History and Tradition of Waban
— By Lawrence Watson Strong[Dr. Lawrence Strong, a local M.D., was Isabel Strong’s uncle. In this essay he describes Waban in 1875 as a group of farm-houses at the junction of Beacon and Woodward Streets, which was the main road to Newton Upper Falls, where you could catch a train to Boston and where the Waban kids were sent off each day to school per horse-and-wagon.
The new railroad built in the 80’s was called the Circuit Railroad, because it went in a circle back to Boston where it started, so you could ride it either way and get to the same place. Beacon Street was originally named the Sherborn Road. It started in Newton Highlands, followed Woodward Street to Waban Square, and went off to Lower Falls, and from there apparently all the way to Sherborn. Waban itself was a part of Auburndale: it didn’t exist independently until 1886 — J.M.]
Very likely the residents of Waban today think of that portion of Newton as an entirely new village. And so it is, but like many a city of antiquity it has risen on the ruins of an earlier civilization which was not without its glory.
I am going to draw a picture from memory and hearsay of these early times, without attempting to verify my facts by consulting authorities. Authorities would not be amusing, nor, indeed, possible for me, but I believe this account to be a fairly accurate one.
First, let me record how Waban comes by its name. My father, William Chamberlain Strong, was very active in securing the right-of-way for the Boston and Albany Railroad at the time the Newton Circuit Road was built. The location of a station here marked a potential village, and a name was required. My father had previously lived on Nonantum Hill in Brighton, where Waban, the Chief of the Indian tribe Nonantum, had his wigwam, and where Eliot, the Apostle to the Indians, preached. A memorial marks this spot today. So the name “Waban” for the new village easily suggested itself to my father. I am told Waban, or Wabanoki, means “east” in the Indian tongue. The spelling of the name cannot be held to coincide with its pronunciation. I believe the pronunciation is correct and the correct spelling would be either Wauban or more probably Waughban. The error is older than the town.
My own recollections of Waban begin with 1875. It was then that my father bought a vacant farm in the section of Newton now Waban, and moved there with his family. Perhaps it may be interesting to know what Waban looked like one hundred years after the American Revolution, and not long after the Civil War. Changes then were less in a generation than today in a year, so we may suppose that this description would be applicable to the locality over several decades, at least.
Four rather large farms formed then a rough square with a common meeting point at the junction of the present Beacon and Woodward Streets. These were, southwest, the Collins farm; northwest, the Newton City or Poor Farm; southeast, the Wyman farm; and northeast, the Moffatt farm which my father purchased. These four farms form the heart of the present Waban. Two other farms to the eastward must be included, separated by Woodward Street, the northern later purchased by E…P. Seaver, and the southern by Joseph Bacon.
The Moffatt farm comprised Moffatt Hill and the surrounding land bounded by Beacon and Chestnut Streets from the present Church of the Good Shepherd to Moffatt Road. I believe Moffatt Hill to be the correct name for Waban’s only hill, though a more picturesque name, “Flagstaff Hill,” was in equal vogue at that time. Presumably there was a flagstaff at some time on this conspicuous hill, though I have never heard any account of it. It would be very interesting to find some reference to it. Perhaps it was the site of a Liberty Pole, or perhaps during the Civil War some patriot flaunted his colors there. Surely at the time it was a beacon in a wilderness, for even in my recollection there was no house within half a mile. Some time in the 80’s the United States Coast Survey erected a tripod beacon on the crest, and used this point for triangulation. I think I was told that the crest of the hill was due west from the State House.
To the westward, just beyond the crest of the hill, and just where Windsor Road now ends, were two old cellars, and on the southern slope of the hill still stood two old abandoned cottages one formerly used as a pest house by the City Farm. This little group of four houses had its outlet to the west, entering Washington Street, Auburndale, near the present Woodland Golf Club House.
So here was a tiny hamlet, long, long since vanished without a trace. At the time of its foundation the site would seem even less familiar to a Wabanite of today, for there were two considerable ponds between the hillside and the present railroad, where the golf links are now. I said that this hamlet was connected with Auburndale, and not with the present Waban Village. In my youth all Waban was a part of Auburndale, Ward 4.
Our entire farm of one hundred acres was enclosed by a stone wall, and on half of this, that is, the length of Beacon and Chestnut Streets, the stones were carefully faced. Inside the stone wall, at a distance of ten or twelve feet, was a picket fence for the hill portion of the farm, the idea being to make a deer park out of the hill with a driveway encircling it. One thing that mystifies me in regard to this deer park, with its fence and wall undeniably existent, is that even a half-grown faun would skip it as lightly as a feather. Perhaps, however, the theory was that the deer would use the park as a sanctuary, and the fence was not to keep them in but to keep dogs and other intruders out. It amuses me to recall that years later Mr. Day of West Newton had the same idea of a deer park for this region, and that he bought the back land along the north base of Moffatt Hill and enclosed it with a wire fence. I doubt if he knew that he was repeating history. At any rate, the deer repeated by vaulting his higher fence. In practical form this deer park became a cow pasture, and there was a square milking paddock under a big oak just where the Saville and Brown houses join today.
The farmhouse which we came to occupy is the present rectory of the Church of the Good Shepherd, and has changed very little with the years. The front of the house cannot be very old, probably about the time of the Civil War, but it was rebuilt from an older structure as its sills and floor beams clearly show from the cellar, and the present kitchen was part of the original structure. I suppose the tiny eaves window close to the floor of the upper story of the kitchen (if still there) gives a hint of great age. I was told by a member of the Crafts family (Newton Highlands) that this farm was the original grant of land to John Staples, first schoolmaster of Newton, for a lot from which to cut wood, and that John Eliot, the Indian’s Apostle, married Staples to his wife, Mary Crafts, from this very house.
I was also told by George Collins, Mrs. Gould’s brother, that he remembered when cord wood, in its full four foot lengths, was carried into that kitchen for the winter fires. The team was backed up to the door, and a load carried in at one time. The little windows under the eaves were only a foot high and were close to the floor. The sloping roof over the kitchen left room for a tiny chamber where I used to sleep. It was out of such windows that the early settlers, lying prone on the floor, defended their homes against Indian attacks.
For the eighteen seventies and for that remote situation, the house made some pretensions of elegance, with its French doors, its Italian marble mantelpieces, and particularly for its large oval dining room, paneled in oak. The ceiling of that room was higher than that of the rest of the house, and projected into the second story, so that the “best room” over it was also somewhat grander than the rest of the house with a higher ceiling and arches at the sides.
All this new splendor was quite evidently grafted onto an originally simple farmhouse. The stairs in my time were in the front hall, running up from the back of the hall so that the landing was over the front door. This made a sloping niche facing the front door, and here was located the “register,” blessed isle of refuge from the nipping cold. In the winter time the large oak dining room was abandoned, and the cozy sitting room at the left of the front door was used instead.
In the kitchen cellar was originally a large brick cistern into which water was pumped (by hand) from a well located at the left of the drive in front of the house. The big, brass-bound force pump over the kitchen sink required the exertions of a sturdy man to fill the tank in the “best room” attic. Back of the kitchen extended a series of wash rooms, preserve room, and woodshed, making a very complete “plant,” as we would say today, for household economics.
The story of our farm before we came is very vague to me. I only know that it was the country estate of some gentleman who evidently had expended a considerable amount on it, and then abandoned it, traditionally on account of ill health.
At the entrance were two large wooden gates flanked, I remember, by large smoke trees. In the dooryard stood, as it stands today, a beautiful elm, and I was told by Robert Turner, my father’s foreman then, that he dug that tree from “the lower part of the farm” (the present market garden) and himself planted it there, where it spreads its graceful branches wide over the house and yard.
Behind the elm was a large graveled yard in front of the big barn, brooding over the site of the present Windsor Road. This big barn (now demolished) was moved to a new site and became the Windsor Hall School for Girls, the first house from Beacon Street on Windsor Road. The building originally had a cupola, itself no mean structure, in which the wheeling pigeons reared their young. Sordid fact must admit their end in sundry pies undeniably delicious. This three-storied barn was to our childish eyes enormous, and the jump from the upper beams into the haymow brought one’s stomach into one’s mouth in a most satisfying way. Likewise the swing, hung midway in the long aisle, was a sure fire nauseant. A big door on a track closed either end of the barn, and an earthen ramp at the back door permitted two-horse teams of hay to enter, unload, and leave.
To the left of the barn door was a tool house, next a workman’s cottage, while at right angles on the right was a large, fine carriage house with a hard pine floor and slate roof. This carriage house was the “barn” of Windsor Hall, demolished some years ago. The farm road ran from the graveled yard in front of the barn around the carriage house, and on the opposite side of this road was the kitchen yard with several large black heart cherry trees, and just at the kitchen door a nice red cherry tree in which we children largely lived at the proper season.
On the eastern side of our house was quite an elaborate formal garden with paths and a well. I remember syringa bushes and lilies of the valley. It was here that my sister planted the beans she had rubbed on my warty hands. Miraculously one morning my warts were gone, and “Margie,” tiptoeing across the dewy garden, found that the beans were sprouted! (We had an Irish nurse! My middle name is Watson and I always supposed it was because I had “warts on” my hands.)
