by Joseph E. Yelle, (updated by Harry Chase, 2001)*
The recorded history of the Great Woods1 goes back to Captain Myles Standish and the year 1640. About 1637, a group of men purchased from Plymouth Colony a tract of land at a place the Indians called Cohannet (now Taunton). By order of the Plymouth Court, Standish and John Browne surveyed this land in 1640. The tract was laid out in “a lazy square” or diamond shape.
The northern apex extended to within two miles of the line between Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, now the line between Bristol and Norfolk Counties, and is known to this day as “Cobbler’s Corner.” According to Clark’s History of Norton (1859), “It is said to have been so called from the fact that, in making the bounds, when Myles Standish and his men came to this corner, one of them mended or ‘cobbled’ his shoes.” A bronze tablet a few hundred yards south of Willow Street, Mansfield, and west of the Rumford River marks this corner.
The first settlement in the Norton-Mansfield area occurred in 1659.
Beginning in 1723, about 15 farms were established in the Great Woods. Their wells and foundation holes, stone walls, wagon roads, stone culverts, huge cairns of boulders, excavations and other remnants remain scattered about the woods.
One of them, the 27-acre Drake Farm, was settled in 1768 in the middle of the woods on what later became the Mansfield-Norton boundary. The nearest public roads, Mansfield Avenue to the east and Oak Street to the west, were each nearly a mile away and, to either the north or south, the woods extended two miles. Drake and later occupants cleared much of the land, built the one and three-quarter miles of stone walls, including a double wall six feet wide that runs through the woods for 500 feet, nearly two miles of road and two small bridges.
Drake Farm was owned later by Judge Samuel Morey of Norton and then by his son-in-law Laban Wheaton, the founder of Wheaton College. George and Marberry Barker moved to the Drake Farm in 1828.