A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOPKINTON
By Mrs. Frances A. Safford
[Prepared for the Town’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1915]
To trace the history of even a small New England town, shows that it is representative of the great type to which it belongs, a form of society and government unsurpassed by any the world has ever seen. The town had a share in every change and movement in the land, and her social life was a part of the life of the day.
If the story lacks picturesqueness, it possesses the interest that always attracts to an account of the doings of former generations of men who have lived and finished their work.
The settlement of Hopkinton, called Quansigamog by the Indians, owes its beginning to a bequest of money made to Harvard College by an English gentleman, Edward Hopkins.
This money was invested in 1710 by the Trustees in land on this elevated ridge, and the territory thus acquired was named for the donor – Hopkinstown or Hopkinton, and leased to tenants for one penny an acre. At this time the town was a frontier and a wilderness, with no carriage road, no churches, no public house; only a sweep of forest, with here and there an Indian trail, or a woodman’s cottage.
The earliest settlements commenced between 1710-12, along the most frequented path leading towards Sudbury.
The rents were paid until the people, who were very poor, become dissatisfied and delinquent when the matter was settled by the payment of $10,000, $8,000 by the Legislature, $2,000.00 by the tenants, to the Corporation of Harvard College.
This institution then surrendered to those who occupied them, all rights and titles to these lands.
Hopkinton originally contained 25,000 acres and was bounded by Sudbury, Sherborn, Mendon, Sutton, and Westboro.
In 1735 by an act of General Court, about 4,000 acres were set off and formed a part of Upton, and in 1846 a part was taken to form the town of Ashland.
Hopkinton now contains about 18,500 acres.
The Town was incorporated December 13, 1715, and the first town meeting held under the charter met on March 25th, 1724, when over thirty voters were present.
The land is hilly and rocky but well watered, the sources of branches of the Charles, Concord, and Blackstone being found here.
The town includes three large ponds, Lake Whitehall, North Pond, and Echo Lake.
The Mineral Springs situated west of Lake Whitehall were discovered in 1816, and, at one time were celebrated as a fashionable resort.
A four-horse stage service was established from Boston to the Springs and this continued until the Boston and Albany railroad reached Westboro in 1835 when visitors were conveyed by coaches to that town. About 1860 the buildings were destroyed by fire and never re-built.
Within the original limits of the town, the Rev. John Eliot, previous to 1669, had founded a band of “Praying Indians,” on the northern slope of Magonco Hill.
This tribe, afterwards, sold their lands to the trustees of the Edward Hopkins legacy and joined the Natick Indians.
The town furnished soldiers for the Spanish War of 1741, twelve men and a boy, of whom only one man and the boy returned.
When war was declared between France and England in 1746, among those who served for England was Patrick Shea, father of Daniel Shea, the leader of “Shea’s Rebellion.”
Many from Hopkinton were engaged in the French and Indian wars which began in 1754.
Although there was a large Royalist and Tory element here in those early days, their influence upon the sturdy settlers and pioneers counted for nothing, and they remained true to the principles inherited from the Pilgrims themselves.
While the records show that there was less than 200 families in the town, as soon as the news arrived of the battle of Lexington, the Minute Men of Hopkinton mustered at once, and went forward to aid in the struggle and took an active part during the whole Revolutionary War.
All helped in the cause of Freedom, the men at home run bullets and the women spun and wove blankets.
In the War of 1812, the town furnished its full quota, and Col. Joseph Valentine held a command in Boston.
For the War of the Rebellion, Hopkinton sent 425 men, sixteen over all demands. Of these, three were commissioned officers. On account of this war, the town expended $30,000 and nearly the same amount was raised for State Aid.
Jonathan Whittemore was Town Treasurer during all the years of the war. On the Board of Selectmen, N. P. Coburn served four years and E.A. Bates the entire five years.
Within a year after the organization of the town it was voted to build a Meeting House, as the church building was called in those days. Previous to this, the meetings of the town were usually held at the house of Mr. John How, at the top of “Meeting House” hill, the home, afterwards, of Aaron Reed, more recently occupied by Mr. Colleary.
The Meeting House was raised in December, 1725, and so far completed that the town held its first meeting in it in June, 1726.
The building was forty-eight feet long and thirty-five feet wide and stood some rods south of the present church.
It had neither cupola nor steeple and remained unpainted till 1773. It contained two bodies of seats, one for men, the other for women, and some pews built by those who could afford the expense, also one pew near the pulpit for persons “hard of hearing.”
The rich sat forward, the poor in the rear, children and negroes in the gallery.
The men came to church on horseback, their wives riding behind them, sometimes with children also upon the same animal, and women were known to carry a young child five or six miles to attend church.
The young people usually walked and, as shoes were very expensive, the young women often carried their shoes and stockings until near the church when they dressed their feet and appeared in their seats in time for service.
