History of Souther Tide Mill

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From the Souther Family Association

The following information concerning the history of the Souther Tide mill is transcribed from, Quincy History, Winter 1981 issue by the late H. Hobart Holly, a publication of the Quincy Historical Society.

Amid Quincy’s many historic sites, few reflect more important local history than the area where the old Quincy Canal emptied into Town River. Thousands of people pass the site daily on the Southern Artery without noting the reminders of three industrial activities that played important roles in the story of Quincy.

In 1800 this area was largely saltmarsh and meadow into which a tidal arm of the Town River extended up to the Road to the Ferry shortly to become the Hingham and Quincy Turnpike and now Washington Street. Into this tidal waterway, under a bridge for the road, flowed the Town Brook near which was the center of the settlement from 1634. Nearby on Town River was the Town Landing, a most important place from the earliest days. The saltmarsh was itself a highly valued asset; people still relied heavily on salt hay.

Starting in 1802, Ebenezer Thayer (1768‑1841), a merchant of Boston and Charlestown, shortly to be of Quincy, purchased about 39 acres of land between the Road to the Ferry and Town river. On the river he built two wharves; the present Quincy Lumber Company wharf is their successor.

On June 23, 1806, the Legislature passed an act authorizing Ebenezer Thayer to build a dam across Town River “for the purpose of erecting a mill or mills on the same”, that he carried out this purpose is verified by mention of the mill pond when he sold his property in 1814 to David Stetson of Charlestown. The next year, Stetson sold the property to John Souther who carried on the several industrial activities there; he operated a shipyard, a wharf, a grist mill, a saw mill and the canal lock.

John Souther was well established in his family’s shipbuilding business in Hingham when he moved to Quincy in 1815 and built the handsome home still standing at 356 Washington Street. He and his son, John L[incoln] Souther, operated an active shipyard on Town River for nearly fifty years, building many important vessels.

In addition to the shipyard, the Southers operated the two tide mills, a grist mill and close by to the last, a saw mill. Mill Street and Pond Street still commemorate this activity. The original grist mill burned and was replaced in 1854 by the building still standing over its old raceway as part of the Quincy Lumber Company yard. The machinery has long been removed but the rugged mill building construction survives.

A sidelight on the grist mill is of interest. In present Braintree, from the days when it was Monatiquot Village and then the Middle Precinct of Old Braintree, there was a succession of mills on the Farm and Monatiquot Rivers. Present Quincy, however, the original center and then the North Precinct of the old town, is a distinct contrast. Here were operated just two stream‑operated mills. The old Town grist mill operated from 1640 to the 1850s on Town Brook at Fort Square where a millstone monument commemorates it. On Furnace Brook was John Winthrop, Jr.’s Iron Furnace of 1644 which ceased operation after a short time partly because of the inadequacy of the waterpower. Thus this area had to use tide power. In addition to the Souther Mill, there were two earlier tidemills on Black’s Creek.

By the 1820’s, Quincy’s granite quarrying industry was reaching a status of importance and transportation of the heavy material was a major concern. Economical transportation was available on sloops and schooners suitable for the purpose ‑ like some built by John Souther ‑ but getting the stone to tidewater and aboard the vessels presented a problem. The solution for the West Quincy quarries was the Granite Railway of 1826 which carried the granite to Bunker Hill Wharf on the Neponset River. Concurrent with the establishment of the Granite Railway was the formation of the Quincy Canal Corporation to provide facilities for loading stone from the North Common or Quarry Street area on the granite sloops and schooners. The canal utilized the tidal portion of Town River that extended up to present Washington Street.

On 26 January 1827, John Souther deeded to the Quincy Canal Corporation free passage through the dam which was erected by the act of Legislature of 23 June 1806. Souther to have full use of the mill pond for his mills, the lock and abutments erected by the Canal Corporation shall be kept in order by them and no more than six inches of water from the mill pond shall be used for locking vessels. Thus it is explained how mills and a canal could operate on one set of tide gates.

The Quincy Canal operated for some years but, unlike the Granite Railway, it was not a financial success and its stockholders lost heavily. The granite‑loading wharves, the tow paths, the mill pond and much of the waterway have long since disappeared; but remains of the abutments and tide gate structures can be seen today near the historic tidemill building.

In 1873 the Southers sold the shipyard properties and their wharf to Wilber F. Larkin who converted it to a lumber yard. In this business it has functioned for over a century under Larkin, then Benjamin Johnson and the Johnson Lumber Company and since 1912 the Quincy Lumber Company. John L[incoln] Souther sold the dam and mills to Johnson in 1888. Thus continues the long and important industrial activity on this site in historic Quincy.