Medway Village Historic District

Medway Town, Norfolk County, MA

Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact

William H. Cary House

Photo: William H. Cary House, circa 1852, located in the Medway Village Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Photo by wikipedia username:John Phelan, 2010, via wikimedia commoms, [cc 3.0], accessed September, 2022.


The Medway Village Historic District represents a significant concentration of historic resources within the larger town of Medway, a historic farming and industrial community at the western edge of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, about 25 miles southwest of Boston. The district contains 289 buildings (239 contributing, 50 non-contributing), two contributing structures (a bridge and a dam), two contributing sites, and nine objects (four contributing, five noncontributing) on approximately 60 acres of land. It is bounded on the north by an abandoned railroad right-of-way, on the south by the Charles River, on the east by Oakland Street, and on the west by Holliston Street, but extending along Village Street to Legion Avenue.

The town of Medway measures slightly over 11‑1/2 square miles in size and is comparatively level, located to the north of the Charles River, which forms its southern border. This meandering stream includes several of its best falls through its Medway length, one near Chicken Brook in West Medway and three in Medway Village, where the river falls nearly 40 feet. Although the Charles River runs to the east along the section south of Medway, it tums to run more nearly north between Millis and Medfield. The eastern edge of town is adjacent to the Great Black Swamp, mostly in neighboring Millis. The land slopes gently up from the river and the swamp, which are located about 40 meters above sea level, to the north and west, seldom rising above 60 to 75 meters. The western section of the town includes the highest land, about 90 meters in height. Soils are generally good, loamy, and moist intervale. The town's two principal roads are Village Street, an east-west route along the Charles River, and Main Street, a highway (MA Route 109) connecting Medway northeasterly to Millis and westerly to Milford. The railroad came through the town in the 19"' century but is no longer in service.

Medway Village is located in the southeast comer of the town, on and above Village Street. This was the first area in the town to see significant growth and increased density with the establishment of small textile mills on the falls of the Charles River at the end of the 18th century. The area was also known historically as Factory Village by the 1830s. The village's growth was the product of significant industrial development throughout the 19"" century, peaking in the third quarter. These development patterns are clearly expressed on the landscape by concentrations of popular New England house forms from the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Little of the industrial landscape survives, with the exception of the Sanford Mills complex on Sanford Street (now converted to condominiums). Historical maps show that almost half (45% or 130 buildings) of the district's inventory was built between 1831 and 1897 (58 between 1831 and 1858, and 72 between 1858 and 1897). An additional 78 buildings (27%) were constructed between 1900 and 1956, and 46 more were built after that; almost half (45%) of the 20th century buildings are outbuildings, primarily garages, rather than newly developed lots.

The area is now primarily a residential landscape (269 buildings, or 93%); the remainder are commercial, institutional, civic, small-scale industrial, or mixed commercial-residential. Three churches are located in this area, the Village Evangelical Congregational Church, Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, and Christ Episcopal Church. Medway's town hall, Sanford Hall, is also in the village. An altered schoolhouse survives, the District School House #7, which was moved from its original location on Village Street and converted to a private residence. In addition, the area contains 15 small commercial establishments—some purpose built, others converted from residential use—mostly along Village Street. Several small-scale industrial buildings are located on the periphery, but mostly residential uses border the district on all sides.

The best-preserved sections of the Medway Village Historic District are along its two primary thoroughfares. Village Street is an east-west thoroughfare that roughly parallels the course of the Charles River running between Millis to the east and Bellingham to the west. This street contains the best-preserved and largest collection of 19th century-house types most commonly found in the area, including ell houses, double houses, end houses, and several early multifamily types, as well as several public buildings. The second major artery, Holliston Street, runs diagonally north from the village center. The east side of the street is lined with a collection of well-preserved, mid 19th-century end houses in the Greek Revival style. The remaining side streets, running mostly perpendicular to Village Street, contain a diverse collection of examples of house types common to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dense development is concentrated in the small collection of streets bounded by Village and Sanford streets and the Charles River, near the mill sites. Development to the north of Village Street tends to diminish in density moving away from that primary thoroughfare. Some of this openness is due to the loss of buildings, most often industrial structures, although several lots were never developed. The houses are generally set close to the street and lot sizes vary, often in accordance with the scale of the house. A number of the larger residences retain their original outbuildings, such as carriage houses, some of which have been converted to single or multifamily residences. Some modem development has occurred, often on undeveloped parcels rather than as replacements of earlier structures, or at the periphery, with the greatest clusters being a condominium development at 115 Village Street near Oakland Street and several houses near the intersection of Pine and Sanderson streets.