The minister gave out a hymn and, there being no hymn books in the audience, the deacon read a line and the congregation struck up a given tune, some singing correctly, others far from it.
The pastor turned his hour glass, possibly fortifying himself with a pinch of snuff and began his long sermon.
Rev. Samuel Barrett was the first minister. His salary was sixty pounds in money and his firewood. Mr. Barrett’s home stood on the site of the present Town Hall and as he lived at a time when the colored people were held as slaves, he had a number of servants.
In Mr. Barrett’s diary are recorded the names of all persons who were members of his church and of all whom he baptized.
Church government was strict. In his diary are also found the names of all who transgressed a certain commandment and the fact that public confession was made of the fault.
Except to attend “meeting,” no travelling was allowed on the Sabbath Day.
Mr. Barrett held his office for nearly half a century and was buried in the old cemetery near the present church.
The second minister was Rev. Elijah Fitch who died in 1788. He was a fine scholar and a poet. He was succeeded by Rev. Nathaniel Howe who was settled for life in 1791. He remained for forty-six years and passed away in 1837 at the age of seventy-three. His Century Sermon was delivered in 1815 when Hopkinton was one hundred years old.
He was noted for his plain speaking and was the author of numerous proverbs and maxims,-a favorite one being: “The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt.”
One of the most distinguished of his successors was Rev. John C. Webster, who was installed in 1839 and remained pastor twenty-seven years.
The Hon. Alexander Hodgdon of Boston, in 1773, presented to the church a Bible, as a mark of gratitude to the townspeople for favors received during his exile from Boston, his native town, in 1775 and 1776.
The Bible was brought from Boston by a man on horseback.
All the illustrations in it were cut out, so that children might not be tempted to go into the pulpit, to handle the precious volume.
Not far away from the church lived a family known as the Smith tribe. The heads of the tribe were five brothers, Joe, Aaron, Bill, Moses and Nat. They had no use whatever for the inside of the church, but had forms and ceremonies of their own in which the building figured.
Nathan, the oldest, was known as “God Smith” and always wore a band on his hat with the words: “I am God.” Once a week, with “God Smith” at the head of the tribe marched around the church seven times, blowing trumpets and shouting: “Glory to Gideon.”
There was but one child permitted to each family.
For a number of years before his death, “God Smith” sealed his lips and was never known to speak.
In 1829 the first rude church edifice was removed and used as a barn on the estate of Col. Joseph Valentine (now the residence of Dr. G.S. Thompson), and afterwards again moved and occupied as a boot factory by Gov. Wm. Claflin and Crooks Bros.
When this old building was taken down, Deacon J. D Stewart secured some of the timber and from it made a chair for the present church, also a reading desk and a baptismal font.
Mr. Howe hoped the old meeting house, built in 1725 with square uncomfortable pews, with its huge “sounding board’ above the high pulpit, would last as long as he did; but when the parish decided to build another house, he gave all the assistance in his power.
When in January, 1830, the new meeting house was dedicated, he preached a memorable sermon.
A basement story was placed under his church for a Town House, the Town to have the use of it and the Bell by paying the Parish $1,000.00.
This room under the church, the entrance on the west side, became the first Town Hall.
There was also in the basement a smaller room, used for Sunday School, prayer meeting and singing school. This church building was destroyed by a fire in 1882, after which the present structure was erected.
St. Paul’s Episcopal church was established in 1745, by Rev. Roger Price, Rector of King’s Chapel. He built a small edifice and endowed it with a glebe of 180 acres, situated on Cordaville Road, the most extensive gift of its kind to the church in this country.
The land is now of little value, some adjacent land inherited from Rev. Roger Price, has been sold to the State Forestry Department for $5.00 per acre.
This first church of St. Paul’s society was blown down in the great gale of 1815.
After officiating here three or four years, Mr. Price returned to England and was succeeded by Rev. John Troutbeck.
Among the 20 members in 1752 appear the names of Sir Harry Frankland (who lived nearby) as a vestryman of St. Paul’s and Lady Frankland (Agnes Surriage) who passed seven years in the parish and was constant in her devotion to the church, also Patrick, father of Daniel Shea.
In 1818, Bishop Griswold consecrated a new church, which was used until 1865 when it was burnt to the ground.
These earlier buildings stood near the site of the four-room school building, corner of Main and Ash Streets.
Until 1892 there were services at rare intervals at various places, then for about six years in a small hall in Bridges block.
Through the influence and exertions of the Rector, Rev. Waldo Burnett, the present beautiful edifice was erected and dedicated in June, 1898.
The land for this church, also for the building site for the public library was a gift from Mrs. Sarah E. Whitin, a granddaughter of Col. Joseph Valentine.
