Although Mendon reached its heyday as a summer resort around the turn of the century, the earliest tourists
in Mendon were the roving Nipmuck Indians. It is believed that Wigwam Hill, the highest hill in Mendon, was
once used by the Nipmuck Indians as a favorite camping spot. It is also believed that the Nipmucks
obtained their water supply at Nipmuck Great Pond and hunted and fished upon its shores. The famous
Indian trail, ages old, which ran through Nipmuck country was the Old Connecticut Path, one branch of which
extended through Milford, Mendon, and Uxbridge. When the Nipmucks wished to “get away fro it all” at
Quinshipaug, they no doubt followed the Old Connecticut Path to another of their favorite summer resorts.
As an Interesting sidelight on the Nipmucks, I quote this passage from Cleveland Amory’s book, The Last
“page 17 Curiously enough, a brief history of the ups-and-downs of fashionable resorts reveals that what
is today a complete resort ghost town-the little village of Stafford Springs, Connecticut-has the honor of
being the first recognized Society resort in this country. Though it still boasts an ancient mineral spring
beside its library and a sulphur spring in its park, Stafford Springs wears its honors lightly and has not even
a Chamber of Commerce. Nonetheless, this spa was frequented, as far back as the 17th century, by
fashionable Pilgrims. These Pilgrims had heard of its charms from a tribe of Indians known as the
Nipmucks, who, whether fashionable or not, at least looked down on the neighboring Podunks and had for
many years been vigorously promoting their springs for summer gatherings for Indian tribes form all over
Page 473 As the first of this country’s resorts Stafford Springs found its social consciousness in the
Podunk-Nipmuck Indian feud of about 1650.”
The foregoing suggests that even the Nipmuck Indians promoted a water cure!
Throughout the early colonial period the gentry were too preoccupied wit building fine residences, cultivating
extensive farms, or with developing business establishments, to become too involved in vacation plans or
acquiring Florida tans. Whenever any travel was involved it was by stagecoach. At that time in Mendon,
there were two main roads passing through the town, one leading from Worcester to Providence, the other
from New York and Connecticut to Boston, the latter road called the Middle Post Road.
In those days, one of the best-known hostelries in Mendon was the Ammidown (Amidon) Tavern, now a
private residence which is located where Milford Street turns into Main Street in Mendon, across from the
Mendon Historical Society Building. George Washington almost slept at the Ammidown Tavern, but that is a
tale in itself.
Ammidown Tavern stood practically on the site of that “olde inne” kept by John Thompson Sr. in 1674. The
old Ammidown Tavern was a famous resort from 1745-1805 in charge of Ichabod Ammidown and his son
Philip who was one of the prominent militia officers in the colony. The inn was on a slightly ridge,
commanding a view for miles across the Mill River valley clear to the Milton hills and the uplands of
Middlesex County. The roads passing by connected Mendon and the Connecticut towns with settlements in
Worcester and Middlesex counties along the Worcester-Marlboro-Boston turnpike. At this tavern, in the
summer of 1775, 30 of the people made homeless by the burning of Charlestown at the battler of Bunker
Hill, were cared for, according to the journal of Provincial Congress.
Located as it was on a stage route, the Ammidown Tavern entertained countless number of interesting
visitors. Perhaps in those early summer days there were some who lingered for a few days to behold the
valley view and to become rested after the jouncing of the coaches over narrow and rutty roads.
The following amusing anecdotes are handed down fro the days of the Ammidown Tavern.
Years ago, droves of cattle, swine and sheep were driven about the country for sale. The droves were put up
for the night in large yards, contingent to barns, and it seems that one night they were put up in Mendon, and
the drivers stayed at the Tavern, then kept by William Green. The Mendon Conference met at Mendon at this
time and the ministers were entertained at the same Inn as the drivers.
During the supper hour something was needed from the cellar, which Mrs. Green went down to procure,
with no light except what streamed from the kitchen into the cellar. Before reaching the bottom of the stairs,
she saw something wit horns and for eyes two balls of fire. Being badly frightened, she rushed upstairs and
said that she had seen the “Evil One” in the cellar. In a few minutes, one of the ministers said he would go
down and see if the devil was really there. At the solicitation of the others he took a candle that he might
better see this monster. Upon reaching the foot of the stairs he saw the eyes and horns, his candle going
out, he too, fled up the stairs, saying that he guessed the Devil was surely there. During the excitement, a
driver came along in, he thought to himself if one of his flock of sheep which sometimes found his way out of
the yard. Whereupon investigation showed that the Devil was none other than the wayward sheep that had
entered the cellar through the cellar door which had been left open.
