When the first European settler arrived in the 17th century, this was known as the wilderness. Today it is a thriving community in the center of Massachusetts and New England population in the southwestern corner of Middlesex County, about equal distance between the two largest cities of Massachusetts, (Boston and Worcester). This community contains 14,543 acres in area, is 128 ft. above seal level at the railroad crossing downtown, and rises to 602 ft. above sea level at the peak of Mt. Nobscot.
The first settler was John Stone, in 1647. A native of England, he first settled in Watertown, then moved to Sudbury. There was an abundance of water and woodland for fishing and hunting, but his farm land in Sudbury was marshy. Thus, he began to explore along the Sudbury River for another location on which to build a home. This he found in what is now Saxonville. It was here that Stone built and had in operation a corn mill as early as 1660.
On his example, others from Sudbury followed. And, in spite of the many hardships of pioneer life, these first settlers found happiness and some prosperity.
A great tragedy occured on February 1, 1676. Thomas Eames had gone to Boston to market. During his absense, a party of indians attacked his home, killed his wife and five of his children.
As tragic as this massacre was, other families were not dissuaded from coming to the wilderness. These hardy pioneers continued to farm and raise families on the more than 15,000 acres that had been given in grants by the Colonial government to Thomas Danforth between 1660 and 1662. This property was known first as Danforth's Farms and later Framingham, the name coming from the birthplace of Danforth in England - Framlingham, with the "l" ommited. Danforth was high in the Colonial government and was the first treasurer of Harvard College.
The natural features of the area - rivers, ponds, hills, and meadows - made it a desireable place for settlement. During the early 1690's, when families being persecuted at Salem Village during the frenzy over witchcraft found seclusion and safety in the area that is now known as Salem End Road.
By 1700, there were 76 families, with 350 men, women and children living here. The Colonial Government and Royal Provincial Governor, His Excellency, Richard Earl of Bellomont, approved an act of incorporation for the town on June 25, 1700.
One of the first actions of the townspeople was to complete the building of a Meeting House, which had been started in 1698.
The knoll of Main Street , overlooking the Sudbury River, was considered the most central site and would best serve the scattered settlements of Saxonville, Nobscot, Salem End, Pratt's Plain (the Musterfield area), Stone's End, and Sherborn Row (later South Framingham).
The Meeting House, 30 feet by 40 feet insize and two stories high, was built from lumber gathered from the surrounding forests and took several years to complete.
The town then brought a minister, Reverend John Swift, here from Milton. It was designated that Mr. Swift be given "sixty pounds in money yearly, or as money to his acceptance, and find him his wood."
In September of 1703, the town voted to engage a school master, Deacon Joshua Hemenway, who instructed scholars in his own home until a school house was built. When he was hired, he was paid out of the town treasury the full sum of ten pounds current money of New England.
The first school house erected measured 16 feet by 22 feet, with two fireplaces, and was located about 200 feet to the west of the Meeting House, near the present location of Buckminster Square.
In the early days an area of Common Land was set aside for the use of residents - to cut wood for fuel among other things.
In 1735, the town purchased the present Centre Common Land from William Pike. A second Meeting House and other buildings were constructed at the Centre location. The Village Hall was built in 1834: the Framingham Academy (currently the Framingham Historical Society) was built in 1837.
This area served as the center of town until the railroad line and business growth in South Framingham caused it to diminish in size and importance.
Life went along happily for some years until the Crown Colony instituted a tax assessment. The Stamp Act caused a turmoil. Many communities, including Framingham, refused to pay.
The feeling of concern continued to grow and finally there was violence. On March 5, 1770, a Framingham man, Crispus Attucks, joined a mob in protest against the coercion. The mob carried clubs and threw snowballs, but none had firearms when they faced up to the British soldiery. When the soldiers received the order to fire, the first to fall mortally wounded was Attucks - remembered today as the first man to die in the fight for Independence in that Boston Massacre. Attucks lived on what is Route 9, not far from the State Police Academy.
With this trouble brewing, Framingham leaders prepared themselves. Two companies of Minute Men were authorized and organized. Each man was to provide himself with the necessary eqipment, including ammunition. They chose Simon Edgell as Captain of one group, and Thomas Nixon Captain of the other.
