The Bridgewater Green
Original information from Bruce B. Randall and Mary Allen, updated 2015 Audrey Wilkicki
New Englanders are very possessive of their Greens. Why? Because they don’t exist in many other places. They are a dying entity whose historic character is being lost to commercial development or natural erosion. We are fortunate to have our Green in Bridgewater. It has changed since we became a town in 1856 and many of the buildings you see today were not around the Green back then.
The present Town Hall building was built in 1906, renovated in 1971 and again in 1983 when the upstairs hall was changed into cubical office space. In 1989, a new wing was added to hold a large vault and enlarged office space.
The Elijah Peck House, now the Bridgewater Historical Society, was originally on the corner where the Van Wyck Brooks House stands. The Peck House was moved to its’ present location next to town hall in 1907. Charles N. Hatch, who was then Postmaster and storekeeper of the old store, built the new house on the corner. Apparently, there was friction between C.N. Hatch and C.B. Thompson as to who could build the biggest and grandest house. The old country store, known as Peck and Gillette Store, was between it and the present Town Hall. The store had sheds and barns for the horses and wagons needed to haul store supplies and feed that were sold there. South of the Store, almost behind the present Library, was the shed of the brickyard where bricks were produced with the clay that was taken form the “Old Clay Hole”.
A little further south of the relocated Peck House the Burnham Library was built in 1927 through the generous bequest of Captain William Burnham who had lived in Bridgewater as a small boy. The school was built in 1928 behind the local blacksmith shop. The old shop that stood under the maples was torn down. The blacksmith’s house was moved across the street and is now behind the house at the corner of Warner Road and Main Street.
Other buildings about the Green were the two churches, both with tall steeples, and long horse sheds behind them that were filled on Sunday mornings with horses and buggies. The Episcopal Church was originally painted brown to better blend in with the landscape per the architect, Richard Upjohn.
The building now known as the Grange Hall was built in 1854 on the site of an old school house. The new building had a two-room school on the first floor and the town hall was upstairs.
As time passed, other buildings were put up and old ones torn down or moved. The present Village Store building was erected in 1899 by Mr. Charles B. Thompson as the headquarters of his famous mail order business, the first in the United States. In 1937, Levi Warner and Bruce Randall, owners of the old store that was then known as Warner & Randall, purchased the Thompson building and moved their store and the Post Office from across the street. In 1965, the large post office and bank additions were added. The old store building was abandoned and taken down by Raymond Camp and much of the lumber dating back to the 1700’s was used in the construction of the house on Hut Hill Road, now owned by the Bennetts.
The house south of the Village Store was owned by George Lyon the Postmaster and a cobbler and now known as Twin Doors. The old Post Office and cobblers shop was located south of the house and close to the road, serving as the Post Office from 1870-1889. It was later moved to its present location behind the house next door to Twin Doors. The other three homes down the road towards Warner Road still stand today.
The Green itself has also undergone many changes and improvements. Before 1876, it was crisscrossed in all directions with lanes and paths leading to the churches, store, post office, Town Hall and schoolhouse. As late as 1880 cattle and other farm animals grazed here and roamed at large throughout the village. Mr. Edwin Evitts was given authority to impound cattle found loose. A change for the better followed with the organization of the Bridgewater Improvement Society in 1877, a volunteer association of interested citizens.
Other improvements followed. Culverts and drains were put in, roads graded, maple and elm trees planted and field stone curbing installed to mark off the Green.
In 1881, a bandstand was erected on the north end of the Green from which many concerts were given by a brass band conducted by Theodore Glover.
In 1929, through the efforts of the Village Improvement Society, a native granite boulder was placed on the Green with a bronze plaque naming the local persons who served in World War I. The bronze plaque replaced a wooden Honor Roll that stood in front of the Town Hall. In 1949, another bronze plaque was authorized by the Town at the cost of $800.00 to be put on the east side of the boulder naming those who served in World War II.
A committee was named to locate a native boulder that would make a monument and one was found in Brookfield and moved to this site but it was rather tall and too narrow. It so happened that the town was improving Curtis Road in front of the Collins house and the power shovel had just unearthed a large boulder out of the ground and Keith and Emma Randall, the local mail carriers, were driving past. Emma was sure that was the stone the committee was looking for. It was moved to the Green. A large hole was dug and the unwanted boulder dropped flat to form the foundation for the present monument. The Roxbury/Bridgewater Garden Club then landscaped around the stone.
About the same time a wooden flagpole, made from a mast of a ship, was erected near the memorial. It had to be removed in 1964 because of decay and deemed unsafe. The flagpole on the Town Hall lawn was donated by the Grange as a memorial to John F. Kennedy, the assassinated President of the United States. It was dedicated Memorial Day with a Gold Star Mother assisting.
The two oak trees that flank either side of the entrance walk into Town Hall were planted in 1920 in memory of the two young men who lost their lives in World War II – John Shesky and Joseph Wellwood.
The red oak on the south end of the Green was propagated from an acorn seedling of Connecticut’s famous “Charter Oak” and was planted in 1929 by the 4H girls. The first tree died and was replaced by a four-foot tree. The Grange planted a six-foot spruce on the Green as the new Christmas tree in the 1960’s.
In 1963, the old curbing was replaced by curbing made of Roxbury granite through the generosity of Miss Mabel Bogardus. Curbing was added to the Town Hall lawn at that time. That same year the Roxbury/Bridgewater Garden Club in memory of their Club President, Vera McCrea Searles, placed the native granite slab bench on the north end of the Green.
These beneficial endeavors never cease. In 1973, the plantings of many flowering trees and shrubs near the public buildings around the Green have added spring beauty. Trees were planted in memory of Donald Gowan, owner of the Village Store and also a World War II veteran; a lilac by the Bank, a stone bench with a weeping cherry on the Town Hall lawn and the flag pole plantings near it, a Star Magnolia at St. Mark’s Church east of the Parish House, three white dogwoods at the Congregational Church, five maples at the Recreation Center and flowering crab south of the Grange Hall.
In 1981, the Grange spearheaded a move for a memorial to Vietnam and Korean veterans. The committee had a hard decision as to what to do because of our mobile society in which so many who went into service were no longer living here, but many new residents had also served. The bench of Roxbury granite was placed on the south end of the Green under the oak tree and was dedicated on Memorial Day in memory of all those who served their country in time of strife.
In 1995, the school children of Burnham School and the Town planted a dogwood on the north Town Hall lawn in memory of the 186 children and adults who lost their lives in the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Over the years, the beauty of the town has been enhanced while the memory of many is kept alive. The pride for the Green that started in 1856 continues today. So, next time you walk by the Green, take a moment to remember those memorialized there and enjoy its beauty.