In those early days, the stagecoach traveling on the old Turnpike stopped at the Ammidown Tavern to let off
or take on passengers, and for refreshment. On one occasion, the driver had helped himself too generously
at the bar, and a woman in the parlor who was to take the stage, knowing this, expressed her concern about
riding if such a man was to drive the spirited horses of the team. Someone told the man of her timidity and
fear, whereupon the man climbed up on the drier’s high seat, swung the long whip with a crack and a
flourish, started the four or six horses and made the outfit cut a neat figure eight before he drew up at the
tavern door for passengers. The timid lady was reassured!
Early in the 1800’s Mendon was one of the principal towns in Worcester county and one of its most
distinguished residents was Jonathan Russell who resided in the spacious house at the corner of
Emerson Street and maple Street, now owned by the Wiersma brothers. For many years it has been an
apartment house and was demolished during the weekend of March 14, 15, 1964. The ruins were burned
by the Mendon Fire Department on Friday afternoon, March 20, 1964.
Built about the time this nation sprang from its cradle, this house has stood a landmark through the
succeeding generations, being the rendezvous during the first 25 years of its existence for the gentry of
southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Here the colonial dames gave their teas and balls, while the matters of state were freely discussed by those
who ranked high in the welfare of the commonwealth. No doubt many political deals of the olden days were
planned in secrecy within the old walls, while visitors of royal blood and statesmen of great power and ability
were royally entertained.
The house during these early years was often the scene of gaiety, being known for years as the Mansion
House, where Jonathan Russell and his family vied with the rich planters of Rhode Island, and the grand old
merchants of Boston, in the lavishness of their entertainment. When occupied by the Russell family the
wealthy people from Providence often rode up from that city on horseback. In the old drawing room amateur
theatricals and other forms of amusement, often took place.
A few years after the Russells left Mendon, their former home was advertised in the Independent Messenger
as a Boarding School for Young ladies. Advertisement in Independent Messenger-Mendon-in every issue
Sat. April 12, 1834 – Saturday August 2, 1964:
Boarding School For Young Ladies
Mrs. Charlotte H. Rawson will open a Boarding School for Young Ladies, at the North Parish, in Mendon, on
the First Monday of May next; in which instruction will be given in all those branches of Education that are
usually taught in Female Seminaries. Those of her pupils, who may wish to practice on the Piano Forte, will
be accommodated with the use of one. Mrs. Rawson pledges her best endeavors to render her School
worthy of the patronage of the Public.
Tuition, Boarding, and Washing will be afforded at L25 per Quarter.
The School will be opened in the Mansion house, formerly belonging to the Hon. Jonathan Russell, which
for beauty of location and variety of prospect, is rarely exceeded by another seat in any village in the country.
No inland town has more or better facilities for communication than Mendon, as Stages arrive daily from
Boston, Providence, Worcester, Taunton, and Hartford. Added to these recommendations, this Town is one
of the healthiest in the vicinity.
N. E. Parents, who may desire it, can be accommodated with Board, during the warm months, upon
Mrs. Rawson has liberty to re:er the following gentlemen:
Rev. Adin Ballou
Hon. Wm. S. Hastings
Benj. Davenport Esq.
Eben W. Hayward Esq.
Dr. John Geo. Metcalf
Mendon April 12, 1834
The Independent Messenger
In 1863, after several different ownerships, the former Russell home was purchased by Mr. A. N. Darling of
New York who had the house remodeled and modernized for a summer home.
Information on Russell House from an old newspaper clipping-a special to the Telegram-no date given.
In the summer of 1856, Mr. & Mrs. George Howard and others of the celebrated Boston Museum stock
company, came to Mendon to vacation at the Cunnabell home, but in response to the teasing of rural
relatives and friends, they agreed to “give a show” at the Mendon town hall. The “show” was the production
of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which had been first staged by Mr. and Mrs. Edward and company in Troy, N.Y. on
September 27, 1852 and had also run for 326 performances at the National Theater in New York City,
coming to the Boston Museum in 1853.
