This article by Allston-Brighton historian Dr. William P. Marchione appeared in the Allston-Brighton Tab or Boston Tab newspapers in the period from July 1998 to late 2001, and supplement information in his books The Bull in the Garden (1986) and Images of America: Allston-Brighton (1996). These articles are copyrighted in the name of the author. Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution.
When Cattle Was King
The writer’s first visit came in October 1840. He may well have stayed at the Cattle Fair Hotel. The 1840 account is the more polished of the two, and is the one most often quoted:
Thursday of every week which by common consent and custom is market day changes the generally quiet village of Brighton into a scene of bustle and excitement. At early morning the cattle, sheep etc. are hurried in and soon the morning train from Boston, omnibuses, carriages, and other ‘vehicular mediums’ bring a throng of drovers, buyers, speculators and spectators; so that by 10 o’clock, there are generally gathered as many as two or three hundred vehicles in the area fronting the Cattle Fair Hotel.
The denizens of the Brighton Cattle Market were heavy drinkers, wrote Hawthorne, and the Cattle Fair Hotel bar very much a focal point of market day activities:
The proprietors [of the hotel] throng the spacious barroom for the purpose of warming themselves in winter, and in summer 'cooling off'---the process for effecting both results being precisely the same.
The hotel portico and adjacent area, Hawthorne tells us, accommodated an early version of the flea market, with hawkers and peddlers selling a variety of wares at bargain prices---clothing, jewelry, soap, watches, knives, razors, and the like. Another feature were exhibits of unusual and bizarre items such as a 'Mammoth Steer,' a "Living Skeleton," a display of reptiles, etc., all available "at reasonable prices."
Then there was the infamous Brighton horse auction. The buying and selling of horseflesh was an important business in the market town. "A Brighton horse has become a proverb," observed Hawthorne, with mildly disapproving amusement:
Here are gathered old, wornout, broken-down, and used up omnibus, cart and livery stable steeds, and these are knocked down (if they don’t tumble down) at sums varying from five to forty dollars. These sales are productive of a great deal of merriment and the mettle, speed and fine points of the animals are exhibited (the "points" perhaps being sufficiently prominent already).
The heart of the Cattle Market, the stockyard area behind the hotel, with its great raised auction platform, was caught up in a constant whirl of activity, Hawthorne wrote:
The fattest and best of the cattle in their pens find ready sale, and long before all the drovers are in, select lots begin to be driven from the grounds. Men and boys hurry up and down the lanes and through the pens, each armed with a stick which is a sort of shillelagh, shouting to the half-crazed cattle, and with screams and blows directing them where they should go. Occasionally, a drove of cows and calves come along, the latter muzzled, and the former looing and bellowing in chorus to the shouts of the drivers.
Other varieties of animals were on sale as well, Hawthorne tells us. "Dogs and goats and mules are offered for sale, and nearby, are the hog pens, containing at this season, only stores, which are sold singly and in pairs to small farmers, mechanics and others who think they can afford to ‘keep a pig’."
At twelve noon a bell was rung announcing dinner, which signaled a breathing spell for participants. After dinner trading resumed, but the pace of activity began tapering off. "By five o’clock the business of the day is over," noted Hawthorne, "and Brighton subsides once more into a quiet, matter-of-fact Massachusetts village, till another Thursday brings round another market day."
At the time of the author’s second, September 1841 visit, he was living at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, the famous utopian community. Market Day had been moved from Thursdays to Mondays.
Hawthorne and his traveling companion,William B. Allen, made the five mile journey to Brighton early Monday morning by wagon, with the practical object of selling a calf and buying four piglets. "It was an ugly thought," the author noted dryly of the tiny calf he was carrying to Brighton, an "affectionate" creature, "that [its] confidence in human nature was to be so ill rewarded as by cutting its throat, and selling him in quarters."
What route did Hawthorne and Allen follow in traveling from West Roxbury to Brighton? An examination of old maps would suggest that they wound their way to the Cattle Market via Brookline’s Lagrange and Hammond Streets, the old Worcester Turnpike (now Boylston Street or Route 9), and Chestnut Hill Avenue (then called Rockland Street). The early morning journey must have taken about two hours, for on Mondays the roads to Brighton were crowded with "people with cows, oxen, sheep, and pigs, for Brighton Fair."
The author described the countryside he and Allen traversed as both attractive and prosperous. "There were warm and comfortable farm-houses, with the porch, the sloping roof, the ancient peak, the clustered chimneys of old times; and modern cottages, smart and tasteful; and villas with terraces before them and dense shade, and wooden urns on pillars, and other such tokens of gentility."
On entering the village, they found it "thronged with people, horses, and vehicles." Nowhere in New England, he noted, was the true character of the agricultural population so clearly revealed:
Almost all the farmers, within a reasonable distance, make it a point, I suppose, to attend Brighton fair pretty frequently, if not on business, yet as amateurs. Then there are the cattle-people and the butchers who supply the Boston market, and the dealers from far and near; and every man who has a cow or a yoke of oxen, whether to sell or buy, goes to Brighton on Monday.
Hawthorne’s 1841 description is clearly more concerned with the human participants in the Brighton scene than with the buying and selling of livestock and provides a comprehensive portrait:
"The yeomen seemed to be more in their element than I have ever seen them anywhere else," Hawthorne wrote of the participants in this great concourse. Most of the attendees were of "a bulky make, with much bone and muscle, and some good store of fat." There were, in addition, gentlemen farmers, "neatly, trimly, and fashionably dressed"; yeomen, "in their black or blue country suits, cut by country tailors, and awkwardly worn"; country loafers, who "looked wistfully at the liquor in the bar, [waiting] for some friend to invite them to drink"; also, "dandies from the city, stayed and buckramed, who had come to see the humors of the Brighton Fair."
Hawthorne concludes this second and final description of the Brighton Cattle Market with the sadly unfulfilled wish that he might someday return:
All the scene of the fair was very characteristic and peculiar---cheerfully and lively, too, in the bright, warm sun. I must see it again; for it ought to be studied.<click here> for more details on the Nathanthiel Hawthorne account