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In 1847 Milton H. Sanford of Medford purchased several parcels of farm land along the Sudbury (then Concord) river in Southborough, Ashland and Hopkinton. One of them conveyed the mill privilege – the right to dam and use the water of the river. In addition to this ample power source, the area was attractive for milling because of the proximity to the new Boston & Worcester railroad, which ran through the site. Not only would transport to far-away markets be assured, but the railroad would supply the workforce needed for the new facility. Sanford began building workers’ houses on Parker and Cottage Streets, and by 1850, a company store on Main Street, later named Fitzgerald’s, which still stands. The village he named for his wife Cordelia.
By 1854 the Cordaville Manufacturing Company consisted of a cotton factory and a building that housed a machine shop and planing mill. The company produced a rough fabric for use by slaves on the Southern plantations, as well as woolens. (For reasons of culture and geography the South had few manufacturing centers of its own, and most industrial mill production was carried out in the the Northeast with its abundance of river power and ample immigrant work force, then shipped southward.)
The workers for Sanford’s mill were largely newly arrived Irish immigrants, who had fled the devastating potato famine that had begun in 1847 and would eventually lead to the emigration of almost 2 million souls. Approximately sixty workers were employed at the mill; two-thirds were women, and paid only half that of their male counterparts. The influx of Irish to the mill caused the first Catholic mass to be said in Southborough, on Easter Day 1849, in Wilson’s Hall above the company store.
A fire — a very common occurrence in mills with their highly flammable cotton dust — destroyed the original mill complex and killed three workers in 1855. It was rebuilt, this time including both water and steam-powered apparatus. With the outbreak of war, Sanford quickly abandoned the manufacture of plantation goods, and instead manufactured woolen blankets for Northern troops. This quick response allowed his Cordaville mill to survive when many competing mills failed due to the loss of the Southern market. The mill’s location on the principal rail line between Boston and points West also helped; it was a major transport line for the Federal army.
In 1864, the complex was sold and the business converted to a joint stock venture, the Cordaville Mills Company. By 1870, the mill had grown considerably. There were now two mill buildings, an office, three freight houses, a waste house, a picker house and factory store, now operated by the Wright brothers, which also housed the post office. The village of Cordaville grew with the addition of its own train station, school, and in 1872, St. Matthews Church; and in 1876, a jail. That same year, the company was reorganized as the Cordaville Woolen Company, and the shift to steam power, already underway, accelerated — aided by a prolonged period of drought in the 1880s that dried up many mill ponds. Once again, this timely shift to steam allowed The Cordaville Woolen Company to remain a profitable concern well into the next century.
By 1928 however, the corporate model of a company owning an entire village seemed out-dated and unprofitable, and the Cordaville Woolen Company was sold off in pieces. Individual workers were allowed to buy their homes if they wished, and the owner of the company store, a certain Mr. Fitzgerald, purchased it as well. Under various owners the mill buildings continued in one industrial capacity or another until 1957. After that, the buildings sat abandoned; by 1974 the complex was deemed unsafe, and was torn down by the Town of Southborough, which sold off the bricks of the once proud buildings. (The fate of the mill buildings much resembled that of Cordaville’s H.H. Richardson-designed train station, which the Selectmen voted to demolish in the 70s with seemingly little public opposition. The stone was sold to a builder in New Hampshire.)
The loss of the Cordaville Mills is but one of Southborough’s many historical “if-onlys”. If only the buildings had been allowed to survive a little longer, the nascent historical protection movement would have realized their incredible value as a mixed commercial, office or residential site. Can you imagine how handy a condo complex with a hip restaurant and bar right next to the commuter rail station would be viewed by today’s consumers? Or how much land might have been preserved from controversial state-mandated 40B projects if we had converted the complex to affordable housing and filled Southborough’s quota of units? Of course hindsight is 20-20, but Southborough needs to be far more vigilant these days in protecting its remaining architectural heritage.
