Hingham’s Unbuilt Highways, Part 1

For nearly the last 100 years, residents of Hingham have had to deal with traffic congestion in its downtown, the harbor area, and along Main Street. The recent effort by the town to survey residents about possible improvements to Route 3A and Summer Street is only the latest attempt to try to solve the town’s traffic problems. Documents from the John Richardson Collection and other materials in our archives confirm that the search for a solution to traffic problems has a long history.

Starting in the 1920’s the town asked the state to fund a project to take beach and through traffic away from Hingham Square. The state took the easiest solution and expanded Broad Cove Road and Otis Street to four lanes so that 3A could be re-routed away from the eastern end of Lincoln Street and North Street in 1932. Though successful, this action reduced the ability for non-automobile traffic to easily access the waterfront from that date forward. Around the same time, to further speed Nantasket and other traffic east of the Harbor, the state also built Chief Justice Cushing Highway, with the now infamous Harbor Rotary, and constructed George Washington Blvd. to Hull.

Looking North towards the Harbor Rotary in 1941:

Hingham Rotary and Harbor (1941)With the 1950s came the start of the freeway era in the country and Massachusetts. By 1959, the state had completed the 128 Beltway, the Central Artery, and the Southeast Expressway as far as Derby Street (later to be Route 3). Hingham officials saw the new expressway as an opportunity to attract tax-producing industrial and commercial development to South Hingham but also worried about what a potential residential population boom would do to the town. With these thoughts in mind, the Hingham Planning Board produced a report called the ‘1959 Town Plan Summary’ which projected Hingham’s population as 25,000 by 1980 and made a series of recommendations to best accommodate this growth while preserving the town’s character.

Cover of 1959 Planning Board Report:

1959 Hingham Town Plan Summary

The report made two recommendations to help increase recreational use of the Harbor. The first was to fill parts of it to connect the Harbor islands to the mainland and build a marina where the Yacht Club is now, as seen in the map below.

Hingham Harbor Plan (1959)

Second to ease waterfront access to town citizens, and to help solve many of the town’s traffic problems, the Board recommended building a pair of parkways (which, depending on costs, would be built as limited access expressways right away, or upgraded to them in the future) to take Nantasket and other through traffic away from the Harbor area and from Main Street (see Location A in the map below). The north-south parkway would take through traffic from Route 3A at the Back River Bridge southward parallel to Beal Street (by the Ammunition Depot, slated to close and holding out the opportunity for industrial development) and then further south along the western side of town to Route 3. The east-west parkway would then take southbound and Nantasket traffic east, following a route through the center of Town, north of High and Free Streets, and then across 3A to George Washington Blvd.

1959 Hingham Highway Plan

Neither of these plans got off the drawing board: they appear to have largely been an alternative to the state’s known plans for the Hingham area, which included, as can be seen referenced on the top left side map, the Shawmut Trail. The Shawmut Trail was a proposed expressway that would have run from Route 3 near today’s Braintree Split eastward across the Fore River (over a new bridge) to Route 3A in Weymouth just west of the Back River Bridge. It would then have continued into Hingham mostly along the path of Route 3A to end at the proposed Route 128 (later 228) Expressway near Turkey Hill (shown on Map C). As can be seen on the Location B and C Maps above, a portion of the Shawmut Trail route would have run directly from the Broad Cove Rd/Otis Street intersection to the Rotary. This would, as the report notes, involve running Route 3A “on a dike across the southern shallows of the Harbor cutting off the ponded areas from further recreational or boating use.” In other words, this plan would have prevented most of the current activities in the southern end of the harbor.

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from the Bathing Beach in 2014, a scene that would not be possible if the Shawmut Trail had been built:

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from Bathing Beach, 8/9/14
Photo by Robert H. Malme, 8/9/14

Needless to say, this plan did not impress Hingham’s citizens or town officials. By the end of 1968 the state relented and ended the proposed Shawmut Trail in Weymouth. In the early 1970s the state officially abandoned the plan. Though none of these proposal came to be, a plan to build a relocated 228 expressway came much closer to fruition. More about that in Part 2.

