Rediscovering a Lost Mill Village: Haywardville on Spot Pond Brook

At the headwaters of Spot Pond Brook lay the remnants of Haywardville, one of New England’s most important mill villages. The site provided the spark of life that gave birth to nearby towns, provided the tools that fostered invention, and helped usher in a new age that began with the Industrial Revolution. It was that movement though that ultimately killed the site. Larger, more prosperous, enterprises, coupled with the taking of water rights, lead to the decline of industry here. The mills were later purchased as part of the creation of the nation’s first metropolitan park system. Now in the 120th year of public stewardship, Historian Ryan D. Hayward of The Preservation Collaborative, Inc. has embarked on a year long journey to bring this important history to life once again. His Program, Industrial Eden, will celebrate the legacy left behind by Haywardville. Eight lectures and two walking tours will be presented in May through November, touching on various aspects of the village’s life and how it relates to the shared history of Medford, Malden, Melrose and Stoneham. Join us as we explore the past once more.

A Very Brief and Condensed History:

Late 18th century Hurd Spice Mill was the only other mill standing at the end of the nineteenth century.

Late 18th century Hurd Spice Mill was the only other mill standing at the end of the nineteenth century.

Haywardville provided the resources for early area settlement. The region was once known as Five Mile Woods and was then part of Charlestown, Massachusetts. Claimed for common woodlots and pasture, it was explored by John Winthrop in 1632 who discovered the brook and its source, Spot Pond. In 1670, the brook saw its first development. A saw and grist mill were constructed to provide timber and flour for settlers. Rumor has it that they did not come without a fight; several times their dam was rumored to have been destroyed by farmers whose lands had been flooded. The mills ultimately won out though and a community developed around them. Lap Parish, named for its location on the shores, was one of the densest settled sections in the area and later contributed to the incorporation of Stoneham, Massachusetts, in 1725. Over the next 50 years, life went on largely unchanged.

The period after the American Revolution saw a movement towards homespun goods that resulted in a brief building boom. No less than seven mills and two mill ponds were constructed to help supply the area with various goods. These included new products including snuff, chocolate, spices and medicines. Mills may also have provided the mechanical labor for a gunsmith and furniture maker as well. This successful enclave prospered from 1790 through 1810 after which time they disappear into obscurity. Only one of these mills remained by 1820.

A view of the Haywardville Rubber Works in 1890 as shown from Pond Street.

A view of the Haywardville Rubber Works in 1890 as shown from Pond Street.

Success in Haywardville, coupled with the Industrial Revolution, brought about the first factory here. Silk dyer William Barrett constructed the now famous complex and associated mill pond to increase product production. Known as the Red or Forest Mills, they added to his expansive holdings in Malden Center, making him one of the area’s largest employers for a time. When he died, Elisha Converse purchased the mills and renovated them for shoe production. This model became the precedent for the Boston Rubber Shoe Company, which became the largest rubber shoe manufacturer in the world. The mills were later purchased by their most famous owner, Nathaniel Hayward whose name the village assumed around 1860. He was instrumental in helping Charles Goodyear discover the vulcanization process, making rubber useable. Thinking of how many rubber products we use today, it’s easy to see how the modern industrial era began at this site. Rubber making continued here with marginal success for the next thirty years.

A movement to protect the region’s picturesque forest resulted in its untimely demise. Beginning in 1850 and gaining strength in 1890, a movement was put forth by Frederick Law Olmstead and others to form a system of connected parkland around Boston. Haywardville, now largely deserted, was slated to be among the parcels to be taken. Larger industrial mills put the rubber works out of business and it could not compete. Four years after closing, it and one other remaining mill was purchased by the Commonwealth to form the Middlesex Fells Reservation. They remained for a time, but were ultimately cut up and moved a quarter mile away. Charles Eliot, an Olmstead student, then went about the task of smoothing over the industrial landscape into a picturesque forest. A trained eye can still see traces of the past use. Three mill ponds remain, along with a number of head and tail races. Building foundations, some exposed and others filled in, remain. The most predominant feature is the large basin where the water wheel of the rubber works once sat.

Haywardville Map from 1860.

Haywardville Map from 1860.

Industrial Eden:

Industrial Eden: The Legacy of Haywardville is a multifaceted program designed to heighten the awareness of a once booming village now vanished. This multigenerational program will reach out in a collaborative manner, bringing together four community libraries, as well as a number of partnering organizations, to provide a new look on an old landmark. Historian Ryan D. Hayward and others will present multiple programs throughout the year that pay homage to this now picturesque place in the Middlesex Fells. Through living history, walking tours, lectures and family activities, we will bring the past to life.

Want to learn more about the history of Spot Pond Brook, and Haywardville? Come take part in the Industrial Eden program. You can learn more by visiting

The Industrial Eden Program is funded in part by a grant from the Medford, Malden, Melrose and Stoneham Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency; in partnership with: The Preservation Collaborative Inc., The Historic Connection, and the Mystic River Watershed Association.


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