Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Decline of Muttock

While most sources, most notably Weston and Romaine, well cover the most significant period of Muttock's history through the 1830s, very little is recorded after that time, nor is Muttock's economic decline during that period considered.

The history of Muttock following the Revolution and the departure of the Olivers is one of irreversible decline. This decline, however, was neither foreseen nor immediate, and expectations were high at the start of the nineteenth century for the further development of Muttock. Previously, Muttock as the site of the Oliver iron works and its associated industries had been the one area "of greater enterprise and more numerous industries than any other in town, far surpassing what is now the business centre at the Four Corners"[Peirce:1022]. However, neither the Washburns nor the Weston and Sproat families which assumed control of the industrial works along the river at Muttock in the final years of the eighteenth century, were willing or able to long sustain the previous level of economic activity. The growth which led to the establishment of Middleborough Four Corners, bypassed Muttock (and led to a similar decline in importance of the Green area of Middleborough, as well), and the growth of Middleborough center only served to highlight the economic malaise into which Muttock was sliding. As commercial and industrial interests were drawn towards the new center of Middleborough which was experiencing a boom in the 1850s and where land near the Four Corners was then selling for the unheard of price of $2,000 an acre, residential development soon followed; Muttock became marginalized, relegated to the status of a peripheral village, devoid of any commercial or industrial activity of any consequence. The works on the river were shut, the stores in the area closed. All that remained to give the area an identity was its history, and the schoolhouse.
While this process of marginalization was certainly not unique to Muttock (numerous villages throughout Massachusetts would similarly fall victim to rapidly changing economic and demographic circumstances in the nineteenth century), the change - at least for Middleborough - is seen most palpably at Muttock. The awareness of and dissatisfaction with the stalled growth at Muttock is keenly sensed in a series of editorial articles published during the first four months of 1853 in the Namasket Gazette which follow here under the heading "The Namasket Gazette Views Muttock, 1853." The underlying tone of these articles seems to be one of frustration born of unrealized economic expectations as the growth of Middleborough center and its industrial West Side began to eclipse Muttock.

Much of the blame for Muttock's lack of achievement during these years is unjustly pegged onto the Washburn family, particularly Philander Washburn, by these and subsequent articles. Certainly, the Washburn family, as owner of the Muttock water privilege, was better placed than any to nurture economic growth at Muttock, but it seems not to have been interested in doing so. (Washburn gave up his Muttock store and ceased operation of the shovel works to embark on a short-lived political career). Meanwhile, Middleborough Center had more vocal and numerous promoters, including ironically Philander Washburn who played a prominent role in the establishment of the Four Corners as the center of Middleborough through his associations with the Central Congregational Church, the Fall River Railroad, Middleborough High School and Middleborough Town Hall. However, the Washburns were not the only family which abetted the growth of Middleborough Four Corners at the expense of Muttock. Families such as the Wilders and Rounsevilles who resided at or near Muttock but began attending services at the Central rather than First Congregational Church, helped cement the Four Corners' primacy.

Additionally, as the nineteenth century progressed, riparian sites such as that at Muttock, became less important with the general introduction of steam power which freed industrial establishments from their dependence upon hydro-power and allowed them to relocate to sites close to new rail lines, such as the West Side of Middleborough which began to be developed at this time. Only small-scale operations such as a saw mill and grist mill remained at Muttock after 1850.

By the late 1800s, the decline of Muttock had become an accepted fact, symbolized by the failure of the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, which was constructed through the heart of Muttock in the latter part of the century, to establish a station in this once-thriving village. Not only was there no perceived need for such a station at Muttock, but it is doubtful whether the establishment of one would have provided any impetus for economic renewal. However, as is often the case, the limitation of economic growth at Muttock was precisely what preserved the historic resources located there today.