 

Battling “that Old Deluder, Satan” with a School

On April 6, 1714, a grand jury in Boston presented a series of charges against a number of individuals and entities.  Many of the offenses were exactly what we would expect from a group of 17th century Puritans:  “Richard Hancock of Boston for Selling Drink without license sundry times since last Session,” “Seth Smith of Boston for allowing unlawfull gaming,” “Nathaniel Ford of Weymouth for nott attending the publick worship of God,” and—a hat tip to Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Hannah Hall of Boston for fornication.”

MLD001One of the charges explains why this single-page manuscript came to Hingham, to be preserved in our archives:  “the Town of Hingham for not keeping a school according to law.”  This offense, as it turns out, is as characteristic of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans as the others charged on that day.

33447_2Education was very important to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The first public school in this country, Boston Latin School, was established in Boston in 1635, and the nation’s first university, Harvard College, was founded in Cambridge the next year.  In 1642, Massachusetts passed a law requiring parents to ensure that their children could read English or face a fine.

This concern with education grew from the very roots of Protestant theology:  the belief that Christian laity had the right–and a duty–to read the Bible in the vernacular and participate directly in the affairs of the church.  These fundamental goals are explained explicitly in the preamble to Massachusetts’ 1647 statute, sometimes called “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” that shifted the responsibility of education onto the growing towns:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later times by perswading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Originall might be clowded by false glosses of Saint-seeming deceivers; and that Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavors: it is therefore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That every Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty Housholders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint. . . .

And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred Families or Housholders, they shall set up a Grammar-School, the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie. . . .

Hingham town records reference schoolteachers and a school building as early as the mid-1600s.  According to Francis Lincoln’s chapter on education in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, the increasing size of the town led to disagreements as early as 1708 and 1709 over where the school should be held.  Second Precinct—later Cohasset—wanted a rotation, so that school would sometimes meet in its area, as did “Great Plain”—South Hingham.  But there is no suggestion that HIngham’s school was ever closed.  Indeed, in a comprehensive list of the schoolmasters in Hingham from 1670 on, Lincoln reports that Jonathan Cushing was the schoolmaster from 1712-1713, after which the 1712 Harvard College graduate became the minister in Dover, New Hampshire.  Twenty-year old Job Cushing, Harvard College Class of 1714 succeeded him, remaining four year before becoming the first minister of the Shrewsbury church.

Bottom of documentPerhaps there was a lapse while the Town waited for Job Cushing to graduate.  There may have been complaints.  17th century grand juries could “present” charges based on their own knowledge and did not, as today, have to wait to be asked to hand down an indictment.  Was a disgruntled Hingham parent on that grand jury?  Perhaps we will learn more as we continue to dig through the archives.

A Resolution Reached At Town Meeting

ayrshireThe great thing about poking around in an archive as rich as ours at the Hingham Historical Society is that connections are there to be made.  Half the story might be in one document—and then the other half pops up.  A prior post on this blog (“An Appeal to Town Meeting”) was about the address of an unnamed 18th century farmer to Hingham’s Town Meeting.  The farmer had complained that he was unable to drive his livestock to pasture at the Great Lots, or bring off any produce, because  another Hingham farmer, Thomas Hersey, had built a stone wall across a public way.  The farmer had came to Town Meeting armed with evidence that, he claimed, proved that one hundred years previously the Town had authorized the laying out of a road to ensure the access to the very same Great Lots now blocked by Mr. Hersey.  And there the story ended.  The documents we were looking at were from the Hersey Family papers, and they left the identity of the petitioner and the outcome of the dispute unknown.

Detail from D.A. Dwiggins' map of Hingham, "The Old Place Names," 1935

Detail from “Historic Map of Hingham, Mass.,” Hingham Public Library Local History & Special Collections

But it turned out that the rest of the story was nearby, in our Thaxter Family papers, because the unhappy petitioner was John Thaxter, Sr., who left a memorandum describing the resolution reached at Town Meeting, together with the “true copy” of the 17th century Town Meeting vote upon which he relied.  John Thaxter presented the dispute to Town Meeting on December 17, 1794.  He presented evidence that in June 1694, almost exactly 100 years previously, Josiah Loring had complained to the Town Meeting that he could not access his own pasture at the Great Lots.  The solution he had proposed, which was accepted by the Town, was the laying out of a public way between Broad Cove Lane and Goles Lane (the “Turnpike”) adjacent to the Great Lots and the Squirrel Hill Lots.  According to Thaxter’s memorandum, written the next day, here is what happened:

At a Legal town meeting in Hingham June ye 19th 1794.  The within votes of the Town [i.e., the 1694 record] were presented to the Town by John Thaxter as a memorial that the high way from Goles Lane to Broad Cove Street which has been passed & repassed on time immemorial is now stopped up by Thomas Hearsy erecting a stone wall across the same whereby said Thaxter is deprived from going to his pasture at great Lotts in a great measure.  As the meeting was thin the town thought there was a probability of said Thaxter & Hearsy settling the difficulty subsisting between them and they labored for an accommodation.  Said Thaxter then made said Hearsy a proposal.  As both of them had said they would not remove the wall, that if said Hearsy would send a hand he would another to remove the wall, which said Hearsy agreed to.  Then said Thaxter withdrew the memorial and nothing further was acted by the Town.  The wall was removed the next day.

So, with some encouragement (or pressure) from their neighbors, John Thaxter and Thomas Hersey settled their dispute, agreeing to share the job of removing the stone wall which Thaxter had proved was an obstruction on a public way.

Thaxter and Hersey were contemporaries, born two years apart in the early 1730s.  Hersey lived on Lincoln Street, Thaxter on South Street; both spent their entire lives in Hingham, except for military service and Thaxter’s years at Harvard College.  They must have known each other very well.  We don’t know what their personal relationship was or how this incident fit into it.  They have, however, provided us a glimpse into how local land use disputes were handled in a long-ago era.

An Appeal to Town Meeting

The terminology used in these 18th century manuscripts will be familiar to any contemporary participant in Hingham’s Town Meeting:  “Mr. Moderator,” the first opens, “As I requested the article in the warrant we are now upon to be inserted, [I] suppose it is expected I should shew for what reason it is inserted . . . .”  We do not know who is addressing Town Meeting or who made these notes, but we understand immediately what’s happening.

The speaker explains that he enjoys the use of 27 acres of land at “Great Lotts,” half “tillage and mowing land” and half pasture, “to no part of either of which can I carry any manure or bring off any produce or drive my oxen or cows but upon sufferance.”  The problem, as he describes it, is that when the town laid out the “Great Lotts” and “Squirrel Hill Lott” one hundred years previously, the intention had been to lay out a road running between Goles Lane and Broad Cove Street, to allow access to the lots.  (Broad Cove Street is now called Lincoln Street and Goles Lane, also formerly called the Turnpike, is now Beal Street.  The Great Lots were survivals of the practice, in the earliest days of settlement, of assigning settlers planting lots and pasture at a far remove from the thickly-settled residential center of town.)

A town committee was appointed, the speaker claims, to lay out this road, and ¾ of its roughly one-mile route was fenced.  The task was not completed, however, and recently Thomas Hersey had built a stone wall where the road ran across his property.  For the speaker, the stakes were high:  “if I cannot get to my Land [I] shall be reduced to the hard necessity of keep[ing] two cows & driving my oxen to the worlds end & keep[ing] a horse the greater part of the summer at the barn.”

It demonstrates just how old our town is that this 18th century Hingham farmer was basing his argument on what he claimed were the Town’s mid-17th century actions.  Remarkably, he appears to have had documentary evidence to support his contention.  A second set of notes in the same handwriting, perhaps of a second application to the Town, opens:

Mr. Moderator.  What I propose by Laying before the Town the record that has now been read is to shew the sentiments of the Town respecting a highway from Goles Lane to Broad Cove Street 100 years ago, which the Inhabitants have passed  & repassed since time immemorial but is now entirely stopped up by Mr. Thomas Hersey . . . .

Hingham’s town seal pays tribute to the four pillars upon which the town was founded and grew:  Church, School, Train-Band (the militia), and Town-Meeting.  These two manuscripts remind us of the central role played by Town Meeting, which, as the legislative branch of our municipal government, has offered individual citizens a direct voice in municipal government for close to four centuries.