This article was written by Rev. Charles H. Oliphant, Pastor of the First Church, Congregational for the September 1900 issue of New England Magazine. Rev. Oliphant was also an officer in the Old Methuen Historical Society.

METHUEN, MASSACHUSETTS

by

CHARLES H. OLIPHANT


The topographical mind is not found at every desk in the schoolroom. For delinquents a pedagogical device like the one now before the writer may have been useful. It is called the "Monitor's Instructor; or A System of Practical Geography of the United States of America," and was printed in Wilmington, January, 1804, by William Black. In the preface., the author, James Iddings, says: "Unpracticed in poetry in a great degree, he has ventured thereupon in the present undertaking, supposing it to be, in the general, rather more taking with youth than prose; and though not of the most flowery cast, it will, he hopes, answer the end." Here is an extract from this quaint book:

"American (our native) streams

Shall first awhile become our themes,

Both lakes and rivers, great and small,

Which in the Atlantic Ocean fall;

One gen'ral method we'll retain,

Glance over all--then turn again,

And separately, one by one,

Describe them all before we're done."


Having named in verse the tracts bordering upon the and the Ipswich rivers, the author goes on:


"The next we find upon this tract,

The crooked river Merrimack,

Doth chief within New Hampshire rise,

And part in Massachusetts lies,

If towards this river's source we go,

There's Westborough, and Marlborough;

Though Merrimack more waters claim,

None necessary here to name.

Near Cokachock and to the west

The town Andover is express'd.

Another town lies north still more;

Methuen., on the northern shore."


No other reference to the subject of this article is made by our geographical muse, who narrowly escapes the distinction of spelling the name correctly.

If any circumstance can relieve the dark prospect of in South Africa., it is the probability that the oft printed name of one of the British generals there engaged will familiarize the public with that of a beautiful New England town. In how different orthographies the postal clerks manage to recognize the destination of our letters one cannot undertake to say. These spellings range from "Metun" to "Matthewing," with strong leanings to Metuchen and Wrentham. The possession of a unique geographical designation (for it has never been disputed that we are the only and original Methuen) saves us from the necessity of warning the public against "worthless imitations, advertised to be just as good" as we. Nor is it permitted any stranger to correct our pronunciation of the name. It matters not whether Meth-wen is truer to traditional English usage; we say Methu-en, without a care whether the teeth press the tongue into a precise u or let the vowel ooze in its "trooly rooral" fashion.

When the Merrimac River began its accommodating detour to the eastward in order to furnish Nashua, Lowell and Lawrence with much needed water power, the tract enclosed in this loop must have been what the little boy would call "a good place for Indians." The practised eye of the relic-hunter discovers now their flint fiascoes in ploughed fields, and the remains of a fish weir are pointed out on the Spicket which flows through Methuen from the north and finds the Merrimac just below the duck bridge in Lawrence. But long, very long, before then, at that interesting period when the north pole was seeking us rather than we the north pole, the titanic implements of the ice god were scraping and filling in the foundations for our town. Not a little of the charm of its landscape, not a little of the comfort of its drives, is due to the drumlins and moraines which furnish sites for our buildings and ballast for our roads.

When all things were prepared, the white man came. Settling at Haverhill, descendants of the traditional "two brothers who came over in three ships," and landed either at Portsmouth, Newbury or Salem., spread along the north bank of the winding river, disputing with aboriginal proprietors the question of eminent domain. If Hannah Dustin and her captors on their way to Pennacook near Concord,, New Hampshire, kept the north bank of the Merrimac, as is reported, they must needs have traversed Methuen from end to end. There were few recorded depredations from the Indians in the early history of the town. Whether due to their considerate treatment by the whites or to the "imperfection of the record.," the only occurrence resembling a massacre appears to have been the killing of a boy by thievish redskins near the junction of the Howe and Slough roads. The former of these roads is one of the oldest thoroughfares within the town. For ten miles west by south from Haverhill the likeliest spots were gradually cleared of timber and connected by bridlepaths and narrow cartroads.

