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
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.
appears to be where the farming road was. Thanks to Dick Grady for confirming that. The
Northbridge Road intersection is at the center-left.