Nestled in the Mystic River Valley eight miles north of Boston, the area incorporated as Winchester in 1850 was ideally suited to Colonial settlement. Traversing the site, the Aberjona River, along with several streams, springs, and ponds, provided water. Land in the valley and atop the western hills, once cleared of forest, was arable. Building material was plentiful.
Though the town is now largely built out, elements of the natural landscape remain. Woodland for rambles, recreation, and wildlife habitat has been preserved not only at the Middlesex Fells and Horn Pond, just over the Woburn line, but also at the 29-acre Town Forest (accessed from West Chardon Road and Sussex Road), acquired in 1941 to preserve open space in that section of town at a time when land around it was being sold for development. A primeval forest, it contains evergreen and deciduous trees, including a 300-year-old stand of hemlocks.
Open space in the form of parks, fields, and conservation areas has been preserved for active and passive recreational uses. Several ponds and the Mystic Lakes have provided scenic settings for residential developments as well as recreational opportunities. The scenic nature of the town as a whole has attracted artists, some of whom made Winchester an artistic subject as well as a home.
ABERJONA RIVER & ITS TRIBUTARIES
The Aberjona River and its tributary, Horn Pond Brook, not only provided water but also offered a transportation route between Boston and Lowell. The earliest road followed a trail used by the indigenous population around the Mystic Lakes (later Grove and Main Streets). The waterways also supplied power for Colonial mills, succeeded by manufacturing industries during the Industrial Revolution. While industry boosted the economy and provided jobs, it ruined the river water. During the latter-19th- and 20th-centuries, as more prosperous businessen and their families moved to Winchester they promoted the return of the riparian landscape to a healthier and more natural condition. Improvement programs implemented from the 1890s through the 1930s were designed to create a blue and green ribbon through the town.
A second tributary, Sawmill Brook carried water from the Middlesex Fells to the area of the Richardson sawmill, Today, mostly culverted, it carries water from the Reservoir to the river at the Washington Street Bridge. Russell Brook, a tributary to the Brook, is now fully culverted.
PONDS & BEACHES
The ponds—Wedge Pond, Big and Little Winter Ponds—provided scenic settings for residential development. Wedge Pond also has a swimming beach. [Read more: Beaches] Mystic Lake has also been an attraction, both as a recreational asset and domestic setting. When deeding her land to the colonists, the Squaw Sachem preserved the hills to its west for her own, many acres of which constitute the golf course of the Winchester Country Club (468 Mystic St.), site of the Squaw Sachem Brook (a.k.a. Herbert Meyer Brook).
Through the 19th century, the land around the major transportation routes became more valuable for housing than for agriculture. The scenic value of the area attracted a commuter class of residents who enjoyed a rural setting for their homes. They created parks and playfields and protected conservation areas. In 1851 a small section of the farm owned by first settler Edward Converse was purchased and sold to the Town in 1867 for preservation as a Town Common, bounded by Church Street, Waterfield Road, and Laraway Road in the fast developing commercial downtown. [Read More: Town Common]
Woodland for rambles, recreation, and wildlife habitat has been preserved not only at the Middlesex Fells Reservation which abuts Winchester to the east but also at the 29-acre Town Forest, accessed from West Chardon Road and Sussex Road. Acquired in 1941 to preserve open space in that section of town at a time when land around it was being sold for development, it is a primeval forest containing evergreen and deciduous trees, including a 300-year-old stand of hemlocks. [Read more: Town Forest]
The Middlesex Fells is also a natural asset for Winchester, though much of it lies in neighboring towns. Importantly it is the site of Winchester's three reservoirs. It has also been the setting for a variety of tales. [Read more: Tales of the Woods]