The Paton Family Farm circa 1950 at 5 Ward Rd., Southborough, MA
The Southborough Historical Society recently posted on their website a list of the historical houses in my hometown of Southborough, Massachusetts. Surprising to me, included on this list was my childhood home at 5 Ward Road (the Samuel Brigham House), known to us as the Paton Farm. My best friend’s house, across the street (known to us as the Wilson’s House) but historically listed as the JW Buck House at 10 Ward Road was also on the list; and our close farming neighbor, Jack Finn−his house (the Dana Brigham House) at 2 Brigham Street was also listed.
“This residential area, which evolved from two large early nineteenth-century farms, first developed into a small clustered neighborhood in the middle of the 19th century with the building of three vernacular Greek Revival houses at 2 Brigham Street, and 5 and 10 Ward Road near the outlet of Brigham Pond.”− Massachusetts Historical Commission
I am not sure why this impressed me so much. In general, our old farm house is certainly nothing to brag about. But in the Town’s listing it says the architectural style is “Greek Revival.” That sounds impressive. “Year constructed – circa 1855.” Wow! Our house was nearly 100 years old when we moved there in 1949. “Historic Name: Brigham, Samuel House.” Intriguing. Now, I wanted to know more about this Greek Revival, white-clapboard farm house that I spent eighteen years growing up in.
Greek Revival Houses were built all over New England from 1825-1860 and were of 2 types. One incorporates the Greek themes including pilasters, columns, pediments, wide friezes and porticoes, resembling the temples of Greece. The second type is more modest incorporating simple characteristics of a Greek building with few embellishments. Typically both types incorporate the front door to one side of the gable end and to one side of the windows. My house clearly falls into category number 2−simple. Greek revival homes were typically painted white to resemble the look of marble. That might explain why there are so many white houses in New England.
5 Ward Road (2014) with Jack Finn’s barn at 2 Brigham Street in the background. Brigham Street separated our properties.
This architectural style information was all very interesting, but those names listed in the “Historic name” column were calling for explanation. I wanted to know who had lived here, perhaps get to know their history. I am familiar with the name Brigham just from growing up there−adjacent to Ward Road was Brigham Street−the short narrow road separating Jack Finn’s house from mine−the road where I learned to ride my bike−the road cutting through to Route 30 to town−the road which ends at a small pond where we used to ice skate. As a kid, or even as an adult, I didn’t think about the street I lived on−why was it named Ward or Brigham? Turns out, both the Brigham family and the Ward family have a long history in Southborough. Samuel Brigham founded the tanning business and the shoe trade in the neighboring towns of Marlborough & Hudson. Samuel’s sons, Samuel and Dana, lived on farm land that had been divided from their father’s original farm and lived in the houses at 5 Ward Road and 2 Brigham Street.
“Three vernacular Greek Revival gable-front 1 1/2 story, side-hall-entry cottages on granite-block foundations, all apparently built about 1855, remain from the era when the Brigham Mill was still operating.”
On this land was a 25 acre pond called Brigham Pond. It was the largest natural pond in Southborough and by the 1940’s was only a swamp called the Brigham Swamp−I am sure this is where we ice skated. This former pond area could also include what we referred to as the “Fire Hole” −a small pond fed by a brook that would be used by the town in the event a fire broke out in our neighborhood.
“In 1870, the Brighams had a small herd of cows and produced several thousand gallons of milk, much of which probably sold to Deerfoot Farms dairy, … they sold butter and produce from a substantial orchard. Samuel was one of a few farmers in Southborough to market wine from his own fruit.” − Massachusetts Historical Commission
Some 80 years later the Paton Farm, the former Samuel Brigham farm, would sell its milk to the same dairy. By this time Deerfoot Farms (which became known as “The Aristocrat of Farms”) had evolved into one of the largest and most successful dairy farms in New England and as a result would be responsible for keeping many of the small dairy farms in Southborough in business for decades. But even while we lived there, throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the dairy business continued to decline and the landscape continued to change as the suburbs of Boston spread further from the city center and land that was once farmed gave way to development.
“When my parents (Wally & Marion Paton) sold our property (the Paton Farm) in 1967, it was sold as we had purchased it, with 15 acres of field. The new owner would subdivide our field into building lots. The field where the cows grazed, the potatoes and Jack Finn’s corn grew, where the antique pickup truck resided for driving long before any of us had licenses, where my dad cut cords of wood with his large electric saw, where we sledded in the winter strategically turning at just the right moment to avoid going into the brook, has now given way to residential development. Memories remain. Memories of flying our kites made of old sheet material and nylon stocking tails in the treeless open field. Memories of our dog, Brigadoon, standing at the gate each night at 5:00 waiting for entry to round up the cows and bring them down to the barn for milking. You could tell time by this dog, a collie who instinctively knew when it was time to clock in and do her job. Memories of floating our toy boats down the brook; careful to stop them in time before reaching the Fire Hole. This Fire Hole was off limits to us kids, but we would inevitably sail too close and lose our boat to the hole. I suspect that if the hole were ever drained there would be hundreds of tiny wooden boats marooned in the mud below. These boats, which we carefully crafted out of extra wood and a splash of paint, if available, provided hours of fun in this field with the brook running through it. My town of Southborough, formally known as Stoney Brook, was aptly named for all the stone walls and brooks that marked boundary lines throughout this small New England town. At the far end of this field, where the brook had its origin, was a swamp. It was filled with clumps of soil with spikes of grass protruding out, spaced a leg length apart; where we would spend hours jumping from clump to clump in search of frogs or tadpoles for capture, torment and release. This field, where Brigadoon wandered into her last day of life, perhaps dreaming of retrieving sticks or rounding up her herd; this field, filled with so much of my early years, has been taken over by houses and yards filled with toys, barbeque grills, and swing sets not familiar to a farmer’s daughter who grew up there.” −Journey Home – How a Simple Act of Kindness Led to the Creation of a Living Legacy, by Bonnie Paton Moon