Athol Massachusetts, 1890

Athol is a very active and flourishing town of 4,758 inhabitants and 1,116 dwelling-houses, lying in the northwesterly section of Worcester County, 83 miles from Boston by rail. The Fitchburg Railroad passes through Athol village ; where is also the terminus of the Springfield and Athol Railroad, connecting with southern towns. It is bounded on the north by Royalston, on the east by the same and Phillipston, on the southeast by Petersham, and on the west by New Salem and Orange. The post-offices are Athol (depot), Athol Centre and South Athol. The villages are these and Eaglesville, