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Timothy Winn, Burlington’s founding father

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, December 18, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 026)

Timothy Winn: Burlington’s founding father

One of the finest houses ever built in Burlington was known at the turn of this century as the William Winn mansion. It once stood on the corner of Winn Street and Newbridge Avenue. Now it stands on Pond Street in Wellesley. Erected in 1732, the year Woburn Second Parish built its meeting house on Forest Field Hill, it harbored generation after generation of Winns until the house, old, empty and neglected, was taken down in 1938. To the Timothy Winn who lived in that house from the time, and died there in 1800, the Town of Burlington owes its very being. Had it not been for his efforts in behalf of the petition for a new town, there may not have been any Burlington at all.

The first Timothy Winn, the youngest of twelve children born to Joseph and Rebecca Reed Winn, was born in the home on the corner of Winn and Wyman Streets. Timothy received a deed to his father’s homestead in 1709 about the time he married Elizabeth Brooks, who bore him two children before she died in 1724: Timothy, born July 1712 and Elizabeth, born September 1719. That first Timothy married again in 1729. Jane Belknap bore him three other children, Ruth, Joseph and Joshua. Joseph became a lieutenant in the Revolution and turned his home into an inn after the fighting ceased. That inn became known as the Hen and Chickens Tavern.

In 1732, father Timothy and son Timothy built the beautiful house which became his family’s homestead for the next two centuries and became known as the William Winn mansion, named after a descendant of the younger Timothy. To this house the younger Timothy brought his bride, the lovely Mary Bowers in 1739. Since the house was within the bounds of the new Woburn Second Parish, he joined the Precinct church in 1740 and became Deacon of that church in 1752, an office he held for the rest of his life. Deeply interested in public affairs, he was elected a selectman of Woburn in 1756, 1757, 1773, 1774 and 1775. Much respected within the Woburn community he was elected as representative to the General Court in 1787, 1788 and 1791.

In December of 1787, he and James Fowle, Jr. were chosen as the delegates from Woburn to the convention which met in Boston in January of 1788 to discuss ratification of the Constitution of this United States. Timothy Winn opposed adoption without some amendments and said so in a speech published in the “Boston Independent Chronicle”. “I think it is a duty I owe to God and my country to oppose the establishment of the proposed form of government as it stands without any amendments.” Massachusetts was the sixth state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, but it was the first state to accept the document on the condition that amendments be added to it. The stand of Massachusetts in this respect was sufficiently influential to initiate work on the Bill of Rights, thanks in part to Timothy Winn.*

That second Timothy was prominent in local military affairs as well. He became Ensign of the Third Military Company of Foot which was composed of Second Parish men (Burlington) from 1750 to 1752, was Lieutenant in 1758 and Captain in 1762 to 1764. As a lieutenant, he was called into active service in 1757 and prepared to march to the relief of Fort William Henry. The Woburn men under Winn’s command only got as far as Worcester when the need for their services was no longer necessary and the outfit returned home. During the Revolution, his name appears on the alarm list for the local militia on duty here at home. His name appears on Capt. Joshua Walker’s company, which went to Lexington on the 19th of April, but that Timothy was the third Timothy.

The people living in Woburn Second Parish had never been fully satisfied with the decision of the Great and General Court which had made them a Precinct in 1730. Therefore petitions were presented again in 1733, 1774 and 1782. Living as he did so close to the border separating the two parishes and involved politically with the whole of Woburn rather than just the second Parish, he was opposed to the separation and therefore gave no support to any of the early efforts. But when the final petition was made in 1798 he had been won over either by the arguments of his half-brother Joseph, or by General John Walker, or by some reasoning of his own, for at that time he put his prestige and political acumen behind the movement and it proved to be the deciding factor.Thus Burlington became a corporate town in 1799.

Timothy Winn did not live long after his final accomplishment. His last public appearance may have been in January of 1800 when the new town honored the memory of George Washington, who had died the previous December. Timothy Winn died February 4, 1800, aged 87 years, 8 months. It is mentioned that he was buried in Burlington, but no stone carries the name of Timothy Winn in the old burying ground here. He may have been laid to rest in the old Winn Tombyard located directly across Winn Street from his home.

That homestead, an excellent example of New England Georgian architecture, was taken down, not torn down, in 1938. Carefully, piece by piece and brick by brick it was moved and rebuilt. The panelling has been stripped of its paint and today glows with a beautiful almost peach-colored luster. The ell of the house was not kept as it was a later date addition. The only major parts of the old house which had to be replaced were the window sashes and the front entrance. The lovely old house is experiencing a gracious renaissance.

* A constitutional history website says the Winn speech was “undelivered.”