"Prosperity always inflates the imprudent, and worldly peace weakens the vigor of the soul." - Peter Abelard

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Longfellow Pond, Wellesley Industry, And A Mysterious Gravestone

This story was originally published in the August 18th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.
The mysterious Hastings burial plot by Wellesley's Longfellow Pond. Photo by Rhys Heyden.
WELLESLEY, Mass. - - Today, Wellesley’s Longfellow Pond is a tranquil spot crisscrossed by hiking trails, where the most prominent residents are a flock of quacking ducks.
However, back in the mid-1800s, the pond was the closest thing Wellesley had to an industrial epicenter.
Over 170 years ago, the pond area was home to the Charles Tetti Nail Factory, a Crane Paper Mill, and an icehouse that used the pond for ice during the winter months. All of these businesses are gone today, and the sole remaining testament to the area’s residents is a mysterious gravestone marking the “Hastings Burial Plot.”
Why is the gravestone there, and what does the Hastings family have to do with anything?

According to Beth Hinchliffe, Wellesley’s town historian, Longfellow Pond was an artificial millpond created in 1815. Hinchliffe said the nearby paper and nail factories ran off waterpower from the pond.
“Back in the early 1800s, Wellesley (then West Needham) was a very sparsely populated farming community,” said Hinchliffe. “Aaron Hastings was one of the first settlers who was drawn to the area by this small industry. The Hastings family was very prominent in West Needham, and actually dates back to the Revolutionary War.”
According to Hinchliffe, Hastings built a homestead next to Longfellow Pond in 1833, and lived there for many years. Nathan Longfellow bought the Crane Paper Mill in 1836, and the pond was subsequently named after him.
As the railroad came to Wellesley and other businesses began cropping up, all the industry around the pond gradually died out, and was completely gone by around 1870.

Sometime during this period, Aaron Hastings passed away, though it’s unclear exactly when. According to Janet Bowser, director of Wellesley’s Natural Resources Commission, Aaron’s son, John Hastings, also took up residence in the homestead.
The area was no longer an industrial center, and the woods began to reclaim much of the area surrounding the homestead. John lived in the crumbling house until he passed away in 1930. Later, the house burned down.
The Town of Wellesley purchased the homestead during the 1940s, adding its acreage to the now-200-acre Town Forest, which was designed for recreation and aquifer protection.

When the homestead area was designated part of the town forest, the woods began reclaiming the old house in earnest. Today, the stone foundation of the Hastings homestead is barely visible and completely ensnared in poison ivy.
Still surviving, however, is a more-recent stone that was placed there in the 20th century, with the inscription, “Hastings Burial Plot, 1837.” According to Bowser, it is unknown who exactly is buried at this site, but it is likely the final resting place of one or more Hastings family members.
The Hastings name lives on today in the form of Wellesley’s Hastings Street, home of Fiske Elementary School.


The clearing where the gravestone has been placed. Photo by Rhys Heyden.

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