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Town’s Oldest Tavern

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

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 087)


The fire was discovered by Mrs. Isaac Bernstein. Already it had a good start in the ell to the rear of the house. Her screams aroused her husband who was asleep in one of the bedrooms on the second floor.

Stopping to pull on only a pair of pants he went to investigate and almost found himself trapped in that ell as the fire spread to the stairway. Since that stair was now the only way out, he plunged down through smoke and flame burning himself severely about the arms, head and face. With his wife leading the way, the pair stumbled to the store of Harry Woods where a call was placed to both the Lexington and Burlington fire departments and Isaac was bundled up in old clothes and taken to Lexington for medical treatment.

When the local firemen arrived on the scene that bitterly cold day in January 1938, they had to chop a hole in the ice of the pond some 2500 feet away to get water. Their chemicals gave out before that was accomplished and then their pump froze. Meanwhile the Lexington pumper had arrived and laid a line from the pond on Adams Street where men had started cutting ice that morning, but found they had to borrow hose from Burlington to reach the blaze. By the time the two streams of water got going the fire had gained too much headway to be contained. Ted Parkhurst, then a captain in the Burlington Fire Dept., using a smoke mask, made two attempts to enter the burning building to save some of Mrs. Bernstein’s personal belongings but was driven out each time by smoke and intense heat. When first one pump and then the other froze again, firemen and onlookers could do little more than watch the place burn.

Thus did Bernstein’s “Red Dog Inn” which did such a brisk business at the corner of Adams Street and the Turnpike when the town was “wet,” and did much the same business as “Ye Old Turnpike Inn” later when the town went “dry,” end its days in a burst of pyrotechnics.

Believed to have been built prior to the Revolution by the Locke family, its early history is vague because much of what is known about the house is associated with the Turnpike, a road that did not go through town until 1811. It then became a tavern on that road remembered until the turn of this century as “The Richardson Tavern.” But it may have served as a tavern long before 1799 since it stood on the road from the Meeting House here to Lexington.

The first mention of the house in the Burlington records occurs in 1835 when somebody by the name of Blaisdell petitioned the town to make a road “commencing at a point near the house that was Mr. Amos Hill’s Tavern on the Middlesex Turnpike” and again, selectmen have laid out a road “beginning at the Middlesex Turnpike one rod from the easterly end of the Tavern now owned by William P. Gibbs.” That road is Adams St. The Lockes were another old Woburn family and very early owned much of the land in the western part of town sometimes called “World’s End.” William Locke, the first of the family here about 1655 fell afoul of the authorities along with William Simonds for “seditious and contemptuous carriages” and for “affronting the Church in their private consultations.” They were sentenced by the Court to be “severely whipt with thirty stripes a piece” or to pay a fine of “twenty pounds a piece.” This was a large sum of money which the two apparently did not have since a William Clarke and a Francis Kendall paid the 40 pds, and agreed to stand as bondsmen to assure future good behaviour.

The huge Locke farm became a part of Burlington in 1799 but on petition of Thomas Locke his farm was set off from Burlington the very first year and annexed to the Town of Lexington. The Lockes were weavers and the only fulling mill in Burlington then stood on his farm so that was lost to the town as well. That Thomas Locke as a young man had been a member of the Minuteman company that Captain Joshua Walker took from this Parish to Lexington in April of 1775. But some Locke property still remained in town including the farm on Stony Brook Road which later passed to Cummings and then to Graham, and the farm on the Turnpike. The latter became the property of Amos Hill through his marriage to Lucy Locke of Lexington here in Burlington in 1807.

The next owner, William P. Gibbs, evidently had trouble paying his debts because a lien on the property went to the Town of Burlington in 1837 for the sum of $332, which repre- sented some sort of an agreement “subject to right of Equity and redemption.” The property was deeded to Franklin Richardson in 1841 and Amos Richardson deeded the farm to “William Cumston of Burlington, Pianoforte manufacturer” in 1853. In 1860 Cumston is not only assessed for the Richardson Tavern and farm but for all the property and mills around Woods Corner. In 1870 Fernald E. Ham bought that part of the Cumston estate which comprised the two parcels of the farm originally owned by Amos Hill. This contained 15 plus acres with the house and barn and another 10 plus acres.

By 1910 the Ham farm, run by Fernald and his son George, was one of the best in town. Ham was assessed then for the original 25 acres plus 23 more, as well as the tavern house, a barn, grain house, squash house, hen house and milk house. His pride and joy was an excellent dairy based on the 35 or more pure-bred Holstein cattle he kept there.

George Ham was a self-made man. He was born in Shapleigh, Maine, in 1835. Being the eldest son of a poor farmer he had to work at an early age to help support the family and thus had but little opportunity for any formal schooling. When he could, he left home and came to Danvers where he worked first in a shoe factory and then on a farm. For eight years he saved practically every penny he earned until finally he had a nest-egg of $1,000 which he invested in a teeming outfit in Boston, an outfit which trucked mainly for the Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. and the Chickering Pianoforte Co. The latter firm brought him in contact with Cumston.

Fernald married Sarah Wyatt of Portsmouth in 1866. With her and their first-born, whom they named Hattie Cumston Ham, he moved to Burlington. Here two other children were born, Alice in 1870 and George in 1872. Here, too, his daughter Hattie died in 1877 and his wife in 1879. He married again, a Helen Huff, who also died here in 1882, and so he married for a 3rd time, his 2nd wife’s sister Martha. Fernald Elliot Ham died in 1907 after 71 years of almost continuous hard work. Ham was involved socially with Lexington more so than Burlington although here he served on the Board of Health and was one of the founding officers of the very successful Burlington Agricultural Society and Annual Fair proposed by the Rev. Mr. Washburn in 1889. He was a member and a trustee of the Baptist Church in Lexington and a member of the Lexington Grange, of which he served as treasurer for a time. Burlington did not have a local unit of the Grange until 1915. He also was a member of the Boston Market Gardeners Association and the Boston Horticultural Society.

His many interests here never made him forget his boyhood home, a farm he inherited and also stocked with high-grade cattle. And there in Shapleigh, in the old church, he had installed a fine memorial window in memory of Levi Ham, the father who taught him that hard work paid off. George Elliot Ham sold the old farm to Warren H. Dunning in 1910 who worked the old farm for 13 more years before selling it to Jacob Bernstein in 1923. Isaac turned the old tavern into a restaurant and nightclub which advertised weekend entertainment as the “Red Dog Inn.” Most local people were not too impressed.

One can still get food and drink served at the now busy corner of Adams Street and the Middlesex Turnpike, for a Burger King building stands about where the old Richardson Tavern once stood. But to get the sort of entertainment once served by the Red Dog, one will have to go elsewhere.