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Uniquely Medfield: East Main Street, Gateway into Medfield

This is the first in a three part series on the historic houses of East Main Street.

 

This week will cover the section of East Main Street from Pound Street to Robert Sproul Road.

East Main Street, from the area of the Peak House and the 1750  Eliakim Morse house down to the Baptist Church, is truly the “Gateway” into Medfield. It is the initial impression one gets when coming into Medfield along Route 109. It contains homes dating back to the Colonial Period and magnificent landmarks out of the 18th and 19th centuries.

That historic stretch is one of the factors that makes Medfield, Medfield. It is a factor when people decide to move here, it is a part of the historic heritage that gives Medfield its historical uniqueness, and it is a factor that helps to preserve and maintain the property values we have in Medfield, no matter where in town your house is located.

The area is also not protected; it is not yet in an historic district, as is West Main Street.

The town has been fortunate so far that most of those living along East Main Street appreciate the value their historic house has to the town, they have done a beautiful job in maintaining and preserving the historic characteristics of their house. But that has not always been true nor may it be true in the future.

Demolition of two of these landmarks has already taken place and future demolitions, replaced by high density condominium or 40B apartment building and this unique historic gateway into town vanishes.

The area is historically significant to Medfield, dating back to the very founding of the town.

In 1649, farmers from Dedham traveled out to what is now Medfield to obtain the rich grasses and hay from the meadows of the Charles River. This was used to feed their cattle and livestock.  They went through what is now Westwood and entered present-day Medfield at Foundry Street. From there they went around the north side of Mt. Nebo and entered what is now East Main Street at the intersection with Pound Street.

East Main Street includes sections of at least four pre-1700 land grants:

In 1651, George Barber was granted twelve acres. His house stood next to present day Brook Street.  

John Thurston that same year had twelve acres, bounded west by George Barber, and built his house near the present day 393 Main Street.  Thurstron frequently served in town offices, including for eight years on the Board of Selectmen.

In 1668, Benjamin Clark had a grant for a house lot on Main Street opposite Pound Street, the general site of the present day Peak House.

Daniel Morse in 1650 received a grant for a house lot that ran south of Pound Street.

All these Main Street properties were so laid out that the lots were on both sides of the road; the houses were all built on the north side, thus making them face to the south, according to the universal custom in those days. Opposite to each house lay the “home field.”

During the Native-American attack on the town during the King Philip War in 1676, both the Morse house and the Clark House (Peak House) were burnt, along with thirty other homes and out buildings in the town. George Barber’s house became one of the garrisons for settlers to flee to in the event of Indian attack.

Benjamin Clark reached the age of twenty-one in 1665 and that year married Dorcus Morse.  Benjamin’s house was lost during the Native-American attack on Medfield but he and his family survived, reaching the garrison at the George Barber lot. About 1711 Benjamin, having received a grant from the General Court for the loss of his dwelling, built his new house and moved in with his wife and six children (the present Peak House).  

It is about that time that the new way to Dedham (the present Main Street from Pound Street to the Dover town line via Shaws, etc) was laid out.

East Main Street contains two properties already on the National Register of Historic Places; the Peak House and 406 Main Street. Some of the historic houses in this section of East Main Street include:

Eliakim Morse House, ca.1750/1823—339 Main Street

Eliakim Morse built the 2 ½-story Georgian-style house with a four-room layout in 1750. It is the third Morse house built in the immediate area. The original Samuel Morse house, located across the street was the first house torched by the Native-Americans the morning of February 21, 1676, when half the town was burned during the King Philip War. In 1823 an addition was added to the 1750 house which extended the house three more bays (including another door) to the east. It was here that the manufacturing of straw bonnets took place. Morse purchased locally braided straw and had it sewn into ladies’ straw hats. It is believed that both the two-bay ell at the easternmost end of the house, and the smaller ell at the western end of the house, were constructed shortly after the 1823 wing was built. This restored and beautiful town landmark is currently for sale.

Peak House, circa 1680—347 Main Street

Medfield’s most famous building, the Peak House, is a one and a-half story English yeoman’s cottage built by Benjamin Clark around 1711. The original house was burned during the Native-American attack on the town during the King Philip War in 1676. The Peak House is one of only six or seven examples of this type of early construction surviving in the former Massachusetts Bay Colony. It has one of the highest pitches on record for a Massachusetts house.  The house has been restored and maintained by the Historical Society since 1924 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The first Catholic mass in Medfield was said in the Peak House in 1854. Artist John J. Francis used the Peak House as his art studio in the late 1800’s.  Still owned by the Historical Society, the Peak House is opened to the public for special events, on Sunday afternoons in June, July and August, and by appointment.

Clark Tavern, 1743/1773 —353-355 Main Street

The Clark Tavern is actually two joined colonial houses that were built at different times. Seth Clark Sr. built the west side around 1743. The house served as a public inn. His son Ebenezer, expanded the inn and built the house on the east end in1773. Ebenezer became a driver for the Boston Stagecoach. The tavern served as a stagecoach stop on the Hartford to Boston turnpike, a one-day’s journey out of Boston. During the Revolutionary War, members of the Connecticut militia stayed here guarding this area in the event the British tried to march out of Boston towards Hartford or New York City. Nathan Hale, who was hanged by the British as a spy and whose words “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” are in our history books, also stayed here on a trip to Boston. Warren Hartshorn later purchased part of the Clark estate and had a blacksmith shop here. Early Catholic masses were also said in the house before the building of St. Edward’s Church.

Mitchell-Wills House, circa 1890s—358 Main Street

This East Main Street house does not appear on the 1888 map but is located on the 1909 map. Records do show that in1908 John Wills purchased the house from George Mitchell. The Wills family was active in town affairs, particularly in the area as carpenters and later as owners of Wills Hardware Store.

Hartshorn House, circa 1880s—368 Main Street

This East Main Street house was not located on the 1876 map but did appear on the 1888 map. The lot was part of the Hartshorn estate and given to Moses Hartshorn who built the present house.

Next week's second installment will feature East Main Street from Robert Sproul Road to Brook Street.

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