Milldam Concord Massachusetts

Milldam (Historical) – The Milldam (sometimes referred to as “mill-dam”) is the name affixed to a portion of Main Street in downtown Concord, Massachusetts where in pre-colonial days there was a dam that blocked the mill brook running through the center of “town”. The dam created (~1636) a small pond with sufficient water volume to run a water wheel powering a grist mill. The dam was removed and the pond drained ~ 1836. The river has since been diverted under Main street via an aqueduct. Today the Milldam is a concentrated fashionable area of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants

What is interesting is the mill brook is still there and runs in a Northerly direction under Main Street. On the south side it runs under Comella’s Restaurant and exits under Main Streets Market & Cafe on the north.

The Milldam is the area from “Helen’s Restaurant” to “Main Streets Market & Cafe”. A famous print by Amos Doolittle in 1775 shows a body of water (small pond) on the westerly side of Wright Tavern. As a matter of fact if you walk behind the stores on Main Street (Behind “Helen’s Restaurant”) you can see that the geological topology is depressed (bowl shaped) being the area where there was a body of water. All the shops on Main Street were built after the dam was removed. Most likely an earthen dam that may have initially been a beaver dam that was latter enhanced with sand, gravel and clay. At first a foot path across it then, with more soil, a cart path, then a road.

Milldam Marker Concord, MA
Milldam Marker Main Street, Concord, MA
Area Where Milldam Existed
Location of Milldam, Concord, MA
Mill Brook Underground Between Brick and White Buildings
Mill Brook Underground In This Location
Mill Brook Exit North Side of Main Street
Mill Brook Exit North Side of Main Street

Historical References to the “Milldam” in Concord, Massachusetts

Select ExcerptsSource – Library of Congress: French, Allen. Old Concord. Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1915. Pdf.

  • “From the point where Walden Street began, Main Street continues the line of the Milldam. The house beyond the bank building (Main Streets Cafe), setting back from the street, tradition claims to have been a blockhouse; certainly the thick walls of the original structure were once suitable for defence.”

Select ExcerptsSource – Hudson, Alfred Sereno. The History of Concord, Massachusetts. Concord, Mass., The Erudite press, 1904. Pdf.

  • “The mill had stopped, the cattle were housed, the roads were vacant, and nothing was seen or heard in the vicinity except the monotonous roaring of the water at the milldam as it fell over the splashboards, and the occasional lone bellowing of an impatient yearling in the town pound.”

  • “… and gravel was taken from the hillside at a point between the town house and the Catholic church until the hill was dug through, and by the continuation of the way so opened the present Bedford street was made. Nor was this all the alteration of the central village in the vicinity of its prospective public square. Gradually the old foot-path over the milldam by the south west corner became a necessary way to the tavern, the store, and the road westerly beyond the mill brook. From a foot-path It became a cart-way, and from this it developed into a county road; so that perhaps soon after the middle of the 18th century the town folks from the East Quarter were no longer obliged to drive their vehicles around by way of Potter’s bridge at the head of the millpond an eighth or a quarter of a mile south, but could pass over a convenient causeway at the dam, while those from the opposite Quarter could drive direct to the meeting house without any detention at the milldam, at which place it is said, the west side people formerly dismounted from their wagons on Sunday that they might walk to the house of worship while the team drove around over Potter’s bridge.”

  • “The short strip of Main street between the Public Square and the beginning of Walden street was formerly in part the Mill Dam, and was not used as a regularly laid out highway until almost within the memory of people now living. The site of the first “Corn Mill” in Concord was here, at a spot just east of the Old Bank building. The pond which furnished the mill power extended from the dam southward.”

  • “The earliest mention of this region was probably made by William Wood, in a book entitled “New England Prospects”, a work supposed to be based upon his personal observation about 1633.”

  • “The earth and brush cabins soon gave way to substantial structures; the forest was felled along the plain land and the meadow margins ; and a mill was erected “to grind the town’s corn.” The spot selected for the mill was near what is now the Common, or public square, and the little stream upon which it was situated is known as “Mill Brook,” though it is now so small as might lead one to doubt whether it ever had any mill power at all.”

