Skip to content

Mount Playnum, Snake Hole, Up Street

State Road (Cambridge Street) at Center Street triangle, Burlington MA
Cambridge Street splitting the common (right) and Simonds Park (left) before either existed.


The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, February 26, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 036)

Mount Playnum, Snake Hole, Up Street?

From the very early Woburn records come some very interesting Burlington place names, most of which are unknown today, and some once given to areas well known 200 years ago but now unable to be identified at all.

When this area became Woburn Second Parish in 1730, names such as Shawshin, Forest Field, Snake Hole, Rock Meadow, Mount Playnum, Up Street, Great Meadow, Pine Meadow, Long Meadow, and Millstone Meadow were well known, to which were added the Swamp Road, Cranberry Meadow, Wood Hill, Lubber Brook, Vine Brook, Path Woods and Greenleaf Mountain. Bordering Burlington in Wilmington was Maple Meadow, over the line in North Woburn were Hungry Plain and New Bridge, further south in Woburn was Wispering Hill and at the junction of Woburn, Lexington and Burlington was a section called Worlds End.

The reason there were so many “meadows” is obvious. Meadow land was considered very valuable by the first settlers and was parceled out to them by the town. Meadows possessed greater fertility of soil, was better watered since meadow land often bordered streams such as Vine Brook, which is now detoured around the Burlington Mall (it once ran through it). Also that land was more easily cleared for plowing and seeding. Some of it may have been previously cleared by the Indians for the growing of their own crops of corn and squash. The first roads were apparently mere wood paths, turning and twisting to accommodate the homes of the scattered settlers and to avoid as much as possible steep hills, bogs and wet areas.

The Woburn Record for November 4, 1644 states in part, “a highway laid out through Mr. Trarice’s land and the land of Michael Bacon and Charlestown Lots, leading to Shawshin, commonly known or called by the name of Up Street.” That old highway approximates today’s Cambridge Street. From John Cummings’ corner, near today’s Cafe Escadrille, it wound north to Arlington Road, which still retains the name. It followed past today’s high school, along the path of the high school driveway, and then rejoined today’s Cambridge Street. Then it passed the common, meandered downhill to Chestnut Street, then turned onto today’s County Road, back to today’s Cambridge Street and onto Billerica.

  • Shawshin is an Indian name which survives as the name of a river, but originally applied to the entire Billerica/Burlington border area. In the parcelling out of meadows in 1647, seven men were given rights to “lay out the meadow at this side the head of Ipswich River that runneth into Reading bounds.” The plan of Woburn made by Samuel Thompson in 1794 shows two streams, each of which is named “head of Ipswich River” and have their origins in the northern part of this town in the vicinity of the Fox Hill School.
  • Forest Field or Forest Hill Field was that area surrounding the first Burlington church near Simonds Park. Benjamin Johnson provided the land for the church and the cemetery nearby.
  • Little Rock Meadow, according to notes made by Edward Johnson of Woburn in 1888, was within the bounds of Burlington in the vicinity of Durenville in Woburn, which doesn’t clear up its location too much. That same gentleman describes Mill Rock Meadow or Millstone Meadow as westerly of the present North Woburn. It is described in deeds of James Baldwin in 1852 as “partly in Woburn and partly in Burlington and in a place called Millstone Meadows.” He adds, “The term Mill Rock would imply that the meadow contained a rock which the colonists considered suitable for the manufacture of millstones.”
  • A committee for “laying out of swamps” in 1657 granted to Edward Winn “two acres of swamp adjoining to his meadow at a place commonly called Snake Hole.” This could be the area directly in back of the old Winn homestead where Jerome Lynch lives now or maybe further down the brook. The Swamp Road, by the way, is now Lowell Street.
  • Mount Playnum is first mentioned in the Woburn Records for February 12, 1648, which includes the statement, “Granted to Abraham Parker one small parcel of meadow lying near the new bridge leading to Mount Playnum.” This is now Mountain Road. In 1888 Johnson describes it as “in the rear of the house of Mrs. Samuel Winn and the school house adjacent, and also called in former times ‘Mine Mountain’ or ‘Mineral Hill’ or ‘Copper Mountain ain’.” These latter appelations refer to the fact that at one time copper was thought to be plentiful enough there to be mined.

About 1730, a man named Pierce felt very strongly that a good supply of copper was to be found in that hill. He contacted the Winns, the owners at the time. But, the Winns were farmers and not interested in copper, nor were they interested in selling. They were not averse to making a profit, however, and thus gave Pierce the right to mine as long as the Winns got a big piece of any profits. Digging began in 1731 just off Mountain Road, likely at the junction with Wyman Street. The whole endeavor ended in tragedy June 11, 1731. Three men were working at the site Pierce had picked that warm June day. They soon hit hard rock, which they could not move with a pick and shovel, so they resorted to blasting. The drilled a deep hole in the outcropping of ledge, filled with black powder, tamped and fused.

According to accounts in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the three were covering the hole with broken pieces of stone when a stray spark “flew in the crack that was in the cane which held the fuse.” The premature explosion created havoc. Mr. Clough, evidently an engineer with some mining experience, had his left hand and right arm amputated in an attempt to save his life, but his wounds were so severe that he died within a week. John Potter, his teenage apprentice, had his right hand blown off and Pierce was hit in the face with so many pieces of rock and gravel that he lost the sight of both eyes. Thus ended copper mining in Burlington.

What happened to the two who survived is not known and no trace of the shaft, if there was one, is now visible.