A minor structure around the barn was a cook house for the pigs, where a massive cauldron boiled all the small potatoes, and it must be admitted, scalded the pigs themselves come November and killing time. That horrid festival forms a vivid memory for me to this day, nor did the pig’s bladder football, cunningly inflated with a straw by Peter, the hired man, make me forgetful of the gory murder.
A sheep shed in the rear of the barn, a cow shed next to the cow yard, and a long hen house stretching away to the west, complete the catalog of what the well appointed farm should have.
The farm road, a mere cart track, but the forerunner of Windsor Road, ran along the top of a gravelly ridge, with swamp on either side, and reaching the base of the hill it bore to the right, roughly following the present Moffatt Road. The whole southern slope of the hill was covered by an apple orchard, with a fringe of peach and pear trees along the eastern side of the present Windsor Road. The crest of the hill, shaggy with boulders, a typical drumlin, was the cow pasture, for our farm was planned primarily as a dairy farm.
Flagstaff Hill was encircled by the two arms of Cheesecake Brook, which had its headwaters in the swamps lying on both sides of the present Windsor Road. To show how much the land has dried up since then, there is the fact that a horse wandered from our barn one night and became bogged down and perished in the swamp directly behind Windsor Hall, the first house on Windsor Road. Also, the eastern branch of Cheesecake Brook, coming up through the present market garden land to end behind the present Club House, had high banks and was a good trout stream. I have known a horse to bog down in this stream also.
Where the Waban Club now stands, the land rose in a gravelly hill on which the farm boys used to cut faggots for the kitchen fire. The top of this hill my father used as fill in the swamp below. This alternation of swamp and gravel gives the key to an understanding of the early roads and the location of the various farms.
Beacon Street, from Newton Center to its junction with Woodward Street at Waban, is of comparatively recent origin. Cold Spring swamp made an impassable barrier just east of Waban. The early settlers then came along the high sand plains of Eliot, thus making the present Woodward Street (pronounced Woodard in those days). This veered to the south at Waban, while a little extension ran straight to the Staples house door, in front of which was that vast and venerable elm which finally succumbed to the march of progress. Oh, noble tree, loved in my youth, green in my memory today, what a story of Waban you could give!
As Cold Spring swamp was a barrier to the east, so the Charles River with its bordering marshes was a bar to the south, and the west bound traveler passed through the unborn Waban on his way to the ford at Newton Lower Falls. Probably this was the earliest westward route from Boston via Newtowne (Cambridge), the ford at Watertown, Newton (Center), Newton Highlands, Waban, and Newton Lower Falls, where traces of the fording place still remain and may be seen at low water. Probably the Worcester turnpike (Boylston Street) was a much later route.
When Beacon Street was put through it completed a triangle with these other two roads, and in my youth this green was of considerable size and contained some half dozen elm trees, making a pretty little lawn on which my father kept flower beds. The aforesaid march of progress has of course rectified all that!
One of the greatest beauties of Waban in my youth was the virginal stands of white pine lining both sides of Beacon Street, of which a few melancholy specimens remain today. There were also many noble oaks of massive bole, some of which fell at the coming of the railroad, or to various other engines of enlightened progress. Thus “Pine Island,” a circular area of perhaps two acres rising a little above the swamp, a gem in a green meadow, and where we used to picnic on holidays, has yielded to the more remunerative cucumber. The “Oasis,” a smaller, very interesting group of Scotch pines, lay in the swamp just east of the Club. Father’s “Rock Knoll” was a group of oak and pine off Moffat Road. Between that and Windsor Road was a lovely grove of white oak where I once waged a successful battle with the gypsy moth.
Such were the features of our own farm, and doubtless a better informed chronicler than I would be able to tell equally pleasant or better tales of the other three main farms of Waban. I can give but the barest outline of them.
The Collins farm began at or near where the Cochituate aqueduct crosses Woodward Street and thence along Beacon Street to the west limits of Waban. It ran back to the Charles River and was bisected in its whole length by the aqueduct. It also was an alternation of glacial sand gravel and river swamp and was little used for farming. There stood first the lordly Judge Collins house, then the Gould house, next the fine old Collins house as it stands today, and lastly the Queen Anne George Collins house (all demolished but the third).
Across Beacon Street from the Collins farm was the Newton City (Poor) Farm, a big rambling wooden structure with a big barn. Everyone was glad when these were demolished and the farm moved. They were torn down in 1902. I remember one or two visits to this dreary house of charity with its institutional smell and depressing plainness.
The Wyman farm occupied the great triangle formed by Beacon, Chestnut, and Woodward Streets, with an orchard on the south side of Woodward Street from Chestnut to the aqueduct. On this farm were four small ponds, large enough for skating, however, and all the joys of wading, boat sailing, and turtle hunting in summer. Sweet flag root and wild mint grew in the pond in the deep hollow next to the old Wyman house. This house was remodelled somewhat by Prof. Langford Warren, later by Mr. LeRoy Phillips, but still presents its old-time atmosphere.
A second Waban brook had its headwaters in the swamp south of the Wyman orchard. This crossed Chestnut Street to run through the Bacon farm, and, recrossing Chestnut Street at the Dresser farm, made its way into the Charles River. Trout were in this stream, too.
The Woodward farm should have a chronicler of its own, but I remember that the Woodward boys’ great, great aunt, Miss Hattie Woodward, then in her old age, told me that the oak beams of the frame of the house were brought from England. This is not as fantastic a tale as it appears, for it was not for lack of wood but on account of the great reputation of English oak. I also remember being told that there were Indian graves in the Woodward yard.
Another little group of houses present in my childhood, but no longer on the site, was at the crossroads of Beacon and Chestnut Streets, with one house occupying the little triangle formed by the short diagonal road.
Another fragrant memory of my youth surrounds the two glue factories, one on the south bank of the Charles and the other on the Bacon farm. These industries, feeling themselves not wholly loved, withdrew before the march of progress. One more institution of somewhat dubious repute was relegated to the backwoods of Waban, namely the Pine Farm School for Wayward Boys, located at Chestnut and Fuller Streets. Those poor little tykes would sometimes run away from the school, only to be retrieved by some one of the farmers.
The Circuit Railroad was begun in the fall of 1884, and this marks the change from a farming community to the ultimate development of a village. Anent the name “Circuit,” that evidently means so little to the citizens of Newton today, with their motor cars, that there was no protest when the Boston and Albany Railroad deliberately chopped it in halves at Riverside. The very purpose of the “Circuit” was to unite the Southern and Northern Newtons, and it was with this pledge that the right-of-way was donated through the adjacent farms. To carry the children to high school, and to carry the local Solons to the City Hall, were the main objects of the railroad. You should picture the Newton of those days as a ring of villages around a very large uninhabited center. I was amused at the specious arguments given at that hearing for abandoning the Circuit which originally ran from Boston to Boston, but now makes Riverside the terminal.
In laying out Windsor and subsequent roads, my father thought of beauty even more than of utility, and, in addition to planting at once as large trees as possible, he insisted on a rather narrow roadway of gravel with a wide border of grass on each side of it. This grass he kept mowed to lawn smoothness and brightened with beds of cannas and salvia, flowers which, it must be confessed, his descendants did not greatly appreciate. Indeed, in later years, the expense of making these roads conform to city regulations in the matter of sidewalks was considerable, but let us dwell on the years when the road was a pleasant country lane and not a glaring, gravelly desert.
The first of Waban’s modern settlers were Mr. William Saville, Mr. Alexander Davidson, Mr. Frank A. Childs, and Mr. Louis K. Harlow. Great was the excitement and elation when their homes began to rise on “Moffatt Hill.” I wonder if that name is ever used today?
What new life and happiness came with the advent of those three families! Few there remain to remember the Sunday evenings in the studio of Louis Harlow when the chafing-dish was in its glory. Or who remembers the dauntless trip of the Viking Saville and his boyish crew, the first to go by motor boat from New York to Boston to win the Rudder trophy? And dear Alexander Davidson! A sweeter soul ne’er breathed! It is more than two decades since he left us sorrowful. After these beginnings, there came settlers in quick succession—the Buffums, Charles and William, the Comers, Winchesters, Flints, Shepleys, and others. The names begin to crowd so that I must cease to catalog.
The development of the village was by no means rapid, even with the stimulus of the station, but its start was most auspicious and favorable. The caliber of the first newcomers determined the future course, and is responsible for what Waban is today.
During his life in Waban, my father was always a leader in the community, willingly devoting his time, energy and money to its development. Among his many interests was the building of the Church of the Good Shepherd, which still stands today and for which he gave the land, and it is fitting that the original farmhouse has now become the rectory.
His interest in the town’s walks and trees and flowers is a precious heritage and a tradition to be carried on by future generations in preserving the beauty of Waban. My father built for the coming years and in that he was wise.
The Topography of Waban
— by RHODES A. GARRISON[This article shows how the development of Waban was determined by its early roads. The main drag was called the Sherborn Road — present-day Beacon and Woodward Streets combined —, and may date back to 1651. It may even have originated as an Indian trail. When what is now Washington Street was built through West Newton to Lower Falls, the Sherborn Road fell into disuse, and Waban lapsed into a century of splendid, bucolic isolation. There was also much more water around Waban in early times: ponds, streams, marshes, and swamps, which eventually ran off down to Quinobequin— J.M.]
