Westborough’s second meetinghouse was built in 1748 to replace the original meetinghouse on Powder Hill. It was situated in the geographical center of the community that was established by the separation of the north precinct (Northborough) in 1744, and it became the new center of religious and political affairs of the town. But it wasn’t until the Boston & Worcester Railroad bisected the area in 1834 that the focus of residential, industrial, and retail growth moved from the villages of Wessonville, Rocklawn, and Piccadilly to the new center of town.
On Aug. 31, 1802, Nehemiah Miller, a farmer, sold a dwelling house and barn on one acre of land opposite the meetinghouse, and now being used as a noon-house (a gathering place for churchgoers and others looking for rest and refreshment), to Elijah Brigham and Breck Parkman for $2,500. The noon-house was located at the southerly corner of the horse stables of the meetinghouse, bordering on land of Elijah Brigham and Nathan Fisher. The house was a square, two-story structure of the Federal period (Source: MGL 148-265, 138-427, 151-172, Old Houses of Westborough).
The Gregory Tavern/house was established on this property at the turn of the century to offer a needed reprise for Sabbath-day church attendees. Unlike the old meetinghouse, the tavern provided warmth, food, and served warm beverages and mulled wine. In 1807, a group of 15 residents feeling the need for literary privileges met at the tavern to form the Union Library Society, the forerunner of the town library.
Other than Sunday services and an occasional meeting, the tavern took a secondary role to the Forbush and Wesson taverns located on the Worcester Turnpike. As the Gregory Tavern was not on a stagecoach or pony express route, the area was rarely visited by tourists other than those on a special trip to Hopkinton Springs.
It wasn’t until the introduction of the railroad in 1834 and the eventual failure of the Worcester Turnpike that the hotel and meetinghouse became the new center of Westborough (Resource: New England Farmer, vol. 13 pg. 191, On the Beaten Path, Old Houses).
In December 1823, Breck Parkman, the half-owner of the Gregory Tavern, sold one half ownership of the house and barn estate to Dexter Brigham, the inn manager and resident of the tavern, for $900. The bounds were designated as follows: “Beginning at the center of the front door thence southerly over the center of the well thence through the center of barn thence east to land of Nathan Fisher thence westerly to common land of the town, not including the wood house and Armory.” In 1824, the tavern was renamed Brigham’s Inn and enlarged to create the Westboro Hotel (Source: masslandrecords, 248-551).
In 1824, Dexter Brigham purchased a large barn with hay and an apparatus to weigh hay from Elijah Brigham for $100. The barn was situated north of the tavern on the common area east of Elijah’s barn and adjoining a corner of the garden and house lot of Daniel Holbrook. Brigham also partnered with George W. Parker, who conducted a livery business. Before the train reached Westborough, Ashland was its terminus, and the Brigham/Parker livery service ran delivery and passengers to that town through Hopkinton.
In March 1826, Brigham, the Inn holder, purchased the remaining half of the property from the heirs of John Gregory for $1,200. The bounds were designated as “beginning at the center of the front door of the tavern nine rods 15 links northerly to the elm tree at the backside of the long sheds, thence south 16 rods thence east 23 rods by an elm tree thence west 15 rods to southerly corner of Brigham land.” The property consisted of the Westboro Hotel/tavern, a barn, sheds and two acres of land, excepting the Armory and the wood house (Source: masslandrecords, 248-550 & 551, 240-279, Some Old Houses of Westborough).
Sally Gregory also sold to Dexter Brigham a piece of land adjacent to the hotel at the southwest corner of the town pound and Col. Nathan Fisher’s property and up to the town common at the corner of a wood house built for the convenience of Union Hall, along with the privilege to use a four-foot strip on south side of the wood house for repairs.
Mrs. Mary Ann Brigham became a well-known cook throughout the area. The hotel developed a large following of travelers wanting to take advantage of the water from Hopkinton Springs, the hot mulled wine on a cold weather day, minced pies, and election cake, also known as fruit bread, which was a favorite among travelers in the early 1800’s not as a desert, but rather as a means to fortify themselves. The hotel was especially busy on the Sabbath, election-day, and during March town meetings.
About 1830 Brigham added a three-story addition to the north end of the house that created a separate entrance from the side road with a covered piazza that led to a new tap room that became the meeting room for locals to discuss religious and social issues of the day. The first level of the hotel was the tavern room and dining area. The great hall was located on the second floor and served as a meeting hall for suppers, dances, and community meetings. The ceiling was uniquely fitted with hinged wooden partitions that were lowered to create three separate meeting areas while the third floor were rooms to let (Source: masslandrecords: 1826, 250-212; History of Worcester County; More Old Houses of Westboro).