As settlers multiplied, there began to be talk at evening time before the fire, more especially on Sabbath days after meeting, about a separation from Haverhill. In 1723 Joshua Swan and twenty-six others petitioned that town "to set off fifty or sixty acres' of land southwest of Bear Meadow together with a piece lying on a hill commonly called Meeting House Hill, in times passed reserved by our forefathers for the use of the ministry, which might in hard times make a convenient parsonage, if, by the blessing of God, the gospel might flourish amongst us, and we grow so prosperous as to be able to maintain and carry on the gospel ministry amongst us."

The discerning will not fall to recognize in this initial movement looking to the formation of a town that the gospel ministry is "plowed into the soil of history." Nowadays towns have their churches; then churches had their towns. The petition of 1723 was unsuccessful. Two years later (1725) another petition, sent this time to the General Court at Boston, praying that they would separate A township from Haverhill, procured the following-act of legislation:

"Whereas the west part of the town of Haverhill is competently filled with inhabitants who labor under great difficulties by their remoteness from the place of public worship ... be it that the west part of Haverhill, etc., be and hereby is set off and constituted a separate township by the name of Methuen....Provided that the inhabitants of the said town of Methuen do within the space of three years from the publication of this act, erect and finish a suitable house for the public worship of God and procure and settle a learned and orthodox minister of good conversation ...and that, set apart a lot of two hundred acres of land in some convenient place for the use of the ministry, and a lot of fifty acres for the use of a school, whereupon they shall be discharged from any further payments for the maintenance of the ministry in Haverhill."

How the town got its name is not perfectly clear. There is no reason to doubt that it was chosen by Governor Dummer, but whether as a token of respect for Lord Methuen or to commemorate a region of that name in Scotland familiar to him may never be ascertained. In the cabinet of the boudoir at Corsham Court., the home of the present Lord Paul Methuen, is a miniature of Paul Methuen, Esq., of Bradford, 1604. His father, John Methuen, left Scotland during the persecutions, and was considerately treated by Elizabeth, who took him under her protection, "presenting him to valuable ecclesiastical preferments in the county of Somerset." John Methuen died in 1606. Paul's son Anthony was prebendary of Wells and Lichfield , and vicar of Frome from 1609 to 1640. His second son Anthony was the ancestor of Paul Methuen, for whom this town is supposed to have been named.

In 1703 a famous treaty between England and Portugal was negotiated by Paul's father, the Right Honorable John Methuen. By this treaty Englishmen drank cheaper port wine and the Portuguese wore cheaper dresses. The son of John Methuen, Sir Paul, was prominent in English politics and a privy councillor. One Doctor Doran alludes to him in the following anecdote:

"In the reign of George II, there lived a Wiltshire gentleman named Paul Methuen, who had a passion for reading the weary, dreary novels of his time. Queen Caroline loved to rally him on his weakness, and one day asked him what he had been last reading. 'May it please your majesty,' said Paul., 'I have been reading a poor book on a poor subject, the Kings and Queens of England."

The latter part of Sir Paul's life was passed in strict retirement. His memory and that of his father are preserved by the following inscription in Westminster Abbey:

"Near this Place lies the Body of JOHN METHUEN Esq.r who died abroad in the Service of his Country Anno Dni 1706.

"And also that of his Son SIR PAUL METHUEN Knight of the Bath who died April 11th 1757 In the 85th year of his Age,"

At an early Methuen town meeting it was voted: "That the Selectmen should have power to agree with an athadoxt minister to serve in the work of the ministry for the year ensewing and not to exceed five and forty pounds and find the minister his diat." It is to be presumed (human nature remaining the same) that the minister's orthodoxy was inferred by the Selectmen from their ability to "agree, with" him. On October 29, 1729, described in the town records as a "day of solemn fasting and prayer," sedate men and women threaded their way from Bradford,, from Amesbury, from Haverhill and Andover from scattered homes about town, to organize a church in the new meetinghouse.

