Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tavern of Death

From Dave Brigham:

A lot of what I post here comes about through stumbling.

A few months ago I set out to explore a set of long-abandoned railroad tracks in Wayland, Mass. (see August 1, 2016, "I Rail Against Trails (Not Really, But I Don't Want Every Abandoned Set of Train Tracks Converted for Cyclists and Roller Bladers)"). Driving there after dropping my son at school, I cruised past a small parking lot for a conservation area in neighboring Sudbury. I made a note of it, and doubled back after my Wayland quest.

I'm always up for a hike in the woods. When I saw "King Philip Woods" on the sign in the parking lot, I got excited. King Philip is notorious in New England for the war he fought against the European colonists in 1675.

I grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut, one of numerous towns throughout New England that was set ablaze by Indians loyal to King Philip, who was called that by British colonists because of his "haughty manners," according to this article. His real name was Metacom, and legend in Simsbury has it that he sat in a cave on Talcott Mountain and watched the town burn. The story is likely apocryphal, but the shallow recess has long been known as King Philip's Cave. Metacom's name was borrowed for the Metacomet Trail, a 63-mile trail that runs through central Connecticut, including Simsbury.

The Sudbury conservation land has at least one tall tale attached to it, as well, but also features some great ruins and hiking trails.

Above is a remnant of the Old Berlin Road, a stagecoach route that ran west-northwest from Boston to Lancaster, Mass. in Colonial times. Legend has it that the notorious highwayman Captain Lightfoot (aka Michael Martin) and other unsavory characters lay in wait at a tavern along the road for unsuspecting travelers. Lightfoot had fled England ahead of authorities due to, well, let Adam Ant explain:

During some undetermined period of time in an unmentioned year, according to the official Town of Sudbury web site, "it was noticed that several travelers who left by stage for Lancaster failed to arrive at their destination, and warnings were posted advising travelers of the hazards of stage travel."

The tavern lost business after signs were posted in the area warning travelers of the dangers, so the story goes. The place fell into disrepair, and was sold. The buyer, "investigating a stone in the basement unearthed 13 skeletons — apparently the unfortunate travelers who never made it to Lancaster," according to the web site. "Some have said that when the moon is over the river and the mist creeps in, if you listen carefully you can hear the stagecoach rolling along and who knows — maybe even a hoarse voice calling 'stand and deliver’."

This is an excellent story, one that resulted in the drinking establishment acquiring the nickname Tavern of Death. It says so right on the sign in the conservation area pointing out the landmarks to be found on the site. But I can find proof nowhere online that this series of events actually happened.

Captain Lightfoot, though, was real enough.

From the August 6, 2014, Somerville (Mass.) Times web site:

In 1821, the time between mid-Colonial and Civil War America, an incident took place there which became part of historic New England lore. It was a robbery, a highway robbery, committed by a young, devil-may–care bandit named Michael Martin (alias “Captain Lightfoot”). Martin had been in America for eighteen months and was working for Mr. Derby during part of that time. No one knew he was fleeing a notorious past as a “money or your life” highwayman in the British Isles. The English called Lightfoot and his former mentor, Captain Thunderbolt, “Knights of the Road.” He was trying to shed that past, and there was to be one last robbery.

Retribution for this crime, which formerly had been branding or whipping, was upgraded to a capital offense punishment. Michael Martin, or Captain Lightfoot, was the first and last person to suffer this state’s gallows for highway robbery.

Read the entire account here. For more about Lightfoot and his British compatriot, and fellow emigre to America, Captain Thunderbolt (aka Dr. John Wilson), read this account. Check out this link for more information about the nefarious pair.

You can order a book in which Lightfoot confesses his crimes.

Whether or not a baker's dozen of victims were buried in the basement of the tavern, the ruins are real.

Bricks, possibly from a chimney in the old tavern, litter a hill above a stone wall at the site.

The foundation from what I believe was a barn sits not too far from the tavern ruins.

There's not a lot left of the Haynes Garrison House, but again, there is very good story.

From the Town of Sudbury web site:

It was to the Haynes Garrison House that the two Concord survivors of the Native American massacre at the Four-Arch Bridge (at the Sudbury River in Wayland) fled for refuge. Here, the defenders showed such courage and fierce determination to defend their homes, that by 1:00 p.m., the Native Americans gave up and faded into the woods.

There is mention on a sign at the site of Native Americans rolling large stones down a hill toward the garrison, to no avail.

Amid all that terrific official, and some likely unofficial history, and cool ruins, I was most excited by this.

I love the through-line this old truck (or possibly a car) provides the conservation area. It's a great place to hike, with nicely maintained trails and pretty stone walls. It has fantastic history going back to the earliest days of the United States. But in between those eras, this was a farm. Abutting land is known as Piper Farm; I'm not sure whether this rusting jalopy belonged to that farm or a separate one, but no matter. I get excited about old vehicles in the woods, because they leave me with so many questions: Who owned it? Why did they leave it here? Why wasn't it hauled out when the conservation land was established?

OK, stop reading now and go for a walk in the woods.


  1. Growing up in the 50's and 60's, I used to play around that area. The Haynes Garrison was marked, and we used to fancy that every pointed rock was an arrowhead. The rest of "Conservation Land" was just an old road that cut between there and Rte 27. It was a pretty popular spot for "necking". I remember the old "jalopy"....to my recollection, it was a Jeep or Bronco. Up in the woods behind the garrison, there used to be ancient hay wagon...probably long gone now.

    1. Tommy -- thanks for providing some local color!

  2. yes, very interesting. my cousin & i used to go into a series of tunnels dug into the earth in wayland, ma. in the late 60s, early 70s. some of the narrow tunnels opened into quite large spaces. i think about this land often. i also grew up to marry & have 5 children with the bass player from adam & the ants. so, double weird. lw. i don't live in the states anymore but often think about the land itself. thanks for this.

    1. Leslie -- glad you found this post and that you enjoyed it! Sounds like you had some great times in the Wayland area back in the day. Always loved me some "Ant Music."