Medway Village is a large settlement cluster within the town of Medway, located along the Charles River and including over 200 historic buildings. The area is bounded by the river on the south, the railroad bed on the north, Oakland Street on the east, and Holliston Street on the west but extends along Village Street to Legion Avenue. The village developed throughout the 19th century in association with mills on the falls of the river. Housing construction followed expansion at the mills; soon a cluster of support services, including public and commercial buildings, was added along the main thoroughfare. Village Street. By the late 19th century, Medway Village was identified as the town's civic and commercial center. Evidence of this growth in size and importance can be seen in well-preserved surviving buildings in a number of popular forms and styles. Medway Village retains integrity of materials, design, workmanship, location, setting, feeling, and association and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places at the local level. The period of significance is from ca. 1770 (the date of the earliest standing resource) to 1956 (the date of the last Sanborn insurance map available for the area and prior to the standard 50-year cutoff established to allow for historical perspective). Noncontributing resources within the district are those outside the period of significance and those that have alterations so severe that the architectural integrity is compromised.

The growth and development of the Medway Village area corresponds to consistently expanding 19th century industrial development along the Charles River. The scale and pattern of development of this area parallels that seen in other mill villages of the period, with the earliest landscape features concentrated along the area's primary thoroughfare and close to the mill sites on the river. A variety of manufacturing establishments, rather than a single firm, fueled the expansion of the village, attracting additional businesses as well as an economically and ethnically diverse community. As the village grew, especially with major development in the third quarter of the 19th century, buildings appeared on newly laid streets. The arrival of the railroad in the same period along the northern edge of the area attracted additional manufactories and further propelled expansion north of Village Street away from the original core on a series of long cross streets. The addition of institutional and civic structures parallels the residential and industrial growth, largely concentrated along Village Street.

Early Settlement in Medway Village

The Medway Village area had been only sparsely settled before the economic potential of the Charles River was fully developed in the 19th century and the village grew up along its banks. The area that is now the town of Medway is believed to have included the border area between the tribes of the Massachusetts to the east and the Nipmuck to the west. At the time of contact with European explorers and settlers. Native American land use was characterized by seasonal movement between hunting grounds, water sources, and fields; the Charles River likely attracted regular visits by moderate-sized groups. During the 17th century, English settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gradually established towns as they moved inland from the coast seeking fertile acres to farm. Among the largest of these towns was Dedham (settled in 1636), to the east of the Medway area and extending south to the Rhode Island border. In 1649 the town petitioned for more land and received a grant to the west of the Charles River, which was incorporated as the town of Medfield in 1651. Eight years later that town petitioned for and received more land to the west of the river where farms, varying significantly in size, were laid out in the area that would become Medway. During the hostilities of King Philip's War of 1675 and 1676, these communities were abandoned.

The area was resettled, and population increased more rapidly at the turn of the 17th to the 18th century. A predictable controversy arose between those on the east side of the Charles River, where the meetinghouse was located, and those on the west side, who had a greater journey to meeting. After debate the General Court decided to divide Medfield into two sections separated by the river, naming the western section Medway, incorporated October 25, 1713. The new large town had at its center the Black Swamp, which precluded the siting of the meetinghouse there, as was the common 18th-century practice. The meetinghouse location in the eastern part of the town set off yet another debate. The town considered re-siting the building on the west side of town but instead established a second precinct there in 1748; much later, in 1885, this division became two separate towns, Millis in the east and Medway in the west. The second meetinghouse, located in the village of West Medway where the Evergreen Cemetery remains today, would have been the largest building in the precinct and its most important meeting place. The main routes through the town provided access to the meetinghouse (outside the district) and followed the general path of Village Street along the Charles River.

The town of Medway grew during the 18th century as the eastern Massachusetts region became more densely settled. The area's population reached 785 by 1765, with 138 families in 123 houses and retaining the low density that characterized many towns during the colonial period. Slow population growth characterized the war years; after the revolution, Medway joined its neighbors in an era of population growth, expanding to 1035 by 1790. Like most Massachusetts towns, the primary employment of Medway citizens was in agriculture. Known to historians as "mixed grain and animal husbandry," early farming involved very small amounts of land in tillage to produce grains, most often only about five acres. Small orchards and gardens were located close to the house, and a number of sheds and a bam filled out the yard. Somewhat larger portions of land holdings were dedicated to grasses and pasturage for cattle, sheep, and pigs, located at a greater distance from the farmyard. Although the relative density of each section is not known, it is unlikely that at this time the western section included any more than half the population and development.

