Tally Ho !

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, September 16, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by
John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 065)


When Martha Sewall Curtis wrote her little book in 1909
about a period 50 years earlier, she said, "It is very quiet at
the old stage tavern on the hill. Not long ago, Abner Marion
was gathered to his forefathers and his life is written in the
chronicles of the town. The last coach and four has passed over
the hill, the hustle and bustle of arrival and departure, the
trill of the horn, the merry laughter and jests are but a
memory."
True. By the time Abner died in 1858, the coaches had
stopped running through Burlington, although Abner was assessed
for "coach stock" as late as 1850. But for 100 years prior to
that date, coaching through town was an adventure that could be
a delight or a hazard, depending upon the equipment and the
weather.
Charles Dickens once took a crack at the many English
painters, engravers and lithographers who romanticized English
coaching when he wrote, "Pictures of colored prints of coaches
starting, arriving, changing horses, coaches in sunshine,
coaches in the snow, coaches in the wind, coaches in the mist
and rain, coaches in all circumstances compatible with their
triumph and victory, but never in the act of breaking down or
overturning."
Travel from one point to another in the years shortly
before and after the Revolution had few rewards other than the
simple satisfaction of reaching a destination in one piece. The
roads of the time were so rough that often stages could make no
better time than four miles an hour. Travellers often were
required to help the horses drag the wagon or coach out of the
mud or at least to walk a way to lighten the load.
Probably the best road in the colonies was that between
Boston and New York and that trip took from four to six days on
the average. Not until the turnpike construction excitement,
which started about 1790, did the country have any well-paved
roads. Nothing indicated that the roads here were any better.
But by the end of the 1820s, both coaches and roads had been
much improved. And coaching and tavern-keeping became very
profitable businesses.
The most popular public house in Woburn during those
stage-coach days was Ichabod Parker's tavern, the old Mishawum
House. In 1875, John Fowle, then of Reading, sold his property
in Woburn to Parker. The house and barn stood on 4.5 acres of
land on Main Street, north of the center. Parker opened the
house as a tavern at once and it soon became a popular stop-
ping-off place and was a horse-changing station for those
stages running from Boston to Amberst, N.H. It operated as such
until 1835.
Isiah Thomas' Almanack, printed in 1799 for the year 1800,
mentions the Amherst Mail Stage, which left Boston every Wed-
nesday and Saturday at six in the morning and returned to
Boston every Monday and Thursday at six in the afternoon,
passing through Dunstable, Chelmsford, Billerica, Burlington,
Woburn and Medford. Here in Burlington, it could have stopped
at Chubb's Tavern on Chestnut Street, the Wood Tavern in the
center or the Winn Tavern on Wyman Street, better known as the
Hen and Chickens Tavern. Maybe all three.
The hey-day of the coaching and tavern business occurred
about 1830. By 1832, there were 106 coach lines emanating in
Boston and heading in all directions. Abner Marion entered the
business of tavern-keeper at this time and his place was a
horse-changing station, thus the huge barn.
Badge & Porter's Stage Register for 1830 reads, "Lowell
and Boston Mail Stage, leaves Lowell every day except Sunday at
1/2 past 7 a.m. - leaves Wilde's, Elm Street, Boston every day
except Sunday at 1/2 past 2 p.m. - through Billerica, Woburn,
Medford and Charlestown to Boston - distance 26 miles - fare
$1.25 - Agent Ira Frye. The local Woburn to Boston stage left
from another tavern, Glover's Hotel, tree days a week - the
fare 50 cents.
The Boston, Amherst, Windsor and Burlington (Vt.) Mail
Stage may have used the new Middlesex Turnpike, stopping here
at Richardson's Tavern at the corner of the Turnpike and Adams
Street for its route was through West Cambridge (Arlington),
Burlington, Billerica and onto Burlington, Vt., where it con-
nected with stages and steamboats for Montreal and Quebec.
In 1818, a syndicate, the Eastern Stage Company, control-
led all the lines in eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire
and some in Maine and Rhode Island. The business was enormous
and the profits great. The American delight in travel must have
been born at that time. But then came the railroad construction
boom and by 1838, the conglomerate died. Some individual stage
lines continued to operate for awhile, such as the one that
used the Marion Tavern to change horses, but, by the middle of
the century, Americans had found a new way to travel, quicker
and more comfortable, and far less spine-tingling.
Often termed the only perfect coach ever built, the Con-
cord Coach was crafted and manufactured by the famous Abbott-
Downing Company of Concord, N.H., a company that had made
horse-drawn carriages and buggies for more than a century. It
became the best known public conveyance of its time and is
connected, not only to travel here in New England, but to
numerous legends of the wild West and Buffalo Bill.
It was a remarkable vehicle. It weighed about 3000 lbs.,
and had a capacity of about two tons, could accommodate six to
nine passengers within and more than that on top or as many as
could safely hang on. The company used the finest white ash,
oak, elm and basswood, all grown in New England forests.
The wheels were heavy with broad iron tires not only to
resist damage on New England's rocky roads, but also wide
enough not to sink in soft sand. They were set a little over
five feet apart, which made the coach unusually stable and not
prone to tipping.
The body was reinforced with iron straps and hung on
leather straps called through-braces - three or four inches
wide. When the four or six horses pulling the vehicle were
going full tilt, the coach had a rocking motion, the braces
acting like shock absorbers. The coaches often were painted in
bright colors of green or yellow and decorated with scrollwork
and other designs.
Parker L. Converse, in his Legends of Woburn, describes an
incident that took place during the golden days of the Parker
Tavern comparable in a way to a Roman chariot race or Western
movie. Parker's daughter was returning from Boston with a light
load of whipsticks in the family gig when she overtook the
stage in what is now Winchester.
The driver, having on six horses and not too many
passengers, tried to prevent the girl from passing. A neck-and-
neck race followed. Converse says, "The driver shouted and blew
his horn to fire his horses, the dogs barked, the whipsticks
rattled amid a perfect cloud of dust."
Just as the gig was pulling ahead, it hit a bump in the
road and out jumped the bundle of whipsticks. She abruptly
reigned in her horse, jumped out, retrieved her bundle, jumped
back onto the gig and resumed the contest. Just before the
dusty, swearing and blowing horses reached the Parker House,
the girl pulled ahead of the dangerously swaying stage. She
managed to be at the doorway to her father's tavern to greet
the few shaken-up passengers.
Now the Concord Coach is a museum piece used only in the
movies and for pageantry. One put in an appearance at Woburn's
250th Anniversary in 1892 and another came to Burlington to
help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building of the
Church of Christ here in 1732. Both of those celebrations were
gala affairs
.