Methuen History


Bridges from the Past 2


It is of course impossible in a short sketch to come anywhere near doing justice to the development of Methuen from Revolutionary times to the present day of over 38,000 in population. All that can be done is hit some of the highlights with perhaps a few not-previously-published anecdotes added in.

The post- Revolutionary period was a time of great uneasiness until things were finally settled with England in the War of 1812, otherwise known at the time as Mr. Madison's War. A gunpowder store-house of plank 8 feet square was erected on the present Living and Learning School property number 600 Prospect St, probably just south of the new annex, giving this hill its name in 1787. Some soldiers were sent to western Massachusetts in the "Shay's Rebellion" of 17 88. Another later aftermath of the Revolution was the tremendous welcome given to the Marquis de Lafayette on his journey from Boston to New Hampshire in September of 1825. A bull belonging to Major Osgood of Osgood Street got loose at this time and raced along Broadway, adding to the excitement of the occasion.

Methuen was a part of the original "Gerrymander", a proposed Congressional district laid out for political advantage in a shape so awkward it resembled a salamander on the map, and signed into law by Gov. Elbridge Gerry in 1812.

A parsonage home for the minister and his family was built in 1786, and after much remodeling has become the Sheehy residence, number 70 Arlington Street (formerly Beaver Dam Road after a large beaver dam in the Spicket River at the present site of the Maiden Mills in the old Arlington Mill buildings). Although Rev. F.D. Hayward in his church history of 1929 refers to the barn as having been the parsonage, William Barnes writing his memories of Methuen sixty years before in 1905, seems to know that it was the house instead. The old meeting house which was originally on the south side of East Street on Meeting-House Hill was torn down 1796 and replaced by another wooden building on the north side of the road. This building was removed to Pleasant Street in 1832, and replaced by the present stone church in 1855, still using some of the timbers of the 1796 structure. After the removal of the church from Meeting-House Hill, this hill became more commonly known as Daddy Frye's Hill, for Jeremiah Frye, who kept a large tavern on the northwest corner of the intersection of East and Brook Streets. Then upon construction of Bon Secours Hospital in 1950, some leaders of this project tried to officially rename the hill Mt. St. Joseph, but Cardinal Cushing very decently agreed to retain the original name.

Schoolhouses were ordered built in 6 districts between 1792-1793, and these were mostly replaced in the middle 1800's by somewhat larger and better but still one-room buildings. Some of these later one-room schools were remodeled into houses and still exist. The latest one room school built, 1873, was the Merrill School on Prospect Street, named for one Washington Merrill, a substantial farmer and small hat-shop owner who lived in what is now number 585 Prospect Street owned by Barone. This school was used until 1948, which was really very late for one-room buildings, after which it was moved to become the Gill Ave. clubhouse.

There were two small private high schools that had a short existence in the I 1830's, then the town erected a 3-story wooden building on what is now the Central School playground and used the third floor for a high school, which graduated its first class of 8 pupils on March 4, 1874. This wooden building was replaced by the Searles High School in 1904 and part of the Central School in 1905. The Searles High was in turn replaced as a high school by the Tenney High in 1953. On the dedication day at Tenney an old Yankee farmer from Prospect Street, David N. Whittier, looked in the gym and said, "This'd make a wonderful great place to store hay, wouldn't it?" Now we are finishing off another new high school, built according to the "open classroom" fad, located between Pleasant View and Jackson Streets on "Ranger Road".

The oldest elementary school still in use is the wooden part of the Corliss (1882) followed by the West (1890), the Currier (1895-rebuilt after fire 1923), the Searles and Central as mentioned before, the Oakland and the brick Corliss (1910), the Ashford (1913-1923), the Sargent (1914) and the Howe and Pleasant Valley each in 2 parts (1914- 1923), the old Marsh (1917), the Stephen Barker and the addition to the Central for Junior High (1924), then the new Junior High now Methuen East Middle School (1964) and the new Marsh elementary (1968). The Searles school is now used only as an administrative building.

One of the standard elementary arithmetic books used in the U.S. in the middle 1800's was written by one Benjamin Greenleaf of Haverhill and he used numbers of acres of land in Methuen and Bradford in making up arithmetic problems.

