Thursday, June 30, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 120: Marlborough, Massachusetts

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 120:  Marlborough, Massachusetts
April 14, 2011

The John Brown Bell
            With a connection to one of the pivotal events that began the Civil War the city of Marlborough has a rich history that you can reach out and touch.  Founded as a town in 1660, a city in 1890, and named for the market town in Wiltshire, England, Marlborough’s history began with the local Native Americans.  First they were one of seven so-called ‘praying Indian towns’ because the local Natives were converted to Christianity by Rev. John Eliot.  Then the entire settlement was nearly destroyed in 1676 during King Philip’s War.
            The connection to the Civil War that Marlborough has is through the John Brown Bell.  Perhaps the second most well known bell in the country behind Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, the bell named for the famed abolitionist has a good story behind it.  The story has it that there was a company of men from Marlborough assigned to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on the night that John Brown last battled for the emancipation of the slaves.  The company took the bell from the firehouse where Brown’s last stand took place and then left it in the hands of a local woman for over thirty years; they returned in 1892 to bring the bell back to Marlborough.  It now sits in a tower near the street corner of Main Street and Rt. 85.
            Granted you can’t touch the bell, it is up a good fifteen feet, but it is easier to get to than the Liberty Bell is.  There is a nice park area around where the bell resides with a really nice brick walkway leading off into the distance to the front steps of a church.  On this sunny day with the rows of trees casting shadows it was an awesome photo opportunity. 
A class posing for a photo outside of City Hall.
            I parked further down Main Street in Marlborough so that I would have the chance to walk and see more of the city up close.  I enjoyed stopping in the shadow of City Hall while a class of young children were getting their pictures taken in front.  I did not mind waiting as getting to see the looks of joy on their faces reminded of when I was a child and how much fun field trips were for me.  The huge gray stone building built in 1905, blocked out the sun as I stood below it on this day and is the centerpiece of Downtown Marlborough.  It was a nice walk on a good day but there was more to see in this town turned city.
Peter Rice Homestead
            The home of the Marlborough Historical Society resides in the Peter Rice Homestead on Elm St.  The house is said to have been built in 1688 with many additions made to the large white home in the centuries since.  The Rice family is considered to be one of the most prominent of old Marlborough with Peter being active in civil affairs including serving as a Representative to the General Court of Massachusetts at varying times from 1709-1730.  He also acquired land that stretched deep into neighboring Northborough and Westborough.  Besides the house there were a couple of oddities on the property including the cornerstone from the Grand Army of the Republic building built in 1891 on the front lawn.  There was also a store sign for the Frye Boot Company which manufactured their famous footwear in Marlborough up through the 1970’s.  The sign behind the home says the company was established in 1863 and their center of operations is in Great Neck, New York today.
            The final spot I checked out was to satisfy my love of nature.  The conservation area known as Cider Knoll is located over 105 acres with a few parking areas where you can enter.  I parked at the end of Woodland Drive where there is a sign alerting you to Cider Knoll.  The walk through is easy but there are some nice views and on this day there were some interesting things to see as well.
Looking down on the small river at Cider Knoll.
            Almost immediately the trails cross over a small river and the sound of the rushing water fills the area.  I stopped on a foot bridge and listened while taking photos and hoping to see some wildlife.  With no luck there I kept on walking up a little hill.  Up at the top there was a tractor skeleton partially covered by leaves that was unexpected but made the hike more interesting.  Not to mention the incredible view looking down on that small river I had crossed over, I was able to get a better view standing on a couple of large rocks on the edge of the hill.  I do not recommend that to everyone, you can still get a good view without risking injury like I did!  Cider Knoll is a large area but the trails only make up two miles so you can hike it in short time.  It also ends up behind some houses so don’t trespass.
            Marlborough is a city that grew from a small town in the last century.  It has a city feel when you’re downtown but retains that small town vibe when you are in places like Cider Knoll.  I highly recommend taking a walk on Main Street past City Hall to where the John Brown Bell resides.  Then afterward you can hike Cider Knoll and who knows maybe that tractor skeleton will still be there, or maybe there will be something even more unexpected.  Have fun and happy traveling!

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

Directions:  John Brown Bell:  From I-495N take exit 24A for Rt. 20E.  Turn right onto Granger Blvd., follow .6 mi., turn left onto Main St.  Park where the bell is sits on right, parking is along Main St.
            Cider Knoll:  From I-495N take exit 24A for Rt. 20E.  Turn right onto Granger Blvd., take slight left onto E. Main St., turn right to stay on E. Main St.  After .5 mi., turn left onto Concord Rd., follow 1.6 mi., left onto McNeil Cir., take 1st right onto Vega Rd., take 1st left onto Juniper Rd.  Turn left onto Woodland Dr., Cider Knoll is all the way at the end. 

            Marlborough, Ma. - Official Site
            The Frye

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