Canton Historical Society

1400 Washington Street
Canton, Massachusetts  02021


A look At Canton Center In The Olden Days


Let us begin the story of our town of Canton just a little before its settlement. For a few moments, look on the hills and valleys as they appeared to the eyes of the first white man standing on the summit of Great Blue Hill. Remove from our picture every dwelling house, every school house, church, factory building, every railroad, street, highway and bye-way, every structure and object that the genius of the Old and New World has placed upon the scene, and then paint upon our mental canvas, woods, almost nothing but woods, a few open spaces like the Fowl Meadows, a few bright sparkling ponds and a small but beautiful river, swift, unchecked in its course, flowing down to the sea.

The people of the Town of Canton are now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its incorporation as a town. There are the customary parades, regattas and orations; spots of historic interest, old ways and roads, ancient brooks and mill privileges, are being revisited and the tales and traditions retold and rehearsed to the listening ears of the present day.

The history of Canton has been written by a very able pen. The late Daniel T. V. Huntoon gave the very best hours of his life to that work. Mr. Huntoon commenced the collection of his material when he was a very young man, he had the opportunity of inspecting nearly all the ancient documents relating to the town, the deeds, wills, books of record, plans and papers of all kinds that told about the land and those that peopled it, and had he lived to finish his great work he would have left us an historical book complete in every detail. He knew personally the old people of his day, people born when the guns of the revolution had scarcely had time to cool. He had many conversations with the actual participants in the Battle of New Orleans, and knew well the veterans of the War with Mexico, and, of course, the Civil War was fought when he was a boy at school.

It is to be regretted that so much primary knowledge of Canton also died with Ellis Ames and Fred Endicott.

The soldier of the Civil War , so familiar to our generation, is gone; the men who took part in the War with Spain, and the boys who have returned from "over there" and the World Wars 1 and 2 are still here to tell, each his own tale of those fearful struggles, and of the part played by the town and her children in those days of gloom and glory. It is a duty you owe to your town, to your heroic soldiers, and to yourselves to collect those narratives and pen them down in black and white to preserve them for the generations yet to come. Remember the story of your life is a part of your town's history and in the days to come will be well valued as such. It is for you to preserve its records and to take up this work of historical research when we of 1947 have passed away.

Perhaps later on the Journal may permit us to discuss the early settlers, the Indians, the heroes from the Old French and Indian War to World War II, the districts from York to Packeen, through Ragged Row, the Stone Factory to the Hardware, but the widening of Washington street seems to give us the proper introduction to a short walk through the years along the road that leads from Doty's Tavern to Billing's Ordinary. Better still to let us confine our stroll from the proposed new High School to High street.

The children of the Veterans Housing Project, the old French Estate, may well find arrow heads in the fields where the play -- for that was the site of the wigwam of old William Ahauton, and their own home, the Stone Mansion, was built from the very ledge "Squaw's Rock", from which his ill fated wife made a dramatic but tragic leap in 1668. Ahauton was a great man among the Indians. He preached and taught, acted as councilor, interpreter, and performed many official duties connected with the affairs of the Plantation.

The present Town House with its Memorial Hall faces "Moho's" or "Moohen's" field.

Momentague fashioned his arrows where the present High School now stands.

As we still go along the lonely path, deep ruts, deeper grooves worn by the feet of the horse or other animals driven over it, stones putting up everywhere, causing the vehicle to bump and roll, trees and bushes growing close to the side of the way and the tree tops meeting far above, shutting out the light of sun and moon, cause us to be aware of the steep descent before we reach the river crossing.

Across from where the Strand Theatre now stands was an old saw mill, way below the present street level, and the only break in the wilderness which in 1704 stretched from Doty's to Billing's.

This mill probably stood at the side of the pond easterly from the road and in as far as the "Axle Shop." It was a small establishment and crude in its build and equipment. The Pond was much smaller than at present but it furnished sufficient power to meet the needs of the locality. The wheel clattered and the saw buzzed and hummed and converted into good substantial material the sturdy logs, once the magnificent trees that overshadowed the sites of the future dwellings of those who afterwards came and built here their houses and changed these hills and dales into what we designate by one of the sweetest words in the language, Home!

On the top of the knoll above the pond, on the exact spot where stood the house removed to Bolivar street on August 25, 1947, lived the man who ran the mill. He could, like the "Miller of the Dee", laugh and sing from morn to night if he felt so inclined, without danger of disturbing the peace or offending his neighbors by his hilarity.

