156 and 166 Franklin Street, Framingham
Established in 1846, Harmony Grove was a commercial pleasure park. It had a lawn area for games, a dancing pavilion, and, as it sat on the edge of Farm Pond, a boathouse. It also had an amphitheater of sorts, in a natural depression, with benches that sat about a thousand people and a platform below.
Soon after Harmony Grove’s opening, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society began to hold an annual Fourth of July rally at the roughly 4-acre venue. It was a time of greatly heightened tensions surrounding the question of slavery and growing opposition, particularly in states such as Massachusetts, to what South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun first referred to as “the peculiar institution.” The year 1850 saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, for example; in 1852, John P. Jewett & Company*, a publisher in Downtown Boston, released Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and, in 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In this charged context, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society held its most well-known and controversial gathering at Harmony Grove on July 4, 1854. Hundreds of abolitionists—one newspaper estimated the crowd at 2,000—gathered at the site. Decorating the platform was an upside-down U.S. flag bordered in black, a banner that showed Massachusetts chained to Virginia, and anti-slavery slogans. Speakers included Lucy Stone, a not-yet-famous Henry David Thoreau (Walden came out the next month), and Sojourner Truth, who warned the crowd that God “would yet execute his judgments upon the white people for their oppression and cruelty.”
William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator newspaper, opened the event. He called the U.S. Constitution “the source and parent of all the other atrocities—a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.” He ended his speech by burning a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law as well as one of the Constitution, leading to many cheers but some boos as well from those in attendance.
Political gatherings continued at Harmony Grove for a decade following the end of the Civil War, but with a growing focus on women’s suffrage and temperance. In the 1870s, with the spread of railroads to new destinations, the popularity of Harmony Grove declined, leading to its closure in 1875. By the 1890s, the land was sub-divided into dozens of housing lots.
Today, the area that was once Harmony Grove is populated by houses and commercial buildings. At 156 Franklin Street, at the corner with Henry Street, there is a small marker with a plaque, placed there by the Framingham Historical Society in 1913, commemorating Harmony Grove. On the other side of Henry Street, at 166 Franklin, there is a Harmony Grove Welcome Arch. Dedicated on September 6, 2020, the arch sits on the front lawn of a private home. The result of a collaboration between Downtown Framingham Inc. and student organizations at Framingham High School and Framingham State University, the arch, which visitors are welcome to approach, contains sketches of historical scenes and of the landscape associated with Harmony Grove.
Commuter Rail from South Station to Framingham. 0.5 mile (nine-minute) walk.
To learn more:
“Downtown Framingham Inc. Plans to Install Harmony Grove Welcome Arch,” Framingham SOURCE, February 22, 2020.
Framingham History Center, “A Brief History of Framingham’s Harmony Grove,” August 27, 2021.
Stephen W. Herring, Framingham: An American Town, Framingham: The Framingham Historical Society and the Framingham Tercentennial Commission, 2000.
Massachusetts Historical Society, “’A Covenant with Death and an Agreement with Hell,’” July 2005 .
*Regarding John P. Jewett & Company, see the site entry in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.