Colonial Period (1739-1775)

Transportation Routes
Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Lancaster Road became of increasing importance as the main route west from Concord to Lancaster and the growing regional center at Worcester. Its section through Bolton, the northeast branch of the old Bay Path, was improved at intervals in an attempt to address problems at its many wetlands crossings and to maintain the standard of making it "so feasible as to carry, with four oxen, four barrels of cider at once." As the town grew, the Selectmen were continually asked to lay out new roads to provide access to various parts of town, and to ease transportation to neighboring communities. A few local roads were established between dispersed farms, and connections with neighboring towns were made via the establishment of South Bolton Road and Berlin Road to the south, and Harvard and East End roads to the north.
In 1741, eleven members were released from the Lancaster Church to form a new parish in Bolton, and the first minister, the Rev. Thomas Goss, was called to lead the new community. While few population figures are available for the time, the town apparently grew slowly but steadily over the middle of the eighteenth century from about 250 people in 1738 to 925 in 1765. In addition to those who worshiped at the town church, a few Quakers were registered (as was required by law) as living in the town as early as 1742. A small community of Friends, members of the Salem monthly meeting, expanded through the third quarter of the eighteenth century, and by the early 1770's they had established a cluster of homes at "Fryville" near what is now the Berlin border, with their own meetinghouse and small burying ground. The Quaker meetinghouse is gone, but the burying ground remains, now called the Old Fry Burial Ground (#805) after the community's major leader, John Fry. By the end of the period a few Bolton residents were Baptists, worshipping outside the town borders with the Still River (Harvard) or Northborough groups.
Toward the end of the period, Bolton was the scene of one of the region's earliest and most divisive disputes over ministerial authority, which resulted in the dismissal of the Rev. Goss in 1771. The majority in the town church chose a new minister, the Rev. John Walley. From 1771 to 1782, however, a significant minority of the members who remained loyal to Mr. Goss continued to meet for worship at his house at 752 Main Street (#1--NRDIS).
The first three and a half decades of the town corresponded with a period of intense political unrest in the colonies. Although records for Bolton are scant, it appears that nearly every farm family sent someone to fight in the French and Indian Wars of 1757-1763. Perhaps Bolton's most illustrious colonial patriot, John Whitcomb, had the rank of Lieutenant as early as 1748, when he was sent with troops from Lancaster in pursuit of a party of murderous "savages" fleeing for Canada. A Lieutenant-Colonel by 1755, he saw action at Crown Point, Lake George, and Ticonderoga. In the early 1770's he was a full Colonel in the Lancaster Minutemen, and in 1775, after the Provincial Congress organized the militia, he was commissioned one of five Massachusetts Generals.
In the early 1770's the town quickly became vehemently anti-British in sentiment, and the 1770 Town Meeting vote to boycott "tea and other British goods" was unanimous. Bolton's few Loyalists may have included the Rev. Goss, and certainly his son, Thomas Goss, Jr., who fled town and later settled in Nova Scotia. Many Bolton families, including Gen. Whitcomb's own, had two or three sons who marched to Concord on April 19, 1775, where they took particular part in pursuing the retreating British forces.
Settlement Pattern
It took many months for the first Bolton residents to agree on a site for their meetinghouse, but the town church was completed a short distance south of the Lancaster Road in 1740, near today's intersection of Wataquadoc and Manor Roads. That first simple two-story church was framed by Thomas Dick, a carpenter who specialized in the construction of meetinghouses. The site for the town burial ground, today called the Old South Burying Ground (#800) had been chosen and donated in 1739 by William Sawyer, whose grave of 1741 is the earliest there to be marked. While the burial ground was over a half-mile southeast of the meetinghouse, the other earliest town structures were built in a tight cluster around it. Within a few years a fieldstone animal pound (#945) stood just west of the meetinghouse, the first sixteen-foot-square schoolhouse had been built on its south side, and, to the northwest, the house of the minister (1741), later expanded into the large hip-roofed mansion at 752 Main Street (#1--NRDIS), had been built. Later in the century, Bolton acquired one of the earliest fire engines manufactured in the United States, the "Bolton Quickstep", built in the south part of town in 1765. DATE OF INN? By the end of the period, the meetinghouse, pound, school, a few houses, and at least one inn, then belonging to Eliakim Atherton, inn formed a loosely-clustered settlement at the town center flanking the Lancaster Road. Nevertheless, development along the Lancaster Road at the town center progressed slowly, while more and more farmhouses were built on its outskirts, as farms were divided or acquired for the sons and daughters of the town founders.
Education was both a continuing priority and a worrisome financial responsibility. By 1757 five small schoolhouses had been built, where school was in session about ten weeks during the year.
Economic Base
Throughout the Colonial period Bolton's economy continued to be agriculturally-based, with grain cultivation in the meadows, pastures in the uplands, and more land in orchards. The number of local mills increased with the addition of Samuel Baker's sawmill in the east part of town by 1765, and another along Sawmill Brook in the west by 1770, where a gristmill was soon operating, as well. Samuel Baker also established a tannery near his house at 392 Main Street (#34) in the 1750s, which was later carried on by other owners. Also at the east end of town, the Whitcomb lime quarry and kiln continued to turn out high-quality lime for the mortar and plaster that was in great demand for use in many buildings in the Bolton area.
With the increase in both population and frequency of travel, more inns and taverns were established. An inn was opened at the west end of town by Josiah Richardson in about 1740, and later carried on by at least one of his brothers, Caleb. (#179--101 Wilder Road). The Abraham Holman Inn (demolished) on the Lancaster Road near the lime quarry was one of the longest-lasting, operating from about 1756 to 1844. The most famous establishment, however, was the Atherton, later the Holman Inn that opened in 1767 on the Lancaster Road opposite the meetinghouse (demolished late 19th century, and one wing moved to 676 Main Street--Form #20--NRDIS.)
The major, and longest-lasting Colonial period house-form in Bolton continued to be the center-chimney, 2 1/2-story house, now either one- or two rooms deep, clad in clapboard and with a five-bay facade. Some pre-1740 buildings may have been expanded to this house-type during this time, as well. Although it has lost its center chimney, the Joseph Sawyer House at 698 Main Street Bolton Center of ca. 1760 (#15--NRDIS) is one of the better illustrations of this type in the town, with a fine Georgian doorway with tapered pilasters, horizontal entablature, and a four-pane transom. The Moore/Fry House at 385 Berlin Road of ca. 1757 (#133) is a well-preserved two-room-deep "double-pile" house. The 1740 Rev. Thomas Goss House at 752 Main Street (#1--NRDIS) was apparently built in this form, but was radically changed at the end of the century (see below.)
Several two-room-deep, one-story Cape Cod houses of this period also survive. A few retain their original form; others have been incorporated into larger, later buildings. The best-preserved may be the little Capt. Jonas Houghton, Jr. House of ca. 1760 at 96 Green Road, (#156), which is a three-quarters Cape with a four-bay facade, and has a pair of massive chimneys behind the main roof ridge. Incorporated into the house at 505 Wataquadoc Road is the little William Fyfe House of ca. 1740 (#174), and nearby at 283 Ballville Road is an even smaller Cape, still with its center chimney--the mid-eighteenth-century house of Thaddeus Russel and Jonathan Ball (#324).
Aside from the houses that also functioned as inns, no commercial or industrial buildings of this period are known to survive. Some ruins remain from the Baker/Sawyer Sawmill site north of Main Street near 401 Main (#930--see Form #64).