January 2021 Museum Musings

Happy New Year! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. 

At the end of December, we again made the tough decision to close the Museum to the public amid the surge in COVID-19 cases. We are still offering plenty of online and virtual content (see below). Check out the latest from Geoff Hall and Rich McLaughlin- the History of North Westford. Thanks to Westford CAT for filming.

History of North Westford Part 1

Preserving and Sharing Westford’s  History – Timeline Set in Stone
19th Century

1826 – Quarrying began on the ledge on Oak Hill by Issac Carkin. After, Major Jesse Colburn and later George W. Merrill worked the ledge. Most of the stone was used for curbing and paving.

Ca. 1845 – Hildreth quarry is active on the west side of Snake Meadow Hill. The stone was used for buildings and curbing.

1847 – In today’s Graniteville, Benjamin Palmer began quarrying on two sites on the north side of Snake Meadow Hill. Benjamin Parker quarried “cobbles’ ‘ there as well, and stone from Parker’s site was used for a bridge over Stony Brook and general curbing.

1848 – Samuel Fletcher of Groton opened more of the ledge on Snake Meadow Hill. Much of this stone was used for the Merrimack River dam in Lawrence, MA.

1853 – William Reed of Acton bought 61 acres on Snake Meadow Hill. He initially ran the business with his brother, David, who later divided the lot. William worked the top portion of the hill, while David worked the area near Cowdry Hill. Asa Bond briefly quarried Cowdry Hill, before moving to Concord, NH. The Snake Meadow Hill Quarries supplied much of the granite for the state prison on Concord, MA, and existed into the 20th century.

1860 – H.N. Fletcher quarry opens on the south side of Snake Meadow Hill. The stone was used for buildings and curbing.

1880 – Wright quarry opens on the east side of Snake Meadow Hill. The stone was used for curbing.

1881 – Herbert Ellery Fletcher (1862-1956) opened the quarry still operated today as “Fletcher Granite Co.” on the border to Chelmsford, near Oak Hill. The Chelmsford Gray continues to be used for buildings, bridges, gravestones, curbing, and paving. This stone is found across the country in such places as Quincy Market in Boston, the Federal Building in Boston, and the columns of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC.

1899 – Peterson Quarry opens on Oak Hill near H.E. Fletcher. Stone was used for trimmings, steps, sills, and curbing.

20th Century

1905 – Perley Carkin Quarry opens on Oak Hill near H.E. Fletcher. The stone was used for curbing, paving, and trimmings.

1906 – Couture quarry opens on the west side of Snake Meadow Hill. The stone was used for curbing.

1908 – Town approved funds, up to $40, for a block of granite from Herbert V. Fletcher’s Quarry to be used by Provincetown in the Pilgrim Monument. This quarry closed in 1940 when there was no more granite.

1909 – Cartwright opens dormant quarry on Oak Hill near H.E. Fletcher. The stone was used for curbing.

1910 – Morris and Luke quarry opens on Oak Hill near old Carkin quarry. New Carkin quarry opens, also on Oak Hill. The stone from these sites were used for curbing and paving.

1911 – 13 active quarries in town, six located on Snake Meadow Hill.

1922 – George Morris began quarrying land on Forrest Rd near Flushing Pond. This land was later owned by Velmos H. Stone of N. Chelmsford by 1973.

1923 – Other active quarries on Oak Hill included Prescott Quarry (operated by Arthur Decarteret and Baker Lot Quarry (operated by Thomas LeMasurier).

1930 – Palmer and Sons Granite was the oldest family operated quarry in New England, 1940 – The quarry started by Samuel Fletcher closes.

1940s – Palmer Granite transfers operations to the Essex Bituminous Concrete Corp of Peabody, and at least in partial operation into the 1970s. 

1955 – H.E. Fletcher Co. operations of a neighboring quarry then owned by Clarence DeCartaret.

1985 – Fletcher Granite Co. sells to Australian Pioneer International, Ltd.

Notable of the Month

Joseph Bradley Varnum; American Patriot, Speaker of the House, U.S. Senator, President pro tempore of the United States Senate, and Westford Academy Trustee.

 Joseph Bradley Varnum was born in Dracut, Massachusetts in 1750. Even though Varnum had little formal education, he became a self-taught scholar. At the age of 18, Joseph became a captain in the Massachusetts Militia and eventually commanded the town of Dracut’s militia in the Revolutionary War. By 1805 he had become a Major General. 

Atter the war, Varnum became active in the Massachusetts state government. The Dracut native served in the Massachusetts House of Representative and later became a state senator. His service to the state also included being named Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Court of General Sessions even though he was not a lawyer.

 Later, General Varnum served in the House of Representative and eventually became Speaker of the House from 1807 to 1811. In 1805 Congressman Varnum submitted a Massachusetts proposition to amend the United States Constitution to abolish the slave trade in America. The amendment was initially tabled, but under Varnum’s leadership the amendment traveled through Congress and passed both houses on March 2, 1807, and two days later President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law. 

In 1811, Joseph Bradley Varnum was elected to the United States Senate which he served until 1817.  During his time in the senate, Senator Varnum served as President pro tempore  of the Senate from December 1813 to April 1814. As President pro tempore, Varnum would act as vice president of the United States if the sitting vice president were away or unavailable.

In the midst of his dedicated career to his state and country, Joseph Bradley Varnum was chosen by Westford’s Zacheus Wright to be one of the original trustees of Westford Academy.  The self-taught scholar served as a Westford Academy trustee until 1820 and helped guide the fledgling Academy to become one of the best co-educational secondary schools in the country.

Joseph married Molly Butler of Pelham, New Hampshire on Christmas Day 1772. Molly also played an important role in the American Revolution providing everyday support to the Minutemen. “In the Photographic History of Dracut” Donat Paquet said of Molly, “Her patriotism equaled that of her husband. She was tireless in finding means of providing necessities and some comfort to soldiers who were ill-equipped.”

After returning from Congress in 1817, General Varnum returned to Massachusetts and again served in the Massachusetts State Senate until he died on September 21, 1821. Joseph Bradley Varnum is buried along with wife Molly in the Varnum Cemetery in Dracut, Massachusetts.  James VanBever (2021)

  • General information re: Joseph Bradley Varnum gleaned from Wikipedia and Ancestry.com.

** Information re: Molly Butler Varnum gleaned from 12/4/20 Lowell Sun article by Rebecca Duda.

December Photo Contest Winner

Tis the season by Justin Leonard

Do you like taking pictures? Submit your Westford related pictures to our COVID-19 Digital Time Capsule or Capture the Moment Photo contest by January 15th. Details can be found on our website.