The Namasket Gazette Views Muttock, 1853

Shortly following the inauguration of the Namasket Gazette in 1852, readers were introduced to an editorial column pseudonymously written under the name "Town Pump." The column presented editorial views on local issues and in its early columns supported such liberal causes as the beautification of Middleborough village through the planting of trees and support for a public library. One of the first topics, however, which it discussed and which seemingly generated some considerable controversy, was its opinion of Muttock. The initial column, and the fabricated responses which followed it, are reproduced below. Relative to the depiction of Muttock as an area of Middleborough in decline, this was undoubtedly the case. By the 1850s when these articles were written, development had bypassed Muttock in favor of Middleborough Four Corners, which was developing as the new town center, replacing the Green as the town's civic and religious center and Muttock as its industrial center. Despite their heavy sarcasm, these articles made a valid point and they contributed to Muttock becoming, within Middleborough, a symbol for a community without ambition, a view somewhat reflected in both Weston and Romaine's histories of Muttock.

Guide Board and Town Pump.
Namasket Gazette, January 21, 1853

Mr. Editor: - Listener was not alone at the colloquy with the Pump, the other night. I was listening, too, and want to tell your readers what I heard and saw after he left.

"Old neighbor," said the Guide Board, slowly waving his broad arms, as if to command attention, "I think you have done yourself no credit in what you have said of the enterprising and progressive people of this town, - plainly, you talked like an impudent fool. Do you think it becoming for you to stand here and abuse the liberality to which you own your own existence? Think what you have been saying to Mr. Listener! 'Other towns have their hotels, their town halls,' and what not; why don't you know, old wooden head, that an act of incorporation has been obtained, and they have already talked of building a splendid hotel, that should be considerably in advance of the times? How very stupid you are! 'Others have their town halls.' And pray, what have we got? Why, a town house of which we are all justly proud. Has it not lately been improved, without regard to expense, by an addition of two very aristocratic brick chimneys? Town halls, forsooth! Ours only needs a proper quantity of soap and hot water, - a thorough fumigation - and to have the ceiling frescoed to make it the pride of two or three such towns! talk to me of town halls!! - And let me ask you where you find the evidence of a want of enterprise or public spirit, on the part of our citizens?"

The old Pump had stood silent and trembling, and heard it all without daring to reply; but, being directly questioned, answered in a timid, hesitating tone, - "Look at Muttock."

Guide Board.- "And what of that? It is one of the most (if not the very most,) interesting places in the Old Colony. There is on the dam a manufacturing establishment of stone which gives steady, constant employment to a man and boy, for a considerable part of the time! Three new pine slabs have been put into the head of one of the flumes - and all within the past three years, as I have been informed by my brother, who stands on the end of the dam to tell people where not to go. I tell you they are doing all that enterprising men ought to make the most of advantages which nature has given them."

Pump.- "They won't sell to others who would do more."

G. Board. - "Now don't be a clear fool! If you had the first symptom of a refined taste, you would not talk so. These ruins are above all price! Will money buy the ruins of Persepolis? or the
Colesium? or even Plymouth Rock? When you talk to another Listener, try to talk reason. To think what you said about the herrings, too! They are proud to come up to a place like this, and it angers me to hear you talk so. Don't you see the benefits? - twenty-nine cents abated on every tax this year; think of that! poor men feel that - though I confess I don't think much of a man that has got no land. Nothing but an enlightened and genuine public spirit would have fostered this very important interest as it has been."

Again the old crest fallen pump ventured to speak, "compare your roads and bridges with those of other towns - every thing of a public nature is inferior, even the very Guide Boards" - "Hold, there! you infernal, mouldy old one-armed abortion." Here the Guide Board seemed worked up to the highest pitch of passion, - trembling with rage, he was "down" on the poor Pump with as much fury as a Guide Board could possibly manifest - the raps came thick and fast about the head of the Pump right and left - "Take that! and that!! and that!!! old obstinacy - and remember, never let me hear another word from you impeaching the character of our citizens for Public spirit or enterprise." The Pump dropped his arm to his side in the humble submission of conscious guilt, while the Guide Board raised himself "to his full height," as if conscious of duty discharged - while I looked on and received instruction.


