Mendon’s Controversial Farming Road : 1755 – 1774  

    A small farming road became the center of a controversy in Mendon in the mid 1700's, and it
    raised questions about what rights abutting land owners had in regards to regulating its use
    or its right to exist. The prevailing conflict was brought to the attention of town officials and
    town meeting voters on several occasions, without ever reaching an agreement in which
    owners and neighborhood farmers were satisfied. It was only through the passage of time and
    a new, more important controversy that the divisive farm road issue was able to be  put to rest.

    The road in question was a side road off of North Avenue (County Road) that led to Muddy
    Brook. It  provided a way for area farmers to bring their cattle, horses, and other farm animals
    to water. This controversial pathway separated the properties of the highly respected Rawson
    and  Dorr families. Rev. Joseph Dorr was married to Mary Rawson, daughter of Rev. Grindall
    Rawson.  Joseph Dorr Jr. was the town's schoolmaster, an attorney, and a state legislator.
    The Dorrs and the Rawsons found the ongoing agricultural traffic to be a nuisance. At several
    town meetings between 1755 and 1773, Edward Rawson, on behalf of both families, tried to
    shut down the road to the public. The farmers wanted the road to stay open.

    The issue was contentious. Edward Rawson successfully persuaded voters at a town meeting
    on March 3, 1755 to close the road, and that he would pay the town one dollar. The issue
    arose again in 1757, when there was an attempt to  have it opened, but the motion did not
    pass. Rawson agreed to pay eight schillings to continue to keep it closed. James Lovett
    threatened court action in protest. By May 22, 1769, voters finally elected to open the road to
    Muddy Brook for easy access for animal watering. The controversy reached a new level in
    1772, when a petition was filed with the Court of Sessions to continue the road through the
    East Precinct, which is now Hopedale and Milford, to the Holliston line. Route 16 was not yet
    in existence. Atty. Joseph Dorr and Peter Penniman led the fight to defeat the proposal.
    Finally, on March 7, 1774, voters approved a proposal for a four rod road to be built from the
    County Road to cross Muddy Brook  and to extend up to Eight Rod Road, near the present
    Hopedale town line, not far from Middle Post Road. After nineteen years of controversy, this
    vote apparently went uncontested.

    The farm road to Muddy Brook was divisive, but the issue came to a gradual end by
    nonrelated circumstances. By the 1774 town meeting, Joseph Dorr and Edward Rawson had
    become immersed in the spirit of the American Revolution. They were closely affiliated with
    the activities of Boston's Sons of Liberty, representing Mendon at the Provincial Congress
    and Committee of Correspondence. They created and successfully passed the Nineteen
    Resolves at a March 1, 1773 town meeting. The Resolves drew attention from colonial
    leaders and were regarded as a preliminary document in preparation of the Declaration of
    Independence. The two neighbors provided leadership in preparing their town for the
    Revolutionary War. It is likely that by the time of  the 1774 town meeting,  the traffic of farm
    animals was no longer a concern in their very busy patriotic lives.

    The homes of Dorr and Rawson no longer exist, but according to historian, Dr. John Metcalf,
    they were located at the sites of what are currently 59 and 73 North Avenue. The road to
    Muddy Brook was their  boundary line. Dr. Metcalf did not indicate if the approved plan for an
    extended road to Eight Rod Road was ever carried out, but one has to wonder if the two
    patriots ever envisioned the 1774 plan as their own on-ramp to nearby Middle Post Road, a
    connecting road to Boston. The anger and contention of the farming road was replaced by
    the vision of a new nation. Finally, the controversy was put to rest --for good !!!

    Richard Grady and John Trainor  --  Mendon Historical Society  --  February 12, 2016

Mendon Agricultural Statistics, 1865                     Mendon Menu   

    The Google Earth views above show where the farming road, the subject of the
    article below, was. (In the one at the top, you'll see a  >  indicating where the road
    met North Avenue. Thanks to Paul Doucette for that.) The pictures show
    Northbridge Road coming in from the left and meeting North Avenue. From there,
    the farming road went off to the right, over toward Muddy Brook.

    Thanks to John Trainor for sending the photo above. In it, the driveway going
    toward the right appears to be where the farming road was. Thanks to Dick Grady
    for confirming that. The Northbridge Road intersection is at the center-left.