We live in Waban and most of us assume that it has always existed. We do not stop to think why Waban developed as a community or why it is located in this particular spot rather than in some other nearby place. If, however, we consider the location of Waban in relation to other places and study its topography, as well as the desire of man both to travel and to found a home, the reason will become evident.
As Waban is politically a part of Newton, its relationship to the other villages will be better understood if we mention first why they were settled. Newton differs from many early communities in that it was settled by individuals rather than by organized groups, and that no one central locality dominated the others. Newton, in short, is made up of individual villages, the three oldest of which, Newton Corner, Newton Center and West Newton grew up on through highways. Three others, Newton Upper Falls, Newton Lower Falls and Nonantum developed on account of water power. Later, after the Boston and Worcester Railroad was opened in 1835, Newtonville and Auburndale sprang up at railroad crossings; and, after the opening of the Charles River Railroad in 1852, Newton Highlands came into being at the Oak Hill Crossing.
Coming now to Waban, we find record, in 1671, of a highway known as the Sherburn Road passing through the limits of the town, with mention of several small lots indicating something of a settlement. This highway went from Brookline Village to Sherburn, passing over the present Woodward, Beacon and Washington Streets to Lower Falls. We do not know when it was laid out, but as the Christian Indian Village at South Natick was established in 1651, presumably it was opened on or before that date. It is possible that part of it may have been an old Indian trail. This old road lost its importance and Waban became practically by-passed when the road from West Newton to Lower Falls was opened sometime between 1700 and 1750. As late as 1885, therefore, Waban was merely an isolated farming community, suitable as the seat of the Newton Poor Farm, which, by the way, was moved from Auburndale to Waban about 1837.
The real beginning of Waban as a separate community occurred with the opening of the railroad station August 16, 1886. In November 1852, the Charles River Railroad had begun to run from Brookline to Needham. Entrance to Boston was over a branch of the Boston & Albany to Brookline. About 1885 the Boston & Albany bought, for $415,000, the line from Brookline to Needham Heights, a distance of 5 1/0 miles, and put in a new road from Newton Highlands to Riverside, thus connecting with its main line. It was necessary to open new stations on this Newton Circuit. This the company did at three through highways to Boston, situated at convenient distances from each other, namely, Worcester Turnpike, Beacon Street and Washington Street. Of the three stations, Eliot, Waban and Woodland, only the one at Waban grew into a community with post office, stores, churches, etc. Possibly Eliot was too near to Newton Highlands and Woodland to Lower Falls to become centers. On the other hand, Waban’s development was probably due to the fact that its real estate was held in large lots by owners who were ready to sell and develop the place. Briefly, Waban is a child of the railroad and its development began with railroad communication to Boston. This, it must be remembered, was before the days of automobiles. The time element in horse-drawn vehicles had previously prevented its growth as a sleeping place for Boston.
Having seen that the location of Beacon Street determined the position of the railroad station at Waban, let us consider why Beacon Street was placed where it is. The reason lies in the fact that it is on the watershed between the Charles River and two brooks, Cheesecake and Cold Spring. Let us, therefore, take up the physical topography of Waban and study the lay of the land as a whole, with special reference to the business center of the town.
In general, Waban is an upland plateau with meadow or swampy ground around much of its borders. Along the Charles River, starting from Lower Falls, there is a row of bluffs broken by gullies. Near the center there is a wide valley with a broad base on the river and a narrow point reaching nearly to the railroad station. After that there is a short upland hill over which Collins Road runs and then another wide valley reaching to Woodward Street via Dresser Brook. On the other side of Woodward Street there is a wide valley of Upper Cold Spring Brook, bordered on the Waban side by Alien Avenue and Gordon Road. The plateau east of Chestnut Street is broken by the narrow valley now occupied by Avalon Road. This appears to be a real break, the section to the north being a rocky formation which is totally lacking to the south. Crossing Chestnut Street, the plateau reaches out between the Brae Burn Golf Club and Moffat Road until it strikes a branch of Cheesecake Brook. Between Beacon Hill and the railroad is the large meadow occupied by the Brae Burn. The rocky ridge between Beacon Street and Pine Ridge Road is, in a topographical sense, the center of the town. From Chestnut Street down Avalon Road is one of the watersheds of Cold Spring Brook, across Beacon Street is the watershed of Cheesecake Brook, and across the southern end at Woodward Street is the watershed of Charles River.
Having given the general topographical layout, let us see how the streets fit into this pattern, both with regard to the physical characteristics and, what is also important, the desires of man. The Sherburn Road, the first through Waban (probably by 1651), follows the watershed along the Charles River and then goes down to the “wading place” at Lower Falls. Coming from Eliot, the road closely follows the watershed in -nearly a straight line as far as Alien Avenue, then it drops off the plateau and follows between the edge of the plateau and the former swampy land to the south. At the brick block it picks up the watershed and again follows it a nearly straight and level line to Washington Street.
The second road to enter Waban was in 1702. In 1687, according to Newton records, “John Ward and Noah Wiswall were joined to our Selectmen, to treat with the Selectmen of Cambridge, to lay out a highway from our Meeting-house to the Falls.” This was from Newton Center to Newton Lower Falls and was along the line of the present Homer Street, Commonwealth Avenue, Fuller Street, Commonwealth Avenue and Washington Street to the Sherburn Road. The part of Washington Street from West Newton to Commonwealth Avenue was not laid out until some time between 1700 and 1750. As stated above, in 1702 it was “Voted that the way from the Meeting-house to the Lower Falls shall be turned from Henry Seeger’s Hill, along the Country Road, by the house of John Staples, and so by the pine swamp.” This meant that the route should follow the Sherburn Road from where the Waban Engine House now is as far as the present Windsor Road. Then a new road was built which follows the present Beacon, Short and Chestnut Streets to Fuller Street where it joined the old road. Just why this change was made we do not know as there was no settlement at Waban and no saving of distance. Probably it was done to avoid the long steep hill up Fuller Street, for the new way provided a comparatively level route. Topographically, after leaving Fuller Street, the new road crossed the watershed between Cold Spring Brook and Cheesecake Brook, and then followed higher ground between the rocky plateau and the old swamp where the Boston Gardening Company is now located, joining the watershed by the bridge on the Sherburn Road.
The third road in Waban was a continuation of the second road from Short Street to Upper Falls and is now a part of Chestnut Street. It must have been laid out between 1831 and -1847, for it does not appear on a map of the first date but does on an 1847 map. This is not so important a highway as far as Waban is concerned, for it does not go through the center and was principally built as a connection between West Newton and Upper Falls, which at that time was growing as a manufacturing center due to its water power. It did, however, give an indirect entrance to Waban from Upper Falls and beyond via the Sherburn Road. Incidentally, it will be a surprise to many to learn that a stage line was run from Upper Falls to West Newton after the railroad was opened, so that passengers might have quick transportation to and from Boston.
The fourth through line came into existence when Beacon Street was built out from Boston in 1847-48. This runs in a straight line and on the map looks like a turnpike, but it was built after the turnpike era which practically ended with the coming of the railroads. Like many of the turnpikes, it passed through no centers between Boston and Newton Center. It started at the present Kenmore Square and provided exit from Boston to the west beyond the famous milldam. Earlier roads from Kenmore had, however, been built to Brookline and to Watertown. Today, Beacon Street curves around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, but Waban people will be interested to know that originally, before the Reservoir was built, it went in a straight line. After reaching Newton Center, Beacon Street turned and was continued to meet the southern end of Short Street, thus furnishing another entrance to Waban. However, it utilized part of the old road of 1702 to make its objective. Incidentally, the name of Beacon Street was given not only to this captured part, but also to that part of Woodward Street beyond the railroad bridge. A feature of this new entry was that it did not follow a watershed, but entered Waban over a swampy section watered by Cold Spring Brook.
The above streets complete the old through roads in Waban. With the exception of Beacon Street, they all utilized watersheds and avoided low marshy ground. If we assume that the Sherburn Road was in use by 1650, it was approximately fifty years before the cut-off from Fuller Street gave a new entrance to Waban, and about one hundred and forty years more before Chestnut Street from Upper Falls and Beacon Street from Newton Center gave additional access. It is difficult to believe, but in the last one hundred years, no new through routes have been built despite the great growth of Waban and surrounding territory. Protected by the Charles River and swamps, Waban is practically an “island,” the only access being over three watersheds which serve as connecting links with the outside world. Perhaps the best way to emphasize this is to state it negatively. For the two miles between Washington Street and the Worcester turnpike, no road except Chestnut crosses the railroad and no bridge crosses the Charles River. Except for Beacon Street, no through road runs between Woodward and Fuller Streets, for Cold Spring swamp forms an effective barrier. The same holds true between Chestnut and Washington Streets, Beacon Hill with its steep sides being an obstacle. Between Fuller and Beacon Streets, no road enters from the west. The railroad, of course, is an artificial barrier, but could be surmounted if traffic warranted.
