J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rehabbing Colonial Massachusetts’s Granite Positioning System

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently announced the completion of its project to preserve the remaining milestones along the old Upper Boston Post Road.

Those stones were initially put in place as early as 1729 by rich men vying for political acclaim, such as justice Paul Dudley (1675-1751), soon to be chief justice. In 1767 the Massachusetts Council ordered more markers. Traffic, urban growth, and highway projects have moved or removed a lot of the stones so that by 1971 only forty were still around to be listed in the National Register.

In 2011, a marker in Brighton was damaged by a truck. That prompted the Transportation Department to explore conserving all the known remaining milestones. In 2014, the Watertown firm Daedalus Inc. was contracted to survey and preserve the markers. The company identified twenty-nine stones that needed repairs, cleaning, cracks filled, resetting, and/or moving back to their original locations. That work is now complete.

The department’s blog post contains a complete list of the surviving markers and their locations. As an example, here’s a stretch of stones in central Massachusetts:
  • Milestone Marker #35 is located at Dean Park on Main Street in Shrewsbury. This granite marker is inscribed with “Boston 35 Springfield 65 Albany 165”.
  • Milestone Marker #43 is located on Main Street at the I-290 ramp in Shrewsbury. This granite marker is carved with the inscription “43 Mile to Boston”. Marker #43 has been moved to a more accessible location on the Shrewsbury Town Common adjacent to Main Street.
  • Milestone Marker #47 is located on Lincoln Street in Worcester. This brownstone marker is carved with the inscription “47 Miles from Boston 50 Springfield”.
  • Milestone Marker #48 was formerly located at the Worcester Historical Society, but, as part of the project, has been reset at Wheaton Square Park on Salisbury Street in Worcester. This brownstone marker is carved with the inscription “48 Miles from Boston”.
  • Milestone Marker #53 is located on Main Street in Leicester. This brownstone marker is carved with the inscription “53 Mile from Boston”.
  • Milestone Marker #54 was formerly located inside the Leicester Public Library, but has been relocated to Washburn Square in Leicester, which is within the vicinity of its original site. This brownstone marker is carved with the inscription “54 Miles from Boston”.
Markers 56 to 74 (the numbers indicating the miles to Boston) have all survived. In contrast, only one marker to the west of that stretch remains, and it was moved into the Springfield Armory Museum.

For more about Massachusetts milestones, see this guest blogger post from Charles Bahne.

1 comment:

Charles Bahne said...

Thanks for the shout-out to my earlier guest blogger piece, John!

By way of clarification, and contrary to what the MassDOT blog says, the milestones in Brookline, Allston/Brighton, and Cambridge were technically not on the Boston Post Road; they were on the colonial highway from Boston to Cambridge. That was the same route followed by William Dawes, and by Earl Percy's reinforcements, on April 18-19, 1775.

The Boston Post Road, for practical purposes, began at Watertown Square. From there it headed west to Worcester and Springfield, then south to Hartford and New Haven, and along the coast to New York City. Travelers from Boston, wanting to go on the Post Road, would have traveled along Washington Street from Brookline Village to Newton Corner, then on north Centre and Galen Streets to the bridge across the Charles River at Watertown Square. One could also access the Post Road directly from Cambridge via Brattle Street, Elmwood Avenue, and Mount Auburn Street.