Federal Period (1776-1830)

Transportation Routes
After the Revolution, there were three County roads through Bolton--the Road from Lancaster to Boston (the old Lancaster Road, often locally called simply the "Boston Road", later the Great Road--today's Main Street/Route 117), the Road from Lancaster to Harvard (Still River Road, increasingly called the Groton Road), and Long Hill Road, as the County Road from Bolton to Marlborough. During this period there was a great increase in stagecoach travel, and ever more regular mail service, both of them along the Lancaster to Boston Road, which was the post road through town and to the communities to the west. The third owner of the Holman Inn in the west part of the center, Amory Holman, owned a major stagecoach line, the Boston & Lancaster Line, and later several mail lines. In 1828 an average of forty loaded wagons passed through Bolton per day, carrying 14,000 tons of goods to the Greenfield/Brattleboro area.
There was now also a nearly straight north-south route through town along Harvard to Manor and Berlin Roads. One major private road-building project was the Lancaster & Bolton Turnpike, incorporated in 1805 and opened through the west part of town in 1807-08. This was a toll road, owned and built by a group of Lancaster and Bolton businessmen, including Capt. Caleb Moore and Gen. Stephen Gardner. It began at a point on the Lancaster/Boston Road opposite Wilder Road (its tollhouse is still there, at 855 Main Street (#99), traversed the Moore property in front of the Captain's store, then followed lower Sampson Road and the new straight roadbed west into Lancaster.
Toward the end of the period the line of Main Street was completed in its present course with the construction of the short section between Long Hill and Meadow Roads.
In 1776 Bolton had 1210 inhabitants. In 1784, however, the District of Berlin was formed with about eighty families, incorporating much of the south section of town, Bolton's former "south parish". As a result, the population of Bolton in 1790 dipped to 861. The greatest growth during the period was between 1810 and 1820, when the population increased by 192 to reach 1,229 in 1820.
There was significant population growth in the south part of Bolton, where the Quaker community, one of only a few in central and eastern Massachusetts, had become large enough to build a second, two-story meetinghouse in 1795, and to become a monthly meeting of the Society of Friends in 1798, when 130 members, in twenty-two families, were listed. A Quaker school was built near the meetinghouse by 1788. Subject to town regulations, it was paid for and supported by the Friends. In 1823, a private preparatory school, the Fry School, was established by Thomas Fry, and operated until 1845.
The town had also outgrown its own meetinghouse, and in 1793 the simple old building off Main and Wataquadoc was replaced with a second town church, with steeple and belltower, on the north side of Main further east in the center. The rift in the congregation was resolved in 1783, with the drawing up of a new Church Covenant that was signed by both "Gossites" and "Walleyites", in which they agreed to again "walk together as Christians." They were further united under a new minister, the Rev. Phineas Wright, who came to Bolton that year, and built a new parsonage, at 763 Main Street (#95--NRDIS).
Theological disagreement was not absent for long, however, as Bolton, like many other Massachusetts communities, was torn between Congregationalism and Unitarianism in the early nineteenth century. The town parish gradually turned Unitarian, leaving those with "orthodox" views without a place of worship in Bolton. Finally, in 1828, Bolton's great "country squire" of the period, Sampson Wilder, led efforts to form a local Congregational society, and largely financed the building of an octagonal church, the Hillside Church, on his own property on Wilder Road later that year. Its congregation, though always small, attracted members from all the nearby communities as well as Bolton. Also in 1828, a small Baptist Society was organized in Bolton with sixteen members.
In the early nineteenth century the Old South Burying Ground was nearing capacity, and in 1822 the town purchased two small lots, one in the east part of town, one in the west, which were developed that year as the Pan Burying Ground (#801) and the West Burying Ground (#802). From that time on, most burials in Bolton were regionally-based, with lots being bought by families from the section of town where the burial ground was located.
Although Bolton's role in the Revolution is less well-documented than that of many other communities, it is clear that the townsmen remained fiercely patriotic. Many townsmen performed military service in three local military companies and later in the continental forces. They included a "negro servant named York", who did "a turn for Bolton" in the Continental Army in 1777, although Joseph How and Eliakim Atherton received his military pay. A liberty pole was erected at the town center. At the third Provincial Congress in June of 1775, Col. John Whitcomb was elected the first Major-General of the Massachusetts Army, and in that capacity he led part of the battle line at Lechmere Point at the battle of Bunker Hill. In 1776 he was commissioned a Brigadier-General in the Continental Army, but refused a subsequent request by Washington that would have put him in command of all the forces in Massachusetts.