The remaining roads in Waban, and it is surprising how many are called “roads” instead of “streets,” are only of local interest compared with the through routes, but most of them fit into the topography of the land and follow certain natural rules. Incidentally, these minor roads did not grow haphazardly like “Topsy,” nor over a long period of time as intermittent needs developed. Most of them, apparently, were laid out within a comparatively short time of each other. As the land was owned in large blocks, systematic planning in a large way was possible. Waban Avenue is one of the longest roads. It starts by the churches and follows the ridge along the Charles River, meeting the top of the gullies as they come up from the river valley. After leaving the Cochituate aqueduct, which it follows to where it turns left to cross the river, it slides down the side of the ridge and reaches Washington Street (though the latter part is seldom used). Carlton Road and Varick Road descend the only large gullies available in order to give access to the river. Anawan Road also leaves Waban Avenue, but descends more gently through a broad meadow. This section between Beacon Street and the river is well cut up as a look at the map shows. One feature is the wide and deep depression bounded by Waban Avenue, Carlton and Nehoiden Roads. Windsor Road runs between two branches of Cheesecake Brook-to ascend and follow the backbone of Beacon Hill. Moffat Road winds around the end of this hill and then swings right to reach Chestnut Street between the rocky ground on its left and the bed of an old lake. Pine Ridge Road follows the foot of the central ridge and then bears right to follow the cliff above the valley occupied by Avalon Road. Upland Road, from Woodward Street, follows the plateau above Cold Spring Brook and then goes down hill to cross Avalon valley. Collins Road follows the base of the hill to Fenwick Road and then the latter continues through to Chestnut Street. Quinobequin Road lies entirely along the Charles River on a border of Waban and does not touch the center directly. It is a park road connecting Upper and Lower Falls. It can be used in connection with other roads to reach the railroad bridge, but there is no direct route as such.
It used to be said that all roads lead to Rome. The saying is equally true as regards the bridge at Waban. The map shows that on the Boston side five roads focus at this spot, namely, Windsor, Beacon, Pine Ridge, Woodward and Wyman. The same is also true on the south side, namely, Dorset, Beacon, Waban, Anawan and Collins. This is largely because the old Sherburn Road crossed the watershed at this spot. Not only were highways lured here, but also, within a stone’s throw, the railroad and aqueduct, the latter opened in 1848. Both were part of through connections to Boston. The railroad at this point cuts through the watershed at right angles. Looking over the side of the bridge toward Woodland, one can see just how high the original watershed stood. Looking toward Eliot, the tracks skirt the hill rising on the right. Originally, the hill was much larger and extended to the left of the tracks so that when the railroad was built, it was necessary to make an exceedingly deep cut through the hill. The part on the left was finally carted off as gravel filling. Now, instead of looking up at the bank from the train, one looks down. During World War I, enough was still left so that the local Constabulary held revolver practice with the edge of the original hill as a background. Both railroad and aqueduct parallel for a ways the height of land as represented by the Sherburn Road.
Of course there have been some changes in grade and location of streets, but probably not many. One change was in the center of Waban in front of the library where Woodward Street used to curve to the left, joining Beacon Street at Windsor Road. This junction afforded an entrance to the station by automobiles coming both ways on Beacon Street and from Windsor Road. The city planners thought the location dangerous, so the curve of Woodward Street was filled in, the green triangle made into a rectangle and traffic turned down to the present location of Woodward Street. As you come on Chestnut Street from Fuller Street, you ascend a small rise just beyond Byfield Road. Until about 1900, there was a second small rise further along over the rocks, but that was blasted out and a level grade secured. Woodward Street apparently was raised at the time the aqueduct was built. Now there is a rise over it, but originally the road must have dipped some to follow the original level. Woodward Street has also been straightened at the corner of Lincoln Street in Eliot. There it originally followed a curve between two hollows, but one was filled in and the section located as at present. The old route can still be traced. Beacon Street by the brick blocks has been widened twice on both sides. Windsor Road has also been widened by the stores. Beyond Holly Road toward Lower Falls a hollow on the right of Beacon Street has been filled in and the street widened and straightened. Here the road originally curved to the left to make its way between two hollows.
Summarizing, we have tried to show that Waban was originally on a through route but lost its importance by the extension of Washington Street from West Newton to Lower Falls. It then remained a farming district until the coming of the railroad when its real development began. Despite the growth of population, Waban has been so shut off by river, swamp and valley that there are only three real entrances to the center, all of which follow watersheds. The topography of Waban has been given and mention made of how the various roads fit into their physical surroundings, following a natural pattern which can easily be traced. Possibly topography and the layout of streets are dry subjects, but we believe that they are of interest when their relationship to each other is combined with the growth and history of a village.
Waban, the Wind
— by ARTHUR M. SOUTHWICK
(In the preparation of this paper, use was made of notes furnished through the kindness of Mr. Frederick T. Hackley ; assembled by Mr. T. H. Von Kamecke from data on Indian Sachems and Sagamores of the Nonantum tribe from the records of the Massachusetts Antiquarian Society, the State Records and the records of Major Daniel Gookin. Assistance was also rendered by Miss Mabel Parmenter of the South Natick Historical Society. Various other sources were also employed.)[The following article about Sachem Waban and the Nonantum Indians seems to be reasonably well-researched. Rev. John Eliot set about Christianizing them in the 1640’s, and their willingness to cooperate with the English colonists ensured their survival. Other local tribes were not so fortunate. After the uprisings in the 1670’s, the captured “savages” were incarcerated on outlying islands in Boston harbor, where many simply perished. Waban and the “praying Indians,” on the other hand, were re-located in Natick, which functioned as a kind of early reservation.
Massachusetts Indians still gather each year in Natick: take a look for example at this interesting website https://natickprayingindians.org/history.html And read more about the history of the Nonantum Indians in Natick at http://www.natickhistory.com.
As far as I can discover, this process of ethnic cleansing was more or less completed with Waban’s departure. There don’t seem to be any more Indians left in Newton after 1681, and it was left to the railroad executives to name our town “Waban” in 1886. — James Mitchell.]
(Since these notes were given to the WIS in 1990s by former Wabanite James Mitchell. Drew Lopenzina published his research under the title: Red Ink: Native Americans Picking Up the Pen in the Colonial Period. It is also available in the original dissertation here. Chris Pitts)
Because the hill north of Fenwick Road was his favorite hunting ground, and to perpetuate the memory of his exemplary character, the name of an American Indian was chosen as the name of this community when the branch railroad was constructed through this locality. Waban, meaning “The Wind” or “The Spirit” in his Indian language, was born in 1604, a Nipnet of the Algonquin Indians. His birthplace was probably the old Indian village of Musketaquid, now called Concord, Massachusetts. There he lived his early life near Nashawtuck, which is now called Lee’s Hill. He was not born a chief, but soon became a respected leader because of his great intelligence, wisdom and the power of his oratory. Waban was a very gifted man.
In his young manhood he married Tasunsquam, the eldest daughter of Tahaltawan who was Sachem (Indian Chief; pronounced say’-kem) of Musketaquid, and Waban became Sagamore (lesser chief) of this Assabet tribe. He spoke the Mahican (pronounced Ma-hee’-can) dialect. This was the language of all Indians who lived in New England, the Algonquin Indians. Groups of his tribe often journeyed to the ocean, which they reached at the old stone dam near Water-town Square, and camped on the neighboring hills where the mosquitoes were not so many. Here the water of the river became salt, and great quantities of fish were easily taken. Salt flats extended on either side of the channel yielding abundantly all kinds of shellfish. The name of the river was Quinobequin, meaning circular. The explorer, Captain John Smith, renamed it the Charles in honor of the young son of King James.
Before the Puritans came to the mouth of this river, exploring and fishing vessels sometimes sailed in to obtain water, tobacco, food and furs from the Indians in exchange for metal tools, liquor and trinkets. At that time the only white man living on the promontory of Boston, then called Shawmut, was a hermit named William Blaxton (Blaxtun or Black-stone), self-styled Clerk of Shawmut. He had been educated for the ministry and had a good library in his house, not far from the location of the present State House. It was one of Blaxton’s customs to visit the many Indian tribes throughout New England, and in this way he met and formed a warm friendship with young Waban. Probably Waban acquired a considerable knowledge of the English language and ideas during his early association with Blaxton, causing him to establish most of his tribe in Newton.
In 1630 Governor John Winthrop came to Massachusetts (meaning “Place of Many Hills,” referring to the Blue Hills) with his charter and Puritan colonists. The Rev. John Eliot came in 1631 as a substitute for the Rev. Mr. Wilson in Boston, and the following year became the minister of the church at Roxbury. He had received his degree at Jesus College of Cambridge, England, in 1622 when he was eighteen years old, and had subsequently become a Nonconformist so that he could not preach in England. In 1643 Eliot began to learn the language of the Indians, and with the end in view of preaching the Gospel to them in their own language, it became his custom to travel with Major Daniel Gookin, Commissioner to the Indians, on his visits to the tribes within New England. Thus while Gookin, who was then in his early thirties, attended to the civil claims of the Indians, Eliot taught them English and made good progress in learning their language.
On a visit to Waban’s wigwam on a hill in Newton a little west of Oak Square, Brighton, early in his ministry, Eliot found this sagamore to be extremely intelligent and thought that Waban, with his knowledge of English, would be a very valuable man in the Indian country. Eliot spoke of this to Gookin who shared his opinion and made Waban in 1632 the Governor of all the Indian tribes from about where Dover, New Hampshire, is to Mt. Hope in Rhode Island and west to the Connecticut River. Waban was then aged twenty-eight. In that year Governor Winthrop and others made an excursion up the Charles River with Waban.
