’s Pond, on your left is Kinsley Place, a small street that dips down a hill.
Find a respectable place to park, and on your right is a tiny field hardly bigger than a postage stamp. You will not see any gravestones or markers. A crude sign is erected proclaiming the site as Gridley Cemetery. The weathered sign is slowly deteriorating and time is overtaking this space very slowly. Along the edges of the plot are a lovingly tended grape arbor and plenty of vibrant Hostas. Bearing silent testament to time is a large tree, a maple perhaps, standing at the back corner of this place. Measuring barely 20 by 25 feet, there is not much to see here. A recent mowing caused historian Jim Roache to wryly ponder if a cookout was planned, as this is a perfect picnic spot.
What lies beneath, however, is a part of Canton’s history that is both celebratory and sad. This plot was not planned; rather it was opened by necessity. In 1763, a full-blown epidemic ravaged Boston, and in May 1764, the scourge of smallpox darkened the small town of Stoughton. In the Canton Historical Society, in a lead-lined drawer, there is a small diary written in the hand of the Minister Elijah Dunbar. The entries are indescribably small and equally hard to read. The diary entries for 1764 are dark and forlorn. It would appear that people were falling ill at an alarming rate. The time was known as the “visitation,” and nothing would stop the pox from indiscriminately cutting down young and old in a matter of days.
Elijah Dunbar writes: “May 27, terrible time on account of the pox.” In June the entries pick up the pace of the disease: “Vilet died this night, a very terrible time, Leonards folks taken with the small pox, Mrs. Vose dies of the small pox, Old Joseph Fenno dies, Polly Billings dies of the small pox; purple sort, Leonards family in great distress, Sunday Mrs. Davenport dies of the small pox.”
By mid June, the parish began fasting and prayer in the hope of staving off the disease. At this same time, Mary Leonard and her newborn baby die followed three days later by Nurse Howard. Families perished, only to find few willing to bury the dead.
The Gridley Cemetery was opened to bury these dead souls. There are no official records that tell us who are interred in this ground. The markers were standing in 1893, but they are long lost. Folklore suggests that they were taken away and used as stone steps or foundation rubble in some of the homes in the vicinity. We do have a record of a few of the carvings.
They all tell a sad story: “Here lies ye body of Mr. Wally Leonard, who died of small pox, June the 14th, 1764, in the 44th year of his age.” And another: “Here lies ye body of Mrs. Mary Leonard, and her new born babe, the wife and child of Ensign Nathaniel Leonard, who died of small pox, June ye 14th, 1764, in the 39th year of her age.” Even the young were hardly spared: “Here lies the body of Mary Billings, daughter of Mr. William and Mrs. Mary Billings, who died of small pox, June 8, 1764, in the 18th year of her age.”
Eventually the small cemetery was enclosed with two low stone walls and became part of the conveyances when abutting property was sold. Principally, the cemetery was opened as a family burying plot for the Leonard family. You may recall Nathaniel Leonard carved the 1736 milestone, our oldest marker and now at Shepard’s Pond. Perhaps Leonard carved some of the stones that have been long lost. After Leonard died in 1772, his son Jacob conveyed the property to Richard Gridley, Edmund Quincy and others.
Major General Richard Gridley was an impressive man in American history. In fact, Gridley is credited as the founder of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Born in Boston in 1711 to a well-established family, he would become a giant in the American Revolution. Space does not allow a full explanation of his accomplishments, but suffice it to say that Gridley was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. At age 61, Gridley had business interests in Canton and was involved in a venture that purchased Massapoag Pond to mine it for iron ore that would be used to cast cannons for the American Revolution. In the spring of 1772, Gridley purchased a house in Canton from the Leonard family. Gridley named his home “Stoughton Villa.” The house is now gone, but it is rumored that the peonies on the property still bloom from the stock planted by Gridley. Along with the house came the small burying ground.
Alongside the graves of the smallpox victims, the Gridley family is buried. General Gridley’s son, Scarborough, was laid to rest in 1787, and Gridley’s wife, Hannah (Demming), was buried in 1790. There were two daughters, Becky and Polly, who are perhaps buried here as well. It was the general, however, who was buried here to which the name of this place is attached.
In a declining age, Gridley was in financial distress. His business partnership had soured and had caused considerable financial drain. Among Gridley’s creditors was listed John Hancock, Edmund Quincy’s brother-in-law. Gridley’s last public appearance was at the laying of the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. That same year he signed the petition for the Act of Incorporation of the Town of Canton. In late life, at an advanced age, Gridley took great pleasure in tending to his gardens. Cutting dogwood bushes in the summer of 1796, Gridley contracted blood poisoning and died at age 85. On June 23, the old revered general was laid to rest in the quiet spot of this family graveyard.
