Cutler’s Mills

This year has been an extraordinary one. Never have I seen the water levels so low in our area. So low in fact that you can actually see the bottom of the Sudbury River, especially at the Cordaville Road bridge. The pond next to Marathon Park is virtually a field now. The mill that once stood there would be useless if it existed today. We have visited the Sudbury River many times over the years and the mills that harnessed her power. Today we are looking at one of them.

I always find it interesting to read columns and articles written over the last 150 years that are related to the Sudbury and the mills when I ran across this one. Wellington Parkhurst lived on Fountain Street as a boy in the mid 1800’s and had an interesting take on the Cutler Mills that thrived along the Sudbury. His research brought him back to 1747:

“About the year 1747, on the site afterward occupied by these mills, Ebenezer Marshall had a trip hammer, and in his shop made scythes, axes and hoes; the report prevailed, however that the shop was “bewitched” [note: the Salem witch trials were held in 1692, only 55 years earlier.] and a Mr. Marshall, locating at a safe place near his house, loaded a musket with his molten silverware and discharged the contents into the refactory mill under the impression that the witches could not withstand the effects of a combination of silver and gunpowder. Whether this valiant attack on the unseen foe resulted in a surrender is not clearly stated.”

I’m quite certain it didn’t, but we give Mr. Marshall an “A” for effort. Parkhurst continues with the history of the site. In 1813, Richard Sears of Chatham (Marshall’s son-in-law) built a saw mill and a grist mill. By 1824, the mills were sold to Deacon James Whitmore, next to John Works, William Greenwood, and finally to Simeon Newton Cutler in 1839. Cutler ran the mills with his son Henry grinding all the corn from the local farmers. They even expanded the operation to buy corn from the West and process it here to be sold to neighboring towns. The old saw mill, however, depleted much of the surrounding forests and had lost its usefulness. The mill was torn down and a new steam mill was built to make shingles and box-boards. All seemed prosperous until 1867 when S.N. Cutler suddenly died. To add to this misfortune, an arsonist burned down the mill in December of that same year. A Mr. John Anderson was quickly caught, arrested and convicted of the crime and was sent to state prison, and a new mill was built. It even had a spur track to the Boston and Albany railroad line.

Again, the business prospered. Grain was a profitable venture until another wrinkle appeared. From our previous visits to this area we know that n 1876, the Metropolitan Water Works wanted the Sudbury River as an additional water supply for Boston. Ashland balked, but Boston won in court, and all the businesses along the Sudbury were forced to “dispose” of their water privileges. And to add to the calamity, the area was to be converted to a reservoir. Henry Cutler and company moved their operation to North Wilbraham, and the rest is as they say, “history.” The site is now Reservoir #2 of the MDC. Its only claim to fame after all the pollution in the 20th century is as an amazing background for all the fall calendars.

Parkhurst mentioned Cutler and the mills later in an article in 1918:

“A point which in my early years profoundly interested me was the old red grist mill. It was an ancient structure kindly sheltered by a weeping willow. To this agricultural Mecca came the neighboring farmers bringing their corn for conversion into meal.”

“The old miller was a philosopher of ‘credit and renown.’ He was a confessed suffragist and a progressive, having promptly reformed himself out of the Democratic party the day that Franklin Pierce was nominated for the presidency.”

Sound familiar?

Sources: “Historical Facts, Ashland and Framingham,” Wellington Parkhurst, January 1897.

“The Cutler Mills,” Kay Powers for Ashland Directions, October 1980

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
October 2016