In 1852, Mrs. Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was much opposed to a dramatic version of her book.
However, the public went wild over the stage production and even Mrs. Stowe agreed that in the hands of
such competent players, the play taught the anti-slavery lesson better than did her book.
In that exciting summer of 1856 in Mendon, a stage was built in the town hall and scenery was painted.
While the production was hardly up to the Boston’ Museum’s in scenic effects, it was so good that those
who saw it never forgot it.
Information about the Howards from a newspaper clipping dated October 19, 1907, an obituary of Mrs.
The golden age for summer hotels and boarding houses, with piazzas full of guests rocking in the
refreshing country air, came soon after the close of the Civil War and continued into the 1880’s. In Mendon,
the most popular boarding house of this era was the Adams House, now an apartment house at the corner
of Elm Street and Hastings Street. This building has had a colorful history to say the least, and its fine
reputation has not always been maintained as it was during the days of David Adams’ ownership.
About 1860, David Adams purchased the property known as the Bakery, where as a poor man he had
labored. This he renovated and enlarged, arranging and fitting for a hotel, naming it the Adams House. For
many years (1860-1885) under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, this house enjoyed the reputation
of being an attractive, comfortable, homelike public house. The Adams House was unsurpassed among
country hotels for its hospitality and excellent service and fare. It was a favorite country hotel which
entertained many summer vacation guests.
Mrs. Adams died suddenly on April 19, 1877, but Mr. Adams kept the inn open until 1885 when he disposed
of it. Since then, the Adams House has changed hands many times and has had a varied career, being at
one time the subject of many raids for illegal liquor traffic.
Another favorite summer boarding house during the era of piazzas and rocking chairs was the Darling
House on North Avenue, now owned by Mr. Louis Lion. It is said that the house was built in 1800 by
Benjamin Davenport who was a well-to-do merchant in Boston during his early manhood. In 1865, the
house was purchased by Newbury Darling and his son Homer who converted a horse-barn at the end of the
house into summer bedrooms, and built a long piazza facing the beautiful valley view. Mr. and Mrs. Homer
W. Darling took New York boarders who came when school closed and remained for the summer until the
opening of school in September. The New York Family was large and they came with horses, and a groom
who was also well occupied driving the family around the scenic countryside.
Adin Ballou, in his History of Milford, noted the following about Mr. Homer W. Darling….
“Mr. Homer W. Darling is an enterprising farmer in Mendon, on the so called Benjamin Davenport place, of
which he is now the owner. He is a large milk-producer, and withal entertains numerous summer boarders
in his capacious mansion, much to their satisfaction as well as his own profit.”
The “golden era” of Mendon as a summer resort is well heralded in the following letter written by Miss
Sarah L. Staples on July 10, 1883.
Letter from Mendon
(from a newspaper clipping dated Mendon, July 10, 1883 and written by Miss. Sara L. Staples)
“Mendon now presents its most attractive phase, by reason of the rich garniture of summer beauty and
verdure. In fact there are few towns possessing greater natural advantages. An elevated situation, quiet
pastoral scenes, fresh invigorating air, and fine scenery. What more can a reasonable being desire through
the dry sultry of summer? That many persons are seeking these things is attested by the numerous
strangers who have arrived in town within a few days, laden with trunks and trappings for a summer’s
It is an encouraging feature of our civilization, that the country towns are becoming so popular as places of
summer resort. It shows the growing good sense of the American people. If a person has got to live in
trunks, Mendon is just the place; for here you can live in one trunk, whereas at crowded mountain or
seashore places, you live in half a dozen. Fine wardrobes are appreciated here, but they are not necessary.
Health of mind and body is the desideratum.
Homer Darling’s pleasant and popular house is now full. On many accounts, this place is perhaps more
attractive to those who seek summer accommodations than any other in town. The street leading to it is
familiarly know here as the North End or the Old Worcester road. The scenery fro every point along this
street is very striking and beautiful. In fact there is no finer anywhere. At this season, especially, there lie at
the eastward, literally, hanging gardens of verdure. Mr. Darling’s house was formerly one of the old
ancestral homes of Mendon. The late Benjamin Davenport built the house and resided in it many years, and
was ever the genial and hospitable host, and the refined and courtly gentleman. His first wife belonged to
the old Godfrey family of Milford, who are so well known in that region.