During the first decades of the 19th century, Massachusetts rural communities entered a period of growth and prosperity that had a significant impact on their landscapes. Across New England and the entire eastern seaboard, recent research has uncovered evidence of a national building boom that created many of the earliest components of the rural landscape that survive today. In Massachusetts in particular, the establishment of small villages and hamlets among the farms dates largely to this period. The early development of water power along the large rivers and the many smaller brooks laid the foundation for a landscape that would be transformed by industry later in the 19th century.

The old town of Medway experienced many of these same trends. For much of this period, a continued development of the agricultural economy accompanied growth, as larger numbers meant that land was cleared and worked more effectively and that local markets for sale and exchange increased. Improvements to transportation were accomplished with the construction of additional roads, in particular the Hartford and Dedham Turnpike, now known as Main Street or Route 109. By 1830, the state-mandated map of the town showed an array of major routes besides the turnpile and suggestive of the particular growth of Medway Village. Paths running east to west included the old path along Village Street near the Charles River, also called the Old Mendon Road. North-south roads between the turnpike and Village Street included the general paths of High, Holliston, and Oakland streets (originally called Candlewood Island Road). Holliston continued to the north of the turnpike, with branches to the east. These remained the primary town thoroughfares throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1831, the town built the first Factory Bridge connecting Medway and Franklin on Sanford Street (the bridge was rebuilt in 1847 and again in 1910).

Soon these factors resulted in the development of a number of settlement clusters in the town, setting the stage for the emergence of multiple villages that came to characterize the landscape of the town of Medway. The first grew along the Charles River at its best falls, where multiple small mills were established, and eventually grew into Medway or Factory Village, as it was known by the 1830s. The need to clear the land of frees and to process grains led to the establishment of water-powered mills that were, for the most part, family businesses. Saw and grist millers, blacksmiths, and early textile manufacturers also harnessed water power to operate their small factories. Secondary sources note a succession of mills established throughout the 18th century but are imprecise in their locations. The earliest ones were Theophilus Clark's sawmill on the north bank of the river almost directly opposite the foot of Oakland Street and Nathaniel Whiting's grist mill upriver near the foot of the current Sanford Street (on the site of the Sanford Mill, photo 4). From the middle of the 18th century, Ichabod Hawes operated a sawmill, a forge, and a machine for boring gun barrels between the Clark and Whiting sites (near the current location of the row house at 103-109 Village Street). Nearby, Samuel Bullen operated a mill before 1780 for fulling cloth; in 1785 Job Harding purchased this privilege and ran a sawmill.

In the first quarter of the 19th century, several sites for textile production were established on what by the mid 19th century constituted four mill privileges in the area. By 1837, the author and illustrator John Barber noted six cotton and two woolen factories in Medway Village in addition to cotton batting and cotton wadding manufactories, but none of these early factory buildings survive. Participants in these multiple enterprises included many of the village's prominent citizens who often were involved with more than one site. Nathaniel Whiting's son-in-law, Philo Sanford (1761-1835), inherited the grist mill at Sanford Street in 1805. In association with Luther Metcalf, Abijah Richardson, Nathaniel Miller, William Feltt, Comfort Walker, and John Blackbum (a highly skilled mechanic from England who had managed Slater's mills in Pawtucket), Philo formed a company for carding, spinning, and manufacturing cotton that was incorporated in March 1809 as the Medway Cotton Manufactory. The group's first two-story factory building on the site of the old grist mill burned in 1811; soon after, they built another three-story gable-roofed frame structure on the same site that was known as the White Mill (to differentiate it from the Yellow Mill). Below the White Mill, near the current John and River streets, Sewell Sanford (1791-1831) operated a small thread mill for several years. Around 1800, a group of men led by Captain William Feltt built the Yellow Mill, a three-story mill for cotton manufacture, at the old Bullen privilege. The fourth privilege was located downriver at the Walker Street crossing (outside the district); according to one researcher, this site was first developed by Duncan Wright (1770-1837) with a bleaching yam building, and William Feltt and Company succeeded Wright, making yams in the old bleachery.

Early village residents also engaged in businesses that did not require access to the river. The development of straw hat and bonnet manufacturing in Medway Village began with putting out from a general store and later expanded into factory production. Captain William Feltt, proprietor of the Yellow Mill, kept a store and tavern in the village (on the site of the later Quinobequin Hotel at the northeast comer of Village and Broad streets) and employed several young women to make straw braid into bonnets. Boot manufacture began with Milton Sanford's small business out of his house on Sanford Street. In general, commercial activities during this period took place in dwellings or in small shops attached to dwellings. The much-altered hip-roofed Cary Block at 119 Village Street, said to date to 1816, was used as both a store and dwelling for much of the 19th century. 123 Village Street is also said to have been built as a store between 1815 and 1817 by Sewell Sanford. The large two-story Wilson-Thompson House at 29 Broad Street, said to date to 1827, originally stood at the northwest comer of Village and Broad streets and served as both a residence and store owned by the textile manufacturer James B. Wilson.