When the Boston & Worcester Railroad proposed to locate the railroad through Westborough, it was built east to west. Entering from Southborough along the Sudbury River, through Cedar Swamp, and over undeveloped farm land, the railroad then entered Westborough center at the Westboro Hotel, crossed the Great Road, passed by the meetinghouse, and ran parallel to the road to Wessonville before turning west through farm lands and on to Worcester.
The Westboro Hotel was the only meeting facility available to accommodate the numerous community functions that were not directly affiliated with the church. It was here in 1834 that an ecclesiastical council met to hear discussions on the culmination of a 10-year theological conflict between Trinitarian and Unitarian theories. After the second day‘s meeting, an agreement to separate from the established church of Rev. Ebenezer Parkman was finalized, and a new religious society was founded. Following these meetings, the hotel proprietor declared an end to the sale of hard liquor and the hotel became known as a “Temperance House.”
In 1834, Brigham’s Hotel was the venue for the auction of the estate of the deceased Charles Parkman, which consisted of three large farms, 50 acres of pasture land, and two dwellings near the meetinghouse. In 1838, Brigham brokered the sale of the 212-acre Chamberlain Farm on the Turnpike. In 1839, residents met to organize the largest community organization, the Thief Detection Society. The hotel continued as the sole venue for community gatherings until 1888 when the Whitney House on West Main Street was built.
From November 1834 until the inaugural opening in July 1835, the train ran into Westborough center and dead ended at the Westboro Hotel where Brigham built another addition to the north end of the hotel as a railroad waiting room for passengers to escape the inclement weather and enjoy some libation before completing their journey (Source: More Old Houses of Westborough).
From the opening of the railroad until 1875, passengers waiting for the train huddled under a covered, open-walled waiting area located near the tracks. However, during inclement weather and the winter months, passengers waited in the tavern room at the hotel. When the new station was completed, the open shelter was removed and the tracks were realigned to accommodate the new brick station on the easterly side diagonally opposite the Westboro Hotel.
The summer schedule for the train was increased to three passenger trips per day. As the demand increased for freight trips, trains then ran into the nighttime hours. The increased train schedule became bothersome on Sundays, when church services and meetings at the hotel were totally disrupted by the clamor of the train. Although church services were rescheduled to accommodate the train schedule, the train tended to run on its own schedule and always seemed to disturb the peace and tranquility of Sunday services.
Late night trains often dropped off drifters, panhandlers, and drunks that were kicked off the train when stopping at the hotel, which prompted the Night Watch officer to focus his attention on the train’s arrival at the hotel.
William Henry Harrison Convention
On June 17, 1840, a political event for the election of William Henry Harrison was held at the Westboro Hotel. The Lion, one of the first locomotives of the B & W, was waiting at the Westboro Hotel for the contingent from Hopkinton to arrive before proceeding to Worcester. This train was a combination of passenger cars and refitted freight cars for passenger use to handle the enormous crowds that were heading to Worcester for the political rally.
The Lion was finally loaded and given the okay to leave the hotel for the trip to Worcester. The big train no sooner left when it was hit head-on in the area of the Fisher Street Bridge by a freight train hauled by the William Penn.
Twenty injured passengers were loaded into the last car of the train and pushed by volunteer passengers to the Westboro Hotel where a temporary medical area was established for treatment. Train service was halted for the day while railroad officials cleared the tracks.
In 1841 the Whigs returned to the Westboro Hotel for a gala inauguration dinner for President William H. Harrison. The affair was well attended by young and old with a fine dinner prepared by Mrs. Brigham. Starting in 1843 and proceeding over the next several years, Brigham sold small tracts of land to the railroad, which were developed into a passenger depot, freight houses, and storage sheds. In 1847, Brigham purchased for $200 from Sally Gregory an additional two acres of land that abutted Brigham property beginning at the “northeasterly corner of railroad thence by Lovette Peters land west by Joseph Fairbanks, then to Brigham’s land then northerly to the railroad” (Source: masslandrecords, 426-101).
In 1849, the original portion of the Gregory House tavern was separated from the hotel, moved a few rods south, and remodeled to become the Brigham residence. Also in 1849, the management of the hotel was leased to Mr. Andrew J. Bolles, and for the next 50 years the hotel had no fewer than 15 landlords until 1900.
After 30 years as owner-operator of the Westboro Hotel, Dexter Brigham sold the property to Otis Vinton, Moses Davis and Edwin Bullard for $3,700. Andrew J. Bolles became the innkeeper. The March 1853 deed included the tavern, a public house, carriage house, wood shed, barn, and a tract of land around the buildings. Then in May of 1855, Vinton sold his one-third ownership for $1,400 to Bullard & Davis.