Many of the rocks and shells and other natural curiosities and Indian relics in the Methuen Museum were collected by the Stephen Barker family and originally left to that school.

The Marsh Corner school has run a pilot program for the northeast part of the country called the I.G.E. (Individually Guided Education). Methuen had one of the very earliest school safety patrols anywhere, established by the late Police Chief Cyril Feugill when he was a patrolman in November 1927. School buses have been used for transportation since 1929, with John W. Appleyard taking over the contract as of January 1, 1941.

In addition to the public schools, the Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic parish has maintained a parochial grammar school since 1927 or before and the St. Monica parish since 1958. The Presentation of Mary Academy for girls of high school age was organized in 1958 and a large addition built in 1961. Methuen participates actively in the running of the Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical High School in West Andover, and many Methuen residents attend there and also such other institutions as Central Catholic High School in Lawrence. For those Methuen students wishing to commute a short distance to institutions of higher learning there are Merrimack College in North Andover, Andover School of Business, Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Lowell State University, Castle Secretarial School in the castle built by E. F. Searles of Methuen in Windham, N.H., and a New Hampshire College off campus program in Salem.

It may be interesting to note here that the town does not presently have legal title to a portion of the Pleasant Valley school, due to one of the multitudinous errors in recognition of what is what in the old land titles in this town.

Some of the first attempts to build roads in a straight line across hills and swamps were the dirt turnpike roads of the very late 1790's and early 1800's, built by private companies on a franchise from the states and later taken over by the towns through which they passed. The present Broadway, Methuen was built in 1806 as the Essex turnpike with its north end meeting the Londonderry turnpike at the state line, and the south crossing Andover Bridge and one branch running through Andover now Rt. 28 and the other running southeast through Middleton now Rt. 114. It was a 2 day journey up over the pike with a team of horses when the ancestors of the Mann Orchards family moved to Methuen from Manchester-by-the-Sea about 1835 stopping overnight at the old Estey tavern still standing in Middleton square. The present house number 314 Broadway owned by Arsenault is said to have been moved from Salem, N.H. and held up in the road at the state line for some time due to a hassle over how much toll should be paid on the house. The turnpike in Methuen replaced as a main north- south route the two old county roads. These were the one described before over Powder House Hill, also the one from Bodwell's Ferry over Tower Hill then over Currant's Hill, across where the R. R. track now is below Oakland Avenue and into River Street. The original Washington Street from Marston's Comer through to Haverhill was built in the style of the old turnpikes about the end of that era, in 1833, but was not actually a turnpike.

Some of the main streets were paved with stone blocks, and other roads gradually began to be hard-surfaced or "macadamized" using crushed stone and tar by the 1890's. The stone crusher for this purpose operated down into the 1930's at the present site of the Huntington Ave. dump. Men were working on macadamizing the section of Prospect Street by the old Whittier farm the day of Eben Whittier's funeral July 27, 1899, and on that same day the first automobile ran over this road. The first auto accident in Greater Lawrence was said to be at Marston's Comer involving Franz Schneider's auto and a wagon. Mr. Schneider seems to have had a particular penchant for getting involved with street cars, and his maroon "horseless carriage" was said in fun to have streaks of yellow paint on it from every streetcar in Greater Lawrence. The stretch of Broadway between the municipal building and the state line was not hard surfaced until 1925, as traffic commonly used Hampshire Streets more moderate grades for many years. Pleasant Valley Street beyond Mann's "Black Barn was a narrow gravel road until 1928, and Howe Street beyond Currier Street a narrow cinder road until 1930.

Snowplowing in winter was extremely difficult with equipment available until the 1940's. A great deal of hand-shoveling of drifts had to be done after the twin blizzards of Feb. 1934, and the Haverhill buses could not run beyond Howe and Currier Streets for 6 days after the blizzard of March 12, 1939. Some owners of motor vehicles revived the use of horse and sleigh or pung after heavy storms down into the 1930's. The last "horse and buggy" will be remembered as that of a Lithuanian couple who lived near the state line on Maple Street, way down into the 1950's.

