In 1705, a man named John Wood married Elizabeth Buckminster, oldest daughter of Colonel Joseph Buckminster of Framingham. A few years later, Wood and another man, Elnathan Allen of Sudbury, purchased 300 acres of land near Cedar Swamp from Wood’s father-in-law. They added to their holdings by purchasing another nearby 200 acres and a sawmill.
Wood and Allen got into trouble in those early days when they cut down timber on someone else’s land. But they paid the fine and recovered -- and Wood, his descendants and other early families would begin developing their part of the world into a thriving business center and a neighborhood. Their village, called Woodville, evolved into a bustling place filled with industry, shops and quaint homes. While the industry departed many years ago, the village’s charm and its sense of neighborliness remains today.
As part of Hopkinton's 300th Anniversary Celebration, the Friends of Whitehall will present “The History of the Village of Woodville and Lake Whitehall” at the Hopkinton Historical Society on Sunday, May 17 at 2 p.m. The exhibition will include photos, displays and artifacts from Woodville’s history. Docents will explain the stories behind the exhibit.
Friends of Whitehall member and Hopkinton Historical Society archivist Gail Clifford, who along with Margaret Mighton is organizing the Woodville event, said the village was always a special place.
“Woodville had industry; it had people who built houses for the workers; it had its own cemetery, church, library and fire department,” Clifford said. “It had all the things that a community needed.”
While officially part of Hopkinton, the oldest parts of Woodville in 2005 became an historic district because of its nearly 100 period homes in the Greek Revival, Italianate and Federal styles. The district stretches from around 200 Wood Street (Rte. 135) to its intersection with Fruit Street, and includes some other side streets with antique homes.
Along with being a treasure trove of period architecture, Woodville also has a proud history as a center of innovation and entrepreneurship. John Wood operated both his sawmill and an inn; his son Joseph built a mill. Joseph Walker – for whom a street in Woodville is named -- invented a method of attaching soles to shoes with wooden pegs, which revolutionized the shoe manufacturing industry and helped make Hopkinton a center of it. The Rice family, other early settlers, built homes to accommodate Woodville’s growing number of workers.
In the late 1800s, the old Reservoir House in Woodville did a brisk business offering rooms and meals to travelers, with Leroy Coolidge as proprietor. Coolidge also owned a power plant that lit up Woodville’s streetlights and ran a carriage manufacturing facility that employed 50 of his neighbors.
Perhaps because of its self-sufficiency, old Woodville also enjoyed a sense of neighborliness that continues today. It has always been a place where residents look out for one another and feel proud of their village’s heritage. Today it still has its own Post Office and Zip code: 01784.
“I started to feel connected as soon as we moved in,” said Mighton, who moved in 1971 with her husband Karl to a home that housed the Gamage family generations earlier. “There was a bond among all of us.”
While residents were close, they did not isolate themselves from the rest of Hopkinton (notwithstanding a movement to secede more than a decade ago.) Woodville people have always been part of Hopkinton’s town government. “John Wood was the first Hopkinton selectman,” Clifford points out. “Several members of the Wood family and many other early Woodville residents would also become officers in town.”
Over the past 20 years, the Mightons were among many Woodville residents who have worked to preserve Woodville’s historic character and Lake Whitehall. After Karl Mighton died several years ago, the Hopkinton Area Land Trust dedicated a walking train on North Mill Street in his name.
The village has also opened its arms to others. Consider that the Woodville Baptist Church welcomed people of other faiths when their own churches were too far away. The children of a large Roman Catholic family attended Sunday school there. The Woodville Rod & Gun Club – which opened in the 1920s on the site of an old school house -- hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner every year, open to all comers.
Here are 10 more fascinating facts about Woodville:
English settlers on their way from Cambridge to Connecticut as early as 1636 slept on the third night of their trip on the western shore of Lake Whitehall.
In 1811 the Hopkinton Cotton Manufacturing Company – the second cotton-weaving mill in the country – began operating near the lower dam on Lake Whitehall.
Dexter and Elbridge Rice built all of the brick houses on Wood St.
The Woodville Fire Department had 50 firefighters on call between 1876 and 1890; they earned eight dollars a year.
Woodville once had its own library, started in the 1870s in the Granby Wood home at 225 Wood Street. Granby Wood’s daughter was the librarian. By 1886 the library had 500 volumes, considered remarkable for a small village library.
The Woodville Building Company was formed in 1894 in response to new regulations by the city of Boston to protect its drinking water supply at the Lake Whitehall reservoir. Companies that depended on Lake Whitehall for water power now had to relocate, and the Woodville Building Company helped them do that. The Granby Wood Shoe Co., one of Hopkinton’s last shoe factories, was relocated from upper Mill Pond to the site near Winter and Wood streets where the fire truck repair facility is today.
Woodville has always had cherished traditions. Neighbors flocked to the former post office and general store (where the Woodville fire station is today) every July 4 for a bonfire. The garage doors on the side of the building would be opened, and volunteers inside would serve up hotdogs and ice cream during the bonfire. Another tradition – catching up on neighborhood news while collecting mail at the post office – survives today, but only on Saturday mornings when the Woodville Post Office is open.
Woodville’s Reservoir House would do a thriving business during Prohibition, according to late Hopkinton historian Gordon Hopper, who heard stories from longtime bar and liquor store owner Jack Beattie. The Reservoir House was one of at least three “speakeasies” in town and bottled its own whiskey.
The last surviving member of the original founding Wood family moved out of town only a decade ago. The family moved to Upton because it needed the space.
Ten years ago, a reunion for the Wood family at the Woodville Rod and Gun Club drew Woods from as far away as Florida.