... power of Spot Pond Brook leads to Haywardville ...
Historic photos from the collection of Michael Ryan, and from state archives. Local photos by Don Norris.
There isn't much left of the old town. It was located on the side of the hill, east of Spot Pond, rather northwest of the pub at West Wyoming and Lynn Fells Parkway.
It was called Haywardville recently, a place that actually paralleled the commercial development of Melrose. But it is gone now, and has been gone for more than a century -- a whole town, disappeared. Like, snap your fingers, and, in the name of progress, it is history.
It was waterpower that brought about the need for Haywardville, and it was waterpower that lead to its demise. For the greater good, too, for the whole area became a first in the donation of land to the public in the name of conservation.
The community, over time, featured four major mills, a major rubber factory, and a community that included (according to one source) ladies of the night. Well, that explains why Haywardville was actually in Stoneham, a stone's throw beyond the Melrose line.
The occasion that brings this information to light was a field trip through the 400 year old community, produced by none other than the Melrose Historical Society. On a sunny Saturday in May, some 25 members listened to young Mike Doucette, an avid member of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells, who served both as guide and narrator.
The walk, which took a little less than two hours and was a little more than a mile in length, took our group to 11 dedicated points on a new-ish trail through the "Spot Pond Brook Archaeological District". Or Haywardville, as we less modern folks know it.
It was delightful, informative, educational, and a perfect choice for such a group as the archeologically-minded members of the Melrose Historical Society. There were no frills, no slide show, no coffee nor cakes -- this was all business. Walk, climb, fall down, catch up, stop, listen, observe, ponder and walk some more, more knowledgeable than before.
We found a lot of flowers and fauna, and crowds would congregate to discuss floral nomenclature.
The site is called, now, Virginia Wood, named after the daughter of previous owners, who died when thrown from her horse -- more than a hundred years ago. These and many other details are contained in the self-guided tour, pamphlets for which are available free at the MDC reservation headquarters at Botume House on Woodland Road.
According to our guide, modern history here in this patch of woods began in the late 1600s when some unnamed pioneer sought a mountainside waterway with enough fall to power a mill -- the water in flowing downhill turns a waterwheel, which motion in turn is used to various mill purposes. Originally, we learned, the early mills were used for grinding grain and sawing lumber.
Almost modern in terms of history, this is the final holding pond, adjacent to the parkway at the bottom of the hill.
The length of that brook, where its fall is steep enough to turn the paddle wheels, is only half a mile before it reaches the valley that is Melrose. Yet, as the community developed, at least four mills existed, all using the very same source of power: Spot Pond Brook.
In the 1800s Haywardville grew as an industrial community -- still a small community using falling water for power -- and it was here that Nathaniel Hayward and Charles Goodyear (yes, the Goodyear of later tire fame) invented, um, slickers -- remember the canvas and rubber coats we seniors wore as children, before WWII? This is where that material was invented.
There were numerous large factory buildings here during this period, a community of living quarters, some shops -- or at least places to barter for goods. Although the pamphlet doesn't say it, it seems reasonable that the development both of steam and electric power spelled doom for the petite Spot Pond Brook system.
By 1891 most of the property in this area was owned by the Tudor family, wealthy Bostonians, who (after the death of their daughter, Virginia) donated the land to the Trustees of Public Reservations. This was first such donation of land for public conservation purposes in the country -- and it became a model for similar donations throughout the world.
Today the Middlesex Fells Reservation is maintained by the Metropolitan District Commission -- whose fate during these hard times is currently in the hands of Massachusetts legislators.
The bed of the original brook, with its deep gorge, is still there, although only a trickle flows now. Spot Pond is a reservoir now, a distribution point for water that originates at the huge Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts. The walls that contain Spot Pond were raised a century ago, increasing its storage capacity.
The tour itself is self guiding, is classified as easy to moderate, and requires climbing some small knolls. Hardest part is the return from Haywardville (near Grimsby's pub) up the hill to the Botume House parking area. All the seniors in our party made the journey in fine order.
The walk is well worth it. It takes in a hemlock forest, sites of now-gone mills, a stone storage basin at the base of the hill, and a few (very few) stone relics of by-gone works. There are two dams that were rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
Be sure to get the pamphlet -- it is well written and the path is easy to follow.