More images of industrial Cordaville and Southville:
The Cordaville Woolen Mill about 1900
The Cordaville Woolen Mill looking southeast
Rail and Lumber Yard
The Mill Pond of Cordaville Mills
The B&A tracks in winter, looking west in Cordaville
It's unclear exactly where this was located, in Cordaville or in Southville, as it comes from an album with pictures from both, but it's interesting to note that all was not beauty along the rail line.
For those of you stuck almost almost daily in gridlocked traffic on Route 9, staring at nothing but ugly concrete Jersey barriers and electronic billboards advertising products you don’t need, we thought you might like to read about life in another time, and how the road you love to hate came into existence in the first place.
The following are excepts from a charming account read before the Brookline Historical Society December 26, 1906, by Edward W. Baker ~Eds.
In the summer of 1906, a few enthusiastic golfers planned a day’s play at the Worcester Golf Club, and one beautiful summer morning we assembled in Village Square, Brookline.
We boarded the open electric car marked “Wellesley, Natick, Framingham and Worcester” at almost the identical spot where, years ago, we would have climbed into a great, lumbering, four or six-horse coach. Probably in those days we would have preceded our departure by drinking a mug of cider or flip, or perhaps a little spiced wine, in the tap room of the old Punch Bowl Tavern, which stood on the northerly side of the square, and whose hospitable doors were always open under the sign of the Bowl and Lemon Tree.
Until the town line was reached, just beyond Hammond street, the car kept the rate of speed to which we are accustomed within city limits, but, after reaching the open country in Newton and beyond, the speed increased to express train rate and we whirled along smoothly and so rapidly that about two hours after leaving Brookline we reached the square in Worcester.
It was a most delightful ride in the fresh morning air, through beautiful scenery of hill, valley and meadow, amid surroundings of great interest, both on account of their present significance and historical associations. The return trip was under the light of a clear, bright moon, and, if anything, was more pleasurable than the outward journey in the morning. The next week the same party took another ride in the same way as far as Framingham, where the day was spent at the Framingham Country Club, whose grounds are opposite one of the recently completed basins of the great Metropolitan Water Supply system, and whose club house, directly on the line of the car route, is the old Josiah Temple house, built in 1693 by Caleb Bridges, and adapted in a most artistic manner to its present use.
These trips brought vividly to the writer’s recollection an outing which he enjoyed with a schoolboy companion sometime in the seventies, when, with a horse and buggy, we drove from Brookline to Worcester, taking two days for the trip, with stop-over at Westborough, which was reached late in the afternoon of the first day. After spending some weeks on a farm a few miles beyond Worcester, we drove back to Brookline.
Going and coming we kept to the old turnpike road, which the trolley cars now follow, and, boy-like, we went prepared for adventures with highwaymen and possible savage beasts. But the journey was lacking all such excitements, and gave us only the experiences of a drive along a quiet, little-used, and in. some places almost forgotten country road, narrow and grass-grown for long stretches, over-shadowed by the foliage of the low-bending trees and bordered by vines and wild flowers.
The contrast in the manner of traveling, and the great changes along the road which have taken place in the last thirty years, emphasize the fact that the extension and improvement of the means and methods of traveling are the most important factors in the growth and development, not only of the termini served, but of all the intermediate country, and every town between Worcester and Boston has waxed or waned in its growth and progress according to its facilities far transportation…
History is the story of successions and the causes thereof.
Before the white man settled on Shawmut, as the old peninsula of Boston was called, the Indians had their paths or trails westward through the wilderness between the Bay and their settlements on the inland lakes and streams in the Connecticut Valley and beyond.
When the Wabbaquassets came from what is now Woodstock, Connecticut, with sacks of Indian corn for the nearly starved colonists in the fall after Governor Winthrop arrived (1630), they travelled to and fro by one of their trails which no doubt had been frequently travelled before and was easily followed by what were to them well known landmarks.
The earliest English travellers westward, so far as known, were John Oldham, Samuel Hall and two others who, in 1633, started for Connecticut to look for a good place for a new settlement, as if anywhere within twenty miles of Boston was not new enough in 1633!
