The Makers of the Mold book cover Makers of the Mold

5. Public Service Buildings

The Post Office

In June, 1879 a writer for the Harper’s Monthly noted that “in 1704, the only post on all this continent was that which went east from New York as far as Boston, and west to Philadelphia.” Lucious Beebe, in his “Boston and the Boston Legend” says this regarding our early mail service:

“The great excitement at Boston in the middle of the eighteenth century was the advent of overseas letters. The post from England and the other colonies all came by water and its arrival and delivery were a matter of public excitement and general participation. There had been, to be sure, a postmaster appointed for the purpose of overseeing the mail as early as 1677, but his function seems to have been taken over by a large and interested , body of assistants recruited from wharf loungers, tavern hangers-on, and the many townspeople who gathered at the water-front whenever a sail was lifted. The postmaster who had access to whatever mail was not immediately claimed by its owners, was accustomed to get out the town’s first journal under the name of the Boston News-Letter, and it was popularly supposed to be the digest of everybody’s personal correspondence. A querulous notice appeared in one issue of this feuilleton which would indicate that his duties were ruining the postmaster’s digestion: ‘These are to give notice to all persons concerned that the post office in Boston is opened every Monday morning from the middle of March to the middle of September, at seven of the clock to deliver out all letters that come by the post till twelve o’clock; from twelve to one o’clock, being dinner-time, no office kept, and from two o’clock in the afternoon until six o’clock…’

The general rate of postage across the Atlantic was a shilling. a charge which stood until the first Cunarders began carrying the royal mails.’ “

Commencing in 1672, the first mails between Boston and New York were carried over the Boston Post Road on a monthly basis. As additional highways were opened between the cities, mail service became more available to the more remote sections of the colonies. The first post office in Newton was established in 1818 at Newton Lower Falls, while Newton Corner’s post office began operating in 1820 and Newton Center’s in 1827. There were five post offices in Newton by 1847.

The post office at Newton Upper Falls was established May 30, 1825 which would make it the third oldest in the city. While earlier post offices in Newton relied on a few stages a day plying indirect routes between their village and Boston, Upper Falls enjoyed the advantage of being served by the many direct mail stages operating over the Worcester Turnpike. (See STREETS, BRIDGES & PARKS for description and the schedules of these mail stages.)

Following is a list of the postmasters of Newton Upper Falls for the first 50 years of its operation:

PostmasterDate of Appointment
Otis Pettee
Joseph W. Plimpton
Jesse Winslow
Simeon Grover
Jesse Winslow
James Taylor
James H. Grant
Hosea C. Hoyt
Henry W. Fanning
James H. Grant
Joseph F. Webster
Bernard Billings
May 30, 1825
July 23, 1833
March 14, 1836
October 3, 1840
August 20, 1841
April 8, 1848
April 7, 1857
April 18, 1861
September 5, 1866
September 13, 1866
December 8, 1869
January 10, 1879

In the early days, mail for Needham was handled through the Upper Falls post office. Clarke’s History of Needham states that the first post office in Needham was established May 17, 1826 with Rufus Mills as Postmaster. During his term the mail was brought once a week on horseback from Upper Falls to Needham by Leonard Mills, Jr. This was changed to twice a week and later to three times.

Most of the early postmasters of Upper Falls were prominent business men although one was a physician. Otis Pettee is a name familiar to all, of course. Joseph Plimpton is believed to have been a partner in a store doing business as Plimpton & Clark (see chapter MERCHANTS). In 1852 a Joseph W. Plirnpton built and operated a large silk ribbon factory on Margin Street in West Newton until its sale in 1857. Bearing the same name as our postmaster of the period 1833-36, it is possible that they were one and the same. The Plimpton family were early residents of Upper Falls. Oliver Plimpton was a member of the first church in 1827 and Asahel Plimpton was a school teacher in the 1830s, later becoming a physician.