There was much in the scene that must have been very like the Indian summer of to-day. Over meadows, forests, fields, there lay the same purple haze,--breezes at once cool and warm, fanned cheeks flushed with expectation. The oaks hung out their bronze shields, maples here and there held up a flaming torch, over the skirts of the forest the birches flung their lace. Now and again a clearing appeared, a humble roof, a patch of late vegetables, purpled by the bite of early frosts; ears of stripped corn hung by their husks under the eaves, and festoons of drying apples over a sunny porch. In the fields were stacks of unhusked corn, inverted cornucopias of the generous year, with yellow pumpkins strewn about their mouths, as if the cup of plenty had run over the filling. Cattle, unyoked and unexploited that day, patiently chewed and blinked beside the bars, There was the odor of dead leaves heaped along the hollows in great banks of fading color, incense of "a wayside sacrament," which few perhaps among the hardy and practical folk of that day had either time to celebrate or taste to enjoy. Along their converging paths these earnest men and women came to the house, one year old, on Meeting-House Hill, where until 1706 all town meetings as well as meetings for worship were held.

Properly speaking, October 29, 1729, was a fast day, preparatory to the ordination of Rev. Christopher Sargent, which occurred a week later. A sermon was preached and the church was "gathered" at the call of the Rev. Samuel Phillips, of Andover, twenty-one persons consenting to the covenant:

"We whose names are hereunto subscribed, apprehending ourselves called of God to enter into the church-state of the Gospel, do first of all confess ourselves unworthy of so great privileges and favors, and admire that free and rich grace of His, which triumphs over so great unworthiness, and then, with an humble reliance on the aids of grace therein promised for them that in a sense of their inability to do any good thing, do humbly wait on Him for all....We desire and intend, and with dependence on His promise and powerful grace, we engage to walk together as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the faith and order of the Gospel so far as we shall have the same revealed to us, conscientiously attending the public worship of God, the sacraments of the New Testament, the discipline of His kingdom, and all His holy institutions in communion one with another, and watchfully avoiding sinful stumbling-blocks and contentions as becomes a people whom the Lord has bound up in the bundle of life .... And all this we do, flying to the blood of the everlasting covenant for the pardon of our many errors, and praying that the glorious Lord, who is the great Shepherd, would prepare and strengthen us to every good work, to do His will., working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Few more beautiful documents, it is safe to say, can be found in the annals of early New England. It was a covenant, not a creed, a symbol of life, not a test of belief. Imagination sees in the back of the meetinghouse that day, here and there, a "Praying Indian." Outside, the blue jay and the crow disputed a favorite perch. Within, the people's hearts were fixed.

It must be recorded, however, that "sinful contentions" were not so watchfully avoided as it was intended they should be. In the Rev. Christopher Sargent's handwriting may be read an entry for 1733 that "at a church meeting, a charge being made against Thomas S. of profane and sinful language in saying that Deacon ------ was a cursed., deceitful fellow as goes upon the earth, that he lived a h--l upon earth with him, that he was the devilishest cursed fellow that ever God made, or in words to this purpose," etc., it was voted that the offender repent and confess his fault. Thomas repented and confessed and the church forgave him. That, at least, was good. Mr. Sargent lived out his entire life with the people, and his body, "branded with the marks" of his Master's service for fifty-three years, was laid under the pine needles on Meeting-House Hill.

A second parish, known as "The North Church of Methuen," was set off in 1735. The town of Salem., New Hampshire, grew out of this ecclesiastical partition. April 16, 1766, a third or West Parish was set off, which, after the incorporation of Salem, New Hampshire, was known as "The Second Church in Methuen." In 1832 this church was reabsorbed by the original congregation. It was not until the second decade of the present century (19th) that other denominations grew out of the differences in faith and practice which by that time had become irreconcilable within the older body. In 1815 the Baptist Church was organized and became afterwards for a time the largest congregation in town. The Universalists followed in 1824, and a Methodist Church in 1838; In 1878 St. Thomas's Episcopal Church was organized, and a Primitive Methodist Church in 1888. Within a few years the Roman Catholic congregation previously worshipping in the Town Hall has built a suitable edifice on the corner of Park Street and Broadway. Besides the churches, there are upwards of twenty-five fraternal and social organizations now existing.