Knowing of the trail used by the Indians three years earlier, they followed it from Watertown, because they realized it would be the easiest line of travel; would strike the fording or crossing places of streams, avoid bad swamps, and, what was of equal if not greater importance, would take them by the Indian villages scattered along the route, where they could obtain food and lodging.
Other pioneers started out by the same route, and little by little the original trail became recognized as an established line of travel. Followed by larger parties and by those who took their families, their horses and cattle, the faintly marked path became deeply worn and clearly defined. It was known as “the way to Connecticut,” [Today’s Rt 20, ~ eds.] and the early records of grants of land in what are today Wayland, Sudbury, Marlborough, and other towns specify areas of more or less acres along the “Connecticut Path,” as it was designated, which, after it became still more broadly marked, was named the” Connecticut Road.”
In what is now Wayland, formerly a part of Sudbury, the old path forked. The northern branch, passing through Marlborough, Worcester, and Brookfield, was known as the” Bay Path,” [Today’s Rt 20; the southern fork is now Rt 126; see the map at left ~eds.] and extended straight to the Connecticut River and the settlement of Agawam, now the City of Springfield.
With the growth of the Colony the travel in both directions grew heavier and heavier, and in the progress of time what had been a path through forest and across clearing, faintly traced by the soft moccasins of the Indians, developed into what was termed “The King’s Highway.” After the Revolution, it lost its royal title, and is commonly referred to in the records as “the great road” or the” post road from New York to Boston.”
For over one hundred and fifty years the “great road” was the trunk line to Worcester, but the zenith of its glory was reached just one hundred years ago, when, so far as” rapid transit” was concerned, it was rendered quite out of date by the building of the Worcester Turnpike in 1806 and 1807.
Chapter 67, Massachusetts Acts of 1806, incorporated the Worcester Turnpike and authorized Aaron Davis, Luther Richardson, Samuel Wells, Charles Davis and William H. Sumner, Esquire, to layout a turnpike from Roxbury to Worcester, “commencing at or near Roxbury street and running near the house of Stephen Higginson, Jr., in Brookline, thence near Mitchell’s Tavern in Newton, thence crossing Charles River near General Elliott’s Mills and running near the house of Enoch Fiske in Needham (this part of Needham is now Wellesley), thence to the Neck of the Ponds, so called, in Natick; thence near the house of Jonathan Rugg in Framingham; thence near the house of Deacon Chamberlain in Southborough; thence near Furbush’s Tavern in Westborough; thence near the house of Jonathan Harrington in Shrewsbury; thence crossing Shrewsbury pond and running north of Bladder pond to the street in Worcester near the Court House; with power to erect four toll gates thereon, at such places, not being on any old road, as the committee appointed by the Act shall determine.”
The proprietors were authorized to demand and receive at gates where full rates were charged, the following tolls:
For each coach, chariot, phaeton or other four-wheel spring carriage drawn by two horses – 25 cents., and 2 cents. for each additional horse.
For every wagon drawn by two horses – 1O cents., and 2 cents for each additional horse.
For every cart or wagon drawn by two oxen – 10 cents and if by more than two, 12 1/2 cents.
For every curricle – 1 cents.
For every chaise, chair, sulkey, or other carriage for pleasure, drawn by one horse -12 1/2 cents
For every cart, wagon or truck drawn by one horse – 6 1/4 cents each.
For every man and horse -4C. For every sleigh or sled drawn by two oxen or horses – 8 cents., and 1 cent for each additional ox or horse.
For all horses, mules or neat cattle led or driven besides those in teams or carriages – 1 cent each.
Swine or sheep – 3 cents by the dozen.
Certain exemptions were made by which no tolls could be demanded from foot travellers; from those driving to or from their usual place of public worship; from those passing on military duty; or from those living in the town where the gate was located, unless they were going beyond the limits of the town: and one could also go without charge to and from the grist mill, or on the common and ordinary business of family concerns.
It was supposed that this turnpike would give the maximum speed in the minimum time because it was laid out on the simple mathematical principle that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. The turnpike engineers paid little attention to grades, and seemingly forgot that the actual distance traveled may be as long over a hill as around its base, to say nothing of the greater effort to the traveler climbing up one side and holding back when going down on the other.
