Downtown Northborough address has seen a variety of uses over the centuries

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Downtown Northborough address has seen a variety of uses over the centuries
Northborough Town Hall under construction at 4 West Main Street in 1867. (Photo/Courtesy of the Northborough Historical Society)

NORTHBOROUGH – Number 4 West Main Street has been an important location within downtown Northborough since pre-revolutionary times. This address is located on what was the Old Boston Post Road, the major road connecting Boston and New York City in colonial times. Now it is fronted by Route 20, which is the longest highway in the United States, connecting Boston to Newport, Oregon. Three different buildings have occupied the site; a tavern, a town hall and a commercial building.

The initial building at this address was a tavern that existed well before the Revolutionary War. It was run by Lt. John Martyn, the son of Rev. John Martyn, the first minister of Northborough. On May 31, 1771, John Adams, a future president of the United States, recorded in his diary that he “Dined at Martins, Northborough, where I met with my Class Mate Wheeler… “ . Sometime after Lt. Martyn’s death in 1772, the building became known as Monroe’s Tavern where locals were known to adjourn after town meetings. The tavern was relocated to the corner of Blake Street and Pierce Street when the site was selected for a town hall back in 1867. It was eventually demolished around the year 2000 for a new apartment building.

Downtown Northborough address has seen a variety of uses over the centuries
4 West Main Street circa 1890s, complete with a lion fountain donated by Mr. Daniel Wesson, owner of the White Cliffs mansion. (Photo/Courtesy of the Northborough Historical Society)

By 1867, Northborough had outgrown its town hall that was located on Whitney Street, not far from the current First Parish Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. A search for a new location identified the site of the Monroe Tavern. This location would be ideal because it’s on a main road location downtown, and near the railroad station, the road to Westborough and downtown businesses. The three-story brick Second Empire structure was designed by A.R. Esty with elaborate exterior trim and a large mansard roof. The bricks were from Howe’s brickyard in Northborough. The building was dedicated on February 25, 1868. The interior contained a large auditorium on the second and third floors with a stage and balcony that was used for concerts, dances and movies. Over the years, fourth floor offices and ground floor retail spaces were used for town business, the early library, a post office, a drug store and the historical society office.

Downtown Northborough address has seen a variety of uses over the centuries
The 1868 building at 4 West Main Street was totally destroyed by fire on September 17, 1985. (Photo/Courtesy of the Northborough Historical Society)

By the late 1960s, it was clear the town offices had outgrown the building. A study was conducted to look at three possible options; build new, relocate into the vacant Fraser High School building on Main Street or upgrade the current building which would have required purchasing and demolishing the properties behind it. The decision was to relocate into the vacant high school in 1977. The town historical commission had the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Eventually the building was leased for 30 years to a developer for building restoration and modifications for upgraded office and commercial space. However, during restoration the building was totally destroyed by fire on September 17, 1985.

It was decided that the new building should replicate the exterior of the 1868 town hall. Anyone moving into town or born after 1990 may not realize that this building is a replica and was never used as a town hall. Over the years, the building housed several restaurants, health clubs and a dentist office. However, it was vacant for extensive periods of time, so it never became the linchpin of downtown that the old town hall was. The town took back ownership in 2023. With the current town hall in need of an upgrade, this building is one of the locations being considered for the next generation town hall facility.
I thank Mr. Bob Ellis and Mr. Gary Denton for providing me with information about this historic site.

Downtown Northborough address has seen a variety of uses over the centuries
The current commercial building at 4 West Main Street, under construction in December 1987, is a replica of the 1868 building. (Photo/Courtesy of the Northborough Historical Society)

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