The first section of superhighway was one of the lanes of Rt. 213 between Rt. 28 and Howe Street in 1956. It took about 8 years to complete the circuits of super highways Rts. 93-213-495.

The first bridge over the Merrimack was erected in 1793 nearly on the site of the R. R. bridge in Lawrence, more or less replacing the ferries of earlier days. The 1876 Howe history of Methuen on the whole checks out very well with original records but should be corrected where it says on page 33 that Swan's Ferry was at Wingate farm , now Bonanno property. Swan's Ferry was an older name for Marston's Ferry in the Lawrence area, and to the best of my knowledge there was never a ferry at the Wingate farm, though there was a landing place for river traffic and there possibly may have been some small ferry across. Gage's Ferry beyond the foot of Pleasant Valley Street was not named originally for the nearby Gage's of the 1800's, but for a Daniel Gage of Bradford in the very early 1700's. Then Abiel Messer took over the ferry in 1720 and it was known for years as Messer's Ferry. The Methuen Museum contains a model of the Abiel Messer house built around 1700 and which was the birthplace in 1769 of the Rev. Asa Messer once the president of Brown University. This house was torn down in 1864, after which the cellar was said to have been used by the Cross Coal Co. of Lawrence as a storage bin for coal delivered by boat.

The Route 93 bridge was built in 1958-1959 as a 4-lane roadway and widened to 8 lanes in 1973-1974. The Route 495 bridges in Pleasant Valley suffered the fall of a section of one bridge while under construction October 11, 1963.

The earliest bridges over the Spicket River were of wood, but these were replaced in the 1830's by the stone arch bridges most of which are still in use after being widened and reinforced. The original part of the 2-arch bridge now under East Haverhill Street in Lawrence was ordered built in 1830, and the single-arch one below Spicket Falls on Osgood Street in 1831, rebuilt 1869 and 1876. The Lowell Street bridges at the island followed in 1832, being widened and rebuilt in 1869. The last stone bridge in town remaining in original condition, without cement, on the abandoned section of Hampshire Road over the old channel of the Spicket, was built in 1835.

The first known map of Methuen, showing only the bare outline and main features, was drawn by Alfred Ingalls in 1794. The early more detailed map by Stephen Barker can be dated about 1806, although certain later copies say about 1795. The turnpike road is shown, and various names of people who came in the late 1790's and early 1800's, including Barnard on the present Young residence number 73 North Lowell Street. There is another map of Methuen as of 1846 showing a great deal of information, likewise the 1856 Essex County map which includes Methuen. This county map shows the second Meeting-House Hill on Forest Street as "the" Meeting-House Hill, and wrongly designates the original Meeting-House Hill as "Powder House Hill".

Of course, there are also many different more recent maps of the town, including those of the Geodetic survey, and ones showing precinct lines and different kinds of zoning.

The Young residence last referred to was known as the old Wetherbee tavern, a halfway point on the stage line from Concord Mass. to Newburyport. In later years North Lowell Street was called Black North Road as it was prominent in the so- called "Underground R. R." of Civil War days. There is at least one other home said to be formerly a stagecoach tavern still standing, owned by Sanville, number 635 Prospect Street This house was probably built about 1721 by James Davis, father of Captain John; the famous poet Robert Frost lived at different times in this house and in the house next door number 631 Prospect Street owned by Moynihan which had been made over from a little shoe shop; Frost was known as a very lazy boy and young man in those days. One Ansel Tucker at age 17 was a very popular stage driver in 1832 on the route from Haverhill to Lowell; he went on to become just as popular a R. R. conductor. Some form of short-haul public transportation in the stage coach era would be indicated in a note by Dean Emerson of North Street that "the new chaise began to run" on August 30, 1826.

The Manchester and Lawrence R. R. line through Methuen was constructed in 1848-1849 and ran steam-engine trains until about 1934 when steam passenger trains were replaced by gasoline engine trains and by Boston and Maine buses. At the present time one freight train a day each way runs on this line. Street cars pulled by horses began to run on Broadway in 1867, followed by electric cars in the fall of 1890 and buses of the Eastern Mass. system in 1935, the last electric running on June 15. The electric car line was built in 1902-1903 on the "back way to Haverhill" now Jackson and Howe Streets, running into the fields from opposite the former Corey's Variety Store number 353 Howe Street to avoid Scotland Hill.