Muttock's Reply to "Tother Listener."
Namasket Gazette, January 28, 1853

Mr. Editor - Middleboro' has long felt the necessity of a journal through which to disseminate her news, maintain her rights, and advocate her true interests, and the appearance of the Namasket Gazette could not have been met with otherwise than a hearty welcome from all of her numerous citizens, and that welcome made manifest to you, Mr. Editor, by having the pleasure of registering their names on your subscription book.

Among many interesting articles in your last issue, we noticed in particular, the colloquy between "Guide Board" and "Town Pump" and think they have a just cause for complaint. But "Look at Muttock!" "Guide Board" has not done it justice, for besides those "three new pine slabs put into the head of one of the flumes" there are other improvements, but as "Guide Board" says he obtained his information from his Brother "who stands on the end of the dam to tell people where not to go," we will forgive him, as that brother of his, absented himself from his "post of honor" nearly a year ago, and it is not to be presumed that he knows of one single improvement, of the many, which has been made during his absence. Look at that "manufacturing establishment of stone!" Has not the roof been newly shingled? and all that within a year? And then in the second place - never mind, we will leave the other improvements for a future article.
"Guide Board" seems to have taken rather a narrow view of Muttock. Let us direct your attention to our new second-handed School House, and ask if it is not an improvement on that little old red building which answered the double purpose of school house and "Guide Post." In addition to our new four hundred dollar school house, we talk of having a Picket Fence to enclose the same. Then our roads are continually growing wider, and a "very beautiful" sidewalk was commenced last autumn and will probably be completed when that "manufacturing establishment" which you have all read about, has been thoroughly repaired. And, Mr. Editor, if you will step down this way next summer, we will show you some Farming on a new and improved principle.

Now "Guide Board," cast no more insinuations this way, for Muttock is bound to sprout, vegetate, and thrive.

Muttock, January 24th, 1853.

Namasket Gazette, February 4, 1853.

MR. EDITOR: I have been listening to the stories these last few eeks, that have been told by Mr. Pump and Listeners, and I do think that Mr. Pump is rather severe. In the first place, Pump had no business down this way, and then when he did come, it was not fair in him to misrepresent our village.

Now 'Tother Listener did not get in all the life of the place, for besides that Stone Shop that employs one man and a boy, there is a stupendous Saw Mill that turns out a great many Slabs, besides those three that have been used to repair the flume, in the course of a year. The mere slabs from this mill, if well cut, and dried, are sufficient to keep a fire to steam all the shovel handles that are used in this place.

Then again we have a grist mill where the Miller means to do justice to every grist. Besides we are looking every day for the Cars, as the road was laid out some few years ago running directly through Muttock Lake. And we have numerous Stores, doing more or less business; but the most of them are doing less. More another time, if Pump is not still.

Muttock, February 2, 1853.

Namasket Gazette, February 18, 1853

[MUTTOCK] is indignant; the old forge has turned black with disgust; that "manufacturing establishment of stone" is quite pale with anger; the ever peaceful lake, as if ashamed of its companionship is creeping thro' the many holes in the dam, and, as if joyous for its release, is running with lightning speed towards the ocean, to mingle with its mother waters; that "stupendous saw mill" groans at the insinuations cast upon it by the ungrateful "Bridge," who seems to have forgotten that besides those numerous slabs which are used for steaming shovel handles - to say nothing of those three used in the flume - there are several used yearly for keeping himself in repair. O! ungrateful "Bridge," indeed! What will be his destiny? What in the world does he mean, thus to slander his benefactor! The old Guide Board too, who remained so long at his post, and performed his duty so manfully in directing people where "not to go," is now reclining with an aged and venerable building for its support, with its hand pointed upwards and bearing this inscription: "This is not a public road!" ....

