Bay Road, which runs between north Canton down to Taunton, is one of the oldest roadways in North America. The roadway is named Bay Road because the roadway served as a vital connection between Massachusetts Bay and both Buzzards Bay and Narragansett Bay. The road, originally a Native American foot path used by the Wampanoag Tribe and later used to connect the Plymouth Colony with the Mass Bay Colony, features many historic homes along its path, and portions of the roadway in Easton and Norton are listed in the National Registry of Historic Places (see Figure 1).
Figure 1- Bay Road- National Register District (May 1972)
The road, like many roadways in Massachusetts and North America, had its origins as a Native American trail. The Wampanoags used the path for seasonal hunting and migration patterns, living closer to the sea during the warmer summer months, and then moving inland for protection from the harsh New England winter. There are several prominent Native American landmarks just off Bay Road, including King Phillips Cave in Norton, which was believed to be a hiding spot for King Phillip (Metacom) near the end of the King Phillip’s War before he met his death near the Great Miery Swamp in 1676. Near the location of King Phillip’s Cave is Mulberry Brook, a seasonal hunting spot of the Wampanoag and rumored to be one of the possible birthplaces of King Phillip.
Early settlers eventually widened the roadway and by 1773, the roadway was surveyed with the width set at 40 feet. There are several mile markers from that era still standing and many of them feature the names of nearby taverns and inns, which populated the heavily travelled road (see Figure 2). Maintenance of the road fell to the local communities and in 1773, Easton was fined 15 pounds by the Massachusetts General Court for failing to maintain the roadway. In the early 1800’s, Bay Road was eclipsed by the construction of Turnpike Street to the east, which provided a more southerly direct route through Hockomock Swamp. In 1922, Turnpike Street was assumed by the Commonwealth and turned into present State Route 138. This roadway was too later eclipsed by State Route 24, which currently serves as the major north-south connector in this region of the state.
Figure 2- 1773 Mile marker located at 539 Bay Road in Easton
Many important historical figures have travelled Bay Road. It’s believed that both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson would have travelled the route after banishment from Massachusetts Bay Colony on their way south to establish Providence Plantations and Portsmouth in Rhode Island. There are records of Benjamin Franklin travelling Bay Road while staying at the Taunton home of one of America’s founding fathers, Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington stayed at several taverns along Bay Road while travelling to the Perry Foundry in Taunton to secure cannonballs for the newly formed Continental Army. And, also during the Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette travelled Bay Road during the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778, travelling from Rhode Island to Boston to communicate with the French Admiral Comte d’Estaing, whose French Fleet was stationed there to repair their ships following recent storm damage. He made the trip in under 6 hours and had to change his horse several times along the route.
Figure 3- Stoughton Bicentennail Committee placard
In present times, Bay Road is heavily travelled by myself, on the way to my favorite ice cream place, Crescent Ridge, located on Bay Road in Sharon. It’s hard not to get excited thinking about the rich history of one of North America’s oldest roads, while enjoying a black raspberry frappe! Many thanks to Joe Blansfield, Bay Road resident, member of the Stoughton Historical Society, and local expert on the history of the Bay Road, who provided much of the information in this article.
Figure 4- Location of the author's favorite ice cream
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