Scattered remains could recently be found of a power substation on this line a short distance north of Maple Street These cars ran until replaced by Northeastern Mass. buses August 27, 1930. Electric cars were the popular means of travel to the beaches and Canobie Lake Park; there was also a well-known park called Glen Forest on the south side of Haverhill Street in Methuen; and an old sidewheel riverboat running between Haverhill and Black Rocks was much enjoyed by Methuen people in the same era. All local bus service has dwindled to almost nothing over recent years.

Representing the modern means of travel by air, the "Skyport" on Lowell Street by the Merrimack River has private seaplanes for hire. Methuen also has limousine service to and from Logan International Airport in East Boston. There has been at least one airplane crash in Methuen, that of a small private plane near Merrimack and Pleasant Valley Streets on May 9, 1973.

The space age has been recognized in Methuen through visible satellites in the sky, and views of launchings and landings on TV, most especially the first moon landing July 20, 1969.

Uniformed boys on bicycles were still delivering telegrams in the 1930's. The town government had first used the telegraph in 1868 and a general store telephone in 1893, which is believed to have existed for more than ten years before that, but the town did not have a telephone installed in town hall until 1901. Methuen was included in the Lawrence area which went into the dial system very early by 1925, although a few rural lines remained on the call-operator system for about another 20 years. In recent years, the telephone system has become something less than a genuine public utility due to the drastic increase in non-published numbers from probably no more than 15 or 20 in the whole town in 1951.

The first street lights, lit by gas, were set up in 1874. Conversion from manufactured to natural gas in the local area was made as the result of the laying of a pipe line in from Texas through Methuen to Haverhill and beyond, with a branch line running off the main to serve Greater Lawrence in 1951. The valves at the intersection of the main and Lawrence branch are now hidden behind a fence near the curve in Maple Street west of Hampstead Street.

Electric service was begun in 1890-1891 but did not come into general use for running heating equipment or refrigeration for nearly 50 years. In the meantime nearly every pond had a large icehouse where cakes of ice were stored between layers of sawdust in the winter, for distribution by wooden covered wagons during the rest of the year. Radios came into use in the early 1920's, the earliest being battery - powered, and television began in the late1940's. Local electric power formerly came down from the Fifteen Mile Falls in the upper Connecticut River by the lines on the heavy steel frames seen in Dracut, but lately the power has mostly been generated at the substation in Salem, Mass. Methuen was an unwilling participant in the Great Northeast Blackout of November 9, 1965, which has never been officially explained, but would appear to have some connection with extra terrestrial craft in the vicinity of Niagara Falls.

Before there was any public water supply, several large cisterns or small reservoirs were constructed for fire protection in different sections of town in the 1880's. At least one of these still remains, under the northeast comer of the Lyons property number 592 Prospect Street Town water was inaugurated in 1894 with a pumping station in an area of wells off Cross Street and the reservoir on Bare or Foster's Hill off Howe Street, which then became known as Reservoir Hill. Wells were abandoned in favor of buying supposedly purified Merrimack River water from Lawrence in September 1942. A new water tower was constructed on the Forest Street hill in 1970, and shortly thereafter the nearby air raid observation post of World War 11 days was demolished.

A "Tiger" hand tub for fire protection was owned by the Methuen Co. by 1827, and a hand tub the "Spiggott" by the town in 1846; the first steam fire engine, pulled by horses, came in 1870; "Mystic Hose Co." in 1878 (name changed to Paul Methuen Hose Co. in 1891); the first fire alarm system, of 5 boxes, in 1888; and the first motor fire truck in 1911, reportedly earlier than Lawrence. The first fire station was a wooden building erected in 1846 on the south side of the Lowell Street island; followed by the original part of the present station in 1899. In hose wagon days there were various "hose houses" at scattered intersections, to save carrying the weight of all the hose the whole distance from the station.

One of the most unusual fires in the history of the town was that of the old Duck Bridge that is said to have floated down the Merrimack River from Lawrence in 1887 and finished burning against Kimball's Island in Pleasant Valley. The fire department has an historical collection of its own on the second floor of the fire station.