Jesse Winslow moved to the village in 1823 to take employment with the Elliot Mfg. Co. and in 1830 he was married to Caroline Ray, daughter of Samuel and Chloe (Whipple) Ray. He was the brother of Eleazer Winslow who came to the village in 1826. They were direct descendants of Edward Winslow of Pilgrim fame. Jesse owned considerable land in the village and eventually settled in a home next to the “back store” on Elliot Street. A musician, we find him listed as playing the “clarionet” (clarinet) from 1828 to 1832 in the church choir orchestra of the Upper Falls Religious Society. In 1832 he was one of the 11 men who helped organize the Baptist Church in the village by the paying of shares.

Following his second term as postmaster he was elected as a representative to the General Court and served three terms, from 1838 to 1841. In 1849 he joined a group known as the Boston & Newton Joint Stock Association which left Boston in that year to undertake the long and hazardous overland journey to California to prospect for gold. (See THE WINSLOW FAMILY biography).

Let us proceed with the background of the early postmasters of the village. Not a great deal is known of the Grover family except that they were very active in community affairs for many years. James Taylor was born in England and came to the village as a very young man. He was an auctioneer who acquired quite a bit of land, and is believed to have been the owner (and possible builder) of the large building known as the Postoffice Block. His term of office as postmaster commenced in April of 1848, only a year after the date the building is believed to have been constructed. This building, located at the junction of Ellis, Chestnut and Winter streets was the location of the post office for a long period.

James Henry Grant was a prominent physician in Upper Falls for many years (see under chapter THE PEOPLE) and had his office in the post office building. Hosea C. Hoyt, local manufacturer and a long time resident of the village, served as its Constable for many years.

Henry W. Fanning, Joseph F. Webster and Bernard Billings all had business enterprises in the post office building. Mr. Fanning was a grocer, Mr. Webster was a jeweler and watch repairman as well as owner of an apothecary store, and Mr. Billings succeeded Mr. Webster as operator of the apothecary store. It was an action by Mr. Billings that prompted a news item leading to the disclosure of the location of the first post office in Upper Falls. It appeared January 6, 1883 and read as follows:

“…Mr. Billings has in his possession the first “post office” ever used in the village, which is simply a small closet about, two feet square and six inches deep with a window front. It was used in a small building near H.A. Sherman’s store on Elliot Street now occupied by the Uniac Club.”

H.A. Sherman’s store is now a restaurant located on the south side of Elliot Street halfway between Chestnut and Hale Streets. The possibility of the “small building” still being in the area is explained in a previous chapter.

The old post office on Chestnut Street remained long enough at the junction of Ellis and Chestnut to have the area assume the name of Postoffice Square and to become the center of business activity in the village during the nineteenth century. After the turn of the century the office was moved to the Prospect Block at the junction of High, Oak and Elliot Streets. Later it was moved to the block of stores north of the railroad tracks at the junction of Chestnut and Oak streets. Finally in 1950 it was moved to its present location, a single building on Oak Street between Chestnut Street and Indiana Terrace.

Public Library Branch

It was not until about the mid-nineteenth century that libraries became quite popular. In 1839, Harvard College had the largest library in the nation with over 50,000 volumes. Yale was a poor second with 27,000 volumes. Only 16 other college libraries contained more than 10,000 books. When the Newton Free Public Library was established on April 13, 1865, a number of vice presidents were elected to represent each village. There were five representing Newton Upper Falls: E.J. Collins, Frederic Barden, Willard Marcy, F.A. Collins and Otis Pettee, Jr. Note that two of the above, E.J. and F.A. Collins, were from the northern section of the old village now known as Waban. This indicates the close association of these two areas for almost two centuries prior to Waban becoming an independent village in the 1880s.