The triumphal progress of General Lafayette from Boston to the New Hampshire capital in 1825 suggests some reference to the roads of this region in the early part of the present (19th) century. In the days of the beginning of the city of Lowell, much merchandise went from there to Concord and back by the Merrimac River. Locks carried the small flatboats around the falls and rapids. When the water was high, oxen were occasionally used to tow. Each boat had a crew of three men, one to steer, two to make the boat go, Oars were used with the current; against it, the boat was propelled with poles, the two men putting their padded shoulders against the ends of the poles and walking aft. In replacing the poles the adverse current was an advantage, carrying the ends of the poles rapidly to the bottom and fixing them there without loss of headway. When proceeding down stream, opposite conditions offered corresponding advantage to the use of oars. At Chelmsford, near Lowell, water was taken from the Concord River for the canal to Boston.

The so-called Concord turnpike had been built in or about the year 1806. This road left the Merrimac at Hooksett, struck about due South over the hills, via Derry, Salem, New Hampshire and Methuen Village, to the Andover bridge. An older road took a more southwesterly direction over the hill in the rear of the present residence of James Ingalls, and led to a ferry across the Merrimac about half a mile above the Lawrence dam. The prestige of the new thoroughfare north of Derry, New Hampshire, continued about thirty years, when travel north of that town was diverted to the new, pretentious and really fine "Mammoth Road." Mr. Daniel Morrison, who drove a stage between Methuen and Andover during the eventful years from 1844 to 1849, tells me that on one afternoon in 1837, while working near the Mammoth Road, he counted seven passing stage coaches on the new thoroughfare. The road was called the "Mammoth," one of its projectors told Mr. Morrison., "to kill all the other roads." It seems that such was its effect.

General Lafayette went over the older Concord Turnpike. It was on the morning of June 21, 1825, that he left Boston. "There were, says the old journal of Josiah Quincy, who rode beside Lafayette in one of them, "three open barouches, each drawn by four horses, those attached to the General's carriage being perfectly white animals of noble appearance. I rode at the left of Lafayette.. and Colonel Davis had the front seat to himself. The carriages following us contained George Washington, Lafayette and others of the suite. We were accompanied by outriders, and for a part of the way at least by a detachment of cavalry. We left the city through thongs of people which almost stopped the streets, and at every town and every crossroad we were received by new throngs pressing upon us to salute the guest of the nation. We made short stops for the babies to be kissed (by proxy or otherwise) and for the men (those who could get near the barouche) to take the General by the hand...As we were approaching Andover, Lafayette said: 'Now tell me all about this place and for what it is remarkable.' I gave him several local incidents, describing especially the Theological Seminary, etc. The General treasured the hints, and in his speech made the happiest allusion to that sacred hill. On my return through the town, I met an old gentleman who, though not connected with the institution, was deeply interested in its honor and success. 'I was really surprised,' he said to me, 'at the particular and accurate knowledge that General Lafayette possessed in regard to our Theological Seminary. I always knew that in the religious world it was an object of great concern; but I never supposed that in the courts and camps of Europe so much interest was taken in the condition and prospects of this institution.' ... Methuen was the last town in Massachusetts where we stopped to receive the homage of the people. Soon after we reached the state line, where we gave up our guest to the authorities of New Hampshire. Lafayette embraced his two companions at parting. To me his last words were: 'Remember, we must meet again in France'; and, so saying, he kissed me upon both cheeks. 'If Lafayette had kissed me,' said an enthusiastic lady of my acquaintance, 'depend upon it, I would never have washed my face again as long as I lived."