The unsolved murders of two highly respected policemen, Charles H. Emerson and Francis McDermott, who were investigating minor thefts in the Peat Meadow area in 1908, became an extreme sensation. In the 1920's, policemen used mostly motorcycles on patrol duty. On April 15, 1953, a case of 8 murders and a suicide in the Akulonis family of Pelham Street put Methuen in the national news. We have considerable early police material in the museum from heirs of Chief Albert Gordon and others.

The tradition of the invention of a shoe-pegging machine by one Joel Robinson in Methuen is not substantiated by detailed reference material on the shoe industry in Essex County, but so far as is known, Methuen-made heavy women's shoes were said to be the best in the nation during the great movement westward in the 1800's. An early publication of the now-defunct Methuen Historical Society, organized in 1895, refers to a "Methuen Lyceum" of the early 1800's as ancestor of the lyceum movement in the United States later on, lyceums consisting of programs of public lectures. After a lapse of many years, the "Methuen Forum" was held in the 1920's and 1930's under auspices of Rev. Jenkinson. Sgt. York of World War I fame lectured here on the 10th anniversary of the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1928. The Methuen Christian League, an association of the various Protestant denominations formed in 1887 at a time when there was much feeling against that sort of thing, has been said to be an ancestor of the ecumenical movement of today.

In the field of sports, the Tenney High soccer team tied the world's record of 38 hours in the 1975 marathon. The reader is referred to the current souvenir booklet for a listing of persons connected with Methuen who have attained fame on a regional or national level.

Recognizing the need to control the drug alcohol, and also attempting to profit from the sale of same, the town had a liquor agency for the period 1856-1864 after the same idea as the State of N.H. in modem times. In many later years, however, during the height of the creation of beauty and culture in this town, the citizens voted "dry". Numerous sites were connected with illegal liquor during the national Prohibition era.

At the time of the opening of the first store in town by Abel How at Tozier's Comer about 1810, it was the only one for several miles in each direction, and the owner is said to have taken advantage of this fact by putting a 100% markup on his prices over cost.

The industrial era in Methuen was given a substantial boost with the erection of the present Mar-Lin's building on Osgood Street as a cotton mill by the Methuen Co. in 1826-1827 This building succeeded a wooden one which was moved and is believed to have been converted into the house now number 29-31 Pelham Street owned by O'Connor. The right-hand section of the present stone dam was built in 1870, and the big main section in 1880 succeeding an old log dam. Holes half the size of a cannonball were carved from the tops and bottoms of each stone in this dam so that a cannonball could be fitted in between each layer for reinforcement.

In the earliest days of manufacturing industry, as unbelievable as it may seem in this day and age, some Methuen people are reported to have traveled on foot, wintertime and all, between Methuen and Lowell for a 12-hour work day in the textile mills, 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. with half-hour breaks for breakfast and dinner. Then the big dam was begun at Bodwell's Falls on the Merrimack River in 1845, and long rows of ox teams hauling granite from the Pelham quarries kicked up the dust in Methuen for many months. Canals and textile mill buildings were built, and a new settlement was established by the Essex Company in the south part of Methuen and the north part of Andover across the river. There was a post office called "Merrimack" in this area while still in Methuen. In 1847 the town of Lawrence was set off,

becoming a rapidly-growing city in 1853. Since that time Methuen has been to a great extent a suburb of Lawrence, with many Methuen people going there for work and shopping, church or synagogue and recreation. Lawrence was at one time one of the leading cities in the whole world in the manufacture of woolen and worsted cloth and attracted immigrants from many countries, beginning with refugees from the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840's. Many of these people spread out into Methuen over the years, especially after the coming of electric cars. The Irish were scattered most everywhere with traditionally the first one near Spence Hardware to originate the old name of Paddy Hill. The French-Canadian were thickly settled near R. R. square the German in "Germantown" around East and Milk Streets, Italian in Pleasant Valley, Syrian, Portuguese, Polish, and Lithuanian in the Howe district, and Armenian in the Hampshire Roads section. An influx of industrial-era Englishmen, different from their Yankee distant cousins, populated the Arlington district. In very recent years, Spanish-speaking people from various places to the south of us in the Western Hemisphere, and new immigrants from French Canada, have been moving into this district. Angelo G. Rocco, one of the leaders of the nationally-famous Lawrence strike of 1912, is still living in Methuen at number 35 Worcester Street.