Waban was the first Indian to be converted to Christianity by Eliot. This occurred in 1646. In the same year, on October 28th, Eliot preached his first sermon in the Indian language to the Indians in Waban’s large wigwam on the southeast slope of the hill in Newton. After the sermon, which took up one and a quarter hours of the three hour conference, the Indians declared they understood it all, and Eliot distributed apples and biscuits to the children and tobacco to the men. Tahaltawan and his sannaps (braves) had come from Concord to hear Eliot. Questions of the Indians were answered by Eliot with the help of Job Netsutan, a Long Island Mohigan Indian interpreter.
Eliot’s text at that first meeting was “Prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9)- Eliot explained the Commandments and asked if they understood; they said “Yes.” There was a time for questions; the Indians asked how to get to know Christ and if God could understand prayers made in the Indian language. Eliot said that God made us all and to illustrate, said, “There is a basket. It is made of white and black straws and many other things which I do not know; but the man that made it knows; he knows all that is in it.” The Indians also asked why God did not make all men good and why sea water is salt and river water fresh. (John Eliot must have needed much mental agility that day!) A drunken Indian in the assemblage asked, “Who made sack?” But the other Indians silenced him and told him that that was “a papoose question.” At the close of that long, long meeting, the Indians were asked if they were tired, but said “No,” and asked to hear more.
Two weeks later there was a second meeting, lasting all the afternoon. Some of the Indians cried; Waban and many of his men were so stirred that they were unable to sleep that night long ago in Nonantum. After the third meeting, Waban himself arose and began to eloquently instruct his people. Once Waban took four little boys, aged from four to nine years old, to call at John Eliot’s house and asked that they be taught; so earnest was he to convey his new teaching to his people, young and old.
This Indian settlement and the surrounding vicinity Waban called Nonantum or Noonatomen, meaning “Place of Rejoicing.” Waban became a missionary in earnest and his tribe, living a sober and industrious existence, became the first community of Christian Indians in North America.
Eliot continued to preach regularly at Nonantum with the help of Waban and some white missionaries. Governor Winthrop, Lieutenant Governor Dudley and many of the magistrates with Commissioner Gookin assembled at these Sunday gatherings to show the Indians that Eliot’s efforts were in conformity with their will. One week the Gospel services would be at Waban’s wigwam in Nonantum and the alternate week at the wigwam of the lesser ruler, Paim-bow, in Natick, to which the Governor and magistrates journeyed by canoe.
Waban was held in deep respect by all the magistrates, the Governor and Indian Commissioner. We have proof of this in the papers of Daniel Gookin who refers to what Waban called “the great sickness”: “Several of them recovered, particularly WABAN, and John Thomas; the one the principal ruler, and the other a principal teacher of them, who were both extreme low, but God has in mercy raised them up; had they died, it would have been a great weakening in the work of God among them.”
At the desire of Major Gookin, Waban was made Justice of the Peace by Governor Winthrop in 1646. The following is a copy of a warrant issued by Chief Waban, not in his best English, but in language which could be commonly understood by all Indians in Massachusetts at that time: “Nonantum Baye Colonie. You, you big constable, quick you catch um Jeremiah off scow, strong you hold um, safe you bring um afore me, Waban, justice peace.”
Gookin says of Waban when Justice of the Peace: “When asked by a young Justice what he should do when Indians got drunk and quarreled, Waban replied, Tie um all up, and whip um plaintiff, whip um fendant and whip um witness.’ ” (Also, see Alien’s Biographical Dictionary.)
Through Waban’s example whole tribes of Indians were ‘ made Christians and many churches were organized, such as at Grafton (Hassanimisco), Oxford and other places. The Indians at Nonantum were industrious and pious; they were taught trades, the women eagerly learning to spin quite well. They cultivated the ground, fished and kept cattle.
Two young Indians were sent to the first President of Harvard College for education in 1645, and on June 9, 1647, John Eliot assembled a large gathering of Indians at Harvard and preached to them there.
The college charter, given by the colonists in 1650, included the education of Indians. The third of the college buildings at Harvard was specifically for the education of Indians. It was of brick and cost £400 to build.
Only one Indian ever received a degree. An Indian language primer by Eliot, printed in 1654 in the college president’s house, was the first book in North America printed in the (Massachusetts) Indians’ language. Eliot also translated the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew into the Indian tongue.
The first complete Bible translation by Eliot was printed at Harvard College in 1664. He was at work upon this prodigious task for seventeen years.
Waban, notable for his wisdom and leadership, in 1649 devised a short code of laws for the government of his Indians. These laws were similar to those of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for white men, except that the penalties for Indian transgressors were lighter. Some of Waban’s Indian laws were as follows:
“If any man shall be idle a week, or at most a fortnight, he shall pay five shillings.
“If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him, and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be severely punished.
“Every young man, if not another’s servant, and if unmarried, shall be compelled to set up a wigwam and plant for himself, and not shift up and down in other wigwams.
“If any woman shall not have her hair tied up, but long loose, or be cut as men’s hair, she shall pay five shillings.
“All men that wear long locks shall pay five shillings.
“If any shall kill their lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings.” (Copies in the American Antiquarian Society. Drake’s History.)
The fines went to the local church. This code was signed by Waban, Governor, Paim-bohou (Paim-bow), Deputy Governor, and Pennahannit, Marshall General, who attended the Indian Courts for Waban. He was called Captain Josiah. Wattasacompanum, called Captain Tom, also assisted Waban
and Gookin in the Indian Courts, being a grave and pious man.
Waban at first signed his name by making a cross, but later became a good penman, signing his name “Thomas Waban,” Thomas being the Christian name given him by his English friends.
In the year 1649, John Eliot made a report to the London Corporation about his work with the Indians and made special reference to Chief Waban as follows: “that a Nipnet Indian Sagamore by name WABAN hath submitted himself to the Lord, and much desires one of our Chief ones to live with him and those that are with him.”
The localities of Newton and Brighton were given by the General Court to the Proprietors of Cambridge in 1636, excepting the rights of the Indians to the lands they had improved; Cambridge being at first called New Towne. The portion which is now Newton was held as common lands of Cambridge, but was soon divided among the Cambridge settlers, becoming known as Cambridge Village until its separation, when it took the name of Newton.
Early settlers made a bargain with Waban “to keep six score head of dry cattle, on the south side of Charles River, and he was to have the full sum of eight pounds, to be paid as followeth: Thirty shillings to James Cutler, and the rest in Indian corn at three shillings the bushel, after Michaeltide next. He is to bargain to take care of them twenty-one days of this present month, and to keep them until three weeks after Michaelmas (September 29th) ; and if any be lost or ill, he is to send word into the town, and if any shall be lost through his . carelessness, he is to pay according to the value of the beast, for his default.”
(With Waban’s reputation for excellence of character, one doubts the need of foreseeing any lapses, but the colonists were notoriously wary of giving their trust).
Finding that some of the whites exerted a pernicious influence upon the Nonantum Indians, Eliot, in 1651, arranged for them to move with all their possessions eighteen miles up the river to South Natick, “the Place of the Hills,” then a wooded wilderness. Some of the Concord Indians came to join them. There at the site of the present dam, the praying Indians built a foot bridge, three streets with house lots for each family, a fort with stockade, and a Meeting House fifty feet by twenty-five with chimneys in it. The lower floor was used as a sanctuary on Sundays and a schoolroom on week days, the upper story serving as a warehouse and place to hang outer clothing, with a room divided off to accommodate the minister. The fort was made of heavy whole logs, and the Meeting House of sawed and well-framed lumber. In front of the dwellings of the early ministers the Indians planted “Friendship Trees.” There Waban’s tribe dwelt in peace for twenty-four years, planting, tending cattle, trapping, fishing, hunting, spinning, making brooms and baskets, keeping the Sabbath and becoming more and more like the English settlers.
In 1675 some of the wilder tribes, banded together by Metacomet, started a real war with the English settlers. He was a proud, brave, crafty leader of the Wampanoags of Poca-noket from Mt. Hope on Fall River in Rhode Island, a son of Massasoit, and became known as King Philip. He rejected Eliot’s preaching saying, “Why should I give up my thirty-seven gods for your one? I care no more for your religion than that button on your coat!” Angry at the English settlers who were rapidly depriving him of the fishing, planting, hunting places and playgrounds of his Indians he started a war of extermination which was at first very successful. The Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut settlements banded together to combat Philip’s forces, took firearms from the savages as fast as possible, and sent to England for more weapons.
This war brought great suffering and losses to Waban and all the other praying Indians. Hated by Philip’s men for their loyalty to the English, they were also detested by those e the whites who did not know them well because of their relationship to the savages. Fifty-two of their able-bodied men were recruited for the army of the English in July and for well against their own relatives, bringing four Indian scalps to Governor Leverett for proof of their loyalty, but on August 30th they were ordered to confine themselves to five of their fourteen towns and to go no further than one mile from the center of these towns, so they could not hunt or tend their cattle. The wily Philip spread rumors to discredit them with the English, and the people of Boston became so incensed that to appease them an order was passed by the General Court to put the Natick Indians on Deer Island in October of 1675.
