A History of the Whitney-Paul Tavern

Special to the Dover-Sherborn Press
December 2001

The Whitney-Paul House at 41 North Main Street is one of Sherborn's most historic houses. Standing at the busiest intersection in town, the old inn exudes tranquility. No wonder, since it embodies nearly 300 years of Sherborn history, from pre-Revolutionary days to the 21st century.

Recent discussions about the fate of this property, now owned by Kent Fitzpatrick, coincide with an update to the town's Historical Resources Survey, which sheds light on the history of the barn, carriage house and outbuildings. The Whitney-Paul House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing element in the Edwards Plain-Dowse's Corner Historic District. The more recent survey update recommends that the 19th century barn and other outbuildings be awarded the same status.

Built in the early years of the 18th century, probably in 1716, the Whitney-Paul House was later home to the Hon. Daniel Whitney, a member of the Provincial Congress of 1775 and the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1797. In 1824, it became the home of Capt. Daniel Paul, a retired sea captain who was an early agent for the Middlesex Fire Insurance Co. and popular inn-keeper. The Inn became a popular stopover on the way to Boston, about 21 miles to the east on the County Road, as North Main was then named. The dwelling was operated as a lodging house and insurance agency by the Paul family for 122 years. In its long history, stretching across nearly three centuries, it was home for two families, passing from one generation to the next, until it left the Paul family's ownership in the 1970s.

The recorded history of the house begins in 1679, when Jonathan Whitney of Watertown was granted a farm of 30 acres that stretched West up toward the present Brush Hill and across North Main to include part or all of the lower ball field along Pine Hill Lane. Like other early town founders, he later received additional grants throughout town, greatly expanding his farmland.

The first part of the main house was built about 1716 and may have incorporated Jonathan's original house from the 1680s. It stood in its present location, at the crossroads where Hunting Lane and Pine Hill met the County Road (Eliot Street was not laid out until 1830).

His illustrious great-grandson, Daniel Whitney, was born in the house in 1733 and inherited it in 1770. One of nine siblings, Daniel married Miriam Lealand and farmed the land as his family grew to five children. For decades, he served energetically as Town Selectman, Town Clerk, Tax Assessor, and Clerk of the Market and Sealer of Weights and Measures.

More significantly, he was the town's Representative to the Great and General Court and the town's Committee of Correspondence and Safety, as well as a delegate to the Provincial Congress, bringing him into contact with other Patriots during the Revolution. It was no surprise then, that he was chosen by his fellow townspeople as delegate to the 1779 convention to ratify the State Constitution. He was again Sherborn's delegate to the state convention in January of 1788 to consider ratifying the Federal Constitution. The gravity of the decision in Massachusetts, as one of the first states to consider ratification, was considerable.

Whitney's instructions from the citizens of Sherborn were as follows:

The object of your Mission, Sir, is of the highest magnitude in human affairs, - every step we take in the progress of our examination evinces, that it is too important, complicated and extensive, to be hastily decided upon - much time, and unwearied application, are requisite in order to thoroughly Investigate it; the civil dignity and prosperity of this State, of the united States, and perhaps of humanity are suspended on the decision of this momentous Quest; and we wish you sir, patiently to hear, and Attentively to Examine, every Argument that shall be offered for and against its Adoption -- be not unduly influenced by an Local consideration -- let your mind be impressed with the necessity of having an equal energetic federal Government - it is the welfare and dignity of the Union as well as of Massachusetts that you are to consider -- and while you are tenacious of the rights of the people, be not afraid to delegate to the federal Government such powers as are absolutely necessary for Advancing and maintaining our National honor and happiness."

They continue:

"Having the fullest confidence in your political wisdom, integrity and patriotism, we cheerfully on our part, submit the All important question to your decision - and we beseech the All wise governor of the world to take the Convention under his holy influence, that so the result may be, the best good of the people of the United States of America."

Whitney voted in favor of ratification, putting him in the minority among fellow delegates from Middlesex County, and the motion passed in a close vote of 187 to 168. Massachusetts became the second of the four large states to support ratification, setting the scene for its ratification by Virginia and New York.

