Birth of the Marion Tavern

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, August 4, 1981

Burlington Past and Present, by
John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 111)


At the turn of this century, if a Burlington resident were
asked to name an historically important building in town,
either the Wood Tavern or the Marion Tavern came to mind.
In the 11 lines devoted to Burlington in Massachusetts, A
Guide to its People and Places done by the Federal Writers
Project and published in 1937, only the Old Meeting House, the
Burying Ground, "a peaceful spot where nodding goldenrod and
lazy creeping vines mark the weather-beaten slabs in summer,"
and the Marion Tavern are mentioned.
But when the Historic American Buildings Survey published
its 800 or more sites found in Massachusetts, only two were
listed in this town, the William Winn House and the Francis
Wyman House. No mention or piciure is made of the Wood Tavern,
the Marion Tavern or the Church.
However, although not as old as the Church, the Winn
Mansion or the Francis Wyman House, the Marion Tavern is an
historic Burlington landmark which played its part during the
early part of the last century when it was an important stage
stop on the coach lines plying between Boston and Concord,
N.H., and later for those coaches connecting Boston and Lowell
when Lowell was in its formative stages.
The name of the tavern is due to its founder, Abner
Marion, an especially bright and agressive Burlington young
man. He was the third of six children born to John Cutler and
Martha Carter Marion in the big farmhouse on Winn Street once
situated where Sylvester Road is today. His grandfather Isaac
Marion was one of the minutemen from this parish in 1775.
Abner was born in 1809 and like all Farm boys grew up
to appreciate the value of good farm land and to recognize all
the problems involved and the hard work which farm life im-
posed. He attended the little one-room schoolhouse on Mountain
Road and had little other education. Feeling that the farm
would go to one of his older brothers when his father died, he
became interested in other farms and soon was dabbling in real
estate, not only in Burlington but elsewhere. He made his first
purchase when but 23 when he bought 10 acres of woodland from
the Wymans.
Four years later he acguired the S.C. Skelton farm of 25
acres south of the center which he soon sold at a profit. In
the meantime he got married but that only spurred him on to
greater efforts.
By the time he died in 1858, not yet 50 years old, he
owned the tavern, another house, three barns, three smaller
buildings and 185 acres of land which stretched from the New
Road, now Winn Street, to Center Street, from Center Street to
Cambridge Street, and from Cambridge Street to Lexington Street
south of Bedford Street excluding in the south center of town
only the Radford piece, the Walker place, the Hogan land, the
Tibbetts house, the school lot and the Old Burying Ground.
Not a bad achievement for a poor farm boy.
A map of Burlington drawn in 1831 by Bartholomew
Richardson does not show the Marion Tavern for the very simple
reason that it was not operating as a tavern at the time. Abner
did not buy the property from his brother-in-law Nathan
Prescott until 1834, the year he married Prescott's sister
Sarah and moved into the newer part of what was to become the
rather famous tavern. Young Prescott, by the way, had bought
two acres of land in what is now the Common, built a house,
later known as the Rogan house (a house since moved by the
Simonds Trustees to a spot halfway down Bedford Street hill),
and then married Abner's sister Martha.
There is no doubt whatever that the present building, now
owned by Hubert and Ann Ruping, is the result of joining two
houses of distinctly different periods. Who built either of the
two parts or when is not clear. However, the older part of the
tavern is a salt box, a type of house built throughout New
England during the early 18th century, one of New England's
distinct contributions to domestic architecture. It is achieved
by the simple expedient of carrying the rear roof of the build-
ing closer to the ground, thus creating a lean-to with added
space. As children were born into a family it was an easy way
of adding much needed space. That needed space could very well
have been added in this instance by Burlington's blacksmith
Solomon Trull.
Both parts of the house can be traced back, one prior to
and the other about the time of Burlington's incorporation as a
town. In 1827 John Wood, then of Fryburg, Maine, sold three
parcels of property to one Aaron Senter for $1,450.00. The
first was a 50 acre piece on the west side of Cambridge Street
which bordered the graveyard and the horse stables of the
church; the second was the so-called nine acre piece now occup-
ied by the High School football field; the third gave Senter
one-half of the land and buildings on a certain estate of 14
acres, the grounds now occupied by the tavern. Thus a building
was there prior to that date.
Two years later Aaron bought the other half of that 14
acre parcel from John Skinner. and John Hurd of Charlestown,
merchants. How they picked up their half interest is not known
but the description of the division of the property is price-
less:
"...beginning at the northerly side of the post north of
the southwest door on the front side of the house, thence
running easterly as the posts of the south or upright part of
the house stands and on a straight line continued through the
well room to a stake twelve feet east from the east end of the
house, thence southerly twenty feet to a stake, thence easterly
thirty-three feet to a stake, thence southerly to the north end
of the barn at the center of the floor way and through the
middle of the same to the southerly edge of the barn, thence
easterly by said southerly end and on a straight line fifty
feet to a stake and stones, thence northerly on a straight line
to a white oak tree marked standing in the corner of the wall,
thence easterly by land of Benjamin Wyman as the wall now
stands to a cross wall, thence southerly by said cross wall to
the land of James Cutler, thence easterly by said wall to the
county road to the bound first mentioned with a privilege in
common with the owners of the other part of the buildings of
using the well, the back chamber, the cellar stairs and the
barn floorway as occasion may require."
Upright part? One wonders what shape the house was in.
But Aaron Senter borrowed money from too many people,
including John Center, then owner of the Wood Tavern once
standing where the Fire Station is today. When he couldn't pay
notes when due, the Court of Probate in 1830 named Sylvanus
Wood as "guardian of Aaron Senter, a spendthrift" and author-
ized him to sell Aaron's property to settle his debts.
The three parcels went to Nathan Prescott, then of Burl-
ington, for $1,300.00. Four years later Prescott sold the
property to Abner Marion for $2,200.00 but this sum included
money due on three mortgages by which Nathan had helped Abner
get started. Now Abner had a house and barn in the center of
town but not a very big one, certainly not big enough for a
tavern.
The salt box stood on land later known as the Trull Lot.
Prior to 1803 that one acre lot "bounded west on the county
road from the Proctor land to a large stone a little south of
the pump" belonged to Jesse Blanchard of Marblehead who sold it
to Solomon Trull "with all the buildings thereon standing" and
two other parcels, one of 26 acres which bordered John Walker's
land and another of 13 acres bordering John Wood's land with
the proviso "the roads through any part of the premises and the
town pound so long as it shall be applied to that use except-
ed." The town pound once stood approximately where Sears Street
today joins Center Street. Solomon Trull or his family may have
been living there previously since in the assessment of 1798
Jesse Blanchard's house was "held by occupants only." Solomon
was born in 1764.
In 1842 Abner Marion bought the Trull farm, which now
included the one acre blacksmith shop lot across the street,
from Charles and Noah Harlow of Cambridge, the then owners. The
deed still mentions "a large stone a little south of the pump."
The wonders just where that pump was, possibly near the corner
of Sears Street where the well for the Union School was later
on.
Abner had the salt box moved a short way south, attached
it to the Senter house, made some renovations, built a huge
barn, and the Marion Tavern was in business, a business cater-
ing to the coach trade mostly. But the death-knell of that
trade already had been struck before he opened when the first
train of cars drawn by the famous Stephenson engine ran a test
trip on May 27, 1835 through Woburn on the new Boston and
Lowell Railroad.
Abner was a success as a real estate operator and as a
farmer but he saw his tavern business dwindle to almost nothing
by the time of his death.