Worcester County Massachusetts, 1890
Worcester County occupies the middle section of the State, extending quite across it from north to south, a distance of about 47 ½ miles; while its average measurement east and west is about 33 miles. In general form it is nearly a square; but its eastern and western lines are very irregular. The States of Vermont and New Hampshire bound it on the north, and Connecticut on the south. On the east are Middlesex and Norfolk counties, and on the west the counties of Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden. It is the largest county in the State. The area of the land surface is stated as 1,550 square mites, equal to 992,000 acres; and of this 284,887 acres are woodland. The assessed area is 914,958 acres.
The surface of the land is generally undulating, and in most parts broken and hilly. The mountains are rounded in form, generally isolated, but not lofty. The most noticeable of them are Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, having an altitude of 2,018 feet above sea-level; Watatic Mountain in Ashburnham, rising to the height of 1,847 feet; Asnybumsket Hill in Paxton, 1,407 feet; Hawes' Hill in Barre, 1,285 feet; Tufts' Hill in New Braintree, 1,179 feet; Hatchett Hill in Southbridge, 1,016 feet; and Muggett Hill in Charlton, 1,012 feet.
The Nashua River flows southeasterly and northeasterly to the Merrimack in the northeastern part; its drainage basin being about one-fourth of the area of the county. The southeastern fourth is drained by the Blackstone and its tributaries; the French and the Quinnebaug [sic], flowing into the Thames in Connecticut and the Chicopee, flowing southwestward into the Connecticut River, occupy the southwestern and western central regions; while Miller's River, also flowing southwest into the Connecticut, drains the northwestern section. These streams with their numerous tributaries furnish a vast amount of motive power, which is used for propelling the machinery of a great number of manufactories along their courses. The lakes with which the county abounds are now generally made to serve as reservoirs for holding back the water-flow until the times of need. The largest of these lakes are in Worcester and Shrewsbury (the Quinsigamond), Webster, Leicester and Brookfield.
The geological formation is usually found to be calcareous and ferruginous gneiss, Merrimack schist and the St. John's group. In these metamorphic rocks occurs a great variety of curious and valuable minerals. The soil — generally a mixture of loam with clay or with sand or gravel — is for the most part strong and moist, and well adapted to the agriculture of new England. The timber growth consists mainly of oak, chestnut, walnut, maple, birch, ash, poplar, pine, spruce and hemlock.
The number of farms in the county is 9,813; their products being divided in very nearly the average proportion among the various articles derived from agriculture, and amounting in 1885 to the sum of $9,385,744. The number of manufactories was 2,755; and their product, very proportionately divided among leading articles, was $83,209,746. The number of dwelling-houses in the county was 40,531. The valuation in 1888 was $164,828,026.
At the last census this county had 612 school buildings, whose value, with appurtenances, was $2,595,314. There were also 34 private schools, including one college, seven schools of the grade of academies, one scientific and industrial school, and two business schools; these having in all 53 buildings, and other school property to the value of $652,356. There has since been created the Clarke [sic] University at Worcester. The libraries more or less accessible to the public were 341 in number and contained 614,317 volumes. Of these 106 were secular libraries, with 500,564 volumes; and 235 were religious (church, Sunday-school, and association), having 113,753 volumes. From the county presses issued 3 daily, 1 semi-weekly, and 30 weekly newspapers and journals, 4 monthly magazines and 1 bi-monthly.
The county of Worcester was taken from parts of Middlesex, Suffolk and Hampshire counties, and incorporated April 2, 1731. It took the name of the town which became its capital, this having been named for the town of Worcester in England. Its territory was found in the possession of the Nipmuck and Nashaway Indians; the first owning the lands along the Nipmuck (later, the Blackstone) River, and the last holding the territory about the Nashua River and its branches. As early as 1643 these tribes, represented by Nashoonan, put themselves under the protection of the colony of Massachusetts. Again, in 1644, two sachems, Nashacowarn and Wassamgin, from the region of the great hill Wachusett, came with others into the General Court, and desired to be received under the protection of the government. Having learned from the court the "Articles" " and the Ten Commandments, they presented to that body 26 fathoms of wampum, when in return it "gave each of them a coat of two yards of cloth and their dinner; and to them and their men, every one of them, a cup of sac at their departure; so they took leave and went away very joyful." In 1674 the Rev. John Eliot had several Indian "praying towns" within the limits of what is now Worcester County; but during Philip's War some of the Nipmucks joined his forces. Savage attacks were made in Brookfield, Lancaster, and about Wickaboag Pond, and other places, with great destruction in those mentioned.