It is to note that British troops did not attempt to traverse the road to Worcester via Framingham, but headed rather towards Lexington and Concord.
On the 19th of April, 1775, the two companies of Minute Men here received the alarm. They mobilized in what is now Buckminster Square (where a monument to honor them was unveiled in June, 1905) and hastened over the road to Concord, arriving at noon - too late for the "shot heard round the world," but soon enough to take part in the pursuit of the Royal troops clad in coats of Red.
They continued in the service, many through the entire War of the Revolution.
Notable Revolutionary War heroes from Framingham include Peter Salem, General John Nixon, and Jonathan Maynard.
Following that war, Framingham became a busy stopping place for the Stage Coach line. The Wheeler Brothers, who lived on Edgell Road near the Common, owned and operated a stage office in the area of Framingham Centre on the Boston-Worcester turnpike (which was completed in 1806). Travel along the route was heavy enough, as Framingham was the central point for changing horses and making repairs, for local inns, taverns, and general business to prosper.
When a new means of transportation - the steam engine - was proposed for the Route 9 line, the Wheelers, fearing the competition, opposed it. Two routes were surveyed - one through the Centre, the other through the south part of town, the former being considered the more feasable. The opposition was successful, and the rail line was forced to locate in the then less-developed, less-populated south end of town. It was built through the South Village area known as Sherborn Row, and through Park's Corner (where the Winter Street bridge is located today).
For some years, the Centre did continue at the hieght of its prestige, the coming of the railroad eventually resulted in the growth of business and industrial activity in the downtown area. Homes multiplied, stores increased in number and variety of trade. Numerous industries came to take advantage of the railroad shipping facilities. In 1888, the Centre Bank reluctantly moved to South Framingham, as did the high school. Even the town meeting abandonded the old Town Hall at the Centre, wherein it had long been held, and moved to South Framingham, and the various town offices were moved there, too.
Whereas the railroad brought prosperity, employment and new residents, it also brought hundreds of people to Framingham's Harmony Grove, located around the northerly and westerly sides of Farm Pond, for gatherings of all sorts. From about 1852, the Anti-Slavery Society held meetings at the Grove. It was at one of these meetings that famed abolitionist, William LLoyd Garrison, burned a copy of the Constitution, creating shock waves that reverberated across the country.
Framingham took an active part in the Civil War, with 410 men in army or navy service. Outside the Edgell Memorial Library stands a monument honoring those who served to keep the nation united in that war.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was an inspiration to many during the difficult days of the Civil War. It was composed by Julia Ward Howe and the first public singing of it occurred here in the Plymouth Church on February 22, 1862, at the Framingham celebration of Washington's birthday.
Blue Kersey army cloth was made by Saxonville Mills during the Civil War.
It was after the Civil War that Framingham became the military headquarters for the State, with the establishment of a training camp for the Volunteer Militia on grounds, purchased by the Commonwealth in 1873, previously known as Pratt's Plain. The troops of the state came here each summer for their encampment and training and it was from the Musterfield that troops left for military service in the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Border Campaign, World War I, and World War II.
The very first industry in Framingham was the grist mill that John Stone erected at the Great Falls on the Sudbury River, circa 1650. This mill privelege was held by the Stone family for 165 years when it was sold to the Saxonville Mills.
The manufacture of straw braid and bonnets, which flourished until the early part of the 20th century, was begun in 1799 or 1800 and was the first industry of any magnitude here. A cotton factory was started at Saxonville in 1811. In 1813, The Framingham Manufacturing Company was incorporated to manufacture wool and was located at the falls in Saxonville. In 1837, the New England Worsted Company of Lowell, purchased the property and began manufacture of worsted carpet yarns and woolen blankets. The property changed hands again in 1858, and was renamed Saxonville Mills.
The coming of the Para Rubber Shoe Company in 1882 marked a new industrial era for the town. It was considered a vast concern, employing a thousand well-paid hands. It prospered for a number of years.