There is yet another house in town that offers attractions to the stranger, and that is the Adams House.
Although it has not the advantage of local situation that the Darling place possesses, yet its interior
attractions are equally as good. Mrs. Hastings Hayward of Worcester has just arrived for the summer.
The old historic house of the town that is familiarly known as the Russell House, after many vicissitudes of
ownership, has at length passed into the hands of Mr. Darling of New York, who is having it thoroughly
rejuvenated and modernized for a summer residence. What would the ancient proprietor say could he step
back on this planet and visit this, his native heath? He would hardly, I fear, recognize the old Manor house,
where he entertained in such a courtly style after his return from the service of his country at Ghent. The
wind-mill recently erected on one of the outer buildings is considered a novelty even in Mendon, and offers
great attractions to those who have never visited Holland.
The historic training field was likewise included in the Darling purchase so that the ground that once
resounded to the tread of martial men, and more recently to the tread of spavined and antediluvian horses,
now rejoices in the blossom of the potato vine. Played out animals will no longer find a briery home on this
Nipmuck Lake, as everyone knows in this vicinity, is the most attractive resort in Mendon. The unique
pleasure houses on either shore, the Island home, the transparent water itself, fringed with graceful trees,
and the small navy of row boats, with the two steamers, form the charming group of attractions at this lake. It
is not uncommon to hear person in this vicinity refer to the banks of this pond as the wharf. When I hear this
designation, I almost feel that I am living either in close proximity to a navy or among a strictly commercial
people. There is nothing like giving the reins to the imagination. Doubtless the present tourist fails to
realize the fact that the land around this pond was once the home of the red man. We are gratified that his
home was broken up before the present generation could have the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
There is a curious legend that the devil prowled around here pretty extensively some years ago, even before
the red men. If it be true, and of course it must be, I do not think there is much to choose from, between His
satanic majesty and the Indians themselves.
The First Unitarian church of this town is very fortunate in the possession of a new minister, Rev. Mr. Porter;
a conservative Unitarian. Mr. Porter is eminently sincere and devotional as a preacher, and genial and
attractive as a man. I trust he will receive the cordial cooperation of the entire parish, and that he may be
greatly encouraged in his efforts to build up this time-honored church in Mendon. The church choir under
the direction of Edward Dixon, and assisted by Messrs. George and Adams, renders fine music, in a very
Our venerable physician, Dr. Metcalf, told me a few days since that Mendon would soon have a young
doctor. We hope it is true, for there is great need here of a “nocturnal healer.” Our venerable friend is too
aged to visit patients at night. There is one discouraging feature, however, and that is that most of the
resident population lie in the graveyard. We trust he will not be discouraged at the fact, however, for those
who are left need all the more attention.
In Mendon is now “twelve miles from a lemon,” we hope we shall be no longer twelve miles from a doctor.
Among those who have recently rusticated in Mendon, are Hon. Enos Taft and family of New York, Judge
Staples and family of Worcester, Judge Dewey and family and T. G. Kent of Milford.”
First recorded bowling alley at lake.
Mendon May 6, 1882
We the Selectmen of Mendon, at a meeting held this day, do hereby license John C. Wood of Mendon to
keep a Bowling Alley in his Grove House near Mendon pond in said Mendon, said Bowling Alley is to be
used for hire, gain, or reward, but not for the purpose of gaming for money, or other property, and strictly in
accordance with the Laws of the Commonwealth.
Given under our hands this sixth day of May A.D. 1882
Selectmen of Mendon
Gustavus B. Williams
A. W. Gaskill
A true copy attest David Adams, Town Clerk of Mendon
First recorded permit for the first steamboat on Lake. June 20, 1882
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
This is to certify that the Selectmen of the Town of Mendon have licensed Charles E. Guild of Boston to run a
Steamboat for the conveyance of Passengers upon the waters of Mendon Pond in said Mendon for the term
of six months from date. Said Steamboat is named “Gertrude” and said Charles E. Guild is master and
Said Steamboat is permitted to carry twenty-five passengers and no more at any one time.