By the act incorporating the county, it was ordered "that the towns and places hereafter named & expressed, That is to say, Worcester, Lancaster, Westborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Leicester, Rutland, & Lunenburg, all in the county of Middlesex; Mendon, Woodstock, Oxford, Sutton, Uxbridge, & the Land lately granted to several Petitioners of Medfield, all in the County, of Suffolk; Brookfield in the County of Hampshire, & the South Town, laid out to the Narragansett Soldiers, & all other Lying within the said Townships, with the Inhabitants thereon, shall from & after the tenth Day of July, which will be in the year of our Lord 1731, be & remain one entire and distinct County, by the name of Worcester, of which Worcester to be the County or Shire Town." Of the fourteen towns comprised in the county of Worcester at the time of its organization, Lancaster was the oldest, Mendon next, then Worcester. Division after division has been made in the original towns, until there are now 57, and two cities, — Worcester and Fitchburg; the first being the capital. The names of the towns are Ashburnham, Athol, Auburn, Barre, Berlin, Blackstone, Bolton, Boylston, Brookfield, Charlton, Clinton, Dana, Douglas, Dudley, Gardner, Grafton, Hardwick, Harvard, Holden, Hopedale, Hubbardston, Lancaster, Leicester, Leominster, Lunenburg, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, New Braintree, Northborough, Northbridge, North Brookfield, Oakham, Oxford, Paxton, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, Royalston, Rutland, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Southbridge, Spencer, Sterling, Sturbridge, Sutton, Templeton, Upton, Uxbridge, Warren, Webster, Westborough, West Boylston, West Brookfield, Westminster and Winchendon.
In 1765, the population was 32,827; in 1776, 46,437; in 1810, 64,910; in 1820, 73,925; in 1860, 159,659; in 1865, 162,912; in 1875 210,295; in 1880, 226,897; and in 1885, 244,039.
Worcester County is, with portions of neighboring counties, in the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Congressional Districts; with a small section of Hampshire County it constitutes the 7th Councillor District; and together with the western counties it has 10 State senators; and is entitled to 29 representatives in the General Court.
The courts were first held in the meeting-house; the first session of the Court of Probate being on July 13, 1731; of the Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace, August 10th; and of the Superior Court of Judicature, September 22d, following. A court-house, 36 feet by 26, was finished and opened in 1734, when an address was delivered by Chief Justice John Chandler, in which he styles it "a beautiful house." This building soon proved too limited, and another, 40 feet by 36, was erected in 1751; and this was followed by another costing about $20,000, opened September 27, 1803. The present court-house, built of Quincy granite, and costing about $100,000, was erected in 1845. A jail was erected in 1733; prisoners, prior to this, having been confined in private houses. A second jail of wood was constructed in 1753; but this proving insecure, a prison of stone, the second in importance of that material in the State, was erected in 1788, and demolished in 1835. The county House of Correction was first occupied in 1819, and subsequently used as a jail.
In all the wars in which the nation has been engaged, the citizens of Worcester county have shown a patriotic spirit, always furnishing promptly their due proportion of men and means. During Shays' rebellion, in 1796-7, this county was the scene of much excitement and disorder. In September, 1786, about 200 of the insurgents took possession of the court-house. At the time for opening the session of the Court of Common Pleas, Chief Justice Artemas Ward, at the head of the members of the court and bar, and attended by the sheriff, bravely advanced in front of a line of levelled muskets to the seat of justice, and, addressing the rebels, said: "I do not regard your bayonets. You may plunge them into my heart, but while that heart beats I will do my duty." The insurgents then advancing pressed their bayonets against his breast; yet he stood as immovable as a statue, and continued his harangue. Awed by his conduct, the insurgents committed no act of personal violence at this time. The court then adjourned; and, moving through the rebel files, repaired to the United States Arms tavern. Finding that there were no local troops to rely upon, the court soon adjourned to next term. The insurgents took possession of the court-house again on November 21st and 22d, to prevent the sitting of the Court of Sessions; and a third time in the first week in December, when they were met by two Worcester regiments, and prudently retired. On the 6th instant Daniel Shays, the leader arrived with 350 men; raising the number of insurgents to nearly 1,000. The town had the appearance of a military camp, and the rebels were billeted on the different families; by whom in general they were kindly treated, — being regarded rather as objects of pity, than of fear. The leaders issued a declaration of their grievances; then hearing of the approach of General Shepard with 4,000 State troops, they hurried westward into Hampden County.
As the manufacturing interests increasingly engaged the attention of the people, efforts were made to facilitate communication between the towns and the metropolis of the county and that of the Commonwealth. The common roads were greatly improved; and in 1806, the Worcester Turnpike, leading over Lake Quinsigamond into Boston, was incorporated. The Blackstone Canal, extending 45 miles from Worcester to Providence, was commenced in this State in 1826, and was completed in 1828; the cost being about $750,000. It had 48 locks; the fall from Worcester to tide-water at Providence being about 451 feet. The Providence and Worcester Railroad, completed October 20, 1847, diverted the traffic from the canal, and it soon ceased to be operated. The Boston and Worcester Railroad was incorporated in 1831, being now a section of the Boston and Albany Railroad; the Norwich and Worcester Railroad and the Western Railroad, another section of the present Boston and Albany, in 1833; the Worcester and Nashua Railroad in 1845; the Worcester and Fitchburg Railroad in 1846; then followed the Springfield and Athol, the Fitchburg Railroad, connecting Fitchburg with Boston; the Troy, Fitchburg, and Greenfield, connecting the Boston line with the Hudson River; also the Ware River Railroad, and the Fitchburg Division of the Old Colony Railroad. These, with several branches and extensions, penetrate, it is believed, every town in the county; so that facilities of travel, transportation, and communication by steam roads are unsurpassed by those of any other county in the State, except Suffolk.
Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890, pp. 94-98