Tiot Had Two Post Roads: The “Old Roebuck Road” And “The Wrentham Road.”
Both Were Famous Thoroughfares For Stage Coach Travel
By WIN EVERETT
“His night is dark!
We dare not start.
The wind begins to blow.
And ’ere we reach the hollow plain
There’ll be a storm. I trow'”
-From a popular coaching song once sung with great gusto in the Everett School.
Then we basses used to bellow that part of the ditty (which I quote from a memory none-too-clear) which went: “Look out in the dark! Look out! The Phantom Horseman YOU will see! He’ll crack his whip and shout Hoola’ Hoola! Hoola! Hooln’ Hoola1′ Who’s for the coach tonight? Who’s for the coach tonight? For we are bound for Bristol Town before the morning light.”
Norwood’s First Stage Coach
I suspect that “Bristo’ Town” was in England. But little did we happy youngsters think, or care, that the first regular stagecoach to run over the “Old Roebuck Road.” of which our Pleasant street was a part, left the house of John Blake in Sudbury Street. Boston on Tuesday morning at 5 o’clock April 12th, 1729, and arrived at noon the next day at Bristol Ferry. Rhode Island, from which the passengers could continue by a primitive ferry boat to Newport This was the first regular stagecoach run ever made through Norwood The historic stage followed the “Old Roebuck Road” afar as South Attleboro and ‘thence down the easterly side of the Seekonk and Providence Rivers to what is now the city of Bristol. Since the entire distance was 55 miles, you can imagine the comfort of the passengers and the road conditions when you consider it required from 5 A. M Tuesday to noon on Wednesday to cover that 55 miles The fare was approximately $5.00.
No Lobby Then
Maybe you would like to read the advertisement of this service which was the first time Norwood people had ever had a chance to go to Dedham or Boston regularly by anything except ox-cart, horse-back or shank’s-mare. There was no corporation lobby then to say, “You can look at these pretty stagecoaches going through your town, brother and sister, but that is all you Jan do You use So-and-So’s Oxen. Inc —or walk! And like it!” In the Boston News-Letter of April 4 1720 we read:
“These are to give notice that the । stage between Boston and Bristol Ferry. for once a fortnight the six ensuing months. Intends to set out the first time from Boston at Five o’clock on Tuesday Morning the 12th currant, and be at the said Ferry on Wednesday Noon, when those from New Port may then there arrive and be brought hither on Friday Night Such as have a mind to go for Bristol or Rhoad Island, may agree with John Blake at his house on Sudbury-street Boston for their passage to the said Ferry, at 25s (25 shillings—Ed.) each person with 14 Pounds weight of carriage and 3d (3 pence) for every pound over.”
Why “Old Roebuck Road?”
The origin of that delightfully picturesque name “Old Roebuck Road ” which I do not think was ever a local nickname, is lost in the limbo of those first hard, perilous years of Norfolk County’s history between 1636 and the next century. Maybe its windings thru the dense, virgin forests, around the purgatorial swamps, along the brows of the hills and wiggling away to touch each farm as they were gradually established over Pleasant street way and in Old Tiot in South Norwood suggested the branched antlers of the little-European deer with which the early settlers were familiar.
Walpole St. Killed Roebuck
At all events. “Old Roebuck” was its official name until 1769. when the first regular stagecoach was established over the newer and less hilly road which had been built from Pawtucket to Wrentham and thence via Walpole to Dedham and Boston. Fred Day v.sed to call “O’d Roebuck” Post Road No. 1 and the Wrentham road Post Road No. 2 When the latter was opened in 1751 by the development of an old country road which had long run from South Dedham to Wrentham (not Walpole street, of course) the Old Roebuck was used less and less. Today, if you attempt to follow Old Roebuck you will find parts of it are almost un-drivable gravel-banks, parts are faint and overgrown wood roads, and some portions arc entirely obliterated by man or by nature. But in its youth according to Mr. Erastus Worthington, the Dedham historian. “Old Roebuck” was the first through-highway to be hewn and wrenched out of the virgin wilderness in the United States between two large coast cities—Boston Mass., and Bristol, R. I.