Mendon June 20th, 1882
Board of Selectmen
Gustavus E. Williams
A true copy attest David Adams, Town Clerk
(From volume 9 Mendon Historical Records)
First recorded permit for second steamboat on Lake July 2, 1883
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, County of Worcester and Town of Mendon
To all persons to whom these presents shall come: this may certify that F. J. Wright of Milford in said County
is hereby licensed to run a Steamboat for the conveyance of Passengers for the term of six months from the
date hereof upon the waters of Mendon Pond in said Town of Mendon.
Said Steamboat is named “Alice” and said F. J. Wright is master and owner thereof, and twenty-five
passengers and no more may be carried at any one time.
Given under our hands at Mendon, this second day of July, in the year eighteen hundred and eighty three.
Board of Selectmen
Gustavus B. Williams
A. W. Gaskill
To all persons to whom these presents shall come, this may certify that by the authority in us vested by law,
we have this day licensed and do hereby license, John C. Wood of Mendon, Massachusetts, upon the
waters of Mendon Pond in said Mendon, to run the Steamboat named Alice of which said Wood is Master
and Owner, and to carry thereon twenty passengers and no more at any one time.
This license to terminate May 2nd, 1886.
Board of Selectmen
Gustavus B. Williams
May 2nd, 1885
A true copy attest David Adams, Town Clerk
(License for Alice issued to John C. Wood annually 1886- 1897)
(from an old newspaper clipping)
Dedication of the Nipmuck Hall
The grand opening of the Nipmuck Hall and Grove, on the western shores of Nipmuck Pond, Mendon, and
owned by John C. Wood, will be on July 4, 1882, to which the public are cordially invited. At 1 o’clock p.m.,
there will be served a first class clam dinner, prepared by L. A. Merritt, whose name is sufficient to ensure
success. The Hall is large and commodious. Brown’s Orchestra of five pieces will be in attendance, both
afternoon and evening, that one and all may have an opportunity to shake the ”light fantastic toe.” In
connection will be the Bowling Alley, which is sixty feet long; Swings, Hammocks, Row Boats, and a sloop-
rigged sail-boat, which will be in experienced hands, so that the most timid need not hesitate to take a
pleasant sail. There will be Ice Cream, Soda and Lemonade, but positively no Intoxicating Liquors allowed
on the premises. In the evening there will be a great display of fireworks at the Island Lodge by its owner,
Mr. Charles Gile (Guild), which can be witnessed by all at the Grove. People need not fear as to the
company, for only respectable parties will be accommodated. Persons who cannot adhere to the above,
had better keep in the beautiful distance. After the Fourth, the Grove will e open for picnics, Sabbath
Schools, and other pleasure-seeking parties, who can be furnished with all they may require for a shore
dinner, at a reasonable price, by giving notice to the undersigned, who intends to keep this Grove and its
connections in first-class order. If he cannot do this, it will be closed against the public. This Grove will be
under the supervision of the Proprietor at all times and he hopes to merit a liberal patronage.
Mendon June 19, 1882 John C. Wood
Miss Staples stated in her letter of July 1883…”Nipmuck Lake, as everyone knows in this vicinity, is the most
attractive resort in Mendon.” Evidently Mr. Charles E. Guild, a diamond broker, had the same feelings, for he
is supposed to have built the first cottage at the lake in 1881, locating it on the island.
In 1882, John Cary Wood of Mendon opened a dining hall where the first clambakes at Nipmuck grove (now
Lakeview) were served, attracting hundreds in this section. Mr. Wood directed clambakes at Nipmuck Park
for nearly 40 years. At the turn of century, his clambakes were famous the country over, for he was a genial
host to everyone.
Fond memories of the early days of Lake Nipmuck Park are retained in the minds of many people. The year
1900 was a most exciting one in Mendon, not only being the beginning of a new century, but also being the
beginning of an exciting era in the lives of the townspeople due to the coming of the electric railway.
