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
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.
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.