Natick, Sherborn and Holliston Historical Societies collaborate to retrace George Washington’s 1789 route through town Program free and open to the public
History tells the story of President George Washington stopping at the rock, after a drink at the Littlefield Tavern, to try to topple the rock. Pictured here is Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Travels with George, trying to do just that. Source: Holliston Historical Society.
By Theresa Knapp
The Natick, Sherborn and Holliston Historical Societies, together with the Sherborn Library, will host a virtual presentation “Along the ‘Indifferent Road’ with George Washington, 1789” on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. via Zoom.
The program focuses on November 1789 and George Washington’s return to New York at the end of his post-inaugural visit to New England as the country’s first president.
Holliston Town Historian Joanne Hulbert says this program is a way of connecting people and places to history.
“The story of George Washington and his travel along the road, is part of our history, and stories of his ‘visit’ have remained in our history. Preserving local history is not only the task of all the writers, historians of the United States - or of Massachusetts, but history at the local level is of the utmost
value to local residents as it places us as part of American history. We have a place there, and it is important for local historians to tell the stories and pass history on to the next generation.”
Hulbert recalls one such connection.
“Several years ago, during the ‘Eighteenth Century Days’ program for Holliston students, I told the story of George Washington and the balancing rock. After I finished, a young boy, perhaps 8 or 10 years old, came up to me and said that he had tried to push the stone over, too. I said to him, ‘Well, you have done something just like George Washington.’ He wandered away with a look of impressive wonder — and pride — and I do wonder if that moment might have turned him into a future historian. I certainly hope so!”
The “indifferent road” in the program title refers to an entry Washington made in his diary in which he wrote:
“From Watertown, till you get near Needham, the road is very level – about Needham it is hilly – then level again, and the whole pleasant and well cultivated, till you pass Sherburne [sic]; between this and Holliston is some hilly and rocky ground, as there is in places onwards to Uxbridge; some of wch. are very bad. Upon the whole it may be called an indifferent road [emphasis added] – diversified by good and bad land – cultivated and in woods – some high and barren, and others low, wet and piney.”
“People should attend this program to learn about life in Holliston, Sherborn, and Natick when this country was in its infancy,” says Mary Curran of the Holliston Historical Society. “We will peel back the layers to look at some of the buildings, trees, and other features that newly-elected President George Washington would have seen along this stretch of road on his inaugural tour of Massachusetts.”
Holliston sites will include the Littlefield Tavern where Washington stopped, the tankard (tall beer mug) he is believed to have used, and Balancing Rock which he and his travel companions tried to upend.
Hulbert says the historical societies were inspired to delve deeper into local history by Nathaniel Philbrick’s book Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy which was published in September 2021.
“We do hope that people will be inspired to read the book and find out even more about Washington’s visit to the colonies — now states — after the Revolutionary War, and when he became the country’s first president,” Hulbert says.
The event is free and open to the public but advanced registration is required. Visit www.hollistonhistoricalsociety.org to register. The session will be recorded and available for viewing at a future date.