Although Bolton was an agricultural community, and many of the town farmers must have had sympathies with Shays' Rebellion of 1786-87, it is ironic that a Bolton company of forty-five men was sent to guard the Worcester courthouse at the height of the conflict. Only one Bolton farmer, Uriah Moore, is known to have marched to Worcester with Daniel Shays' rebels.
The War of 1812, and the embargos associated with it, were unpopular with Bolton residents, as they were in many Massachusetts communities. The town drew up a petition requesting the President to suspend the 1807 embargo, citing the "stagnation of business" they were suffering, and later another stating that they considered the war "more calamitous and destructive to ourselves . . . than any enemy there is to contend with." Only five or six Bolton men are known to have served in the war.
Local military companies, an outgrowth of the pre-Revolutionary town-maintained militias, were supported by Massachusetts communities for several decades into the nineteenth century. A state statute still mandated military training for all able-bodied men, but the annual May training and fall Muster Days became increasingly social occasions (at times little more than drunken brawls enhanced by weapons) rather than serious military exercises. Bolton had two companies of about a hundred men each, the Bolton Rifles and the Bolton Militia, both part of the larger Lancaster Regiment. The greatest honor for the Militia was forming the guard for the Marquis de Lafayette when he dined at the Abraham Holman Inn and stayed overnight at the Wilder Mansion on his 1824 tour of New England, after which the militia changed its name, to the Lafayette Guards.
The powder and ammunition for the military companies for years had been kept in the meetinghouse--at one time under the pulpit, and later in the attic. Finally, in 1812, a safer alternative shelter was built for them--the little Bolton Powderhouse, (#913-NRDIS) which still stands well away from any building on the hill behind the site of the second meetinghouse.
Societies and Organizations
Books were becoming more available over the first third of the nineteenth century. As people even in rural communities recognized that "reading maketh a full man," a regional Social Library was formed in 1791 with members from Bolton, Stow, and Berlin. After several years it was divided, and members in Bolton formed their own Social Library in 1800.
Settlement Pattern
Although building was slow during the recession of the 1780's, by 1800 Bolton was rapidly developing into a prosperous agricultural town of dispersed farms, with a growing center village along the main transportation route, and many large, high-style residences that reflected the good fortune of at least some of the inhabitants. While the greatest residential concentration was now at the center, secondary villages developed in this period in the south at Fryville around the Quaker meetinghouse, and east of the center along the Boston Road in the area called "the Pan." Around the turn of the nineteenth century small country stores were opened in all sections of town--some in their proprietors' houses, others in small freestanding buildings. Among them were the store of Jonathan Atherton at his house at 310 Green Road (#158), Col. Asa Whitcomb's, probably in his house at 591 Sugar Road (#114), Stephen Gardner's at 642 Great Road from at least 1793 to 1805 (#25--NRDIS), one at Fryville opposite 401 Berlin Road (in a deteriorated building which may still be standing--Form #134), and the longest-operating rural store, built by Col. Caleb Moore near the head of the Turnpike at 41 Wilder Road (#177). The largest of the stores, built of brick in about 1820, is still called "the old Brick Store", and is located at 718 Main Street, at the center (#9--NRDIS.)
In the early 1790's, as it shifted to the school-squadron system, (the forerunner of district schools), the town replaced all five of its schoolhouses with identical buildings, each 18 x 18 feet, with a porch and an eight-foot shed. A Center School, twenty-feet-square, was added, and an additional one, built by the families on Still River and Vaughn Hill Roads, was constructed of brick. The Post Office was established during this period, in 1808.
Economic Base
In addition to the commercial establishments mentioned above, the Federal period was an active period for artisan and cottage-industry manufacturing, as well as for a few enterprises that had a wider regional impact. Many farmers had sidelines in such agriculturally-oriented activities as blacksmithing, cooperage, cider-making, and the manufacture of wheels, harnesses, and oxbows. By 1794 there were two potash works and one pearlash manufactory in Bolton; ruins from one of the potash works may still be extant in the stone structures near the first meetinghouse site in Bolton center (#946--Area Form J). Around the turn of the nineteenth century some residents were also shoemakers, supplying shoes to itinerant agents who resold them in other parts of the country. By the end of the period both men and women in some families were working on the "putting out" system, whereby they finished shoes from materials provided by larger shoemakers or merchants who marketed them. They often worked in small shoe shops separate from their houses, called "ten-footers"; at least one of these shops may remain in Bolton, as the east end of the little shop of Elcanah Caswell at 443 Main Street on the Pan (#67).
