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As Old Roads Will

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, March 17, 1981

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 091)


One of the oldest roads to run through what is now Burlington connected the original Cutler farms here with the Butters farms in Wilmington.

Winn Street from Center Street to Cambridge Street was not put through until about 1890 and was known during its early years as the New Road, but the stretch between Center Street and Locust Street was in use by 1650.

Shortly after farmers settled in this area a wagon road branched off from what is now Center Street directly in front of where the old Cutler farmhouse used to stand, turned easterly on what is now Locust Street, continued on over what is now part of Mill Street, went off through the woods in back of what used to be Barnum place, crossed Saw Mill Brook further north where Clapp’s mill dam stood later and went on into Wilmington to connect with the substantial Butters settlement there.

Several items of historical interest are associated with this old road, a road contemporary with Upstreet, which followed pretty much today’s Cambridge Street from Woburn’s west side to Billerica, opened up in 1644. One of the landmarks was known as Wood Hill, another was the old Wolf Pen, a third was the house, now gone, of the fellow who became Capt. Walker’s crier and spread the alarm throughout the precinct on the morning of the 19th of April, a fourth is the homestead of the second Cutler family here in town, a building much changed but still standing, and lastly, two of Burlington’s early mill sites existed on the northern reaches of this old road. Wood Hill is mentioned in the early records for much of the land in that area belonged to the Baldwin family whose homestead was in North Woburn or Newbridge.

It is that rise of land off Mill Street and now crossed by Chandler Road. In the early years of this century the outstanding landmark there was the big white two-story Chandler house which could be seen for miles around. But the Chandlers only came to town about 1915. They were a family of teachers. Clyde Roy Chandler married Doris Perkins here in 1920 and to them were born Jean in 1921, Everett in 1923, and Alan in 1926. Clyde died in 1927. He had never taught in Burlington but three of his sisters did.

Madeline was graduated from Lowell Normal School in 1924 and taught Grade One in the Union School until she died of pneumonia in 1929. Her funeral was held from the house on the hill and many of Burlington’s school children walked to the home for the services. Clyde’s twin sisters Marguerite and Marjorie also attended Lowell Normal from which school they were graduated the year their elder sister died. They, too, taught school in Burlington, Marjorie, Grade Three, Marguerite, Grade Four. Clyde’s two younger brothers died in the flu epidemic of 1918; Arthur was but 14, Charles only 17. The Chandler home later became the property of J. Ellery French, an excellent journeyman printer.

What the Wolf Pen was is a big question mark. Martha Sewall Curtis mentioned it in an address in 1909 as the “Oulde wolf pen at Wood Hill had its grizzly tenants” but gives no further information. Whether it was a pen for trapped and caught wolves as the pound in the Center was for lost and strayed cattle and horses is uncertain.

Wolves were numerous in the early days and since they preyed on the settlers’ cattle and sheep, a bounty was placed on their heads. Wolf heads or hides often were tacked to fence posts or even on the church walls as convincing evidence of their slaughter. What service Burlington’s Wolf Pen served is not known. Could Mrs. Custis have meant “grisly” and the pen have been a slaughterhouse or charnel house?

At that point where Locust Street and Chandler Road meet Mill Street once stood the house of Jonathan Proctor. Local legend has him as the drummer who aroused the Precinct countryside on orders from Capt. Joshua Walker that cold April morning in 1775. However, he was no boy as most drummers were, but a grown man with a family at the time. Mrs. Curtis, citing the year 1859 writes, “…respects to Mrs. Betsy Proctor Taylor, daughter of the drummer of the Precinct company, the last person in town who remembered the Battle of Lexington. Years before she told Father Sewall that she should live to be 100 and asked him to come and pray with her, when, as she expressed it, she had reached that “great age.”

A few years later, her 100th birthday was celebrated with a gathering of neighbors and friends, and Father Sewall fulfilled his promise. Four months afterward, she was released from the burden of age and infirmity. Since Sewall died in 1867 this celebration at Wood Hill probably was one of the last entertainments for either of them.

Also at Wood Hill is the Revolutionary home of Lt. Nathaniel Cutler about which more will be said at a later time. That house, built prior to 1724 has a long and interesting history and involves such family names as Cutler, Butters, Taylor, Kilbride and Mohan.

At the bottom of the hill and on the other side of Wood Hill Brook lies Rahanis Park. It comprises only a portion of the farm of Stylianos C. Rahanis, a tract given over to the raising of hogs at one time. But many years before the time of Rahanis that area grew the finest wild blueberry crop in Burlington. Before 1920 when the trolley cars were operating along Winn Street, people from Woburn carrying ten-quart pails often during the season took the cars to Mill Street and then walked the short distance to pick berries there. They seldom came away disappointed.

Further along on the old roadway stands the fieldstone house once the home of the Albert G. Vigneau family. They moved to Burlington in 1921 and Vigneau held the office of town accountant here from 1934 to 1939. With him when he came to Burlington was his year-old son Robert. That boy grew up to become a selectman and then Burlington’s representative to the Great and General Court, an office he has held continuously since first elected in 1968.

Just beyond that today’s road crosses another stream of water. Here are the remains of the foundation of Calvin Simonds’ saw mill, a site later owned by a man appropriately named Miller. Here probably was the mill where Luther Simonds died in April of 1792 when, as the Rev. Mr. John Marrett writes in his Account of Deaths, “a log rolled on him at a saw mill.” During the early days of the WPA in the 1930’s, a water hole was constructed here, then the property of David Barnum, to give the town’s volunteer call fire department a ready supply of water there.

And right on the Burlington – Wilmington line stood what for years was known as Clapp’s Mill, which may have been built on the site of a previous Butter’s mill. The mill itself was in Burlington as was the body of water it held back. And Clapp didn’t own that land.

Thus in 1864 a Joseph Bell for a small fee granted to Noah Clapp “the right of flowing my land on the southerly side of Saw Mill Brook” from “the place where said Clapp has commenced building a dam” to a place upstream where “a saw mill formerly stood.” This gave Clapp the right to the runoff on the property which must have been far greater and more constant at that time when the area was more heavily forested than at present. It also was stipulated that he could hold back some 20 feet of water above the “mud sill on the westerly side of said new dam.”

Out of business by 1904 and the mill buildings now long gone, the dam itself and its millrace is still in fairly good condition. As Whittier wrote in his The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall, “Old roads winding as old roads will” can be said of the old Wood Hill Road.