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Since 1629 — The Durable Skeltons

Bradford Skelton's four boys, Burlington MA
BRADFORD SKELTON’S FOUR BOYS, all of whom were pillars in the Town of Burlington for many, many years. From left to right, Horace B. Skelton, a selectman for 14 years, a member of the Board of Health for 10 years, and a superintendent of highways several times; Orray S. Skelton, Deacon of the Burlington Church, superintendent of the Sunday School, and town treasurer for 32 years; Walter W. Skelton, chief of Burlington’s first fire department until 1937; and Lester, who, because of a hearing problem, spent most of his time on the family farm.


The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, March 4, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 037)

Since 1629: The durable Skeltons

Most Burlingtonians, when they pay any attention to local history at all, tend to think of certain names.

  • Wyman, because of the very old house still standing on what is now Francis Wyman Road.
  • Johnson, because the Captain Johnson honored as the founding father of Woburn left a distinguished progeny, one of whom built the so-called Sewall House, a picture of which appears as the central motif of Burlington’s town seal.
  • Winn, because they owned so much real estate in the eastern part of town, the area is called Winnmere.
  • Simonds, because he bought a farm from the Bennetts and deeded it to Burlington as Simonds Park, and because of Marshall Simonds Middle School.

Many more fine old families have died out, or their descendants have moved elsewhere: Blanchards, Carters, Cutlers, Marions. But there is one durable fine old family name connected to this town since the town’s birth in 1799, and that name is Skelton. The Skelton name can be followed back through generation after generation for some 400 years.

Although the earliest Skelton in this country did not come over on the Mayflower, the Rev. Samuel Skelton did the next best thing. He came under appointment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to Salem in 1629 in the good ship George Bonaventure. He was on hand to welcome Governor Winthrop the following year. Samuel lived and died in Salem, but his grandson Joseph Skelton is mentioned in Woburn as early as 1653. From that point on, the Skeltons prospered and expanded. The name appears in Dedham, Billerica, Bedford and Carlisle as well Woburn Second Parish.

The Skeltons brought an unusual first name to the town, a man named Daze, sometimes spelt Daize. It was probably the surname of some ancestor in York, England, for there are several small towns called Skelton. Parishes of Howden, Leeds and Ripon each have a hamlet named Skelton. Daze Skelton was born in 1742, the son of Thomas Skelton and Ruth Reed. He married Ruth Hartwell in 1770 and to them were born: Daize Jr., William, Samuel, Ruth, Samuel, Stephen, Rebecca, Desire and Asa. Infant mortality was high in those days, hence the duplication of names. It indicated the deaths of the first-named.

The assessment of 1798 shows two substantial Skelton farms, the biggest occupying most of Francis Wyman Road on the Bedford Street end.

When gold was discovered in California in 1849, a number of adventurous young Burlington men decided to go west and maybe strike it rich. Bradford Skelton was one of those. He did not become rich. He returned to Burlington, married his youthful sweetheart, Almira Shedd, and built his home on Skelton land on the north side of Francis Wyman Road. That house went to his son Walter and then to Walter’s son David. It is still standing but no longer in the family.

Directly across the road stood a good sized shop where Walter Skelton kept Burlington’s first fire truck. Down the road apiece, Wyman Skelton was one of the first farmers in the area to specialize in strawberries, when strawberries were a luxury. Nearby was the home of Susan Reed Skelton.

James Skelton built the home still known today as the Kozachuk house. The George Skelton home once stood in this area and one of the two Wilson houses was built by a Skelton. The Haven house on the other side of St. Malachy’s Church was another one.

Facing each other across the Turnpike at the lights on Bedford Street stand two other delightful early farmhouses. The Thomas Skelton house on the near side was known until only a few short years ago as the Harry Staples place. Staples operated the mill on Vine Brook over the line in Bedford for years. Mrs. Dunham mentions that the ell of this house was used as a schoolroom in 1830, that is before the West School was moved to its present location in Havenville. A Miss Mathilda Nevers was the teacher at that time and one of the pupils who attended that school was Jonathan Simonds 3rd. Across the Turnpike, David Skelton built his home about 1825. And just over the line in Bedford, Edmund Skelton built his place, now gone because of Route 3.

That’s a lot of building by a lot of Skeltons. But then the family has been in town a long time and they stayed. An early deed to part of their property is said to have been given to them signed by the King of England.

Bradford Skelton fathered four boys, each of whom became a pillar of the community. The eldest, Walter, was born in 1864. He was instrumental in the formation of Burlington’s first fire department, originally a team of volunteers. He held the position of chief until 1937. Then his son David carried on the good work from 1938 until 1953. Walter also had an impressive record in town government: 14 years as a selectman, 13 as an assessor, 17 years a member of the School Committee and 25 as a member of the Cemetery Commission.

Lester had an acute hearing problem and confined his efforts to the farm on Francis Wyman Road. Orray Shedd Skelton was one of the finest gentlemen it has ever been this writer’s pleasure to know. He was Deacon of the Burlington church and superintendent of the Sunday School. He was the treasurer of this town for 32 years, from 1923 to 1955. In a tribute to the Rev. Charles Washburn in 1932, Orray wrote, “He was always interested in the life of the community, and whether in church or community work, those who labor with him realize that one of the characteristics of his career was his ability to accept the few talents at his command and, with confidence in his fellowmen and an abiding faith in God, to return these talents many fold.” Orray could very well have been speaking of himself.

Last of the four brothers was Horace B. Skelton. His public service was extensive as well. He served as superintendent of highways a number of times, held the office of selectman for some 14 years and was a member of the Board of Health for 10.

Not a bad record for any one family.