Other Federal period home manufacturing in Bolton, as in surrounding communities, involved the making of straw- and palm-leaf hats, (introduced around 1800), and the production of combs, which began in Bolton by 1820. Strawbraiding was largely done at home by women, and gradually died, finally ending as the southern market was eliminated during the Civil War. Comb-making, which required specialized equipment to work the hard animal horn, was done in at least five known freestanding shops by some of Bolton's better-known male entrepreneurs, and often involved several employees. Toward the end of the period it also became increasingly mechanized. Elcanah Caswell, one of several comb-makers on the Pan, even leased space in the Sawyer Gristmill just east of his house, where for a short time he ran the machinery by water power. Other water-powered comb shops were run by two Haynes families and by Asa Holman, whose comb shop still stands on the property at 202 Wataquadoc Road (#308--Area Form L). The Haynes shop at 49 Sawyer Road (#171) may have used horn that came from the family's own slaughterhouse. The Haynes/Houghton comb shop on Still River Road (see Forms #161 and 162), was probably the largest in Bolton--three stories high, with several employees.
Several larger and more lucrative manufacturing enterprises also operated in Bolton during this period. After Gen. John Whitcomb died in 1785 the Whitcomb Lime Quarry was operated largely by his son, Jonathan, until his death in 1830, and with the regional building boom in the early nineteenth century, its lime was probably more in demand than ever. A fulling mill, apparently also run by members of the Whitcomb family, was standing by 1794 on the Great Brook east of the lime kiln, behind the Gen. Whitcomb Homestead. For over thirty years high-quality beaver hats (later silk) were being produced by the Blood family on Main Street. While the Baker tannery seems to have closed down, two more tanneries were established, one just west of the center in 1776 by Simeon Hemenway at the base of Harvard Road, and another by Josiah Babcock in 1802 on Berlin Road.
Sawmills and gristmills continued in operation during the period on Century Mill Road (where Capt. Amory Pollard took over the old Sawyer operations), and at the town's "east end", where in the 1790's Benjamin Sawyer had acquired the former Baker sawmill, and added a gristmill as well. In the west part of town, Benjamin Morse was operating a gristmill on Sawmill Brook as early as 1792, and by about 1820 Joel and Joab Barnard had a sawmill, and later a turning lathe, just north of the intersection of today's Main Street and Sampson Road.
While only dams and foundations remain from any of the mills, the most visible legacy of Bolton's Federal period industries is in the warm red brick of the many brick buildings that were constructed in town in the early nineteenth century. There were at least four brick-making operations in Bolton between 1790 and 1830 (Bolton was producing 200,000 bricks annually as early as 1793), although two brickyards in the east part of town--Col. Robert Longley's on Sugar Road and Oliver Barrett's on Long Hill Road, may have been fairly small. More significant were the two brickyards off the west side of Still River Road which utilized the rich clay deposits from the alluvial plains of the Nashua and Still Rivers. One, off the northern part of the road, was operated by Dea. Job Howard, and is known to have supplied the bricks for the Still River schoolhouse and the 1812 town powderhouse. The other, a short distance to the south, was operated for at least two generations by Silas Haynes and his sons, on the property associated with their houses at 298 and 304 Still River Road (the latter house is undoubtedly constructed of bricks from their own yard; see #s 162 and 163.)
The Federal era was one of the most active construction periods in Bolton's history, and produced its largest number of high-style buildings, as well as its greatest variety of building forms.
Residential: Several regional Federal house-types are represented throughout the town. The lingering five-bay, 2 1/2-story center-chimney house continues throughout the period, including two examples known to have been built in the early 1790's by housewright Joel Whitcomb at 584 and 588 Sugar Road (#s 111 and 112). Several of these display the continuation of Georgian detailing as well as eighteenth-century form--cf. the 1798 Gen. Stephen Gardner House at 642 Main Street (#25--NRDIS), which has an elegantly-proportioned late Georgian entry with tapered pilasters and triangular-pedimented entablature, and the Dr. Amos Parker House, a larger, two-room-deep example at 704 Main Street (#13--NRDIS) of ca. 1800, with 6-over-9-sash windows and an enclosed pedimented, projecting entry "porch."
Most significant is the emergence of 2 1/2-story paired-chimney houses, with interior rear chimneys (as exemplified at the house of Nathaniel Longley, Jr., at 313 Berlin Road [#132]), or with interior end chimneys, the latter appearing in hip-roofed houses, such as the Nourse/Robinson House at 28 Vaughn Hill Road (#261), the John Sawyer House of ca. 1827 at 401 Main Street --#64), or the high-style Samuel Blood House of ca. 1793 at 579 Main Street (#69--NRDIS), the only house of the period built with corner pilasters. Two rear-chimney brick examples, one with a hipped roof, one with a side-gabled roof, were built within a few years of each other between 1827 and 1830 at 175 Main Street (the Edwin A. Whitcomb House, #58--hip-roofed), and 179 Main Street (the Abraham Wilder House (#59)--side-gabled).