Whitney continued as a state Senator for many years. He prospered and was well-respected within the town. He died in 1810 and was buried in the Edward's Plain Burying Ground on North Main Street where his imposing monument still stands. After his two sons died, the house was sold in 1824 to Captain Daniel Paul.

Born in Maine in 1787, Paul had captained vessels out of Newburyport for many years. He moved with his wife, Sarah Smith of Needham, to the old inn in Sherborn in 1824. By the mid-nineteenth century, Sherborn had become a bustling farm town, best known for its apple orchards and cider mills. The towns of Milford, to the west on the County Road, and Framingham to the north, were thriving commercial centers. Travelers passing through town must have found the Whitney-Paul tavern a welcome respite, surrounded as it was by orchards and hayfields.

Capt. Paul enlarged the house to accommodate a store, tavern and living quarters for his family. He added the large, hip-roofed south ell to house a dry goods store on the first floor and ballroom on the second floor. In 1830, the town's first school building, which the town meeting voted to construct in 1727, was moved from near 15 North Main Street and became the west wing of the house, presumably to provide additional lodging. In addition to running the tavern, Capt. Paul became one of the first agents of the Middlesex Mutual Fire Insurance Co. in 1828. He was also town tax collector and keeper of the town powder house.

Upon Capt. Paul's death in 1855, his son, Edwin Ruthven Paul inherited the property and closed the general store, while maintaining the inn. He also ran a cider vinegar business in Syracuse, NY. He kept six teams of horses and maintained many of the town's roads.

In 1961 in a presentation to Sherborn Historical Society, his descendant, Lesley Paul, described the outbuildings on the farm in the mid-nineteenth century. They included a hay barn, a carriage house with horse shed, an ash house made of brick, a bee house, and a cow barn with pig pens beneath. A large building housed a carriage and wagon repair and paint shop, as well as an area for making and storing vinegar. These rural industries were typical of 19th century Sherborn, with the vinegar manufacture especially pertinent given the production of cider throughout town.

Edwin Ruthven Paul died in 1901, and the 20th century brought a variety of renovations especially to the house's interior, ultimately creating four suites of rooms to accommodate "paying guests." The large building that housed the vinegar business was demolished. In addition to the lodging house, the family continued to farm the land and managed a coal business with sheds near the railroad tracks. From 1905 to 1915, the orchard comprised 20 acres, one of the largest in a town of many orchards.

Many of the outbuildings from the property's rural past remain intact today. An 1835 plan of the land and buildings shows the barn in its current site at approximately the same scale as the existing barn, suggesting that it had been built by that date. The rolling vehicle door, approximately 15 feet high, may have been built to accommodate the stagecoaches of 19th century visitors to the Inn. The carriage house, probably one of two barns listed in an 1885 tax census, still remains. A guest house may have started its life as a hen house about 1925. The existing garage was built around 1935.

In the most recent update to Sherborn's Historical Survey, conducted by a state-certified historian under the authority of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the barn and other outbuildings at the Whitney-Paul House were deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. According to the recommendation: "The residence, barn and outbuildings retain the significant architectural elements of their 18th and 19th century designs, retaining integrity of design, materials, setting and workmanship. The property also contributes to the historical character of the Edward's Plain-Dowse's Corner National Register Historic District," which stretches from Powderhouse Lane up North Main Street past Everett Street, with many fine examples of domestic architecture that help define the character and beauty of Sherborn.

The members of the Sherborn Historical Commission believe that every effort should be made to preserve this graceful dwelling, its barn and carriage house in their historic locations. The Whitney-Paul House embodies Sherborn's long history. It's a significant asset in Sherborn's town center and like many fine, old antique structures, once removed, it can never be replaced.

About the author: Carol McGarry is a member of the Sherborn Historical Commission. Many thanks to Betsy Johnson, whose biography of The Honorable Daniel Whitney, Esquire, is extracted in this article.