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The Village Store

Village store Burlington MA
THE VILLAGE STORE as it looked around 1900. The store stood were the police station stands today. At the time this photo was taken, Mathew Stevenson Jr. was the proprietor of the store. On the street in front of the building is Burlington’s first school bus, affectionately referred to as “The Barge.” The bus, owned by Joseph M. Howe, transported local children to their classes each day. In front of the bus is the old town pump.


The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, March 18, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 039)

The Village Store

By far the most important element in the New England village of the early 19th century was the church. But there were three other buildings near the center of each community, each of which served a distinct need: the tavern, where the local farmers could get a hot toddy and the latest news from outside of town as well as the latest gossip from in town; the village blacksmith, who could make nails and horseshoes and ironware and was often a wheelwright as well; and the village store, where the farmer traded his surplus grain, eggs and other farm produce for what he could not produce himself such as sugar, molasses, spices, gunpowder and woven cloth from abroad.

Burlington in 1800 had all four of these clustered about what is now called the center.

  • The church still standing in the angle made by Bedford and Lexington Streets was then an old landmark having been erected in 1732.
  • The Wood Tavern stood where the Fire Station is today. It was a solid, square, two-story house with social hall upstairs. The house was built shortly after the Revolution by Capt. John Wood.
  • Solomon Trull’s blacksmith shop occupied the corner of Bedford and Center Streets and faced its owner’s saltbox standing across the street next to where the Union School stands now.
  • And the village store, known as Cutler’s for at least 50 years, stood just east of the tavern and on a spot now occupied by the police station.

The village store was composed of three units: 1) The house where the storekeeper lived. 2) The long, wide store itself. 3) The huge attached barn. Who built it, and when? Both unknown. Mrs. Dunham seems to think that it was built by a Gleason, who likely ran the store initially.  Then Silas Cutler married Susan Gleason in 1832. He ran that village store until at least 1879. During his ownership, it carried an amazing variety of goods, everything from food to medicines. The year he married, Silas was appointed postmaster by President Jackson, so he converted part of the house to a post office.

Energetic and enterprising by nature, Silas became the town’s first librarian in 1856. He even managed to find space in his store for the library’s first 350 volumes. For this service, he was paid $30. a year. Speaking of books, there is an item in the town records for 1879 which reads, “Silas Cutler for school books for indigent children, $8.00.” Silas died in 1896, aged 90.

Cutler’s store was fascinating. An open counter ran the whole length of the rear wall. Counters holding display cases backed up to the front wall and a side wall where Cutler also had his big wooden desk, his office. A cast iron stove with a rail around its bulbous center stood in the middle of the store, throwing off a delightful warmth in winter and accentuating the smell of tea, spices and tobacco.

Coffee beans were ground while you waited, salt pork sold by the chunk, pickles in brine, molasses drawn from a barrel, firkins of butter and lard, bulk tapioca in a glass jar, apples in baskets and noggins of apple butter. Assorted buttons in trays and candy such as peppermint sticks and hoarhound were in the covered counters alongside spools of thread and cheeses.

On the shelves stool lamp chimneys, mouse traps, putty, gloves, shuttlecocks, spoons, jars of fruits and vegetables, turpentine, even nails, screws and scissors. In front of the counter were pails of various sizes, sponges in wicker baskets, cans and canisters of salt and sage and Oolong tea. To one of the two posts in the center of the store hung a chart of glass sizes with prices, on the other a two-man saw. And there were crackers in the big cracker barrel.

To the rear was the storeroom and grain room. Bins along one side contained flour, sugar, oats and beans; across the aisle were stored cans of paint, bags of grain and heavy hardware. On the walls were hung sifters, rolls of wire, straw hats, hand scythes; here and there were fishing poles, snow scoops, hay rakes, rat traps, butter crocks and frying pans. Certainly an interesting variety. As for pharmaceuticals Cutler probably handled such items as cassia bark, aloes, ipecac, extract of mustard, sarsaparilla, a variety of pills including no doubt Carter’s Little Liver Pills.

The buildings were moved several hundred yards to the east in 1915 to make way for the new Town Hall built that year. Other proprietors have been associated with this village store over the years: George Getchell, George Tebbetts, Orrin Sanderson, William Fuller and Charles Dodge. Mrs. Dodge and her daughter tried to carry on the store for awhile in a limited way but closed the doors about 1940. The barn and store were pulled down and the house acted as an addition to the Town Hall until it too was taken down to make room for the present Town Hall built in 1968.

Today one must go to Sturbridge Village or Shelburne to find a village store similar to Cutler’s in Burlington.