Six carts, a few men and a friendly, tactful Englishman named Captain Henry Prentice, were sent to remove the 200 men, women and children, arriving with no more than a half hour’s notice. Catching up a few of their possessions they all assembled in an hour or two and sadly started away from their homes. Most of their possessions, including a good crop of corn, had to be left behind. Some believed they were to be shipped away and sold as slaves, many cried and prayed, but they were patient and humble without murmuring or complaining against the English. Gookin and Eliot met and consoled them at a spot in Watertown near the present Arsenal; from there, with other praying Indians, they were ferried in three boats to Deer Island, not to leave on pain of death. The other towns of the praying Indians were forcibly moved to other islands in Boston Harbor.
Their rude shelters and scant clothing were inadequate, and their food, mainly clams, was, in spite of almost continuous digging, insufficient for the 400 to 500 confined to Deer Island. Many died that winter, but there were few complaints. They were at least protected from Philip’s warriors who ravaged and massacred the smaller settlements, and from the rage of the Boston English, some of whom plotted to massacre these defenseless, loyal Christian Indians on Deer Island. Eliot and Gookin were disliked for their attentions to these prisoners, and Gookin’s life was threatened.
At the request of the Council at Boston, Gookin selected two of the best praying Indians from Deer Island and sent them on December 30th as spies to determine the location and intentions’ of Philip’s forces; the reward to be five pounds each. They performed this difficult task well, and were hustled right back to the Island. In February, 1676, the General Court voted to raise an army of 600 men with Major Savage as Commander-in-chief. As he refused to go unless he might employ the help of the Island Indians, Captain John Curtice (Curtis) was allowed to take six of these braves, including the two who had acted so well as spies. They were very cheerful at being chosen.
In April, Captain Samuel Hunting and Lieutenant James Richardson were allowed to arm and lead a company of forty eager braves who performed good service after the attack on Sudbury. More were recruited as arms arrived from England so that there were eighty in the company of Christian Indian soldiers when summer came. They were employed on all expeditions while this war lasted, and with the help of Indian allies, contributed much to its successful conclusion. The excellent conduct of these fighting men caused the English to relent, so that in May the Natick Indians were moved to the mainland at Cambridge on the Charles River, a welcome change, as some were very sick, including Waban himself. Gookin and Eliot brought the sick ones food and medicine, and soon they were well again.
At a court held among the praying Indians, where there was a full meeting of them, Mr. Eliot being present with Major Gookin and some other English, Waban, the Chief ruler of all Indians, in the name of all the rest made an eloquent and affectionate speech:
“We do with all thankfulness acknowledge God’s great goodness to us in preserving us alive to this day. Formerly, in our beginning to pray unto God, we received much encouragement from the English, both here and in England. Since the war began between the English and wicked Indians, we expected to be all cut off, not only by the enemy Indians, whom we know hated us, but also by many English who were much exasperated and very angry with us. In this case we cried to God for help. Then God stirred up the Governor and Magistrates to send us to the Island, which was grievous to us; for we were forced to leave all our substance behind us, and we expected nothing else at the Island but famine and nakedness. But, behold God’s goodness to us and to our poor families, in stirring up the hearts of many godly persons in England, who never saw us, yet showed us kindness and much love, and gave us some corn and clothing together with other provisions of clams that were provided for us. Also in due time God stirred up the hearts of the Governor and Magistrates to allow some of our brethren to go forth to fight against the enemy both to us and the English, and was pleased to give them courage and success in that service unto the acceptance of the English, for it was always in our hearts to endeavor to do all we could to demonstrate our fidelity to God and to the English and against their and our enemy. And for all these things we desire God only may be Glorified.”
King Philip’s war ended with his death in the fall of 1676, and Waban returned with his remaining Christians in 1677 to his village at South Natick. They found most of their possessions gone, including the sawmill which they had built on the brook that runs from Lake Waban into the Charles River at Wellesley. They were so discouraged and impoverished that they never rebuilt this mill, but the brook is still called Sawmill Brook. This mill was sawing cedar clapboards before any sawmill had been built in England.
There Waban lived in peace until his death. There is a record that he put his mark to a petition for the pecuniary encouragement of the pastor at Sherborn, the son of Major Gookin, for lecturing regularly at Natick. This letter has sixteen Indian names subjoined, Chief Waban’s name heading the list. Daniel Takawaubait is the second name signed and the last is Thomas Waban, son of the first. This document Professor Stowe, himself Natick born, discovered in London. It is dated March 19, 1684.
The date of the death of Chief Waban is debated. The Massachusetts Historical Collection (Vols. IV and V) places it thus: “The death of Waban in 1685 followed by that of Gookin in 1687 removed two of Eliot’s staunch friends and assistants.” He apparently reached the age of eighty. A fragment of his confession, showing his intense humility and devotion: “I do not know what grace is in my heart; there is but little in me; but this I know, that Christ hath kept all God’s commandments for us, and that Christ doth know all hearts; and now I desire to repent of all my sins.” The last words of this grave and wise Indian Chief: “I give my soul to thee, O my Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Pardon all my sins and deliver me from hell. Help me against death, and then I am willing to die. And when I die, O help me and relieve me.”
Waban left his wife and several sons. Some of his sons spelled the name WABIN or WARBEN and some took the name of Ward. His son Thomas Waban, whose Indian name was Weegrammomenet, was educated and became Town Clerk of Natick and a justice of the peace. He wrote the town records in the language of the Indians, as Natick was at first purely an Indian settlement. Chief Waban’s grandson was also named Thomas Waban. As time went by, the Indians became degraded and less respected.
A story is told of a Natick Indian who went to Boston with a load of brooms and baskets and bought a drink of whiskey. Several months later he made another visit to Boston and was charged twice as much for the same amount of whiskey. When asked why the price had increased, the storekeeper replied that he had stored the liquor all winter, which was as expensive, he said, as to keep a horse. “Ugh!” said the Indian. “Whiskey no eat um much hay, but drink um lot water.”
Descendants of these Indians have added to the sterling qualities of their ancestors the best principles and practices of other races, making them among the finest and most amiable of our citizens.
The Indians’ ownership of lands, which they had improved in the district now Waban, was acquired by the white settlers for mill establishments on the river about 1680, a sachem called William Nehoiden of Ponkapoag acting for the Indians who owned the land downstream from their eel weir at the Upper Falls. The name of William Nehoiden appears in these various spellings: Nahaton, Ahawton, Nahanton, Hahaton; he signed his name Hahatun. By law, anyone buying land on this river bank had to agree to allow the Indians to fish there, and seine and dry their nets upon the banks.
Random Memories (About 1891)
— By MARGARET D. STONE[Waban evolved from a community of scattered farm-houses before 1886, to 300 families in 1917, to 1400 families by 1944, and it doesn’t appear to have changed much since. What is gone forever is the sense of community that existed at the turn of the last century amongst the families that lived here, which is certainly what led Isabel Strong to the publication of “Waban Early Days,” most of which provides anecdotal and nostalgic reminiscences of Waban in its pre-suburban condition, and when folks entertained each other instead of capitulating to the media. — J.M.]
Waban has grown from 4 to 1400 families. The Waban station was designed by the well-known architect, Henry H. Richardson. [Moving on to less imposing works, HHR also designed Trinity Church in Copley Square — J.M.] It was a gem of its kind, two tones of stone and handome brown-stained beams and doors, but, alas, today the green paint has spoiled its artistic appearance.
The general store and post office were back of the station. That building, too, was attractive, brown-stained shingles trimmed with cream color. The roof was interesting and there were three pleasant little bay windows in Collins Hall on the second floor. Inside these were cozy window seats, a favorite place between dances. The hall was the “center of civic life.” There was a stage and two small dressing rooms, one on each side of the entrance. On Sunday the hall was the church and ministers came in the afternoon from the different Newtons to conduct services. Saturday night the hall was used for dances. Many young people from the other Newtons were invited to attend these parties. They were very popular. Helen Flint or Lizzie Harlow could usually be persuaded to furnish the piano music. Dancing classes were also held in the hall, children’s classes in the afternoon and classes for young people and married couples in the evening. Mrs. Saville made quite a sensation when she appeared for the first time at Professor Sargent’s dancing class. She was handsome and stately in a heavy dark blue brocade, patterned with pink roses. In her dark hair she wore a large comb of silver balls.
Around 1890 everyone in Waban went to everything in Collins Hall, some as entertainers and the rest as audience. Minstrel shows, church fairs and suppers, living pictures, theatricals and all kinds of entertainments were provided.
During the tennis season, when showers prevented games on the Seaver’s tennis court located on the corner of Woodward and Chestnut Streets, eight or ten young people used to run over to the railroad station for shelter and there the station master, Mr. Strunach, would play dance tunes on his queer zither and they would dance and sing and have an hilarious time between trains.
Mr. Strunach ate some of his meals in the station and often the housewives of Waban would give him goodies from their well-stocked larders. One day Helen Flint, on her way to Boston, didn’t have time to hand him a fine apple pie, so while the train waited for her she tucked the pie under the wooden platform. When she returned a few hours later she rescued the pie and presented it to Mr. Strunach, none the worse for the delay.