Prior to this time churches and private organizations kept well stocked libraries on their premises. For example, the Quinobequin Association operated in the village from 1868 until about 1900 and maintained a library of over 500 volumes! It has been recorded that a library branch at Upper Falls was originally located in Bernard Billing’s drug store at the corner of Ellis and Chestnut Streets before it was moved to a room in the old schoolhouse at 1028 Chestnut Street. However, a newspaper article appearing in the TOWN CRIER of August 25, 1905 contains this information:

“The first movement to establish a public reading room in Upper Falls was started in November, 1899, when a company of men met and formed the Newton Upper Falls Reading Room Association, and in January, 1900, the reading room was formally installed with appropriate exercises in what is now Arcanum hall. The association raised over $600 and the city contributed $600 for the support of the undertaking. In 1901 the reading room was transferred to Chestnut Street, as the library trustees took entire control, thus relieving the association of any further care in the reading room management and finances.”

The main purpose of the following article is to report the relocation of the reading room to its newly created room in what was then a new Ralph Waldo Emerson School. Besides giving the size and appointments of the new room the article had this further to say:

“The new location will be more central and the city will save between $300 and $400 as it now costs about $400 to maintain the reading, room in its present location exclusive of librarian’s salary. The city by this move will become tenant to itself.”

Stone Institute

In 1894 Joseph L. Stone of West Newton left money to establish a home for aged and indigent men and women with one half of the bequest to be spent in the purchase of land and the erection of buildings, and the other half to serve as an endowment for the maintenance of the home. The trustees of the fund incorporated in 1894 under the name of the Stone Institute for the better handling of the funds, and when it was time to start building operations they organized, with other citizens, a corporation under the name of the Newton Home for Aged People. The Otis Pettee estate on Elliot Street, Newton Upper Falls was purchased and remodeled, and the Home opened in 1899. In 1911 the Stone Institute conveyed all the property of the Institute to the Home. In 1914 a two story concrete and brick wing containing a kitchen, dining room, heating plant and additional rooms for residents was added to the east side of the older building, which at a later date was remodeled to better serve the needs of the institution. The residents come from many areas as there are no geographical limitations affecting admission.

At the time of this writing the Board of Aldermen of the city unanimously approved the Stone Institute’s plan to add an 82-bed nursing home to its present building. The latest plans call for a three story, 36-foot,-tall addition to the existing 23-bed Stone facility. It is hoped that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will supply all of the project’s financing.

Twombly House

This was a very important and useful establishment in the village life of Upper Falls in the early twentieth century. The Newton Centre Woman’s Club, in an experiment in public service, established the Twombly House in the early 1900s on Elliot Street, where it became a center for social work and a recreational center for the youth of the village. It also provided needed counsel and occasional assistance to some families. It was at first under the auspices of St. Paul’s Church, Newton Highlands when the Reverend Clifford Gray Twombly was pastor during the period 1897-1907.

The Reverend Clifford Gray Twombly

His financial backing of the project prompted the naming of the enterprise after him. An article appearing in the TOWN CRIER of November 28, 1913 records the grand opening of the community house:

“The Clifford Gray Twombly house on Elliot St. Upper Falls, was opened with appropriate exercises last night in the presence of about 150 people of the village. Mrs. A.S.C. Hilton, of Newton Highlands, who is the leader of a group of ladies in whose hands the work of development of the community house has been so successfully advanced, made brief remarks opening the house to the neighborhood, and told of the keen interest which Rev. C.G. Twombly had manifested in a similar work when he was settled in Newton Highlands some ten years ago.

J.H. Wellman read a letter from Mr. Twombly [in which he expressed his gratitude for having the building named after him…Ed.] and there was music by an orchestra and Mrs. H.J. Whitaker sang some very pleasing songs. Miss Dorothy A. Wildman of Needham read. Dancing and refreshments, and a general social time concluded the evening’s program.

The Clifford Gray Twombly house was largely made possible by the kindness of Charles P. Kelly of Flushing, L.I., agent of the Newton Mills. For years the property served as a boarding house in connection with the Newton Mills but of late the house has been unoccupied. The past few months has seen many changes in the interior of the structure. Partitions have been removed, and a main room about 20 X 40 feet has resulted which will be used in the numerous activities of the house. A heating plant has been installed and electric lights placed generously all over the house. Mr. and Mrs. John Heald, who formerly lived on Champa Ave, are residents in charge.

