In 1727, the residents of Southborough established a new town and separated from Marlborough. A meeting house was constructed on the area known as “holy hill,” on three acres set aside for a meeting house, burying ground and training field. The original meeting house was replaced by the current church in 1806, built under the supervision of Moses Newton. When the state disestablished parish churches, Unitarians soon came to own the church. In 1831, Trinitarian members of the congregation broke away from the town church. Forming the Pilgrim Congregational Church, they built their own meeting house in 1834, but in 1857 purchased the old meeting house building from the Unitarians. The original church was then renovated and expanded, including the addition of a new and higher steeple with a new bell. That steeple was tipped (but not toppled) by the 1938 hurricane. It was repaired in 1953, so that the bell could again be rung. There is a history of the church (a pdf document) available at http://www.pilgrimchurch.us/Documents/The%20Pilgrim%20Church%20of%20Christ%20in%20Southborough%2018311.pdf.
In 1859, the Town of Southborough built five school houses in different parts of town, with the District 5 School house being located at the intersection of Flagg and Deerfoot Roads. In 1894, with the school house at Southborough Centre having fallen into disrepair, the District 5 school house was moved (and extended by ten feet) to replace it. After a new High School was built in 1906, the old school house, now known as the Flagg School, became home to the Southborough Fire Department until 1928. It later served the town’s Tree Department and then the Water Department. In 1998, the building was leased to the Southborough Historical Society, which renovated it. In 2000, it was dedicated as the Southborough Historical Museum.
The first Episcopal service in Southborough, the baptism of a daughter of Joseph Burnett in 1850, was held inside the Pilgrim Congregational Church. Burnett, a prominent businessman and Episcopalian, sought to establish the first Episcopal church in town. With services being held, for the time being, in private homes and, after 1860, on the upper floor of a stone mill on Deerfoot Road, Burnett and his colleagues acquired land west of the Southborough Town House for the construction of a church. Built in 1862-1863, the Gothic stone St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was designed by Alexander Esty. The church was expanded several times, with the bell tower being added in 1890 and the sanctuary being renovated and expanded eastward in 1905, in memory of Joseph Burnett. Behind the church is the Burnett family cemetery. Burnett also founded St. Mark’s School, an Episcopal preparatory school in Southborough.
Joseph Burnett (1820-1894) was born in Southborough and studied chemistry in Worcester. In 1837, he moved to Boston, working for, and eventually partnering (in 1845) with, Theodore Metcalf. They had a chemist shop on Tremont Row (now Tremont Street). A woman’s request for vanilla in 1847 led him to develop a premium vanilla extract, which previously had to be imported from France. He eventually established his own business as a manufacturing chemist, Joseph Burnett and Company. Back in Southborough, Burnett purchased land and established the Deerfoot Farms Company, originally a dairy farm, which later also became known for its sausages. Burnett also established an estate, off Main Street in Southborough, where he built a stone mansion. Here he lived with his wife, Josephine Cutter Burnett, and twelve children. Constructed in 1849-1850, the house was updated in 1860. The house was sold out of the family in 1947.
In 1783, Charles Ripley Burnett, farmer and rope maker, married Lovina Mathews, a descendant of the earliest settlers of Southborough. The couple lived in the Matthews Homestead, known as the garrison house, on Gilmore Road, in the Southville section of Southborough. Their son, Charles R. Burnett Jr., married Keziah Pond in 1815 and soon built a house, adjacent to his father’s, on Gilmore Road. It was here that Charles and Keziah‘s son, Joseph Burnett, was born in 1820. He would become a prominent businessman and chemist. In the twentieth century, the Burnett House became the summer home of actor Warner Oland and his wife, artist Edith Gardener Shearn. Born in Sweden, Oland is most remembered for his role as Charlie Chan in the 1930s. He and his wife also translated plays by August Strindberg. Oland died while visiting Sweden in 1938 and his ashes are buried in Southborough. The stone marker is from his Southborough home, called Smoke Tree Farm.
William A. White, a Boston lawyer, built a shingle-style home on Main Street in Southborough in 1906. In 1921, the house was acquired by White’s friend, Charles F. Choate, who donated it to the Southborough Village Society, a village improvement society organized in 1922. Called the Community House, the building became a focal point for local activities and even had a bowling alley at one time. When he gave the house to the Society, Choate stipulated that it be shared with the Leo L. Bagley Post of the American Legion. Choate hired architect Charles M. Baker to design a one-and-a-half story east wing (1921-1922) to serve as the Post’s headquarters.
This week, we’ll look at some buildings in Southborough. The current Southborough Town House was dedicated in 1870 and replaced its predecessor, built in 1840. That wood Greek Revival structure burned in 1869 and there were insinuations at the time that local residents had had a hand in its destruction so it that it could be replaced by a grander building, although no evidence to that effect was ever found. The new brick structure had an upstairs hall that was used for town meetings until 1969. Joseph Burnett, Southborough businessman and philanthropist, made a large donation for the building’s construction and chose Framingham architect Alexander Rice Esty to design it. The town hall building‘s interior was eventually subdivided and is currently used for town offices.