There was one thing he could do, which civilization has stopped the latest dweller on this piece of ground from doing and that was….he could stand in his front yard an look with unobstructed view down the valley of the Saw Mill River to the Fowl Meadows. The trees were cut down and carried to the mill. The Danforths had not yet thought of erecting their grist mill down where the Plymouth Rubber Factories border on the stream. They did not come to "Pack", this being the Indian name of what we now call the "Plymouth Rubber" and formerly the "Revere Copper Works" until 1717. Paul Revere came here in 1801. The Viaduct did not disturb the scene for 130 years, till 1836, and the old folks used to write about the beautiful sight in the evening, standing on "Forge Hill": and following the windings of the river until it was lost in the distant "gloomerin meadows" behind the little hill we know as "Fuller's Mountain."

Shortly after 1703, Joseph Tucker, Jr., from Milton, the new mill owner, took over and became, in addition to his mill and farm-- the "Host" of the Inn, erected about where the Crane House, or the Crane School now stands.

Tradition says another house stood near the present location of the Universalist Church, possibly the dwelling house of Preserverd Tucker. At any rate, the old well, now covered over, but possibly not filled in, is under the sidewalk in front of "Brook's Block". The widening of the street should solve this semi-mystery.

Let us continue from here and follow this Indian trail, bridle path, cart way, country road, King's highway, busy street, main street, widened to a boulevard, and there you have Canton's history. So, as we proceed along the way we must step aside and hide behind imaginary trees, larger than the elms recently removed to let King Philip and his warriors pass; we must give way to some lone horseman jogging along towards "Billing's Ordinary"; we must permit some good farmer to drive by us in his ox-cart; and as the years advance, we hear the post-horn, it would be dangerous to stand in the way of those foaming horses and of that rumbling, careening coach; and then the chaises and the carry-alls, and the wagons of every kind; and the trolley cars, and the last and most dangerous of all, the automobiles. You must be prepared to dodge all of the aids to human locomotion if you walk with me in Washington street from about 1650 to 1947. It was laid out by the selectman of Dorchester in 1700 and was relaid in 1713. Its width was fixed at 3 rods,. And with very few changes, the greatest now in progress, it follows the same old course to the present day.

It received the name "Washington Street" in 1840 when the town gave names to all the streets then existing. I was known in the earlier years as "The Road to Billing's," "The Country Road," "The Road to Rhode Island," "The Taunton Road," "The Main Road'" "The Great Road" and by several other designations.

Well,, let's get on again -- over there is "Bolivar street" -- a very ancient pathway--used by the public as early as 1792--Old General Crane lived in the house in front of the school house bearing his name--Crane's Mills were on the Shovel Shop location -- Bolivar street from the Bolivar Manufacturing Company-- and that from Simon Bolivar, liberator of South America; General Crane, a man of splendid proportions, fine looking in appearance at least, every inch a soldier with a good record.

The Old Post Office Building, the Barber Shop and the Fruit Store, built in 1860, cost $600. The first Telegraph Office was in the southerly corner; first telephone office in the northerly corner, Endicott's law office, Sheriff Wood's headquarters. Board of Selectmen occupied the little back room and met and deliberated before the present Town Hall was erected. Thomas E. Grover followed Endicott as trial justice and occupied the old office, later M. F. Ward, still later Andrew Cunningham.

Next, push back the scene before 1880, at the corner of Bolivar street was an old ramshackle building, with a drug store on the northerly end, one or two residences, a high whitewashed wooden fence, except in front of the drug store, hides the view, a well, the one we spoke of previously and still hope to locate--that’s the old Crane barn, brought from opposite the site of the present Fire Station, the drug store end sawed off and moved across Washington street to the lot now occupied by Flood's Block, we knew it as "Johnnie Peanuts", and he and "Auntie Cerugini" matched only with Mrs. Mahoney and Henry Briggs as the real "hokey-pokey" stores, the rest of the old structure was torn down to give way to the brick "Brook's Block" --O tempora, O mores, sometime maybe, more of the dignified W.W. Brooks and the gentlemanly Theo. Pitcher--where Fruitland now stands was Marden's store-- started in 1855 and terminated…maybe someone will write to tell us when.

Next in line the Universalist Church, erected in 1847 and dedicated on November 10 of that year. Before the church was built, twenty years or more, an old school house had been moved down from the farther corner of Neponset street, converted into a dwelling area, tenanted until it was destroyed by fire in 1840. Colonel John Billings is the authority that his parents lived in it at one time.

Mechanic street--well, Peter Talbot was a wheelwright and Holt, his neighbor across the way was a machinist, until 1881 it was Mechanics court, and before that time Page street or Grand street, it has also been known as such is recorded on the Naval Annals of World War II when over 5,000 enlisted personnel walked to the "Yard" as guests of the Lynch family.

