First Settlement, early 17th century to 1691

What is now Lexington was originally part of Cambridge which was established in 1630. From the early 17th century until its incorporation as a town in 1713 Lexington was known by the name of “Cambridge North Precinct” or more commonly, “Cambridge Farms.” In the 17th century most of the land that is now Lexington was granted or sold in large tracts to proprietors who lived in Cambridge but used the outlying Lexington land for wood lots or hayfields.

Edwin B. Worthen, Early Grants at The Farms, 1650
Edwin B. Worthen, Early Grants at The Farms, 1650

Early on, a number of native trails were adopted as transportation routes by the settlers. The Watertown-Bedford route over Vine Brook was the primary north-south way (corresponding to the present-day Blossom-Allen-Steadman-Waltham-Hancock-North Hancock-Valley Streets and along axis of Bedford Street to Westview Cemetery/Pine Street). Another early travel corridor which had been improved by the mid 17th century was the east-west route from Cambridge to Concord – what is today Massachusetts Avenue-Lincoln Street with a branch to Woburn corresponding to what are now Vine and Woburn Streets.

Detail, First Parish Church
Detail, First Parish Church

The date of the first settlement in “Cambridge Farms” is not known although old deeds tell us that there was at least one house standing by 1642. Several large farms were established along Vine Brook by the mid 17th century including one at the town center owned by Herbert Pelham. The southwestern part of town near the source of Vine Brook was also settled early and the Stone, Bridge and Steadman families had farms along the Watertown and Concord paths in this area. By 1650 Edward Winship had established a saw mill on Mill Brook at Bow Street in East Lexington. It has been said that this was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, in the Massachusetts Colony. William Munroe settled on the present Woburn Street at the town line about 1660.

Stone wall bordering field in Lexington, MA

Settlement occurred slowly and in 1682 there were approximately thirty families or 180 persons at the Farms. Faced with a five to ten mile journey to the nearest place of worship, the inhabitants of the Farms began efforts in 1682 to establish themselves as a separate parish. On December 15, 1691 the General Court finally granted their request, over the objections of those in Cambridge who opposed the separation. The residents of the Farms assembled for the first time as a separate parish in April 1692 and a simple meeting-house was quickly erected at the junction of the Concord and Bedford Roads (now Massachusetts Avenue and Bedford Street). A burial ground had been established nearby by 1690. Reverend Benjamin Estabrook became the settled minister for the new parish in 1693. A house for the minister was built on the east bank of Vine Brook, between Main Street (now Massachusetts Avenue) and the railroad or approximately on the site of the present Cary Memorial Building.

Old Burial Ground
Old Burial Ground