January 8, 1814, twenty-three persons at the South schoolhouse in Hopkinton formed themselves into a Hopkinton and Holliston Religious Society, choosing a committee to raise the salary of Rev. Isaac Bonney. They met alternately in the schoolhouse and in Holliston.
In 1816 a house of worship, thirty by forty feet, was built on land of Moses Phipps. This house was afterwards used as an engine house.
Rev. Isaac Boney, the first preacher, visited the society once in four weeks, having other towns on his circuit.
In 1835, the society in Hayden Rowe was formed into a station with about fifty members and had Rev. Sidney Putnam as minister.
For some time previous to 1851 the Methodist society was discontinued, but May 1st of that year the church reorganized with Rev. T. Willard Lewis as pastor.
Services were held in Academy Hall for a year, Lee Claflin bearing nearly the entire expense. Later meetings were held in the Chapel Building and Town Hall. In 1855 Mr. Lee Claflin donated land for a church and parsonage and paid the cost of the church erected the same year.
The death of Mr. Claflin in 1871 deprived the church and society of its greatest benefactor, though his sons, William and Wilbur F., continued their interest in its welfare.
From the time of the great fire in Dr. Sherman’s pastorate, the church lost many families by removal from town. But by various methods of successful social work, aided by intense earnestness on the part of the church, the society has kept the building in repair and added improvements and inspiring services are regularly held.
The first Catholic church, known as St. Malachi’s, stood on Cedar Street, on the site of the residence of Edward Carr, Esq. It was a wooden building sixty by forty feet, begun in 1851.
As early as 1846 Hopkinton was included in Milford Parish and was visited by the priest who traveled from place to place to care for the people of his charge.
Previous to this time the Catholics of Hopkinton attended Mass at private houses in this town and in Milford.
The building of the church was a great undertaking and was made a success by the exertions of Fr. Family, then of Saxonville, later transferred to Milford.
The real beginning of the Hopkinton Parish dates from the appointment of Fr. Barry as the first resident pastor in 1866.
Afterwards transferred to Rockport, he died there in 1883, but his remains lie in Hopkinton Cemetery where St. John’s C., T. and L. Society have placed a beautiful monument to his memory.
The erection of the present granite structure on Church Street, which cost $125,000 was commenced in 1876, the first sod being turned by Rev. John P. Ryan.
Through many discouragements the work progressed until in September, 1889, the church was dedicated, the ceremony being performed by Rev. Archbishop Williams of Boston.
Father Ryan’s labor was completed but he was not permitted to view it with mortal eyes.
His health became impaired by the great work, added to other manifold duties, and he started on a southern tour, hoping to regain his health. In less than two months word was received of his sudden death at St. Louis, March 26, 1881.
In his death the whole town felt a sense of personal loss and bereavement. His funeral was attended by all classes and denominations, a tribute of honor to his memory.
On May 10, 1915, Rev. Father Keating announced that the church was free from debt, he having made, during the preceding week, the last payment on the mortgage.
The Baptist church of Woodville was a branch of the first Baptist church in Westboro, and a committee of three from the parent church acted with the branch on important questions.
The Westboro society having erected a new church in that town, the Woodville society purchased the old church building and from the material, the Woodville church edifice was constructed and on September 12, 1837 was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies.
The church had a membership of twelve in the December following.
Col. Albert Wood, in 1886, built the Chapel standing west of the church, and presented it to the society to be used for religious and educational purposes.
Rev. Johnson Howard became a settled pastor in 1840, since which time church services have continued without interruption….
While the town’s Poor Farm was located nearer the Woodville church than any other, the Overseers had a pew reserved there for those at the Farm who desired to attend services.
In 1729 “It was put to vote whether the town would grant four pounds of money to be given to four school dames that may be agreed with to encourage children to read,” passed in the affirmative. In the same year it was voted that Mr. Peter How should be their schoolmaster for the year, the children to be sent to his residence to be taught reading and writing.
In 1731 it was voted to give a schoolmaster three pounds a month for four months and six shillings a week to the school dames for eight months.
The first mention of a schoolhouse is in 1743 when the town accepted a house “built by several worthy and pious men, for the use of the school.”
The house stood on the training field or present common.
In the early days of Hopkinton, a parent having an unruly son brought the fact before the Town Meeting and received an instruction as to the proper discipline.
Sewing was taught in the Dame’s Schools, especially the making of a sampler, a laborious piece of work consisting of several alphabets of different styles, the work ending with a text of Scripture, the whole embroidered on a square of canvas.
The girl who proudly exhibited a finished product of her stitching knew a satisfaction equal to if not exceeding that of the damsel of today who receives her blue-ribboned diploma as a high school graduate.
In 1820 the Legislature appointed seven prominent men as Trustees of the Hopkinton School Fund. This fund was created by the sale of lands given to the town by the Trustees of Edward Hopkins Donation for the support of schools.
