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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
One of New England's great institutions, the Brighton Cattle Market, was founded in mid-1776 when Jonathan Winship I and II, father and son, put out a call to the farmers of Middlesex county urging them to slaughter their cattle and send the resulting meat supply to the village of Little Cambridge (later renamed Brighton) to help provision General Washington's soldiers.
 
The British had just evacuated Boston, and the Army of New England, then headquartered in and around the liberated city, was in desperate need of provisions of all kinds.
 
Why was Little Cambridge selected as the point of delivery for this meat supply? The village, then still a part of Cambridge, lay just outside of Boston, astride the main road (the Watertown Highway, now Washington Street) linking the metropolis to its western hinterland. It was therefore a logical collection point.
 
The enterprising Winships, who held a contract from the U.S. government to supply meat for the army, soon realized, however, that there more money to be made from doing the slaughtering themselves, which, of course, necessitated the establishment of a local slaughterhouse.
 
The cattle and slaughtering trades, which the Winships launched in 1776, quickly transformed the sleepy agricultural village of Little Cambridge into a thriving commercial center. The selling and butchering of cattle became the economic mainstay of the town for more than a century, profoundly influencing virtually every aspect of Brighton's economic, political, and social development.
 
The first stockyard in Brighton was laid out next to the Bull's Head Tavern, an inn that stood on the site of 201 Washington Street, about a quarter of a mile east of Brighton Center.
 
The cattle pens probably stood on the flat land opposite the tavern (Nantasket Avenue, Snow, and Shannon Streets cross that acreage today), where a stream provided a convenient water supply for the livestock.
 
The Winship slaughterhouse stood at the foot of nearby Powderhouse Hill (now called Academy Hill), at the southeast corner of present-day Chestnut Hill Avenue and Academy Hill Road.
 
In her reminiscences of Brighton in the late 1820s, Mary Ann Kingsley Merwin, provides the only description of the Winship Slaughterhouse known to exist. The oldest slaughterhouse in Brighton was by then long abandoned:
 
Open the great gate [to Powderhouse Hill]. On your left is the old slaughterhouse fast falling to decay. The floors have mostly gone, the timbers are rotting and the doors have mostly fallen from the rusty hinges. The ground all around is covered with Mayweed.
 
The Winship family's stockyard and slaughtering enterprises were immediately successful. As early as 1777, as the records of the Army of New England indicate, the family's two warehouses in Little Cambridge contained some 500 barrels of salted beef. So important was this meat supply to the revolutionary cause that the army posted soldiers to protect it against possible sabotage.
 
In 1780 Jonathan Winship II built an elaborate residence at the eastern end of the village (on the site of the present District 14 police station), a short distance from the stockyard. "This Winship mansion," one source notes, "was in its day a house of much importance, and was surrounded by a large tract of highly cultivated land; besides rich, well-stocked pastures, on which browsed many varieties of fancy cattle." The Winships estate comprised over one hundred acres.
 
By 1790 Jonathan II (the elder Jonathan having died in 1784) was the largest meat packer in Massachusetts, putting up some 5,000 barrels of beef a year for foreign markets alone.
 
Other slaughterhouses soon made their appearance. By the 1860s there were over forty such establishments scattered over the town.
 
The success of the cattle and slaughtering trades was reinforced by three major events of the early 19th century: (1) Brighton's separation from Cambridge in 1807 (placing local government firmly in the hands of the cattle and slaughtering interests); (2) The selection of Brighton in 1818 as the permanent headquarters of the fair grounds and exhibition hall of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, site of the annual Brighton Fair and Cattle Show, the state's most important agricultural gathering; and (3) The construction through the town, in 1834, of the Boston & Worcester Railroad, which soon after began carrying livestock to the Brighton Depot.
 
Herds of livestock converged on Brighton from every direction: Rhode Island, Cape Cod, New Hampshire, Vermont, even eastern Canada, often to the consternation of the residents of nearby towns.
 
By the 1820s the Brighton Cattle Market was receiving between two and eight thousand head of cattle every Monday, with the traffic on the roads to Brighton assuming such proportions that the clergymen of the country towns complained of "the noise and confusion of Autumnal Sabbath in Middlesex...the lowing of herds, the bleating of flocks, the resounding lash, and the drover's voice and whistle, discordantly mingled with the songs of the temple."
 
In 1828 the New England Farmer estimated the value of cattle sold at Brighton, principally for slaughter, over less than two months at $540,000, an enormous sum at the time. Another source tells us that the average sale of cattle at the Brighton Cattle Market in the 1835 to 1845 period exceeded $2 million a year.
 
Brighton was the chief market for livestock in New England, [a Brookline historian has written of the impact of the cattle trade on that town], and it was a common sight to see herds of cattle, and occasionally of sheep, driven through Brookline Village and up Washington Street to Brighton. Starting down in Rhode Island with a few head, cattle were picked up from farmers along the road so that the herd was at its maximum through Brookline.
 
About 1820 the stockyard was moved from its original location at the Bull's Head Tavern to the rear of Hastings Tavern on the north side of Washington Street in Brighton Center, just east of present-day Leicester Street. In 1830, the old tavern was replaced by the Cattle Fair Hotel, managed by Zachariah B. Porter, who later operated Cambridge's Porter House Hotel, the man for whom Porter Square and the Porterhouse steak were named.
 
In 1852, the Cattle Fair Hotel was magnificently enlarged in the Italianate style by noted Boston architect William Washburn. Its one hundred rooms made it the largest hostelry in the Boston suburbs, and the most opulent by far of a score of Brighton hotels established to accommodate the patrons of the town's burgeoning Cattle and slaughtering trades.
 
To the rear of the Cattle Fair Hotel stood some six acres of livestock pens and barns. Here Brighton's town auctioneer, standing atop a raised platform, officiated every market day as thousands of head of livestock were sold to the highest bidder. In 1837, for example, nearly 33,000 head of beef cattle, 110,000 sheep, and 17,000 swine were sold at the Brighton Market, in addition to large numbers of oxen, horses, and poultry.
The most engaging and insightful contemporary description of the colorful Brighton Cattle Market comes from the pen of the great author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who visited Brighton on two occasions in the early 1840s. These accounts first appeared in his American Note-Book.

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
 
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