In 1891 stone walls bordered Beacon Street and there was a substantial plank walk on one side in front of the three Collins houses. On the other side fields stretched over to and beyond the railroad tracks and up Moffatt Hill. The three large Collins houses made an impressive row. First was the Edward Collins house, vacant after Mrs. Collins died, except for the servants who kept it ready for young Ed Collins and his friends who’ often drove out from Boston with his tandem of lively horses or his much admired four-in-hand. This house was ornate in appearance, furnished in mid-Victorian style, the parlor being resplendent with gold and red satin upholstery, long sweeping lace draperies and red satin hangings. In the parlor hung a portrait of Mrs. Edward Collins sitting on one of the red sofas in this grand room. A huge conservatory added a luxurious note.
The Amasa Collins or Gould house was less pretentious but much more homelike. Here lived Mr. and Mrs. William Gould and their two children, Amasa and Jessie. The Goulds were prominent in all Waban affairs.
The Frederick Collins house is still standing, white with four Ionic columns, double entrances and double driveways with huge maple trees. Nine children lived here, George, Frederick, Minnie, Annie, Connie, Ida (who was the Supervisor of Art in the Newton schools and afterwards married Philip Dresser), Maynard, Lilly and Mabel. The doors were never locked in this house, a real sign of hospitality.
Opposite the Frederick Collins house was the City Poor Farm, a gray house set well back from Beacon Street, approached by an avenue of maple trees and surrounded by apple orchards. In the warm weather a few old people could be seen sitting under the trees near the house.
Far up Beacon Street in 1891 was a very small one-room house. Besides the family there was a huge pig which used to amble down the highway, root around the house and was often seen with its fore feet hanging over the window sill of the one front window, like a person of leisure enjoying the view!
— By Ellsebree D. Locke
The coming of the railroad marked the transition of a hamlet into a village with a name. The records, going back to the year 1852, show that the Boston & Albany Railroad operated a line from Boston to Brookline, and in that year the Charles River Railroad was started from Brookline to Needham, controlled by the New England Railroad, now part of the New Haven system. In 1885 the Boston & Albany Railroad purchased a portion of this line from Brookline to Newton Highlands (totalling five and one-tenth miles) for $415,000. At that period people from Waban were obliged to either walk or drive to Newton Highlands for train service to Boston. There were two railroad stations in the Newton Highlands district, one at the present site of the station, another about one-third of a mile west, known as Cook Street, at the junction of the present New Haven, just east of the fire station located on the Worcester turnpike.
Work was then started to connect Newton Highlands with Riverside on the main line of the Boston & Albany. It was completed in August, 1886, and the first train to operate was run through with ceremony on August 28th, with flags, fireworks and a speech at Riverside by J. F. C. Hyde, the first Mayor of Newton.
It had been the intention of the railroad to call the present Eliot station “Waban” and the Waban station “Hillside.” There is a story that the tickets and time-tables were already printed when, due to pressure brought to bear by Mr. Strong and Mr. Gould, at the last moment Hillside was changed to Waban and new printed matter gotten out at top speed. Eliot was to be called Waban in the first place because on the field adjoining the railroad was located the diamond of the Waban Baseball Club, made up of boys and men of Upper Falls and Newton Highlands. Mr. Gould was a member of this team. It was a locally famous champion team. Mr. Henry K. Rowe in his History of Newton (1930) states that it “made a reputation for itself in the season of 1866 by winning six out of eight games played that season. The score of a game in which the Jamaica Plain team was defeated indicates the less scientific character of the game than its present-day successor, for after eight innings the Waban Club had 78 runs to its credit as compared with its opponent’s 26. The two teams had battled for three and a half hours at the grounds at Oak Hill and it was time to knock off for supper.”
In the year 1889 thirty-three trains were operated to Boston and thirty-five from Boston through Waban. It was possible to take trains at the Waban station in either direction for Boston, via either the “Main Line” or the Highland Branch. No one in Waban needed to consult a time-table; one merely went to the station and took the first train, no matter which direction—unless in a great hurry, in which case it saved time to avoid the main line as that way took somewhat longer. No change was necessary at Riverside and the fare was the same either way. This was really splendid service.
In those days, at Newton Highlands, Newton Center and other crossings, there were grade crossings with a gate tender bearing a flag and the old-fashioned barrier let down with much ceremony, while the occupants of wagons and carriage waited with a firm hold on the reins.
During the construction of the Waban station certain trains did not make regular stops unless flagged. One Old-Timer remembers waving a handkerchief by day and making a torch by applying a match to a rolled-up newspaper by night. There is a wild controversy on the subject of Waban’s ever being a flag station, but it seems quite certain that at times this occurred.
West of Waban, below the golf links and just east of Woodland station, a huge cut was necessary through a hill and this gravel, together with a like amount from an excavation east of Riverside, was used to fill the present Back Bay area of Boston, where Muddy Brook joins the Charles.
Up until the year 1897 commuters from Waban and all stations on the Highland Circuit going to Boston, entered the city at the Boston & Albany station, which was located on Knee-land Street at the foot of Lincoln Street. The Old Colony, the New England and the New York, New Haven & Hartford stations were all also located on Kneeland Street, just east of the Boston & Albany. Later, the first three named were consolidated under the New Haven system and when the South Station was built, all three were located there.
I wonder how many Old-Timers remember portly Mr. Bean, one of our very first conductors? Children going in to the South Station to be taken to the circus or the dentist were always put in Mr. Bean’s gruff and kindly care. And how many recall those early railroad engines, which had a habit of spitting a fine spray of soot all over the people assembled on the platform and even some distance away? It was wet soot and wouldn’t dust off; it was permanent. Thus railroading in Waban’s early days!
THE BETHUEL-ALIEN HOUSE (Ralph Waldo Emerson House)
— By Jane MacIntyre (excerpt)
Ralph Waldo Emerson lived on Woodward Street in 1833-34, in an old farmhouse across from the Woodward homestead just beyond Allen Avenue. The house was small, low and painted yellow; lilacs grew at the door, elm trees sheltered it. It was a very ancient dwelling, called the Bethuel-Allen house after old-time occupants; the Riley family was the last living there. The house was struck by lightning and set afire about 1894. What remained was torn down soon after.
When Emerson came here he was thirty years old. He had lost his wife and gone abroad to travel. He returned from Europe, Liverpool to New York, by sailing packet; one month, five days en route. He landed in New York on October 9, 1833, and went by stage to Boston, thence to Woodward Street — “a half mile from Newton Upper Falls” — to the quiet farmhouse where his mother was living for a time. His biographers say that it was “probably the farm of their relative, Mrs. Ladd,” and offer us no further description. Madame Emerson was then sixty-six years old.
Emerson obviously was serene and happy here in this tranquil spot, indulging his love of nature to the fullest degree. From King’s Handbook of Newton — 1889 appears this quote from a letter which Emerson wrote to a friend: “Why do you not come out here to see the pines and the hermit ? … It is calm as eternity, and will give you lively ideas of the same. These sleepy hollows, full of savins and cinquefoil, seem to utter a quiet satire at the ways and politics of men. I think the robin and the finch the only philosophers. Tis deep Sunday in this woodcock’s nest of ours from one end of the week to the other; times and seasons get lost here; sun and stars make all the difference of night and day.”
Emerson took long solitary walks here, alert for flowers, which he knew by their Latin names. Birds, insects — all creatures, even to the crickets, enchanted him. He spent much time at the Woodward homestead across the way; he loved both the place and the family.
Occasionally he made excursions to accept invitations to preach. From here he journeyed for that purpose to New Bedford, Waltham, Plymouth and Bangor. While at Plymouth he met Miss Lydia Jackson, a bit older than he; intellectually a delight to him. He married her the next year when he then lived in Concord. He asked her to change her name to Lidian and she complied. And so doubtless Emerson was dreaming of this lady while in Waban.
Also, at this period in his life, he learned of the property he was to inherit from his first wife’s estate. It gave him an income of $12OO a year; far more in those days than it would be now. In Waban he learned of the death in Porto Rico of his beloved brother, Edward. Ralph Waldo Emerson and his mother left this spot in October, 1834, to go to live at the Manse at Concord.[I’ve read also that Henry David Thoreau also spent some time in Waban, but I haven’t yet found out where. He may have stayed in Emerson’s house for awhile — people used to camp in each others’ houses for long periods of time in the 1830’s. —J.M.]
Early History of this Countryside
— Author not named
In 1631 Cambridge was called Newtowne. In 1635 it included Brookline, Brighton (or Little Cambridge) and Newton. Newtowne in 1638 was renamed Cambridge, after the seat of learning in England where many of the town fathers had received their education. The land on the other bank of the river (now Newton and Brighton) was at first called “the South Side of Charles River” and sometimes “Nonantum.” About 1654 Newtowne became “Cambridge Village,” later “New Cambridge” and was so known until 1691, when by petition of the residents it became officially “Newtown”; gradually the second w was dropped. For the first ten years of this settlement’s existence, only seven families lived in Newton; during the first twenty-five years there were only twenty families. In 1644 there were twelve young men of the second generation. Sixty-five freemen lived in Newton at the time of the separation from Cambridge. In the records of 1686: “A committee was chosen to treat with Cambridge about our freedom from their town.” Cambridge did not take at all kindly to this separation, but the freemen of Newtown won out.