On the morning of this halcyon day of June, 1825, the people of Methuen gathered in large numbers to play their part in the programme. Mothers, with their babies to be kissed by the lips which touched the hand of Marie Antoinette during the mob at Versailles, were there, and so were the fathers and their sons, with young men and maidens, old men and children. Self-appointed sentinels from the ranks craned their necks in the direction of Andover, and now and then gave out a false alarm of the approach of the three barouches. At length a great cry went up., "There they come!" Sure enough, a cloud of dust could be plainly seen, half a mile away, with many signs of commotion in that direction, The girls put their hands to their back-hair, the men to their neckties and waistcoats, mothers gave a last touch to infant noses and forelocks, attitudes were struck, and resolutions were formed by more than one onlooker to be the finest figure upon which French eyes would rest that day. The dust and commotion grew nearer. The procession was advancing more rapidly than had been anticipated. Suddenly in a screaming panic, the crowd scamper in all directions to make way for--Major Osgood's bull! The animal had gained what Lafayette had fought for, liberty, and, not being a Christian, was using it "as an occasion for the flesh." The distinguished party did not, however, fail to arrive, and was later entertained at a dinner, for which a pig was roasted by one of our women.

At the time of the projection of "the New City" (Lawrence), the stage for Andover, which had been making two trips a day, left Methuen at 6 A. M., took passengers and mail from the train in Andover at about eight, and reached Methuen on the return trip at nine A. M. The second round trip began at four in the afternoon, returning in time to allow the horses to be put up about seven. In May, 1845, ground was broken by the Essex Company near the Andover Bridge Company's bridge. On account of increased travel, three and afterwards five daily trips were made, until the railroad was diverted northward to the sandy bank of the Merrimac on the south side. The two dollars per week toll which the driver had paid to the Bridge Company had been increased in 1846 to three dollars. Upon the bending of the railroad our stages ran only to Lawrence., and were later discontinued altogether. At present, electric cars at intervals Of twenty minutes before and ten minutes after noon give ready connection between all points roundabout. The Manchester and Lawrence Railroad was finished In 1849, with Methuen for its last station, a mile and a half from the Lawrence terminal.

"There is in every country town

A schoolhouse and a church;

There are two men of great renown,

The parson with his awful frown.

And he who wields the birch.

0 birch, how hast thou made to roar

Such lads as in affairs of lore

Were with bad mem'ries blest."'


Where the schoolhouse stood, or whether there was one at the beginning, is uncertain. There is less doubt that the wielders of the birch were for a long time of one sex, In 1749 the town voted "to appoint a committee to agree with schoolmistresses and appoint convenient places for them to meet in." A pleasant committee to serve on, there are signs that it has never quite gone out of date, though it is not at present appointed by the town. The districting of the school population was accomplished in 1775, a number of schoolhouses being built that year for L29 each. In the same year the sum appropriated for schools was L3O; in 1876, $8,000; in 1899, $23,000. In 1775 there was a total population of about 1,300, with two hundred and fifty-two polls. It is now estimated that there are in the neighborhood of 7,000 residents within the town, with more polls than there were people a hundred years ago. Then Methuen was a group of farms. It is now, though politically distinct, more or less identified commercially and socially with Lawrence, to which it is contiguous,, city and village appearing to the eye of a stranger as one large community of 65,000 people. Indeed it has never been quite agreed whether Lawrence is a part of Methuen or Methuen a part of Lawrence. Geographically the former is true, for fifty years ago the city, most of it, was carved out of the town; but when our friends from abroad sit for half a day in the station at Boston, "waiting for a train to Methuen.," we are apt to concede that, in the timetable, Methuen is spelled L-a-w-r-e-n-c-e. A leading citizen once averred in town meeting: "The man that does not know where Methuen is is a d-eclared a-gnostic."

