LITTLE TOWN: WELLINGSLEY, HOBS HOLE, & JABEZ CORNER
These are the ancient place names that refer to an area located about one mile south of Town Square in Plymouth. To us of the 20th century these places mentioned are on or near Route 3-A. The address of those whose houses face the highway is Sandwich Street for it is an old road layed out in the 17th century for travel between Plymouth and the town of Sandwich on Cape Cod.
The Little Town and Wellingsley are synonymous. The first seems to indicate that a small but fairly self-sufficient settlement was located in this area. Several references are made in the first volume of Plymouth Town Records as at a town meeting in August 1671: "The bounds of an addition of land formerly graunted unto Gyles Rickard Seni: lying adjoining unto his old field att Wellingsley allies the little Town..." From the same volume in 1651 we find: "At this meeting Nathaniell Morton Requested of the Towne a small moyetie of land lying betwixt the hieway by his house and the waterside or Creeke commonly called and known by the name of hobshole allis Wellingsley the said small moyetie being compassed with the aforesaid hole or creeke and on the other side with the brooke Running into said Creeke..."
Hobs Hole has always been an intriguing name and William T. Davis gives this explanation: "A large wet meadow with small pools of standing water scattered among comparatively dry tussock of grass difficult to cross except by jumping from one tussock to another and thus avoiding the muddy channels inbetween. These tussocks are described in dictionaries as "hobs"...the spot which as early as 1623 was called Hobshole and which gave its name to the brook and the hamlet lying on its southern border." We are aware that there was a Hobs Hole at *Runswick Bay on the east coast of England. This hole was inhabited by an ancient legendary elf named Hob, who was able to cure the whopping cough. Parents would take the afflicted child to this hole and call, "Hob Hole, Hob Hole my bairn's got kus cough-Tak-T'off, tak-t'off!"
I can remember jumping from hob to hob across a foot or two of water. It was an exciting thing to do because, as children, we believed that if you missed the hob and landed in the water, you would immediately be swallowed up by quicksand.
The name "Wellingsley" may be taken directly from a locality in England or it could be descriptive as many wells and springs are found in this area. The last syllable "ley" or lea denotes a field or a district. This "wet meadow" can easily be viewed by the passing motorist as it lies adjacent to the street. At a really full tide the sea washes into the base of the bank below street level. The meadow itself is intersected by several small brooks and the mouth of Hobs Hole Brook is located there.
After passing the meadow on the east side of the street (heading south) there are two houses facing directly onto the street, then there is a lane toward the harbor. Pass another two houses and there is another such lane. Both these lanes are now private drives. The last mentioned one, in the preceding century led to Morton's Wharf. If you continue by the next three houses there is a third lane-Howes Lane, now a town way-down which one may proceed to the harbor.
The shore was a place of activity in preceding centuries. In the 19th century almost every family owned a dory or sailboat. At Morton's Wharf fishing vessels unloaded their catches of cod and in the fields near the harbor were "fish flakes" where the fish were dried after they had been cleaned and salted-also buildings in which to store the fish. There was another wharf north of Morton's known as "Tar Landing".
My aunt May Cooper remembered Morton's Wharf. Ships were moored on either side and sometimes a rope was tied to a pair of opposite masts. The ends of the rope hung down so that children could run down the wharf, grab the rope and swing out a short distance over the water and back.
On Howes lane there still stands a little half-cape house where the Howes family lived. The one name that has been passed down thru the years was that of Rebecca Howes. She was born in 1738, one of the children of Jeremiah Howes and Meriah Morton. The spring that bubbles up near the foot of Howes Lane for years was known as "Becky's Spring". It is still there today but clogged with algae, rockweed, assorted shells and is inhabited by tiny transparent shrimp and baby eels.
As a child I remember it as clean and clear. A wooden barrel was sunk in the earth and surrounded the spring leaving several inches above the ground so that the fresh water filled this area and one could easily use a dipper to get a drink or fill a pail or pitcher. It is probable that all of the water used by the Howes family came from the spring and if Becky was the one who fetched it she would have to do so at low tide for at high tide the spring is under sea water. This was only one of several small springs which bubble up at intervals along the shore. Seamen, preparing for a voyage, could conveniently fill their casks here.
My father's cousin, Elmer Bartlett, lived in Walpole but he was born and brought up near Jabez Corner (Hobs Hole). Whenever he came to visit us or other relatives in the neighborhood he always went to the shore for a drink at Becky's Spring. Sometimes he would bring back a jar of this water so that he could offer us each a drink of this local elixir.
We may walk up the short distance from the shore to the top of Howes Lane where Route 3A runs on before us on its southerly direction heading for the hills of Manomet and on to the Cape. As he passes the entrance of Howes Lane the motorist is probably unaware that he has left Sandwich Street and is driving on Warren Avenue which begins at this point. Looking across 3A we see that Sandwich Street has turned a sharp angle towards the west. It is this corner made by Sandwich Street which is called Jabez Corner.
The Churchills were the original owners of the land in this area. Davis, in his Titles Of Estates, has written "The corner lot...descended from Eleazer Churchill to his son Elkanah and grandson Elkanah and from the last Elkanah to his son Jabez (born 1756) whose shop standing on the lot gave the name by which the corner has been since known."
In 1831 Mr. Churchill sold the lot to his son Jabez Jr. who divided it. In 1837 Jabez sold the north lot to Harvey Bartlett, whose home and property adjoined it. This deed is in my possession. It is signed by Jabez Churchill, Jr. and his wife Charlotte. The price was $20.00. Jabez did not sell the south lot until 1871 when it was bought by the Town of Plymouth on which to build a new primary school.
The neighborhood of Wellingsley began at Hobs Hole Brook. In times past various small industries have been located there. In the 19th century M.H. Ryder had a straw hat factory on the east side of Sandwich Street, and Morton and Blackmer operated a Hammerworks and Steel Manufactory on the west side. There had once been a foundry further down the brook, and in the fields adjacent to the harbor just beyond the meadow was the shipyard of Edwin and Ichabod Morton. They built and maintained vessels for Grand Banks fishing and also ships for coastal and foreign trade. These brothers later ran a general store in an old house near the head of Mortons Lane. "They were the earliest traders to abandon the sale of intoxicating liquors and among the first to join the movement against slavery." Ichabod was much interested in the cause of education and worked for increasing the appropriations for the support of public schools. He, together with Horace Mann, succeeded in establishing the Normal School at Bridgewater.
There is a house on either side of the street after one crosses the brook. There was once a blacksmith's shop near the easterly one (now owned by Harold Boyer). Then the land drops nearly to sea level. There could be no houses built on this salt marsh nor were there any on the steep high bank on the westerly side of the street for the first 300 years, with one exception. Once past the Hobs Hole Marsh there are houses on either side of the street. They stand quite close together and in some cases two or three families share the same driveway.
Beyond the entrance to Howes Lane the road rises and for many years this was a private way. Once opened to the public it was called Franklin Street, and later changed to Warren Avenue.
To follow Sandwich Street as it turns at Jabez Corner, one finds of all the old houses the Cape style house predominates, although the oldest house of all, built by the Churchills, is today two stories. The Creedens who own it today and have worked carefully on its restoration found that the roof has been raised three times during its three centuries. This house, the "Cape" next of it and the Cole's house further south on the west side of the street all face south. This is often true of early dwellings, later houses being built to face the street.