By contrast, Bolton has very few houses that were built with paired ridge chimneys. One rare Federal example is the ca. 1785 house of Bolton's third minister, the Rev. Phineas Wright, at 763 Main Street (#95--NRDIS). The Wright house has a stylish late-Georgian doorway with transom, and fluted pilasters with bolection-like capitals.
Cape Cod cottages continue during this period, with several being built between 1780 and 1830. One of the best-preserved is the 1819 house of Asa Wheeler, Jr. at 228 Berlin Road (#128). Along with them are a few examples of their Federal-Period variant, the little one-room-deep story-and-a-half cottage, usually with rear chimneys, and with a high expanse of wall above the facade windows. Most of these have been altered or expanded, but good examples still remain in the Hillside Parsonage at 369 Old Bay Road (#168--possibly enlarged from an earlier building), and at 307 Harvard Road (#253), the Willis/Johnson House, built between 1823 and 1831. One three-quarter Cape that was built in about 1828 at 412 Main Street (#33) was later raised to two stories; another at 121 Burnham Road (#121) was also raised, in 1887.
The highlight of Federal period residential construction in Bolton is its collection of four large, relatively high-style, hip-roofed brick farmhouses. All are believed to have been built between 1796 and 1821. Stylistically, the earliest appears to be the house of Ephraim Osborne at 96 Long Hill Road (#149). This is a square, nearly symmetrical house with a pair of massive chimneys and three main facades, each with a central six-panel door set into an arched opening with a semi-circular leaded fanlight. Similar narrow-arched entries with semi-circular fanlights appear across town at Capt. Caleb Moore's House at 52 Wilder Road (#177), which, like those at the Osborne House, are trimmed with reeded wooden moldings. Two hip-roofed brick mansions on Still River Road appear to have been built slightly later, between 1810 and 1821. The house of David Whitney at 138 Still River Road (#161) and the home of Francis and Silas Haynes, Jr. at 304 Still River (#163) each have four corner chimneys, and are constructed in Flemish bond. The Whitney House, the only one to retain a slate roof, has sidelighted entries with wide, leaded elliptical fanlights in its two main facades, and a tall corner wing at the southwest corner.
One wood-frame hip-roofed house with four tall corner chimneys was also built, by the carpenter brothers Joel and Joab Barnard, at 962 Main Street (#100), in about 1818.
Typical of a rural community, most early houses in Bolton display only modest or vernacular detailing based on the prevailing style of the time. The ca. 1793 Samuel Blood House, however, has corner pilasters and a double-leaf, four-paneled door flanked by pilasters and surmounted by an elliptical fanlight. Some of the most lavish Federal details are found on updated buildings. The 1741 Rev. Goss House was updated in about 1803 with a hipped roof, corner pilasters, and a new high-style north-facing Federal facade with pedimented, pilastered doorway. The Wilder Mansion at 101 Wilder Road (#179) was altered in about 1814-15 with a new high-style doorway that has leaded sidelights in a pattern of diamonds and circles and a wide elliptical fanlight with nine curved divisions. In about 1826 the building was expanded to a French-inspired five-part building with one-story hip-roofed side wings joined to the main house by "hyphens" (one wing has been demolished).
Agricultural: Very few of Bolton's early outbuildings survive, and virtually none have documented dates. Still, several side-gabled English barns (with the high wagon door in the long side of the building) may pre-date 1830. Among them are the small barn at 283 Ballville Road (#325--Form 324), the barn at the Barnard House at 962 Main (see Form #100), and the west portion of the large barn at 82 Old Bay Road, #303 (see Form #302).
Institutional: None of the schoolhouses and churches built during the Federal period survives in Bolton, although one of the churches, the Second Quaker Meetinghouse of 1795, was moved to Old Sturbridge Village in 1954, where it was restored to its simple two-story, 34 by 28-foot form. The two 1822 burial grounds, however, remain as eloquent repositories of the folk art of the late Federal period, replete with the ubiquitous urn-and-willow adorned slate markers of the era. The little square, windowless powderhouse of 1812 (#913--NRDIS) has recently had its hipped roof restored with wood shingle.
Commercial: The little Moore Store at 41 Wilder Road (#177), which apparently began as a small side-gabled one-story building, has lost most of its original appearance through later additions, but the "Old Brick Store" of ca. 1820 at 718 Main Street (#9-NRDIS) is still a well-preserved large two-story, hip-roofed building with a granite-floored "piazza" across the five-bay facade, where the paneled shutters of the windows still bear the words "West India Goods."
Industrial: Moses Wilder's Blacksmith Shop, an impressive gable-front stone building of ca. 1802-10 which stood between the two Wilder houses at 179 and 185 Main Street, was also moved to Old Sturbridge Village, in 1957.