The scope of the program planned in connection with the house may be gleaned from the following weekly fixtures for the season: Monday evenings, dressmaking classes; Tuesday afternoons, children under supervisor, evening, orchestra; Wednesdays, mothers with small children in afternoon and dressmaking class in the evening for non-English speaking residents; Thursdays, afternoon dancing class under the direction of Miss Hills and in the evening boys over ten years under direction of Mrs. J.H. Wellman; Fridays, evening, girls over 12 years meet with Miss Helen Newell; Saturdays, afternoon, reserved for children, and in evening social dancing.”

Reverend Twombly’s interest in this project led him to bequeath two funds to the city. The first was for the sum of $1,000, the interest of which is to be used “for the children of Upper Falls.” The trustees are: the Chairman of the Board of Aldermen, the Ward 5 school committeeman and the Recreation Commissioner. The proceeds are generally applied to the costs of trips such as to the beach by the children, which are usually sponsored by the local playground staff.

Reverend Twombly also established a fund to purchase a community center, a project that never developed. The house that was originally used as a boarding house was later used as the entrance to Echo Bridge Park, located in the 1890s community across the river, before its use as a center. It was located on what was later the New England Silk Mill property, and was the first house on the left on Elliot Street as one enters Newton from Needham. It became a private home after its use as a social center, and was finally torn down when the mill sold its property to other interests who made the area into a parking lot.

Dispensary and Baby Care Center

This dispensary was originally opened as an added community service at the Twombly House and was made possible by Dr. H.T. Hutchins and his neighbors from Dudley Road, Newton. With a nurse and staff to provide help for those receiving assistance, 650 cases were taken care of in the second year of its operation. Later this project developed into more of a baby care center and it was moved to another “silk mill” house on the south side of Elliot Street, the first house above the present restaurant on the corner of Chestnut and Elliot Streets. This baby care center continued until the house was partially destroyed by fire and then later demolished.

City Water Pumping Station

The city Water Pumping Station, Needham Street, in 1887

In 1875, a year after Newton became a city, water commissioners were appointed who recommended the construction of a water works and reservoir above the Pettee Works at Upper Falls at a total estimated cost of $850,000. Up until this time residents had depended on their own or local wells.

In 1875, the pumping station was constructed on Needham Street on the Newton side of the river, opposite the former Stowe-Woodward Co. Filter beds were built on the opposite side of the stream and a considerable stretch of land was acquired and made a reservation. The filtering basin was extended 1,575 feet alongside the winding river. It was shaped like a canal with the ends closed and had a depth of 10 feet below the level of the stream. The place was cleared of the black muck which was three or four feet deep and the basin was lined with sand. The water from the river was allowed to enter from the bottom and the sides below low water mark, and was purified by percolating through sand which generally required 24 hours. From the filtering basin a conduit was constructed to carry the pure water across to the other side of the river and to the pumping plant, which was located 125 feet east of Needham Street. The engine house measured 100 X 50 feet. It was made of brick and equipped with three tubular boilers, two pumps, a compound duplex condensing engine, an automatic cylinder lubricator, pressure gauges and thermometers. Water was pumped into the system on October 30, 1876. Within two years 1,600 water takers were listed and the system was working satisfactorily.

In sharp contrast with the experiences of today, it might be well to note that the cost of the water system was less than had been anticipated. The appropriation by the city was $850,000 but the total cost was only $766,157.22 or almost $84,000 below the estimate.

In 1954 the city contracted to take water from the Metropolitan District Commission and the pumping station was kept as an emergency measure only. In 1961 an electronics firm bought the property, and built a factory on the site for the manufacture of electronic equipment, after the station was razed .

Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kenneth Newcomb and The Friends of Hemlock Gorge. All rights reserved.