The final resting place of the remains
of an American Patriot, Major General Richard Gridley,
1711-1796 (Photo by George T. Comeau)
For almost 80 years the grave was neglected. As early as 1874, however, a move was afoot to somehow recognize this great man. Gridley, a Freemason, was celebrated in an early magazine article written by Brother D.T. V. Huntoon, with a closing remark that read: “The school that is situated nearest to where his house stood is called the Gridley school, but the children, as they pass and repass the little graveyard, know not that one of the distinguished men of the Revolution sleeps his last sleep in its quiet precincts. But the Patriot and Mason, as he passes, may pause and ask himself: Is it right that one, who in days gone by defended his country with bravery, and upheld the ancient landmarks with zeal, should thus be forgotten and neglected by his Brethren and countrymen?”
On an autumn day in 1876, a small committee of men gathered at the Gridley Cemetery with the intent to remove the moldering remains of the deceased patriot. After a false start, the men located the grave, and seven feet below the surface the coffin was reached. A trowel was used to clear the grave, and the skull of Gridley was lifted from the earth. A quantity of grey hair attached helped identify the remains, to which a small braided ponytail, his queue, was pocketed by Elijah Morse. The contents of the grave were placed in a box and reinterred at a suitable monument at the Canton Corner Cemetery.
Today, you can visit Gridley’s final resting place, impressive in size and topped with a cannon in the imitation of a “Hancock” or “Adams,” which served Gridley so well at Bunker Hill. On the other hand, you can visit his wife and family more than two miles away to the south on Kinsley Place, in a long forgotten graveyard that tells a story that should be memorialized and respected for the souls buried therein. On this 215th anniversary of Gridley’s death, plan a pilgrimage to both spots and pay homage to the man and his family, a true son of Canton and of America.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mile by Mile

You probably drive by them all the time without noticing. They sit by the side of the road, silent necessities of our Colonial era that are no longer needed in a modern age. The small stone mile markers, milestones, have been marking the distance from Boston since the early 1700s.
Today, with our satellite-guided navigation systems and global positioning devices, we are hard-pressed to get lost in our modern age. Our milestones are wonderful reminders of a distant age; they require no winding or batteries, and their warranties have long run out, but they still tell the distance to Boston and can be counted on in all types of weather.
The milestones in Canton are part of a network of stones that all lead the way to Boston. Five roads connected Boston with neighboring towns and were collectively called the Bay Roads, since they ultimately led to the Massachusetts Bay at Boston Harbor. Likely these began as Native American paths to the shore, and over time became developed cart paths and ultimately roads and highways. Our “bay road,” the Old Bay Road from Boston Bay to Taunton, extended from the earliest of settlements at Providence, Rhode Island, and the Narragansett Bay. This path was used for more than a century prior to the American Revolution and for more than 50 years thereafter. It would be the “turnpike” systems that would replace this road in the mid 1800s, but until then Bay Road was the route most preferred.
What began as a bridle path and then a cart path would become our main thoroughfare. Laid out by the selectmen of Dorchester in 1700 and again in 1712, it has had many names. In 1703 it was called the road leading to Billings’ in Sharon. In 1707 this was called the road leading to Rehoboth. Other names over the years included “Road to Rhode Island,” “The King’s Highway,” and “the great road from Boston to Taunton.” In 1840, that portion that travels through Canton between Milton and Sharon became known as Washington Street.
As the early colonists began building and improving roads, they erected mile markers to measure the distances between taverns, churches, meetinghouses, schoolhouses and blacksmiths. It was Paul Dudley, a Roxbury native educated at Harvard (class of 1690), who left an enduring legacy of milestones throughout greater Boston. From 1729 onward, Dudley erected stones measuring the distance to the then Boston Town House, now the Old State House. All of the distances on the stones, including Canton, assume a route along Washington Street in Roxbury to Eliot Square. In reality, the distances between each stone are wonderfully accurate.
At Roxbury, the town center was located at John Eliot Square, where a meetinghouse had been built in 1632. And at the fork of Roxbury and Centre streets can be found the “Parting Stone,” the terminus between the roads that lead to Boston.
For our purposes, let’s start our journey at the Milton line as we cross in front of the Blue Hills. It is here, just slightly over the Canton and Milton boundary line, that milestone 12 sits. Actually, as I began writing this story, it occurred to me that I had never actually seen this milestone. A quick detour away from the computer and out across Canton was in order.