The Gregory Shaw and Company, manufacturing boots and shoes, was located here at about the same time.
The introduction of electric lights was made in 1885, and a plant for local service was installed in the basement of the Union Block. The water works were installed between 1886 and 1891, and gas was introduced in 1880. A model sewerage system was put into operation in 1888.
The Dennison Manufacturing Company came here from Roxbury in 1897 and became a major factor in business and community life.
The idea of unemployment insurance and old age pensions was pioneered by Henry S. Dennison, president of the company, who appeared before legislative and congressional committees to espouse the cause. Frowned upon by the legislators, he started a fund from profits of his company that reached several hundreds of thousands of dollars. These funds were distibuted to those laid off from their jobs during the Great Depression of the 1930's.
Automobile production in Framingham is noteworthy. Although there is no automobile production here today, there is a long history of auto production in the town, even as far back as the late 1800's.
The Waverly electric automobile had its start in the Waverly Bicycle factory, near Dennison Crossing. The Pope interests from Hartford added the Waverly to their list of bicycles in their well-known American Bicycle Co. The Waverly electric automobile is said to have been developed here and later removed by the Pope interests to the Indiana Bicycle Company's plant in Indianapolis, where it became known as the Pope-Waverly.
These and other auto makers paved the way to bring General Motors to Framingham. The automotive giant broke ground for its plant on Western Avenue in 1945. It became the automobile producing center of New England, with nearly 200,000 vehicles assembled there annually.
Manufacturing has long been a foundation to the local economy, and continues today at companies such as Bose Corporation, Avery-Dennison, and Sealtest, as well as dozens of smaller companies.
Along with manufacturing, Framingham has become a retail center for the region, with retail giants like TJX Corporation headquartered here.
There are also a growing number of businesses in high tech industries.
Education in the town was important from its earliest days when it was recommmended to the town "not to send any scholar to the writing schools but those who can read words of two syllables by spelling the same...(and) that no work be allowed to be done in women's schools except for the art of lettering."
The schools advanced and a high school was established in 1852, later to become the legal successor to the Framingham Academy. In that year there were 798 scholars and cost per capita was $3.76.
Previously, in 1792, Reverend David Kellogg and 22 associates organized as the Proprietors of the Brick School House in Framingham, located on the west side of the Centre Common, where the Old Stone Academy now stands. Their object was to "disseminate piety, virture and useful knowledge and establish a Grammar school as a school of liberal arts and sciences." The Academy was incorporated 1798, and the town voted to grant $1000 to support it; however, it was found in later years that the grant was illegal and it was discontinued.
Another important development in the area of education came in 1853 when the first public normal school in America, established in 1839 at Lexington under the leadership of Horace Mann and Cyrus Peirce, was moved to Framingham. Public spirited men offered a lot of land on Bare Hill and the town voted to give $2500 towards the erection of a building. The Boston and Worcester Railroad gave $2000 towards its constuction. Alexander Esty, a Framingham architect who assisted in the design of the Congressional Library, prepared the plans. The building cost $13,552.
The next year a model graded school was organized with regular instruction to be given by the advanced pupils at the Normal School, free of charge, to the town. That teacher-training program is still in operation.
Framingham residents have been and are prominent in the teaching profession in schools and colleges. Bishop William Rice, S.J., who entered the Jesuits from Framingham in 1911 and became a master of languages. In 1932, after serving as administrator of Boston College, he was sent to Baghdad, Iraq to establish Baghdad College. He remained there until his elevation to Bishop, and his assignment in Belize, where he was to build and administer new schools and parishes. He served there until his death in 1946.
Another educator was Olivia A. Davidson, who graduated from the Framingham Normal School (now State College at Framingham), and went to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. According to founder Booker T. Washington, in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, Miss Davidson was an important aid in the organization and teaching at Tuskegee. Miss Davidson brought to the school "many valuable and fresh ideas as to the best methods of teaching, as well as rare moral character and a life of unselfishness". According to Mr. Washington, "no single individual did more toward laying the foundations of the Tuskegee Institute as to insure the successful work that has been done here than Olivia Davidson." She later became Mrs. Washington.
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