Across Washington street--Brady's Store, Town Club, Dunbar House, Wall street, called from the retaining wall that keeps the "High" House from sliding into the street, High House once stood half way up Beacon Hill, faced Scollay Square. It was the headquarters of Hugh Earl Percy, who left its doors to save his troops from annihilation on that return from Concord. It was moved from Boston in 1836, Sir Henry Vane lived in it during his stay in America--the Cottons, the Matthers, Gardiner Green, all spent time in it. Johnathan Robinson of the Hardware Company bought it and brought it here in sections, and here it is, only yesterday its Dutch ovens were still in good condition. Again across the street--- the old Marden building, Goodrich's Tin Shop. Tom Grealish, Eliot A.C. Odd Fellows' Hall, Temperance Hall, Sawyers…

Wentworth's Market, now part of Sawyer's or Spears, was occupied by three generations of the Wentworth family: Nathaniel, Charles P., William G., Gene Riley, it had the first auto delivery in Norfolk County.

Next Tucker's house and store, now the Bank.

Across the street, where once Squire Ames' office stood and the Squire, a great man, the noblest of them all, a shock of iron gray hair covered his large, finely-moulded head, his face, broad and manly, such as the sculptor has in mind ere he chisels the lineaments of the mighty ones of old, his body and limbs large, well set, shaped according to the exact rules of proportion, his dress of a style a half century too old, and if we could but see them, his brains too large for his head and his heart too great for his body. He had two sons, one of whom I never knew, the other Walter-Chub was for years one of our finest officials and the best musicians, a really good violinist, but the Squire had no regard for any other profession than the law. One of our famous Governors said: " Squire, I suppose your sons followed in the legal profession?" The Squire simply replied "Hell, no; one plays the piano and the other is a 'dash damned fiddler!" When they first widened Washington street in 1876 they found a quantity of old coins just in front of the Squire's office. These coins were dated 1737, and some as far back as 1697.

Church street--formerly Tolman's lane, was once called Grab Alley. Peter Crane's Blacksmith Shop, remember the old block later, the concrete catch basin, Peter Crane fashioned a bush scythe, crossed the street, tried it, cut away the brambles around a small elm, gave it a chance. Huntoon said: "It now stands in front of the store of Freely Ellis"; on a plan of 1808 this tree stands as the "Great Elm" 200 years old, by its rings, when it was cut down some years ago, Just in front of Joe Murphy's store.

Rockland street--once "Bean lane", Pitcher's Block is a new one and we will pass it by.

"Wentworth's" Building once over the way, never had a style of architecture, John Shallow's was once the residence of Friend Crane's widow.

Friend Crane put together the building that once stood at the junction of Neponset and Washington streets, probably about 1819--several buildings nailed together without service of architects, he was Mrs. Gilbert Tolman's great grandfather and drove the stagecoach to Boston three times a week for many years. "Buckley's" Stable--once Blackman's, Crane's, Nash's, Swift's, Leonard's, Seymore's, McPherson's, again Leonard's, Buckley's, Roach's.

Tucker's--1828, corner store, Deane's Tavern, tailor shop, barber shop, undertaker's, oil and gas store.

Neponset street--Billing's Lane, 1881, Neponset street.

On Graham's Corner, school, bank, Fuller's Store, Amos Holmes, Neil Dennison, Legion, Italian Mutual Benefit Society, History.

Capen's Block--burned, rebuilt, Joe Little, Farrington's Max Myer's, Sheehan Brother's Post Office, slot in the door.

Leavitt's Store--Peter Talbot…

Canton Journal--Remodeled.

Back on the Hill lived William Bense, the printer, and Fred Endicott, in one of the splendid houses of the town.

The Billing's double house erected about 1740 originally. Dr. Abbott took down parts of it in 1836 and made the present house.

The Messinger house over the way was built in 1841-42, John Everett, Dockray Funeral Home is the Webster house, Dr. Ross lived there; Sidney Smith, etcher, across the way.

Walnut street--first school was 1762, on the corner.

Beyond Walnut street Wentworth's was the only house in the Hardware until 1831. Hagan's House shows on map of 1855. Before we get to High street help me find the old herring run, that crossed West street from Allen's meadow to Wentworth's and in the rear of Fred Drake's--Jones' Run.

The Burr Copley House--corner of High street is on the site of the Pierce house, map of 1794, Kingsley house, 1st Canton Postmaster 1794; son Rufus Kingsley, first stage coaches Newport, Taunton, Boston, Adam's express, his successor, Post Road from Dorchester joined other Post Roads over High street, Viaduct street and Main street to Billing's.

Later on, we may follow through the Hardware, Uriah Leonard General Gridley, Dr. Belcher.

But let us draw a final picture of the road over which we have passed, as it was, say, in the time of the Revolution. A narrow winding, country way, gravelled on a few places, deeply rutted, no sidewalks, no lights, trees growing close to the sides of the road and interlacing overhead, from Bolivar to High streets not more than three houses.

Put in the Saw Mill River over there, and fill the rest of the picture with dense dark woods and it is complete.

From The Canton Journal in 1947


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