The "Methuen Transcript", a prominent weekly newspaper for many years, and from which some of the material in this sketch has been obtained, was published for about 3/4 of a century beginning in the Centennial year of 1876. At the present time the town is serviced by the "Methuen Weekly News" and the daily "Lawrence Eagle-Tribune", also a Greater Lawrence weekly called "Today".

Many Methuen men have lost their lives, and many more suffered great hardship and disability, in the various United States wars, both declared and undeclared, right up to the present time. Many names are memorialized on the several monuments near the center of town, and intersections have been dedicated in different areas. Douglas Richardson and William Liversidge, both of excellent repute, were among Methuen boys who made the supreme sacrifice in World War II; Richardson's old home was number 240 Washington Street near the triangle with Currier Street, and Liversidge lived in the big house torn down for the new Pleasant Valley Street directly at Marston's Comer, but it so happened that a triangle at Marston's Comer was dedicated to Richardson while not acknowledging Liversidge.

We have a Civil War cannon, mounted on its wheels, on the grounds of the Municipal building. In the museum are various relics of the different wars, including two flags darkened by the smoke of D-Day in 1944 and brought back by Methuen's John Markey of the Merchant Marine.

One Edward Moriarty of Methuen was referred to by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt as "loyal Moriarty was at my side" at the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Moriarty, George McLane Jr. and Herbert Murfield made a realistic representation of the famous painting "Spirit of '76" in a 1903 Methuen parade. A Methuen sailor, Stephen B. Young, publicized the story of his escape from the capsized USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The now-retired senior physician in Greater Lawrence, Dr. Rolf C. Norris of Methuen, descendant of Capt. John Davis of the Revolution, was himself a doctor overseas in World War 1, and lost his son in World War II.

Three families of unusual wealth have left their marks on Methuen, including some examples of extremely grand architecture that are very rare on this side of the Atlantic.

Edward F. Searles was born in Methuen in 1841, became an architectural designer, married the widow of Mark Hopkins who had helped put through the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, and then inherited most of Mrs. Searles' estate when she died in 1891. This estate was bonded in Massachusetts for $9,000,000 but was said to be worth considerably more in total. Mr. Searles built up the Pine Lodge and castle complex now the Presentation of Mary Academy, around his old home on Lawrence Street, relocating the west end of East Street,, and surrounding the estate with high wells that were always built around trees rather than having trees cut out of the way. It is not generally remembered that the Searles wall by Bon Secours was practically rebuilt about 25 years ago, eliminating some jut-outs for trees no longer there. Searles also built the English Manor house "Stillwater" in Salem, N.H. and the castle in Windham, N.H. now the Castle Secretarial School, mentioned before.

He set up the famous George Washington monument, Thomas Ball's masterpiece, in Washington Park on Lawrence Street, unveiling it on Washington's Birthday in 1900. One of the Searles heirs, Mr. B. Allen Rowland, offered the Washington Park land to the town for school purposes, with him to receive an answer by April 1, 1956. The March 26, 1956 town meeting voted to neither accept nor reject the offer, but to request the privilege of discussing the matter with Mr. Rowland again, with the idea of keeping the monument there somehow. The town selectmen waited to officially notify Mr. Rowland till April 5, 1956, and in the meantime the park was sold to St. Monica's parish, which indicated its intention to preserve the monument and build a C-shaped school around it. After the death of the priest who was said to have been interested in keeping the monument, however, it was sold to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles in 1958. The Museum has a piece of Cararra marble base picked up by Rev. Jenkinson, and bronze spear points by Al Soucy.

Also around the turn of the century Mr. Searles bought a very fine organ of German make which had been in the old Boston Music Hall, and completed the Serlo Organ Hall in 1909 to house it. This hall, which is a most unusual work of architectural art, was donated by Alfred C. Gaunt in 1946 to a nonprofit corporation Methuen Memorial Music Hall Inc. which presents concerts in the summer season. The nearby bridge on Broadway was a public-works project of Mr. Searles; there are two other extra fine organs in town formerly owned by Searles, one in the Congregational Church and the other in the Presentation of Mary chapel. The two tall columns on the grounds of the old Waldo House, now the Pollard Funeral Home, came from in front of the Bank of America in New York City, being made of Quincy granite in 1838.