The lands to be sold consisted of the “Church Pasture,” so-called, which lay between the Holliston Road and Milford Road and extended from the Meeting House in a southerly direction; also three lots containing seventeen acres extending in an easterly direction on the County Road, as it was then called, now Main Street toward Ashland.
The church pasture was laid out in eight lots, containing over forty acres, and was created in 1821 by a so-called New Road, now Pike Street.
In 1825 the School Fund amounted to more than $3,700.00 and the interest, $180.00 was paid over for the benefit of the schools, and this custom has continued up to the present time.
The meetings of the Trustees were held at the Stone House, a tavern kept by Samuel Valentine and after his death by his widow, Mary Valentine.
A part of the church pasture was reserved for a training field, - now the Common – and “May Training” was a general holiday in the town.
Under the school system of fifty years ago there were chosen at the annual town meeting, two committees, called respectively, the school committee and the prudential committee, consisting of one man.
The latter was nominated in each district annually and was invariably elected at the succeeding town meeting.
He hired the teacher, provided the fuel and had charge of the schoolhouse in his district.
The school committee examined candidates for teachers, visited schools and made reports in writing to the town upon their condition.
After some years, the election of a prudential committee was abandoned and in 1889, taking advantage of a new law, a union with the town of Ashland was effected and a superintendent was chosen for the two towns.
A private school was conducted about seventy years ago by a Mr. Wetherel in the old Hotel building near the railroad station.
When the academy was built on Hayden Rowe Street, Mr. Wetherel was transferred and taught a year being succeeded by Rev. Daniel J. Poor.
Upon Mr. Poor the Academy became a famous boarding school and many young men and women from Boston and even more distant places received a thorough education.
The Academy gave way to the Free High School in 1851, Mr. Poor remaining at its head for five years.
His remarkable gifts as a teacher, shown afterwards on larger fields of duty, gave to the school a lasting character.
After years of persistent endeavor on the part of the interested friends of the movement, a new High School was erected by the town.
It stands on the site of the Dr. Bucklin mansion on Main Street.
It was dedicated on September 7, 1895, with an address of Hon. A.S. Roe of Worcester and singing by pupils of the school.
Hopkinton has always made generous appropriations for schools and they are in a promising condition.
The Hopkinton Library Society was formed in 1820. All who wished to become members could have that privilege if they were approved by the Directors subscribed to the Constitution, paid $2.00 entrance fee and twenty-five cents annually for six years.
Each member could take out two books at a time, to be returned in three months on penalty of twenty-five cents fine for each book.
No book could be loaned to any person not a member of the society. If this rule were broken, the fine was equal to the value of the book.
The Library contained no fiction, as very little was published at that time.
Plutarch, Paley’s Philosophy, Goldsmith’s Rome, Hume, The Spectator, Watts on the Mind, Life of Bonaparte, Josephus, Young’s Night Thoughts were among the volumes on the Library shelves.
The scarcity of American writers is noticeable as there were few at this date.
About 1840 the State had a series of books prepared under the supervision of the Board of Education, which was furnished, upon payment, to those towns that desired to introduce them.
These books treated upon scientific and historical subjects and were bound in a uniform style.
Fifty or more volumes were placed in each of the schoolrooms and were issued to the households in the districts.
Much interest was manifested and the books were early read, but as no new books were added, the interest declined and the books became scattered and lost.
The Young Men’s Christian Association gathered a library in 1867, which served the public long after the organization had ceased to be operative, and its 2,000 volumes became the nucleus of the Hopkinton Public Library incorporated in 1890.
The new edifice, one of the finest Public Library buildings in the state, was erected in 1894.
This was made possible by sons and daughters of the old town, resident and non-resident, who generously contributed for this purpose, thus making accessible to all its people the best that has been written in all times.
The architect of this fine building was Mr. Sanford Phipps of this town.
The Central Coffee House Company was formed in 1831, to build a Public House for the accommodation of travelers.
Land was purchased of the Parish near the new Meeting House and some land adjoining owned by Col. Valentine.
The tavern was to be called “The Central Coffee House” and was continued as a hotel for over fifty years until burned in the “big fire” in 1882.
This house stood on the site of the present post-office block. It was built of brick, the workmen being paid seventy-five cents a day of ten hours, the same for a team.
Idlers and minors were not permitted to remain drinking and idling and no profane or bad language was allowed on the premises.
The Company also built a store on the site of the old Barrett house, where the Town Hall now stands and in 1832 leased land between the store and tavern to Col. Valentine on which to build Mechanics’ Shops.
Trees were set out and wells dug by this enterprising company.
The Coffee House was purchased from the Company in 1837 by James Jackson of Unionville (now Ashland) and afterwards owned by different persons.
(this marks end of page 27 in the original 1915 history).