Muttock, February 15, 1853

Namasket Gazette, April 8, 1853

I have seen a number of your very interesting papers, and notice in some of the latest ones, several communications purporting to be from Muttock: but I cannot believe any one residing within its borders would write such infamous articles in relation to a place which has not only kept up, but in some things gone ahead of the rest of the town.

The name of Muttock is dear to me, for with it are associated ancestrial venerations. At the sound of its name the emotions of my heart rise uncontrolably: because connected with it were the morning hours of my existence. Dear and beautiful indeed is the place to me. It is there that I can review the scenes of my earliest and purest joys; there on a fertile soil which has been long and abundantly watered by the Namasket can I return in prosperity and adversity and "banquet unsated" on the recollections of youth.

Namasket! here too is a name never to be forgotten by me, for on its moving bosom I have floated for hours; in its waters I have bathed times without number; and on its sunny banks, under the old oak trees I have basked for hours with the loved companions of my boyhood. For then we were unconscious of the busy scenes and burdensome cares of the world; we knew not of the troubles that beset the path of every mature mind. But to us, everything was bright with the light of hope.

I am informed through your paper, that the "old red school house" has been exchanged for another, supposed to be better. I knew that a change had been proposed and when on a visit recently made to my native village, I thought one day to retire in the spot and once more behold the school room of my youthful days - where for many successive years I was placed to acquire useful learning adequate to my after wants. There the building stood on the same spot of ground and looking nearly as it did in the days of my childhood. As I approached its time honored walls, a feeling of reverential admiration came over me. With solemn steps I approached the window in the rear of the seat I last occupied, and there through a broken pane of glass I had a view of the room in which I had thoughtlessly spent so many of those golden hours. At last my eyes caught and rested on the initials of my name which I had thoughtlessly cut in my idleness. Although a long time had elapsed since these scenes were familiar to me, and I had ceased to be a babe and grown to the full stature of a man, as I turned from this interesting interview with old and loved objects, big drops of briney dew would trickle down my cheeks in spite of myself because I thought I might never behold it again as it was in the days of yore. But methinks I could not relinquish my affection for the old one whose timbers have been witnesses to so many pranks of youth and the sharp reproof of the village pedagogue.



Muttock, stereocard, late 19th century
This view reproduced from a stereographic card published in Middleborough in the late 1800s depicts the ruins of the former Oliver and Washburn industrial works at Muttock. As early as the 1840s, the enterprises along the Nemasket River at Muttock had begun to decline, and eventually the area was surpassed as an industrial center by Middleborough Four Corners and the West Side. During the latter half of the 19th century, the works were simply abandoned and allowed to decay. Note the large horizontal beam in the foreground. A beam very similar to this (perhaps this beam itself) was unearthed from the muck at the bottom of the river bed nearly a decade ago and may presently be seen at Oliver Mill Park.

Muttock and Burgess House, stereocard, late 19th century
The continuing decay at Muttock is evident in this view which captures one of the sites several waterwheels. In the background is the house owned by the Sproat family and occupied in the 19th century by the Burgess family. It was last owned by the Gabrey family in the 1960s, at which time it was levelled for the construction of Route 44.

Muttock Ruins, stereocard, late 19th century
Despite the shafts of sunlight in the original photograph and the later age spotting, the wreckage of the Muttock works can clearly be seen in the pile of machinery and timber framing in the left-hand side of the view. The slow process of decay continued for nearly a century until the late 1950s and 1960s when the site was "rediscovered", archaeologically excavated and remade as Oliver Mill Park.
Namsket Gazette, "Guide Board and Town Pump.", January 21, 1853; "Muttock's Reply to 'Tother Listener'", January 28, 1853; "Muttock", February 4, 1853; ibid., February 18, 1853; ibid., April 8, 1853.

Peirce, Ebenezer W. "History of Middleboro" in D. Hamilton Hurd. History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, PA: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884.

Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.

Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1906.


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