Going back to the troubled years of revolutionary history, --on September 20., 1774 , the town, "taking into serious consideration the state of public affairs," appointed a committee of fifteen to consult and advise with similar committees from other towns that "no encroachments are not made on our Constitutional Rights and Liberties, that we may enjoy the blessings we have left in peace and not be deprived of them from any quarter." In the following month the first military company was organized: "Whereas military Exercise hath been much nelicked we the subscribers being the first comptrey in Methuen Do Covenant and engage to from our sevels in to a Bodey in order to Larn the manual Exercise To be Subegat To Such Officers as the Comptrey shall chuse by Voat in all constutenal marsher according to our Chattaers." This company consisted of forty-five men, and among the few things certainly known about them is that the spelling-book formed no part of their impedimenta!

James Ingalls, Jonathan Swan and John Huse were appointed by the town the next spring to instruct the committee of fifteen previously alluded to as to the service demanded of them by reason of British aggression. Fifteen days afterwards four companies of minutemen marched toward Lexington to join "the embattled farmers" who fired "the shot heard around the world." These companies comprised 156 men, or three-fifths of the entire polls of the town. No other proof is needed of that flaming patriotism which discouraged England and by its success at home kindled in long suffering France the conflagration in which, from a burning throne, Liberty itself caught fire and fell into the common ruin.

A single company of forty-seven men under the brave Captain John Davis fought at Bunker Hill, losing three men, two of wounds, one killed outright. The surgery of that day is illustrated by a story still told of the experience of one of the wounded whose leg required amputation. After the first operation, the bone protruding, a second was made with similarly abortive results. From a third attempt the poor man died.

For the civil war Methuen furnished 325 men, a surplus of 51 over all demands. On Memorial Days the fifty living veterans of Post 100 G. A. R. carry with solemn pride the flag that all defended bravely in that never-to-be-forgotten struggle. An appropriate monument, the gift of Mr. Charles H. Tenney, commemorates "the soldiers and sailors who fought in defence of the Union." At the dedication of this monument, on a beautiful summer day in 1889, the writer remembers an incident which, because of its genuine and unobtrusive wit, he has often wished to write down. The marshal of the procession on that occasion was the late Henry C. Nevins, whose untimely death a few years later was deeply mourned by the entire community. He was superbly mounted, sat his horse finely, and was directly in front of the orator of the day, listening to every word with that attentive urbanity so characteristic of him. Whether the speaker lost for a moment the thread of his discourse, or was led by sympathy with his mounted auditor to speak of an avocation which both ardently loved, he at all events referred in glowing terms to horticulture, adding with a gesture directed at Mr. Nevins: "I appeal to Marshal Nevins to say if I am stating too strongly its charm?" Lifting his tile and bowing low, with an eye fixed upon the speaker, the marshal replied, with the quotation: "It is magnificent, Colonel, but it is not war!" With some embarrassment the orator recovered his theme and went on afterwards without distressing. It was at about this period that Methuen began to receive at the hands of a few generous citizens the artistic adornments which make it already quite unique among towns of its size and importance. The Memorial Hall and Library erected upon spacious grounds by the family of David Nevins contains about 14,000 chosen books with many rare and costly prints and paintings. Three life-size portraits of members of the family., by Hubert Herkomer, hang in the book-room. The hall seating about 500 is at present the best in town. The man in whose memory it stands was during his life the business chief of the community. In 1864 he bought the cotton mill property erected in 1812 by Haverhill men at a point then known as Spicket Falls, now the industrial center of the town. The first mill burnt in 1818, was rebuilt and bought by the Methuen Company in 1821, and is profitably operated under the same name at the present time. Wherever "Methuen duck" has been read upon the wings of our birds of commerce (and what port in the world has not seen it) or upon the flies of circus tents, the town's famous industry has been represented. The skill with which we have woven sailcloth has made the lives of sailor men more safe, lessening at the same time teas, coffees, spices and "W. I. goods" consumed at home. The mill was also famous for its ticking. In war time lines of goods were substituted. In the rear of the Memorial Hall repose the bodies of David Nevins and Mrs. Nevins, and that of their son David Nevins, who died abroad in 1898. The spot in marked by an elaborate bronze angel by the sculptor Moretti.