  • “Mr. Bulkeley was allowed a tract of thirty acres upon which his house and mill stood, lying between the pond and the river. He was also granted the right to raise the water of the brook “to a perpendicular height of four feet and ten inches from the bottom of the mill trough,” and of digging clay on the common for making repairs on the dam ; franchises akin in principle to those accorded to early mill builders in other places ; and the small amount allotted may indicate that landed possessions were not lavishly bestowed upon any one, nor as a rule, conveyed without value received.”

  • “How many years the Bulkeley mill continued to grind the “town’s corn” we were not told, but there was a long succession of millers.”

  • “About 1666, Captain Timothy Wheeler, who lived in the house of Mr. Bulkeley, became owner of the mill, and he left it by will to his daughter, Rebecca Minot; and her husband, James, operated it for many years. The building which now stands on Main street by the brook near the bank is in the succession of these ancient mills.”

  • “But long ago the rumbling of the old mill ceased; and the water of the mill brook released from its useful bondage once more went dancing downwards as wild and unrestrained as when the settlers first saw it. The pond shrank back into its original channel, and the flags and clover blossoms upon its grassy border, looked laughingly down into it as if glad to be brought back to their old playground.”

  • “First, we will describe the mill pond. From the height of the dam, and various records relating to the flowage of water in its vicinity, together with the “lay of the land,” we may fairly conjecture what was its shape and size, and trace its outline on at least three sides. The north side was bounded by the dam, which probably extended from the mill house to a point a little east of Mill brook where it crosses the present Main street.”

  • “From the “Strate strete” at the “Common,” as we will call the public square, a narrow causeway crossed at the mill dam, coming out on the west side of it near the old Bank building. This causeway at the time of the Revolutionary war and for years afterward was only a few feet wide and was used as a mill path and a short way connecting both portions of the village.”

Select ExcerptsSource – Tolman, George. Preliminaries of Concord fight; read before the Concord Antiquarian Society. [Concord, Mass. Concord Antiquarian Society, 1901] Pdf.

  • “The milldam was at first simply a dam and nothing more, and it was not until many years later that it became a highway as it is now; so many years indeed that in my boyhood the street was never called by any other name than “the Milldam,” and even now the old name still lingers lovingly on the lips of the native-born.”

  • “The mill, stood where Towle & Kent’s store now stands, and a straight line from there to near the corner of Bedford street and Lexington road makes the boundary between the Rev. Mr. Bulkeley’s grant and the town’s reservation. The mill was built almost immediately after the settlers came …”

  • “… the owners of the mill were permitted to raise the water at the head of the pond to a depth of four feet ten inches, and obliged to arrange the “waste water way” so that the water should begin to run of when it had risen to a depth of four feet seven inches.”

  • “Near the meeting house the proprietors of the mill were making full use of their privilege of taking out sand and gravel for repairing and strengthening their dam, perhaps with an idea of making of it a passable way across the brook, for it must have been inconvenient for anyone living in the North Quarter, or even in the middle of the town itself, to drive away round by Potter’s Lane to get his corn to mill, or for the rapidly increasing population of the westerly part of the town to take the same circuitous route to meeting or to lecture.”

  • “Still this process of widening the dam must have been a very gradual one, for I have seen a statement of Miss Dinah Hosmer. who was born in 1741. and died in 1831, and who lived up in the westerly part of the town, that she remembered when it was the practice for those who came from that direction on Sundays, to stop their wagons at the mill, whence the women and children walked across the dam, while the drivers drove the horses away round by the bridge at the head of the pond.”

  • “However, the townspeople became tired of the unsightly and even dangerous gravel pit that yawned at the very doors of their meeting house, and the matter of dispossessing the mill owners of their right to keep it open was (sometimes rather hotly) discussed.”

  • “At length, however, a new gravel pit was opened in the side of the hill, and the mill owners were persuaded to seek their supplies of gravel there. (This pit finally cut entirely through the hill, and the material taken from it was used to build the causeway from the Square to Red Bridge, now known as the Lowell Road; but this conclusion did not come until 1793. The old gravel pit is now Bedford street.”

Research by Don Campbell

A Final Note – You have to wonder what archaeological finds may exist under Main Street especially on the south side where there is a bowl shaped depression where the pond was actually located. It would make for an interesting study to run a ground penetrating radar scan of the area to see what may lie beneath !