When the Worcester Turnpike of 1810 was opened, it became more than a direct route for freight haulers, stagecoach travelers, and the pony express from Boston to Worcester. The new road’s five-mile route through Westborough created an opportunity to develop the area for additional farm land, real estate investors, and business entrepreneurs. At the time, there were only two farms, the Warren and Forbush farms, situated directly on the road. But by 1835, a dozen new farms had been built on the new Turnpike.
But it wasn’t until Silas Wesson had a vision to establish a residential village along the newly constructed Turnpike that the area took on the name, Wessonville. Wesson was a property owner in Grafton and for several years the innkeeper of the Forbush Tavern, where he established Westborough’s first post office. In 1818 Wesson bought two acres of land situated on the Turnpike and built a new home. Then in 1822 he purchased the 80-acre Powder Hill Farm and built the Wesson Tavern at his former home site. The new tavern/inn would become the primary gathering point for travelers and teamsters, and the mail would be delivered to the North Westborough Post Office located at the tavern.
Several years later, Nathan Austin Fisher of Franklin, Joseph Lothrop, and Daniel Holbrook Jr., recognizing an opportunity to capitalize on real estate ventures, purchased land along the Turnpike and built fine Federal style homes. Fisher and Lothrop became partners and, like their predecessor Silas Wesson, began purchasing properties along the Turnpike and the road from Westborough to Northborough.
As Westborough banks were not established until the 1860s, it was customary to have local creditors finance real estate transactions. The real estate investors of Wessonville were not wealthy individuals, rather they used creditors to finance their purchases. They had expected a quick turnover for a profit, but when land along the Turnpike became less desirable for residential home development, the investors became over-extended and unable to pay their creditors. Ironically, each of the Wessonville real estate investors sold their homesteads within several years of building, with the exception of Daniel Holbrook (who died unexpectedly), to finance other real estate transactions.
At this point, the glory days of the privately-owned turnpike were coming to an unexpected end. By 1830, the Turnpike Corporation was experiencing financial difficulties and the road infrastructure was falling into disrepair. Businessmen and investors were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the deterioration of the road and began seeking alternative means of transportation. The news that the Turnpike was losing its appeal and the proposal to build a railroad led to the suicide of Elam Stearns in 1832, the owner of the Forbush Tavern.
In 1833, Silas Wesson, the founder of Wessonville, was ordered by the Court of Common Pleas to pay his creditors or go to debtor’s prison. Wesson, not having the capital, fled Westborough to live in Boston. His land was foreclosed and awarded to his creditors for half the value. In 1836 Nathan Fisher suffered a similar fate and left town for New York City, followed shortly thereafter by his partner Joseph Lothrop.
In 1834, a faster, more comfortable and reliable means to transport people and freight was introduced as the first locomotive steamed into downtown Westborough. The Boston & Worcester Railroad put an end to the stagecoaches, freight haulers, and the mail delivery on the Turnpike. By 1840, the Wesson Tavern had closed, and a year later the Turnpike was abandoned from Framingham Center to Lake Quinsigamond and reduced to a farmer’s road.
The name Wessonville was used for years in legal documents long after Silas Wesson left the area. The former tavern was transformed into a seminary for young women from 1840 until 1852, when Dr. J. H. Hero established the Willow Park Water Cure and the area became known as Willow Park. In 1885, the site became the Lyman School for Boys, and the tavern was named Willow Park Cottage. The term Wessonville slowly disappeared from the deeds by the beginning of the 20th century.
Authors note: Throughout this collection of historical writings I have relied heavily on the internet, in particular Google reference books and images. Genealogists and historians should be especially thankful for this wonderful resource that minimizes the visits to remote locations and spending hours paging through reference materials that lead nowhere. I found photos and a few postcards at the Westborough Public Library, Historical Commission, and Historical Society. Westborough is truly fortunate in having the Parkman Diaries which has become a tremendous reference of the day to day activities of Westborough’s early residents. A History of Westborough by Herman DeForest & Bates was also a good resource.
Although I found several contradictions in the reference materials, I favored the Parkman Diary as the reference of choice during that time period.