By 1820 a small cluster of a dozen or so dwellings along Village Street near the mills defined the village proper. The houses in the developing village had forms common to the New England landscape. Houses of three or four rooms per floor were common in Massachusetts communities, and single-story houses still outnumbered large two-story ones. Continuing to dominate planning was the central chimney heat source, and the most common types share a tendency to cluster rooms around a single stack of heat sources. An early example of a Cape Cod house that no longer survives is the Metcalf house that stood at 119R Village Street (said to have been built in 1784, demolished in 2003). The original owner, Luther Metcalf, was a cabinet maker known for his furniture and clock cases and whose house and shop were originally located on the site of 194 Village Street. In 1792, he built the larger two-story center-chimney Metcalf House that still stands there (although much altered) and moved his former dwelling halfway down Village Hill.

Wealth brought not just new big houses but new plans as well. The choice of the wealthiest in late 18th and early 19th century Massachusetts was the center-hall plan, known to architectural historians as the Georgian style, known then as the double house. Among the most fashionable buildings from this period in Medway Village is the Sanford Mansion at 7 Sanford Street, a gable-roofed example with a service ell and elaborate Federal-style detailing, said to date to 1811. Built by Philo Sanford, it was occupied by succeeding generations of the Sanford family at least through the 19th century. Some builders built houses that appeared on the fa9ade to take the double house form but reduced the total size through manipulation of the arrangement of the rear pile; they were known as ell houses because of their footprint. Examples in Medway Village of this type include the Clark House at 98 Village Street; historic maps show this house was constructed by 1831, and the physical fabric suggests a construction date of ca. 1800 to 1830. Just around the comer is the Brown House at 5 Oakland Street, of the same period, possibly constructed by Artemas Brown, M.D.

Another sign of new developments in Medway Village was the construction of multifamily housing. An early example that no longer survives but illustrates the popularity of the type in elite contexts was the fashionable Lovering-White duplex that stood at the comer of Village and Barber streets (where an auto service station is now). The three-story, hip-roofed block took the six-bay form with center paired entries. A surviving example of a more modest, although still large, early duplex is at 118-120 Village Street (ca. 1812), once known as the White House for its association with the White Mill. The rarer survival is a row house, consisting of four living units arranged side by side, as at 103-109 Village Street. The Feltt- Cary Row House was one of two adjacent structures constructed between 1794 and 1830; one researcher indicates they were built in 1812 to house workers in Captain William Feltt's nearby mill.

The expansion of the village soon began to attract public buildings to the area. When the west part of the large town of Medway got a separate post office in 1803, it was located in Medway Village. A schoolhouse was built in Medway Village in 1816, when the New Grant school district was divided in two. The District Schoolhouse #7 was located on Village Street

between the present locations of Sanford Hall and St. Joseph's Church. Jameson indicates the 26- foot square building built by Nathaniel Clark for $500 had a distinctive hip roof and belfry. In 1830, 16 feet and an additional story were added. The building was later used for a variety of purposes, including a straw shop and a college preparatory school, as well as for worship by the village Catholic community. It was taken down and relocated when construction of the church began around 1876 and is now a residence at 29 North Street.

By the 1830s the concentration of residents in Medway Village led to the founding of the Village Evangelical Congregational Church in 1836. The Greek Revival, end-gabled building at 170 Village Street with a Doric portico and a steeple was constructed two years later to serve this community. David Whiting donated the lot for the building, and a group of the village's prominent citizens raised a subscription to fund the construction. The contract for the building was awarded to James Purrington. The design of the church followed two nearby models: the Unionville Church in Hopkinton and the Orthodox Meeting House in Westborough. Only the southern gallery is original; the side galleries were added in 1846. The ground-floor vestry was completed in 1850 and used for town meetings until Sanford Hall was built in 1872. In 1861, a small addition was made to the rear of the building for an organ, and the high pulpit was replaced with a low one. Additional land was periodically added to make room for horse sheds on the church lot.

Laura J. Kline with Clair W. Dempsey. Betsy Friedberg. National Register Director. Massachusettes Historical Commisssion, nomination doument, 2008, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Barber Street • Broad Street • Church Street • Crooks Street • Hillside Street • Holliston Street • John Street • Knowlton Street • Mansion Street • North Street • Oakland Street • Peach Street • Pine Street • River Street • Sanderson Street • Sanford Street • School Street • Village Street

Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact
Privacy | Disclaimer

Copyright © 1997-2024, The Gombach Group