On July 14, 1865, Brigham sold the family home on South Street to Andrew J. Snow and James M. Fellows for $3,500. The property was then converted into a straw hat shop. The irregularly L-shaped lot was located on the south side of the hotel that included a strip of land behind Mrs. Bragg and G.W. Parker, then south to the Bates & Parker hat factory. This site was later redeveloped in 1872 by the owners Henry and Bisco as an apartment building with retail stores. The development was the final notable real estate transaction before Brigham died at 84 years old in 1870 (Source: masslandrecords: 502-642 & 529-165, 711-297; 1870 Map).
George Raymond, for $7,750, while Thomas Tucker would continue as the manager until 1874. In 1876 Cobb assumed total ownership of the property.
Rollins K. Sherman was the manager of the hotel in 1878. With the roof of the second story porch removed, a gathering area was added for the third-floor guests. About this time the hotel had transitioned from an overnight guest business plan to one for long-term residents. A week stay at the hotel was $5 for gentlemen and $3.50 for ladies.
Charles D. Cobb sold the hotel to Hannah E. Spaulding for $12,000. The hotel, located on the easterly side of South Street, was bounded by land of S. G. Henry and A. G. Bisco (formerly Snow) north to the southerly side of Brigham Street in 1879 (Source: masslandrecords 864-1, 1063-220, 987-253).
The building to the left of the station is the hotel annex that was built in 1883 to accommodate the increasing work force of the National Straw Works (1871-1917) that employed 1,800 people, mostly young women from Maine and the Canadian Provinces. The business became one of the largest straw hat manufacturers in the country.
The Great Blizzard of 1888
The Great Blizzard of 1888, March 11–14, was one of the worst recorded blizzards in the history of the United States. Snow falls of 20–60 inches with drifts of 28 to 30 feet accumulated in parts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Railroads were shut down, and people were confined to their houses for up to a week. Three trains were buried in the snow in Cedar Swamp for two days. The passengers were rescued by horse-drawn sleighs and returned to the Westboro Hotel where they were given food and lodging until days later when the trains were operational.
Abolition of the Downtown Crossing
In 1895 the culmination of years of community complaints over the increasing noise, the inconvenience caused by the train creating gridlock whenever it stopped in the downtown, and other safety concerns led to the railroad’s plan to relocate the railway.
When the removal of the downtown crossing was completed in 1898, the main railroad line was dead-ended at East Main Street in front of the Westboro Hotel. The remaining rails became spur lines to support the growing manufacturing along Brigham Street.
This photo shows the Westboro Hotel and the old elm tree, while a Northboro to Westboro trolley waits for the return trip to Northborough (Source: masslandrecords, 561-391).
Hearings on the relocation and a survey of the existing roadbed were conducted at the Westboro Hotel and later moved to the townhouse. Although the train no longer stopped at the hotel after the tracks were relocated, its popularity continued with the establishment of four electric railway lines intersecting the downtown from 1897 until 1924, which brought an increase in manufacturing and retail. As the freight business grew, the number of train trips increased, noise level and safety became greater issues, and the freight trains became a larger nuisance. The locomotives became larger and were very loud, and even at a prolonged idle they shook buildings and rattled windows. In 1907, J. F. Hill managed the hotel. Also in 1907, the Whitney House on West Main Street was totally destroyed by a fire which displaced businesses and residents.
In 1908, Katherine Winchester, daughter of Hannah Spaulding, inherited the property. Katie and her husband owned and managed the property until 1923, when they sold it to Assad Ayoob of Framingham.
Conditions of the sale included the removal of the billboard located on the Brigham Street side facing the tracks. The poster was a promotion for the theater train for Chimmie Fadden. Edward Townsend was a journalist who created the sketches of Chimmie Fadden in 1895 for the New York Sun. Townsend also wrote a novel entitled “Sure” in 1904, which was made into a silent comedy that played in Boston in 1915 (Source: masslandrecords: 2307-550).
On Oct. 12, 1917, a fire that started at the Westboro Trunk & Bag spread quickly along E. Main Street, and totally destroyed the Staples Block, Westboro Inn, and the Hassell Lace & Curtain shop, before being stopped at the all brick, newly constructed Keating Building. At least a thousand employees became jobless, who otherwise had resided at the hotel and other places of lodging in downtown Westborough.
In 1931, the Town of Westborough seized the old hotel from Ayoob for failure to pay real estate taxes for the years 1929 and 1930. The property was then auctioned in October 1931 and sold to Thomas Dacey for $541.61. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported the building was demolished in 1934 by Interstate Wrecking Co. of Framingham, thus ending the history of the iconic hotel from 1830 (Source: masslandrecords, 2552-237).
Glenn R. Parker