Solon O. Richardson

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Dr. Solon Osmond Richardson was one of South Reading's best known citizens, famed for his wealth from selling patent medicines, and also because of his funding of the Richardson Light Guard militia company, named in his honor.

Richardson was born on July 19, 1809 in what is now North Reading. His parents, Dr. Nathan Richardson and Asenath (Rice) Richardson, moved the family in 1821 to Wakefield, at the time known as South Reading, to a large property on the west side of Main Street near West Water Street. They came at the behest of a group of prominent South Reading citizens, led by Burrage Yale, who were eager not to lose "so excellent a physician" to some other town. The group offered the extensive parcel of land as an enticement, which apparently worked. Young Solon studied in the local public schools, as well as academies in Atkinson and Derry, New Hampshire, and worked in his father's medical practice as a pharmacist. He later graduated from Dartmouth College with a medical degree in 1831, and also attended lectures at Harvard Medical School. He served as an assistant surgeon at the State Prison and soon became a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society. A major part of the family medical practice was the manufacture and distribution of an herbal health tonic known as "Richardson's Sherry Wine Bitters." The product was so popular that Solon took over its production in 1832, and subsequently inherited the business on his father's death in 1837.

He married Susan Barnard on April 3, 1837, and had two children, one a girl who died in infancy, and the other a boy, Solon Osmond Richardson II, who would in turn become a well-known figure in Wakefield. Solon II was born on September 9, 1841 in the family home.

Richardson's health began to decline around this time, and he retired from medical practice to focus exclusively on the sale of his patent medicines. His other main claim to fame was his generous funding of the South Reading's local militia company, the Richardson Light Guard, which was formed in 1851 and named in his honor. The Guard served in the Civil War, fighting in the Battle of Bull Run, as well as fighting in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, and also in World War I. Dr. Richardson had provided an initial donation of $500, and followed with annual donations for many years which helped fund parades, target practice, and other activities of the Guard. Dr. Richardson also served for a year as Town Treasurer, and was a longtime member and supporter of the Universalist Society.

In 1869, while on business in Boston, he suffered an attack of paralysis which restricted his activities in the final years of his life. Despite his infirmity he remained active, and was instrumental in obtaining memorial oil paintings of his good friend and neighbor Cyrus Wakefield as well as President George Washington for the Town Hall building which Cyrus donated to the town. Richardson died on the evening of August 31, 1873, while visiting his Cyrus Wakefield at the Wakefield Estate on Main Street.

The Richardson family home was built on what is now the northwest corner of Main Street and Richardson Avenue in either 1817 or 1822 (sources vary). The family owned considerable property from Main Street all the way to North Avenue, and one of the noteworthy structures was an unusual octagonal horse stable located approximately where the parking lot behind Farmland grocery store is today. In the 1890s the main house was moved back a block to the corner of the newly laid out Richardson Avenue and Foster Street; it was later demolished. On the Main Street site where the house was originally located, Solon II built a brick commercial building in 1901 known as the Richardson Block, which is still extant. The new side street was named Richardson Avenue in honor of the family. A second home owned by the family was located nearby and later moved south to 694 Main Street at the corner of Summer Street, where it still stands today.

Solon II was also prominent in Wakefield affairs, serving as Selectman, president of the Wakefield Savings Bank, as a trustee of the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, and as a state representative in the General Court. On October 2, 1862 he married Abbie Maria Richardson (April 3, 1843 - December 19, 1895) and had two sons, Solon O. Richardson, Jr., and Dana Foster Richardson, both of whom relocated to Ohio. He took over his father's business after his death in 1873, but later sold it in 1891 to Talcott, Frisby & Co. of Hartford, Connecticut. Solon II died in his family home, the same one in which he was born, on October 1, 1922.

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