Newspaper clippings record the hectic days of those years and proclaim the opening of a new resort in
1900 “With the assurance of the speedy opening of the Milford and Uxbridge Street Railway comes the
report of the developing of Nipmuck grove into a first-class pleasure resort and making the pond the best for
boating in this section. The grove is becoming more and more popular every year but the number of
attractions will be increased with the coming of the electrics, among which will be band concerts once or
twice a week, daily entertainments, a merry-go-round, a new and large fleet of boats, new buildings and
electric lights. In winter, skating parties are contemplated with suppers in the dining hall. It is reported that
$20,000 will be laid out on the grove alone.”
1901 “It is the intention of the M. H. & F. Street Railway Co. to make Mendon pond the most attractive inland
summer resort in this section….Plans for a large enclosed theater, dancing pavilion, restaurant, rustic
waiting station, and other buildings will soon be got out and a landscape architect employed to lay out walks
and drives to enhance the natural beauties of the park.”
John Wood, former proprietor of Nipmuck grove, came into the news as a police officer at the new Nipmuck
Park on June 8, 1909.
“Officer John Wood last night espied two females in the park theater wearing hats. As this is distinctly
against the rules of the theater, Officer Wood requested the feminines to remove the peach baskets, which
they refused to do. The upholder of the law and order at ‘Nature’s Beauty Spot’ repeated his request and the
women again refused to remove the lids, whereupon the cop politely invited them to go to the box office and
get their money back—which they did. What they said about Officer Wood wouldn’t look well in print, but
John ‘seen his duty and done it’—that’s all.”
Entertainment at the Park Theater was provided by well-known Vaudeville stars. Many new vaudeville acts
also tried out at the rustic theater before going to New York, the late Fred Allen being one of them. A news
item of July 18, 1904 noted that “some of next week’s show people have arrived in town and are boarding at
Sky Farm on North Avenue, now owned by Herman Svedine, was famous as a summer boarding place. It
was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Williams who conducted it as a summer boarding establishment, catering to the
performers at Lake Nipmuck Park theater and to city residents who desired to spend their vacations in the
Several acres of Sky Farm were sold in 1912 to Claude Usher, the actor, who had an elaborate summer
home built. The bungalow was built in 1913 by the late H. H. Lent and Fred C. Townsend for Claude and
Fanny Usher, members of a celebrated vaudeville team who had appeared in many theaters in this country
as well as on European stages. The Ushers lived in the residence during the summers, after completing
their season’s tour. It was a story and one-half building with three fire places, a handsome and large living
room 20X20 and elaborately fitted out. The chestnut finish on the interior of the house ran up to a height of
five and one-half feet and had to be secured in California. The Usher bungalow was destroyed by fire in
1927 and the former Usher home site is now occupied by St. Michael’s church and the home of Mrs. Porter.
The last two summer hotels or boarding houses advertised in Mendon were the Gal Rustic Inn and the
never completed Nipmuck Hotel. Gal Rustic Inn at Lake Nipmuck, Mendon advertised as “open to the public
with meals served at all hours. Board by the day or week. Special attention to private parties. W. E. Cheney.”
A new item of September 14 1914 stated that..”Soon the wok of clearing away the lot at the rear of the car
dispatcher’s office at the park entrance will be begun, and Mrs. Walter L. Adams expects to have her new
and modern 30-room hotel ready for the opening of next season…..The building is to have very ornate front
of fieldstone, similar to the pillars of the park entrance and waiting station, and is to be equipped with
electric lights and finely furnished, to fill the demand which has long existed for a first-class hostelry at the
In February of 1915, the site for the new Nipmuck Hotel had been cleared and the foundation was in place.
However, in April of that same year there was rather disappointing news as Mrs. Adams “decided not to go
ahead with the building of the summer hotel which she had planned to build. Continued poor business and
the uncertainty of the season has determined her to put it off.”
With the coming of World War I the future prosperity of many resorts was doomed and after the war years,
many never reopened their doors. Automobiles, trains, ships and planes suggested new paths to travel and
new resorts to explore, thus leaving the leisurely days of piazzas and rocking chairs, and rides on the
“electrics” to the Park to remain only in memories.
Summer Hotels in Mendon or Mendon As A Summer Resort
Prepared for and read to Hopedale Community Historical Society
March 23, 1964 by E. Jane Coleman
Also Given at May 19, 1964 Meeting of Mendon Historical Society