Searles also built several new buildings for churches in town when they were needed, and would have built one for the Baptists if they had been willing to overlook a religious-purposes provision in their clear-title deed of 1816 to the little triangle of land across Park Street, sell him the land, and let him pay off anyone who might complain. He built the Searles school to face Pine Lodge so he could see the front, rather than facing the street, and also built the original part of the Central School. The chapel-like tomb by the Meeting-House Hill cemetery he had built for a memorial to his uncle and aunt, Mr. & Mrs. Artemas W. Stearns. Searles remodeled the present Masonic Temple from a building known as the Exchange Hotel (a replacement after the 1849 fire of the 1807 building where stage coaches on the Boston to Concord run had changed horses), and which he had previously remodelled for a Methuen Y.M.C.A. The Red Tavern he built up from parts of several houses put together, and used it as a guest house. Searles also gave land for playground purposes at two different locations on Lawrence Street, and the heir mentioned before, Mr. Rowland, later gave the Highfields tract of land to the town for stadium and school purposes. Mr. Searles died in 1920 leaving an estate bonded in Massachusetts for $45,000,000.

The Tenney family were in Methuen in the early 1800's, one John Tenney being the first lawyer in town, and getting their start in the hat manufacturing business when the industrial era closed the various little shops for making hats by hand. Their factory building, which was torn down in 1906, was on the site of Leone's home furnishings store on Broadway. From here, they moved into the New York business and financial world, where some descendants -are still prominent in the Chase Manhattan Bank. In the 1870's, Mrs. Charles H. (Fannie Gleason) Tenney had the primitive Universalist Church building on Pleasant Street fixed up in much better style representing the era it was built, around 1836, as a memorial to her parents. This building deteriorated considerably and was sold in 1971 by the Armenian Congregationalists for renovation into apartments. The new owner, Mr. Maurice Martino gave the town historical committee the old church pulpit. Mr. Charles H. Tenney of New York built the Grey Court Castle between Pleasant and East Streets for a summer home in 1892. A deer park was kept on the grounds and much enjoyed by the public on Sunday afternoons. The Tenney family gave 26 acres of the castle grounds to the town for Tenney . High in 1951, sold the remainder to the Basilian Salvatorian Order of the Melkite Rite, and put the money in trust for Tenney graduates. St. Basil's Seminary still owns the castle, now vacant. Mr. C.H. Tenney also erected the Civil War Memorial between Pleasant and Charles Streets in 1888, one of the few such monuments with something other than a human figure on the top, and in 1927 Daniel G. Tenney built the chapel in Walnut Grove Cemetery off Grove Street as a memorial to his parents, Mr. & Mrs. C.H.

The Nevins family was descended from the Swan's who were in Methuen from very early times, owning water rights at Spicket Falls and land stretching far to the north of there. David Nevins took over the old Methuen Co. cotton mill in 1864, and built up the business establishing Boston and New York connections. Methuen Co. duck cloth was well known for making tents in tropical regions of the world. David Nevins' family built the Memorial Library and Hall in 1883, succeeding the "Methuen Social Library" which had been founded in 1792 and taken over by the town. The Nevins Library was satirized in recent years by a young woman reporter as "a musty castle sleeping on the hill above the mouse squeaks of Methuen's petty politics", but is now undergoing some remodelling which is calculated to better serve modern needs. The highly ornate memorial "Angel of Life", sculptured by George Moretti, over the graves of Mr. & Mrs. David Nevins is on the grounds, as well as are many rare imported trees. The nave of the Congregational Church featuring the stained-glass window "The Resurrection" by John LaFarge, said to be his masterpiece, was erected in 1895 as a memorial to Henry C. Nevins by his widow. Mrs. Henry C. Nevins also contributed the Home for the Aged on Broadway, where a hill as high as the top of the building is now being leveled for a major addition on the rear. Mrs. David Nevins Jr. gave land and funds for the M.S.P.C.A. rest farm and the well-known animal cemetery called "Hillside Acres" beside Rt. 213. The Nevins Homestead land where the Municipal building now stands was given to the town, also $50,000 for a town hospital, this money being used for the clinic in the Municipal building. A small section of building from the Nevins property was moved by Raymond Fremmer and incorporated as the front part of the house number 27 Medford Street now owned by Avery. The original part of this house had most unusual lines, yellow and orange paint, and carvings from the Nevins homestead, making it look in all like something out of a Chinese fairy tale. The present house number 141 Maple Street, owned by Kalitka and also built by Fremmer, displays some decorative carving from the Nevins home.