The hamlet which became the village of Waban had its share of the earliest settlers of Newton. Back in the 1600’s there were freemen living on this ground. On the west side of Moffatt Hill lived Alexander Shepard, Senior, followed in 1748 by Jeremiah Alien. The Pine Farm land (on the corner of Chestnut and Fuller Streets, the latter then called Homer) was owned successively by Samuel Craft, Samuel Murdock, Esq., and Jonathan Stone.
The land holdings of Henry Seger at the lower end of Beacon Street (then the Sherburn road) date back to 1674. Going towards Waban Square from the present fire engine station, there followed the lands of Job Seger (1709); then Jonathan Mason (1689); Daniel Mason succeeding him in 1717 and William in 1730. Where the Gould houses stood was the land of Daniel Woodward (1701), which passed from his son Daniel, Jr., to Matthius Collins in 1778.
Further down the road stood an old tavern, in 1763, run by Captain Nathan Fuller. It was torn down in 1840. That land then passed to Jonathan Woodward in 1772. It is a pity that no further record remains of this old tavern on the Sherburn road. There are other sites vaguely suggested, but this seems to be the most authentic; at any rate, there was definitely a tavern on the old Sherburn road and it was run by Captain Nathan Fuller.
The William Locke house, still standing on Beacon Street, dates back to 1784. Further down on that part of the Sherburn road, now called Woodward Street, between the village green and Chestnut Street, was the land of Eleazar Hyde (later owned by Col. Edward Wyman). John and Thomas Taylor owned a narrow strip of land which went through to Beacon Street. Beside it ran a lane which later became Allen Avenue, named for William H. Alien who lived just beyond (the Betheul-Allen house). This land was first owned by Captain John Clark in 1734, then William (1741) and Daniel (1787). The Woodward land holdings across the way date back to 1681.
The Staples-Craft-Wiswall house (later Strong, now Episcopal rectory) is, in parts, very ancient. The homestead of the Dresser family (still standing, facing Quinobequin now) and the Judge Joseph Bacon farm are also among the early properties, as is the Raymond house (acquired by Patrick and Mary Cotter), now on Fuller Street, but originally on Chestnut, built in 1787.
The first recorded grant of land in what is now Newton was in the year 1632. “Mr. Phillips hath 30 ac of land granted him upp Charles Ryver, on the south side, beginings att a creek a lyttle higher than the first pynes, and soe upwards towards the ware.” In 1650 “wild land” in Newton sold for $1.25 an acre.
1701. “Voted, that the select men shall be Asesores, to Ases the contrey rates.” A glance at the rating in the Assessors’ books of some representatives properties of Waban Free holders of the eighteenth century:
1798 Direct Tax of the United States.
Craft Joseph. 1 house Value $245 Acres — 78 Value $2,612 Total $2,857.
Collins, Matthius. 1 house Value $215 Acres — 119
Value $2,152 Total $2,367.
Woodward, Ebenezer. 1 house Value $3.60 Acres — 117 Value $2,810 Total $3,170.
In ancient days, up to the turn of the seventeenth century, and how much longer no one knows, Newton had wolf trouble. Witness these early records
1693. Paid Joseph Fuller 20s, for killing three wolves.
1695. The Town Treasurer paid William Ward 30s. lOd.
1696. Paid Thomas Wiswall 6/8 for killing a wolf.
Also indicating the rural atmosphere:
1711. March 9 — Voted, that sheep shall go at liberty upon the commons.
1711. At the same town meeting, the citizens appointed fence viewers, tithing men, a sealer of leather, a person to take care of hogs, and one to provide a school master and agree with him.
1717. March 3 — Voted, that those that shall kill black birds from ye: 1: of April til the last of May, and bring their heads to the Court or Selectmen, shall be allowed twelve pence for dozen of the town rate.
Waban is not, after all, a “mushroom village” as people often think, but a very ancient hamlet.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD CLUB 1913
— By Donald M. Hill
In the early years of this century, Waban was a very small community of friendly neighbors. The only meeting place for dances, minstrel shows and plays was Waban Hall, the seating capacity of which was about one hundred and twenty-five, and you can readily see that it did not take many couples to fill the hall at a dance. The Woman’s Club held its meetings in the houses of members and so did the Beacon Club. There were many houses sufficiently large for these meetings, but later they were held in the hall. The third social organization in the village was the Waban Tennis Club, which had no club house and meetings were held in some home, usually Bill Buffum’s house on Beacon Street. There had been sporadic discussions of building a small club house, but nothing came of it.
As the town began to grow more and more rapidly, the meetings began to be too large for any house except the very large ones and soon too large for these. The hall was too small and for awhile Dr. Besse’s barn on Beacon Street opposite the school was used, but this was soon outgrown and besides, the accommodations there were not satisfactory. Gradually the need of a larger gathering place began to be severely felt. On May 16, 1913, a joint meeting of the Waban Improvement Society, the Waban Woman’s Club, the Beacon Club, and Waban Tennis Club was called, and as a result a large committee was appointed, which spent some time looking into the matter and reported against the feasibility of a club in Waban. However, due to the activities of a small group several years later, another community meeting was held and at this meeting a committee,of seven was appointed, given the green light, and told to go ahead and do the job of organizing a club and financing and building a club house. This committee was incorporated as the Waban Neighborhood Club on July 21, 1916.
It consisted of the following: Charles C. Blaney, Willis R. Fisher, Joseph W. Bartlett, Charles A. Andrews, J. Earle Parker, Lawrence Allen, and Donald M. Hill.
Of this group, Charlie Andrews was later chairman of the committee that raised the money for and built the Waban Library and gave it to the city. Will Fisher was the first treasurer of the Club and Lawrence Allen the first secretary. Don Hill and Charlie Blaney were, respectively, the first and second presidents. (Earle Parker and Jo Bartlett were both Aldermen from this Ward, and Jo was and still is Newton City Solicitor.)
Early in June, soon after the committee started its work, an opportunity came to .buy the old Strong estate, consisting of the house at the corner of Beacon Street and Windsor Road, now the Episcopal Rectory, and the land surrounding this old house. Some 80,000 feet of land, having frontages of about 150 feet on Beacon Street and 275 feet on Windsor Road, comprising the whole of the estate except the dwelling house and about 35,000 feet of land, were purchased. The buildings and the surrounding land were set off to the church and the remainder, being sufficient for a club house, driveway, some land and four good tennis courts, was retained. Tom James, an architect, formerly of Waban, drew the plans for the Club House.
On the assumption that the whole project could be put through for $30,000, it was decided to finance it by a mortgage of $15,000 and the sale of a like amount of 5 per cent debenture bonds of the denomination of $100 each.
Waban residents have always given generously of their time and money to all local needs, and the work done by workers, especially the late Jack Marvin, in seeking subscriptions, and of Waban-ites in subscribing and making the Club possible, is a shining example of this trait. The mortgage and indebtedness have since been taken care of.
The total cost of the Club was $42,481.98,distributed as follows:
Real Estate $ 4,500.00
Real Estate Improvement 4,137.62
Tennis Courts 1,964.53
Bowling Alleys 1,506.22
Furniture and Fixtures 3,465.09
Theatrical & Stage Fixtures 605.00
In addition to the $1,603.39 turned over by the Tennis Club, the Waban Woman’s Club raised and contributed $924.23 towards furnishing the Club House. After the Club became a reality, the Beacon and Tennis Clubs were dissolved. The insignia of the Tennis Club is now that of the Neighborhood Club.
When the by-laws were adopted, there was considerable feeling on the part of certain conscientious objectors that Sunday-play of all kinds should be prohibited. The committee was able to satisfy everybody by adopting a by-law which prohibited activities in the Club House or on the grounds “in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth.” In this way, with the change in the laws, Sunday activities are now allowed.
The Neighborhood Club was officially opened on January 12, 1918. Opening for the first time in wartimes, its social activities were to a certain extent cut down, but it was used in many ways in connection with various war activities. It was also used by the Woman’s Club for meetings and has since then fulfilled the purposes for which it was built.
The history of the Club since its organization has been the usual one of clubs of this sort. At first, everybody joined because he wanted to or felt it his duty. The Club membership continued large until the hard times came when many who were looking around for means of cutting down expenses resigned. After a few years of struggle, however, the Club is now in a most flourishing condition.
The annual dramatics of the Club are invariable sellouts; people from the surrounding villages attend. Two-night stands are always necessary and the money realized is put to use in excellent fashion for benevolent enterprises as well as for the maintenance of this well-run and attractive Club, about which now centers so much of the community life of Waban.[The Waban Neighborhood Club was renamed The Windsor Club in 1971. — J.M.]
FIRST LIEUTENANT ALBERT EDGAR ANGIER
Albert Angier’s Picture given by Mrs. George Angier April 1944
CITATION FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS:
“1st Lieut. Albert E. Angier (deceased) 308th Infantry— on September 14th, 1918, in the attack near Revillon when his Battalion advanced, this Officer, in command of a platoon of Company M, 308th Infantry, continued to lead his men though wounded. By his own personal courage and example, he urged them forward through enemy wire to their objective. Even when mortally wounded, he continued to direct the consolidation of his platoon’s position, refusing medical attention in favor of others who had a better chance to live than himself.”
(Quoted from “On the Field of Honor,” ed. Paul B. Elliott, Boston, 1920.)[The Angier family was very active in the Waban community before the War, and of course, it seemed appropriate to name the new elementary school after their son, Albert. — J.M.]