A memorial window in the Congregational Church is visited yearly by many hundreds of strangers. Shortly after the death, in 1892, of Mr. Henry C. Nevins, his widow erected an apse and window to his memory. The apse, with its rich furniture, was designed by Messrs. Heins and LaFarge of New York. The window is the work of the celebrated artist, Mr. John LaFarge, and is regarded as one of the finest windows in existence, About two years elapsed between the beginning and the completion of the memorial. Its cost is supposed to have exceeded fifty thousand dollars. The church also received from Mrs. Nevins a communion service of silver and gold. In a letter which the artist has written, replying to a request for such hints as he might wish to give for the understanding of his work, he says:

"I meant to represent the Resurrection of our Lord, but in my feelings as far as I could express them. In a word, I wished to symbolize, or express, or typify the whole idea of the Resurrection, the rising, passing into another life by death, through gloom and darkness, and the clouds of the present, into the less obscured presence of our sole object, God and his light and full satisfaction. It is the expression of a hopeful certitude."

Only a Christian man could have wrought this miracle in glass. Admirable as is the skill and patience with which ten thousand pieces of a most refractory medium have been united with the apparent fluency of oil, wonderful as is the texture, the reflected light, the glory of pure color, the subtle gradations of shade in the draperies, the translucence of the deep tones and the opalescent hues above, nothing is so wonderful as the spiritual insight it reveals and the enduring impression which is produced by it. It deserves to be called an Artist's Sermon on the Resurrection.

Grey Court, the stately home of Mr. Charles H. Tenney, attracts much attention, the massive house overlooking a vast territory, including the five great manufacturing cities of the Merrimac Valley.

Visitors to Methuen often remark its English look. Fine granite walls abound, the finest and most extensive surrounding Pine Lodge, the home of Mr. Edward F. Searles. On an elevation within the same grounds is a classical granite tower of large proportions containing the chime-clock which marks each quarter hour with a bit of silvery melody. Among the many unique features of Pine Lodge are two Granite pillars sixty feet high supporting bronze tripods of pure Grecian design surmounted by torches, which burn, upon occasion, immense jets of gas. Opposite these stands the Washington Monument. On the morning of February 22, 1900, amid driving rain, the people of Methuen missed the familiar house and swaddling bands which had, since its erection by Mr. Searles two years ago, concealed the monument, and looked for the first time upon its marble and bronze.

This important sculpture is regarded by the artist himself, and by those competent to pass judgment upon it, as the masterpiece of Thomas Ball in his "My Threescore Years and Ten," Mr. Ball tells with enthusiasm as artless as it is contagious how the coveted commission came to him to complete his chef d'oeuvre. At the age of eighty-three he now has the pleasure of seeing the enshrinement of his own genius with that of his hero in a lovely vale in the heart of New England, not too far from the elm in Cambridge where General Washington took command of the continental army,

With its majestic size and finished execution, the monument suggests as descriptive of itself a phrase once used in connection with the Taj Mahal: "A thing designed by Titans and executed by jewellers." Surmounting the pedestal of Carrara marble is the heroic figure of the Father of his country. The standing posture is rendered graceful by the advance of the right foot and the extension of the hand as if in benediction, while the ample folds of a military cloak fall from the shoulders backward to the feet. Niches on each face of the pedestal are occupied by bronze busts of Lafayette, Greene, Knox and Lincoln. The effect of these embellishments is cameo-like in refinement of proportion and delicate execution. About the spreading base at the four angles sit symbolic figures in bronze., "Oppression," "Revolution," "Victory" and "Cincinnatus." Between these are eagles with-extended wings, adding unity to the composition, together with a strong patriotic accent. As a whole, the monument is unsurpassed by any work of its kind in the country and richly deserves the admiration it daily receives. Some time, however, must still elapse before its landscape setting will be complete.