The missing 12th milestone that was
removed from Route 138 sometime
 in the early 1970s
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
Milestone 12 was last recorded in 1950 when 22 milestone markers were carefully located and mapped after 200 years with the hope that “these milestones may still so repose after 200 more.” Locating these markers was a passion of Channing Howard, a founder of the Boston engineering firm of Whitman & Howard and an avid historian. Mr. Howard lived in Winthrop and meticulously plotted the routes and locations of the stones leading to Boston. Several letters on the topic of milestones can be found in the Canton Historical Society between Charlotte Endicott Wilde, an avid local historian, and Mr. Howard. Included in the society file are several maps showing the locations as they were found in the 1950s.
Driving over Route 128, and to your left, heading towards Blue Hill, is Milestone 13. In the cloverleaf between the exits there is a “Welcome to Canton” sign, and just next to it is the 13th mile marker placed by John Spare in 1786. Exactly one mile to the north on Route 138 should be the 12th milestone. I pulled off the road at a safe spot and walked in both directions north and south. No stone to be found. The 12th marker should be on the westerly side of the road, just at the line. Plenty of poison ivy can be found, and two private driveways. The marker is lost. Even a “trespass” behind a high stockade fence failed to yield the whereabouts of the marker. Placed here by Lemuel Davenport, this granite monument read “12 miles to Boston, 1774, L.D.” Stoughton historian Howard Hansen recalls seeing the milestone in the early 1960s; by the early 1970s the road was leveled, a hill removed and the stone disappeared. Likely this relic adorns a garden or has become a backyard conversation piece.
Turning south and continuing back into Canton, just over the bridge that crosses Route 128 (now I-93), you will again pass the John Spare milestone. Spare was the son of Samuel Spare, an early settler, who came to Stoughton in 1738. The marker was placed quite near the family home on what was known as Cherry Hill. John Spare was a member of the Stoughton Minutemen and served in the Revolutionary War.
Another mile south should yield milestone 14, and the odometer places this spot directly at the Old English Burying Ground. In front of the burying ground are two large stones with historical inscriptions detailing this site. In 1952, Mrs. Wilde, in a letter to Mr. Howard, writes, “I could not help wondering if the opposite side of [these] stones, which is wholly covered by banking and turf, might not have been the old 14 mile stone.” It may be the case that the milestone was reused in this wall, for in 1843, after many years of complaint and controversy, a new wall was erected. Granite posts, which had adorned the mansion of Gardiner Greene in Boston, were reset and iron gates were installed. Alas, the gates and any trace of milestone 14 are lost.

Further south we come to milestone 15, simply marked “B 15 M” and leaning into Washington Street in front of the earliest section of St. Mary’s Cemetery. This grey ghost is easy to find and almost as easy to hit with an ill intentioned driver. Milestone 16 is reported to have been approximately where the old Endicott house stands, just before the high school. It has long been believed that this stone may very well be buried in one of the old walls that grace this section of Washington Street.
The 17th Mile Stone. Relocated from the original
location (shown here) and now at the waterfall on
Pond & Washington Streets. (Courtesy of the
Canton Historical Society.)
Measuring another mile, the final stone along Washington Street should by all accounts be located near the present-day Dockray and Thomas Funeral Home. Many residents, however, know that the 17th milestone is located near the falls at Shepard’s Pond in the “Hardware” section of Canton. This is our oldest stone, set here in 1736 by Nathaniel Leonard. Leonard, born in 1717, was active in the early iron business. This stone originally sat across the street and had been saved after being buried in the roadway, reset in place, and in more modern times moved by the town of Canton across the street in the small park near Pond Street. Interestingly enough, this milestone is more than three-eighths of a mile away from where a measured mile should place it. At 275 years old, it can sit wherever it wants, even if it no longer accurately measures the distance to the Old State House.
A youthful Ed Galvin, member of the
Canton Historical Society, repaints the 17th milestone
on Pleasant Street on Memorial Day 1965.
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
One final note to share on Canton milestones: There are three more stones that are quite curious. There is a stone at Canton Center railroad crossing measuring the distance to Providence, Rhode Island. And on Pleasant Street there are two more Boston milestones marked “B 17 M – 1773” and “B 16 M – 1773.” So, curious reader, you may be thinking, “Ah, these are the missing stones on Washington Street. Not the case, the 17th stone is Nathaniel Leonard’s near Pond Street, and no explanation has surfaced as to why the markers that follow the “Bay Road” depart up through Pleasant Street.
Channing Howard wrote in 1939 that it was his work to “rescue from threatened oblivion and preserve the story of this noble road — great in both history and romance — for those who come after. May its glory not grow dim.” To this end, every few years I go out and repaint the letters and dates on these markers. If you are so inclined to join me, I’ll have a brush and paint ready. We can all preserve our town’s history, mile by mile.
The author plans on visiting each stone on Memorial Day weekend and repainting these relics. If you would like to come along, drop an email to