Wellesley history: Part of Sprague Fields used to be a farm

Members of the Mulcahy family have appealed to the Wellesley Public Schools for permission to install a plaque at the Sprague Fields commemorating the family farm that used to be there.

The first stop for the family has been to present its case at the Wellesley Historical Commission, which discussed the topic most recently at its Nov. 14 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording, about 70 minutes in) after researching the farm’s history in prior weeks (it began discussing the request publicly in February). The Commission supports the family’s effort and plans to work with the School Department to nail down more specifics about the history, where the plaque might go, and what it might say.

Planner Ryan Griffis shared some of the history at the Historical Commission meeting. With military personnel returning from World War II in the mid-1940s, Wellesley saw its population growing and needed a new school. Town Meeting appointed a committee in 1944 to survey land for such a school and the following year made a recommendation to use the Mulcahy farm lot. Back-and-forth meetings, committees and referendums put that recommendation in doubt, but eventually the town went with the Mulcahy property.

According to a review of Wellesley Townsman archives, the town bought 10 acres of Mulcahy property for $21,500 for its new school project, which entailed demolishing the high school, and building a junior high school, plus surrounding playgrounds.

Griffis said “it was very contentious issue, which the entire town become involved over where to place its new school. It is now still a very active part of the community, so we do feel a plaque would be well placed.”

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The Planning Department showed that the main Mulcahy farm house used to be where 2nd base is now on the Sprague baseball field (Screenshot of map shown during Wellesley Media recording of Wellesley Historical Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting)

 

Outgoing Planning Director Don McCauley added that the Mulcahy family’s history in town in that location went back until at least the mid-1800s, making them something of a “founding family” in Wellesley. One member of the family noted that the Mulcahys were connected to Dr. William T.G. Morton, a dentist who is memorialized dentist with a marker in front of town hall that celebrates the world’s first public demonstration of ether as an anesthetic in surgery in 1864.

One thing missing so far are actual pictures of the farm, which the family is trying to dig up as they digitize their collection.

Bob Mulcahy read very brief proposed language for the plaque, including that the property was bought by the town in 1948 and that the family moved to town in 1854. The town acquired the property via eminent domain, he said.

Charles Mulcahy said the property had been used as a family farm and included chickens, pigs, a cow, a horse, and a pond where some of the animals drank. The farm was adjacent to a dump that has been covered over with the turf fields at Sprague (Wellesley was known for having little dumps sprinkled here and there back in the day).

The Historical Commission suggested that more details would be appropriate for the eventual plaque.

“To me this is a very interesting story,” said Jacob Lilley, an Historical Commission member. “It’s personal to a lot of people here in town. There are very few places in town where so many people utilize a space on a daily basis and have the ability to potentially reflect on what was there and how it’s changed over time.”