Stagecoach and tavern days reached the high level of their development along the line from Boston to Worcester from 1830 to 1835, after which the once popular route took its place in history as the “Old Worcester Turnpike,” its usefulness almost entirely taken away by the completion of the Boston and Worcester steam railroad….
Although of great benefit to the traveling public [for three decades], the Worcester turnpike did not prove a profitable enterprise to its proprietors, even with sub-divided tolls. It paid few dividends, never six per cent, and finally the whole capital involved was totally lost. [Another cause of financial failure was active toll-avoidance on the part of many who used the road without payment, simply detouring around toll gates. Eds.]
[After the 1850s} there was little if any through-travel, and except for short stretches through the populous sections of towns, it retained not a shadow of its former popularity. Moss-covered stone walls or dilapidated weather-beaten fences marked its bounds; with here and there a turnout to enable the thirsty horses or cattle to drink from some clear-watered brook which flowed lazily under the roadway. The quiet and peacefulness along the way was undisturbed except by the clatter of the bell on some cow’s neck as she fed along the faintly marked side-path on the way to and from the nearby pasture.
For over fifty years, the old turnpike dozed and nodded in this sleepy sort of a way, until in the first years of the twentieth century its slumbers were disturbed by the sudden shock of the electric current, which, revolutionizing nearly every form of industry, has affected the problem of transportation in particular. Again the engineers and contractors covered the ground, and when they had finished their work the old road was so altered in appearance that never again can it be recognized, even by itself.
Today, the “broom-stick trains leave ye ancient highway in Brookline where the arch stands” for “the street in Worcester near the Court House” every half hour or less, and carry thousands of coach-loads of passengers at high’ speed, without dust, cinders, or other similar discomfort. Every seat is an outside seat in pleasant summer weather, and in cold or stormy weather the easy-riding cars are well warmed and comfortably furnished. In 1906, we might repeat the words of the historian of seventy years ago, when he said in regard to the stage coach lines of 1836, “the speed of traveling and its facilities have been increased almost beyond measure.”
Editor’s Note: We wish the sentiments of 2016 were equally so optimistic. With the rise of automobile ownership after the invention of the Model-T Ford, public transportation began a rapid decline. In 1930, both to accommodate rising automobile traffic and to provide a works-project during the Depression, the State decided to remove the trolley line and lay a four-lane concrete highway over the Boston-Worcester route, naming it Rt 9. As the predecessor of the modern freeway, it brought all the problems that we today associate with urban sprawl to communities west of Boston, essentially dooming the road (except in a few remaining short runs here and there) to be one long concrete commercial corridor. State planners estimate that the land along the roadway remains only half “built out” and predicts a doubling of the current traffic by 2030.
In this election year, we thought we’d show you a very interesting piece from our collections, “a sample or model” ballot that was distributed by the Republican Party in Southborough.
Of course, this kind of thing would never be allowed today, but in those free-for-all days, political parties fought for every new vote, especially from newly arrived immigrants. Until 1905 when laws were tightened, every immigrant was granted a certificate on arrival to US shores, and after five years, was considered a US citizen once they applied to their local town clerk, registered, and swore allegiance to the United States. Thus major political parties printed sample ballots like these to guide new voters through the process, with not so subtle suggestions as to whom they should vote for. This was particularly important in Southborough, which had experienced a large increase in immigration, mainly Irish at this point working in the Cordaville and Southville mills, but soon to be Italian as well — laborers for the newly formed reservoir system.
Those with a keen eye may be wondering why there was voting for governor in 1889, which would be an off year now; until 1960 however, governors ran every two years. Harvard educated John Quincy Adams Brackett of Arlington won by the way, and served a single term until defeated for re-election by a Democrat. The governorship would remain largely in the hands of the Republican party until the 30s; state and local politics would shift to the Democratic side, at least in large urban areas, in the new century. Suggested ballots like these would totally disappear… except in very special historical collections like ours.