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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Friday, November 04, 2011

Mill Dam, Mill Pond, Mill Creek, Mill Bridge

In 1643, thirteen years after the British settlement of Boston, the town granted land on the peninsula’s westerly side to a group of inhabitants on the condition that they erect a grist mill powered by the tide. The town also promised that it wouldn’t let any other mill be erected.

Those grantees built up a muddy causeway that Natives had used to cut across part of the Back Bay into a Mill Dam, creating the Mill Pond. The Mill Creek cut across the peninsula to connect the pond to the main harbor on the east side. Tides filled up the pond and then let its water run out. Later people built a windmill in the area as well.

There were two bridges over the Mill Creek, called “the draw bridge” and “the mill bridge.” (I don’t recall ever reading about the drawbridge being raised, but it might have been.) The creek defined the boundary of the North End.

In 1769, Boston’s selectmen determined that the heirs of the original grants had let the mills deteriorate. They therefore took over the property and assigned George Leonard to refurbish the mills and grind all the grain that the town owned. (Such practices should give pause to anyone who still thinks that early America had a laissez-faire economy.)

In the early 1800s the new Mill Pond Corporation filled in the pond with earth from Beacon Hill and Copp’s Hill. Soon that shallow area was dry land, to be developed as part of West Boston.


Joanq said...

Could one of the bridges be the "swing bridge" that I have read about?

J. L. Bell said...

Boston’s best known swing bridge, over the Fort Point Channel, is only a little over a century old. I don’t know if the technology was even available in the 1700s, but it probably didn’t become valuable until railroads.

Joanq said...

I will have to go and research a little but I thought that the swing bridge was mentioned in old newspapers from the 1700's. This could take awhile.

Joanq said...

There are many references to the swing bridge in Boston in the mid 1700's. If you look at he BPL's online archives you'll find it mentioned many times.

Joanq said...

John, my guess would be the bridge near the #8 on the 1743 William Price map because in the newspapers it states that it is near the town dock.

J. L. Bell said...

You’re right—there’s a “Swing Bridge” mentioned in Boston town records as early as 1713. One of the witnesses in the Boston Massacre trial also mentions it.

That bridge must have had a different design from the railroad bridge over Fort Point Channel, which is steel and pivots on an access (like most of the other types of modern swing bridges I found). Quite possibly it swung on an axle at one end or the other in order to let ships pass by.

The descriptions of the swing bridge connect it with the Town Dock, which was right beside Faneuil Hall, and say that it extended Merchants Row. I think it spanned the inlet that led up to the hall (T on the 1769 map). That separates it from the two bridges over the Mill Creek. In this image, it’s in the extreme lower left corner while a different bridge connects Ann Street and Fish Street.

Thanks for pointing that out!

Charles Bahne said...

Here's a 1744 description of the swing bridge, as quoted in Nancy Seasholes' "Gaining Ground" (p. 38): "a wooden draw bridge that turns upon hinges that small vessels may pass and lye above it."

It appears that this bridge was roughly on the current site of the outdoor tables for McCormick & Schmick's restaurant. According to Seasholes' book, the dock west of the bridge was filled in 1783-4, eliminating the need for the bridge.

Jackie Minniti said...

Hello, John,
I'm writing a mddle grade fiction set in Boston (1769) and I have two questions about this mill pond. First, it this the mill pond that was located near the original Green Dragon Tavern? Also, is it conceivable that boys could ice skate on this pond in the winter?

I appreciate your help with this! Thanks.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, the Green Dragon Tavern (then a Freemasons’ Lodge, but also a tavern for the public) was close to the Mill Pond. Two Baptist Meetinghouse and some tanyards were on its shore to take advantage of the waters.

I’ve found references to Boston boys skating on the Frog Pond on the Common, the Back Bay, and Jamaica Pond, but not the Mill Pond. That could mean that skating on the Mill Pond was unremarkable. Or it could mean that something about the Mill Pond—shallow, moving water, or the tanyard run-off—kept it from freezing over strong enough for skating.

Jackie Minniti said...

Thanks, John. You're a treasure!

Unknown said...

Hey its 2020 and theres comments as old at 2011 bro I was like 5 dude thats scary

J. L. Bell said...

Wait till you see the postings as old as 2006.