Route of Old Roebuck
Just where did “Old Roebuck” wind through Tiot It passed through Dedham Village, past the Fairbanks house to the present Endicot. railroad station turned south and followed the road which still parallels the railroad until it reached an ancient left turn which is still visible? just east of the Norfolk Golf Club. Here it wound over-the-hill until it met Everett street turned right on this street to the present underpass at Peter Fisher’s hoi’.c’ and followed Washington street until It- reached Neponset street at the George Bird estate. Th-n east on Neponset until it hit Pleasant •street and turned right down that road until Iitparsed the ink mill site and over the hill into East Walpole.
Try This Next Spring
If you are adventurous, you may take your car and courage to that little square in East Walpole known as Gould’s Corner. Just south of it on Pleasant street, you will find The Old Moose Hill Road on your left. At your right, if you. look sharp, you will see a tiny wood road coming down a steep, gravel bank. It is now the famous bridal-path which leads from Provincetown to the Berkshires. But it is more famous than that, really It is “Old Roebuck ” Drive up it and hang to it. You will pass country and houses you never knew existed. You will skirt the eastern side of Mr. Phillip Allen’s apple orchard. Then a beautiful pond in the woods. Then down a sharp pitch under some pines and over some boulders and on until you come out at Dunn’s ice cream palace on the No. 1 superhighway. This you have been paralleling most of the way, our oldest and newest roads, side by side. Cross it—and keep your eye peeled to the right for an old fashioned signpost, leaning against a stone wall at the comer where the Sharon road meets your road you will see your old “guide-board “—”OLD POST ROAD ‘
Keep straight ahead. Pass a fine old farmhouse under the elms, built, by the way, in 1828. About a thousand feet beyond the house, at the left of you, you will see a dim, tangled wood road crawling up the hill beside you. Fake it. if you dare And then drive as careful as you, can. watching every Foot and remembering that it was over this very road that the first state coach advertised in 1720 made its painful way. Away in the woods, to your right, you will see a little pond at the foot of the hill you are cresting. It is the feeder of the Foxboro cranberry bogs. Keep on—and suddenly you will pop out on that cranberry meadow beside the Sharon-Foxboro road. Take that modern highway, and go home. For Old Roebuck dies there for the auto. It continued southeastward over the hills between Sharon and Foxboro. east of “The Bogs.” down t? North Attleboro and Pawtucket t Bristol and Providence. At the latte place. Old Roebuck connected with the “Faquot Path” which led to Westerly from thence, the monthly post which was established about 1690 carried the Boston mail to New York. And vice-versa.
“Four Cider Barrels Wide!”
This first through-mail service via OId Roebuck was of course by couriers on horseback. I doubt if the path was fIt for vehicles much before that first stage route in 1720. You wouldn’t have called it fit then. That it was a rough and narrow road we know from Milam Knight, who, in 1704, made the trip on horseback overland from Boston to New York and recorded all her trials and discomforts for future generations to read. An idea of the width of Old Roebuck can be obtained from an entry in the old Lancaster. Mass records regarding a local road, which stipulated that it should be wide enough to make it “feasible to carry comfortably four oxen with four barrels of cider at once.” And we kick about “high-crowned two-way roads!’
No. 2 Post Road
Turning now to Post Road No. 2. which we will call Walpole street for convenience and clarity. Although it was made a through route in 1751, as has been stated, by the betterment of Walpole street from Dedham to Wrentham, it was not until 1757 that Thomas Sabin of Providence started the first regular stage between Boston and Providence on this road. This stage ran weekly. How fast Sabin’s stage ran we do not know. But the advertisement of a stage over the same route in 1800 gives the running time then as ten hours. The average speed of a stagecoach was 5 miles per hour.
