Fragments of Local History. Concerning the Bethel Common. Number 1. / By a Sudbury Native.
FRAGMENTS OF LOCAL HISTORY.
Concerning the Bethel Common.
Number 1.—By a Sudbury Native.
It is an every day saying that persons, objects or things which drift into our environment for a long, unbroken period, often sink to the level of the common place. Adults in many respects are but as little children who spring into ecstasy over the new Christmas toys. Yet even before the day passes, these remembrances are cast ruthlessly aside, and soon forgotten in the rush for fresh novelty.
The beautiful arrangement of the Bethel Common may not appeal to one who passes daily along the bordering streets or through the well kept park; because of this law of constant association. Not so to the occasional visitor having the pleasure of reviewing personally, the natural and historic charms of Bethel, but once each year. To such a one, the Common, not as it is today, buried under a thick protective snow mantle, but as it appears during the balmy days when nature generously gives unmistakable life to that collection of plants and shrubs; when the attractive fountain, drawing from mountain springs, sends heavenward, the crystal spray in which sunbeams gather, refracting jeweled rays that are akin to the prismatic rainbow. These beautiful things bring exclamations of delight, and suggest the thought of a dream realized—a splendid fulfillment of the sub-conscious desire stored away in the generous heart of Captain Eleazer Twitchell. Perhaps this first recorded public spirited Sudbury benefactor, was not conscious of the artistic possibilities when he surveyed and set apart this plot. Possibly the material overshadowed the ethical, nevertheless a dream has been fully realized, yea one hundred fold.
While we may become charmed by this external beauty, yet beyond, lies the deeper significance; the historical grandeur so pleasing to the mental vision. It is this picture before which the student of local history lingers, that we wish to transcribe, trusting a hint may be thrown out which will stimulate many to observe interesting objects near at hand.
Just one hundred and twelve years ago, one of the first settlers in Sudbury, Canada, was living in a well built cabin beside the mill brook, close by the present manufacturing establishment of Isaac Morrill. Twenty-three years before, this pioneer, who was none other than Captain Eleazer Twitchell, left his home in Sherbourne, Massachusetts, journeyed to Sudbury and took charge of his father’s lands. He was progressive and industrious, laboring with an untiring zeal to make the township a haven for the desirable home-seeker.
In the year 1797 our hero built a bridle path from his large cabin to the hill top and erected a good sized clapboarded frame house, often called the “Castle,” near the summit, directly in the rear of the store now occupied by Mr. Edwin C. Rowe. About this time the scattered settlers in the west parish, holding the Orthodox or Congregational faith, had been gathering each Sabbath at the different clearings for religious worship, although there was no settled preacher in the township. Capt. Twitchell, prompted by a generous desire for better conditions, agreed to give the parish a tract of land on the knoll, near his new dwelling providing the inhabitants would clear away the forest growth, erect a meeting house, reserving a portion for a public grove. This fair proposition was accepted. Trees were felled, a clearing made of sufficient size to accommodate the proposed house of worship and the success of this enterprise seemed assured.
While the material preparations were going on, a Congregational Society had been organized with eleven members and Rev. Daniel Gould installed by a regular council. A ripple soon appeared on the tranquil surface and soon increased to a wave of considerable height. An opposition to the meeting house location arose from several members across the “big river.” After warm debates and a sharp canvass, the regular place was abandoned for a site near the river bank, close to the present toll bridge. This sudden turn of affairs seemed to give the generous captain opportunity for mild revenge. Consequently he fenced in the clearing, ploughed up the land and raised good crops for several years.
When home seekers commenced to purchase lots of the Twitchells, adjoining this upland garden, the captain removed the unsightly fence, but made no sales from his original gift. Our benefactor died in 1819 without recording a word which could be used by the parish to legally hold the property. Four years later, the heirs, Joseph Twitchell and Jacob Ellingwood, generously gave a deed, fully recorded, so the full title to this upland field came into the hands of the inhabitants, but with the clear understanding that permanent improvements should be made; that no buildings could ever be erected within its boundaries and the spot should be used as a military training ground or a place wholly for public convenience.
Many stories have been passed down which give us the hint of an early attempt to convert the snarl of roots and surface glacial drift to a minus quantity, so make a beginning toward a fulfillment of the written conditions. Authentic statements show that during the days of the old time muster, a regiment of militia did actually go through their maneuvers on the partially cleared Common. Many years passed without anything of importance being mentioned of interest to our subject, but a little incident happened in 1840 which should not be overlooked. This year the Whigs elected Gen. Tyler as President of the United States, so to give their successful candidate a good send off, a party of young Whigs dragged an old cannon to the Common, intending a rousing salute. Dr. Moses Mason, who lived directly opposite and being a true Democrat, objected to the proposed demonstration, arguing that the concussion would break the window glass in his house. Capt. John Harris, a dyed-in-the-wool Whig happened along and learning of the trouble he cast one glance at the offending windows and turning to the perplexed celebrators, shouted loudly, “Seven by nine glass, let her go boys and I’ll pay the bills.” A match was quickly applied and the old cannon spoke with no uncertain report. Capt. Harris, true to his word, paid dearly for the fun, as considerable glass was shattered in the good old doctor’s building.
Before the Atlantic and St. Lawrence railroad had become a reality, nearly all the business activity on the hill clustered around the village square. Here the young people gathered on holidays where wrestling matches and feats of strength were generally the great issue. Many tales are told of prodigious accomplishments through the rivalry of neighborhood idols from near by hamlets. A winner of an event undoubtedly secured more genuine never-dying glory than a modern athlete in an international marathon spectacle.
When the Civil War broke out, Bethel responded nobly to the call for troops. Company I, of the 5th Maine regiment was formed in town and used Pattee Hall as an armory. The day of leaving for actual service in 1861 will be one to long remain in the minds of those who played any part in the drama. You can recall the assembling in Pattee Hall, the march up Main street with Clark S. Edwards as captain. A picture of that column of resolute men, halting on the Common, where farewell words were spoken and the original hymn sung, would be one worthy the thought of an inspired artist. Many there were in that brave company, who never again viewed the wide valleys and granite mountains from this beautiful point of vantage. Thus it would have been a fitting tribute to the Bethel heroes if the arrangements could have been satisfactorily made for the soldiers’ monument to mark this sacred spot.
Years roll on without many events of importance mentioned, yet we learn from the records, that in 1872 the town at a regular meeting, chose a committee of their early deed, against an action brought to recover the land. Whatever move was made by the persons concerned, it is not told, at any rate the title to the good old Common never passed from the inhabitants to private ownership.
About this time material means was secured that made a neat fence possible, besides allowing further improvements to the surface of the ground, which were sorely needed. Changes in the young peoples’ sports were also greatly in evidence. The early trials of strength gave way to the latest fad, that of “rounders,” which soon developed into the sport of modern base ball. Both young and old gathered on the greensward to play the fascinating game, until the boys almost owned the play ground through a process of confiscation. Window glass and angry monologues from a long suffering neighborhood drove the big boys to other fields, but the little fellows who were less husky with the bat, held their ground to within a few years, when radical changes in their diamond black balled the sport on this historic Common for ever.
(To be Continued.)