In 1959 the Municipal building mentioned on the Nevins property superseded the old town hall built 1853 near Exchange Square on Broadway, later Central Square and now Merrill Gaunt Square named for a Methuen soldier killed in World War 1. For many years this square contained the town well and hay scales.

The government of Methuen existed under the town-meeting, open-to-all form until 1917, when it was made a city and Samuel Rushton became mayor.

Something illegal was found about this move, and in 1921 Methuen reverted to a town. An act of the legislature, approved by town meeting that year, established the representative town meeting form of government. At the present time the town has a fairly new form of charter which took effect January 1, 1973 providing for a town administrator and council instead of selectmen and town meeting. There seem to be many legal points concerning this new charter that need to be straightened out, as state laws are not all up-to-date as related to this form of charter, which comes under the home rule amendment to the State Constitution. 'The Mass. Supreme Court has fundamentally approved the charter form, however, so that it is doubtful that the history of 1921 will repeat itself.



The forces and conditions of Nature should not be overlooked in a sketch such as this.

Nearly everyone who lived through the Flood of March 1936 followed by the Great New England Hurricane with another flood in September 1938 remembers these events. In 1936, green New York Trailways buses with the engines in front ran over Jackson and Howe Streets while the river road was impassable. Not many people seem to remember, as I do, however, the dust blowing through Methuen from the Great Midwest Dust Bowl in the middle 1930's. The hailstorm May 11, 1973 through the northeast section of town recalled the very severe one over a wider area on July 17, 1924, when there were hailstones as big as baseballs. The most vicious and brilliant thunderstorm in modem times occurred in the evening July 25, 1941, with a continuous crashing and flashing brighter than full moonlight for sometime. September 18th the same year brought a most extensive and vivid display of streamers of Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). On February 10, 1958, a blood-red type of aurora gave the illusion a short distance from the south side of a building that a serious fire was in progress around the north side, and the snow became a rosy color.

Methuen was nearly in the path of totality of a much-publicized and observed eclipse of the sun on the afternoon of August 31, 1932. By comparison, a short total eclipse at a chilly dawn with a mostly overcast sky on October 2, 1959 was scarcely noticed. The only comet worth trying to observe with the naked eye in this area in modern times was the Bennet's Comet in the eastern sky in early April, 1970, a ball like a large star with a tail upwards and hooked over to the right.

Air pollution in very recent years seems to have removed the smell of ocean salt which could be often noticed in an east wind. Also, water pollution along with an apparent lessening of the amount of water in the ground, have seriously affected the rivers and ponds of Methuen.

In spite of all the trees that have been cut for various developments and the loss of most of the elm trees from the Dutch Elm disease, it is a fact that the skyline is much higher than 40 years ago when you look off at a distance from almost any point in town. This is due to many other shade trees growing bigger, and open fields and pastures growing up to woods.

Small wild animals such as rabbits, skunks, and raccoons have increased due to less shooting and trapping, and the east end was visited by a stray moose in 1973 for probably the first time in over 150 years. The gradual warming of the climate has brought new birds from the South to this area in the last 20 years, such as cardinals and mockingbirds, but the once- common bluebird has almost completely disappeared in the same period of time. Sea gulls visiting town are a great deal more common than years ago. Some new varieties of wild flowers have been introduced in the soil used to cover bankings along the superhighways, and the Purple Loosestrife that has dominated the swamps for about 25 years was comparatively rare before that.


Last Updated 1/15/2011


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