Norwood’s First Main Street
But this old road, which made No ‘ possible was the cause of the abandonment of Old Roebuck, was Norwood’s first Main Street. You may remember how the writer has explained the pushing northward of Old Tie’ from the Walpole line. The building o the South Dedham Tavern by Pau’. Ellis and Lewis Rhodes near the close cf the Eighteenth Century The building of the first church oxi present Walpole and Winter streets. The erection of the first school near Norwood Central station. In short. Norwood was growing away from “Old Roebuck” an*’ demanded a shortcut through it’s center. So it is safe to say that some time ‘about. 1750 the fanners broke out a road which branched of! of Old Roebuck in front of the George Bird residence ‘Neponset and Washington streets). It ran south as far as the first high-bridge, swung a little to the left up over Carpetshop Hill, running along its western side exactly where the railroad cut is today. Or, more precisely, where the top level of the cut is. Then it swung right and curled closely around the edge of the Old Cemetary, which was then the new burying ground. Leaving the cometary, it became “Cemetary street” which is our Center street, and swung right to follow Washington street to Wa’ me-street. Then south to Walpole Village and south again to Wrentham.
Walpole St. Won Out
When the church and Balch Parsonage were built on this road in 1735, and the tavern in 1700, the local importance of Old Roebuck began to wane. When the stages began to roll down Walpole street in 1767, it had arrived. Nor did the coming of the wider and finer Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike in 1806, with its surface of crushed stone, put it out of business. Because it was less hilly, the Walpole way to Providence remained popular and it has lived, a hale-old, smooth-old road, to see parts of the Norfolk and Bristol turnpike covered with grass.
Why Colonial Roads Were Bad
You must have wondered, as I did, why the colonial roads were so bad. In digging out the material for this sketch I have found a most sensible and interesting answer to this question. It is in “The Turnpikes of New England” by Frederic J. Wood, and in ” Hadley’s “Railroad Transportation.” If you are interested in roads and automobile tours, I recommend a careful study of Wood’s remarkable book Is in the Norwood Public Library.
England Hogged the Business
“The restrictive policy of Great Britain toward her American colonies, by which she sought to prevent a’l intercolonial trade, reserving for her cwn merchants at home the profits of such intercourse, almost entirely prevented the improvement and development of those early routes, and down to the outbreak of the American Revolution facilities for travel parallel to the seacoast were sadly lacking.
“The early settlements were naturally on the coast, and water communication, being the most convenient, was generally used. As the fertile fields or the inland districts gradually drew settlers away from the ocean it obviously became necessary to have roads on paths connecting the new homes with the older settlements, and a “hit or miss” arrangement of rough roads, radiating from central points on the coast resulted. Until well into the 19th century each village was an independent community, having its own church, blacksmith, shoemaker, gristmill, tannery, and country store. The farmer’s clothing for the day and his bedding for the night were spun and woven by the women of his own family from the wool of his own sheep. The grain o’ the fields was harvested into barns on the same premises, or ground into meal or flour at the mill but a few miles distant. From the cattle of his own raising he laid away his winter’s supply of meat, and the hides, dressed nearby, were made into shoes by the Iocal artisan, who boarded with his patrons as he performed their work. Little need was there then for many roads. The one fixed journey was the weekly trip to church and the road which provided the facility for that generally led also to the gristmill and to the country store, where were kept the few articles needed by the farmer’s daily life, which his own labor did not produce, and where also he could dispose of the surplus which his own farm might yield” (Ed.—Old Guild street, which included our present Lenox street, was one of the earliest Inter-town roads to develop, as it lead directly from O’d Tiot to the schoolhouse, church, tavern, store and on northward to Old Roebuck and the Ellis Grist Mill on Purgatory Brook at Ellis. Old Roebuck. Guild street and Walpole street were our chief colonial highways.)
Colonial Freight Charges
“Long distance freight movement was abso’utely imposible.” says Had-lev. “The charge for hauling a cord of wood twenty miles was three dollars. For hauling a barrel of flour, one hundred and lift}- miles, was five dollars Either of these charges was sufficient to double the price o! the article and set a practical limit to its conveyance. Salt, which cost one cent a pound at the shore, would sometimes cost six cents a pound three hundred miles in’and. the difference representing the bare cost of transportation. It was on these cheap article-, of common use that the charge bore most heavily. It forced every community to live within itself.”
Such were the facilities of transportation in the new United States o’ America about the year 1800. But a new age was dawning—the industria era. And with it came a new system of transportation—the Turnpikes. W’ will travel on Tiots famous turnpike in our next sketch ana see what effect it had on Norwood life.