Those who remember the famous Music Hall organ of the last generation, and the noon concerts when it was exhibited to large audiences by players like Willcox, Lang, Mrs. Frohock, and George W. Morgan, will feel a thrill of satisfaction in the thought that it is to be installed in a specially constructed music hall within this town. Its noble caryatids supporting lofty pipes of tin formed a front whose majestic proportions seemed to the writer in his boyhood to quench the player or reduce him to a mere body-servant of the incarnate Soul of Music.* In the Methuen Organ Company's works, adjacent to the new Organ Hall, some of the finest instruments of the country have been recently built, one of the most noteworthy being the memorial organ in Grace Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Methuen has among its various institutions a chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution and a Historical Society in flourishing condition. The president of the latter, Hon. Joseph Sidney Howe himself a lineal descendant of one of the principal founders of the town, wrote for its 150th anniversary in 1876 a historical sketch which for exact knowledge continues to be, outside of the town records, the best available source of information about the early days.

The home of the descendants of Stephen Barker, Esq., on the road to Lowell, near what is now called Glen Forests is shown in an illustration. It was Stephen Barker who drew up the papers, led the petitions, and presided over the councils of the earliest Methuen, That he was a man of probity and influence is evident from the town's records.

Two men born in Methuen have achieved renown within the bounds of New England. Nathaniel Peaslee Sargent, son of Rev. Christopher Sargent, became chief justice of Massachusetts in 1790, having at that time been upon the bench of the Superior Court for fifteen years. He died one year after his appointment as chief justice.

Rev. Asa Messer, who was born in the garrison houses recently destroyed, near the Merrimac River, in the east part of the town, in 1769, graduated at Brown University in 1790. Having occupied in that institution chairs of languages., mathematics and natural philosophy successively, he became in 1802 its president, remaining in that office for twenty-five years. He died in 1836.

While the citizenship of Methuen has always been worthy, the town seems to have sent out few men of distinguished abilities in the councils of the state or nation, a circumstance which may be in part accounted for by the fact that she is not what is reckoned in Essex County--"the most historical county of the United States"--an old town. For nearly a hundred years, other communities had been raising, from stock imported in part from the best manhood of England, families preserving traditions of wealth, learning and honor in public affairs. It was not until a century had elapsed that the farmers along the north bank of the Merrimac west of Haverhill acquired their autonomy, It is probably true that the academy town, the seaport and the commercial centre have advantages as nurseries of greatness. Methuen has not the advantage of being either of these. She has, nevertheless, lived her long and useful life with self-respect and honor. Her town meetings have been characterized by order, intelligence and, in the main, a progressive spirit. There are few better roads in the state than hers; her water works are ample and excellent; and her manufacturers and merchants are men of weight and character. In every emergency she has fulfilled her part with generous patriotism. She does not wish to annex Lawrence nor to be a part of any greater city. Her schools, under able superintendence and instruction, are well supported and, upon the completion of a fine high school, the gift of Mr. E. F. Searles, will be as well housed as those of any town of corresponding Importance.

At the present time, besides the mills of the Methuen Company, there are factories where yarn and woollen goods are made, one for the manufacture of hats., one for knitted fabrics, and a few smaller industries. The shoe business, at one time largely carried on, is now entirely discontinued. That Methuen will become again an important manufacturing town seems Improbable. As a place of residence it already possesses many attractions; and, should certain far-reaching projects be realized, chaste bits of landscape and architecture will so abound as to present unusual claims upon lovers of the beautiful.

About ten years ago a Village Improvement Society was organized upon lines suggested by the late well known promoter of such enterprises, Hon. Birdsey G. Northrop, who twice addressed the citizens. This movement has recently received fresh Impetus and reorganization through the enthusiasm principally of the younger ladies.

Under an arrangement not wholly satisfactory to all, by which its post office is connected as a sub-station with that of Lawrence, Methuen is now making up its mind whether or no it enjoys the somewhat unexpected blessing of a free delivery of the mails.

 

* It is interesting to note that the case of the great organ was made by Herter Brothers of New York, with which firm the present owner was long connected.


Last updated 9/4/07

 

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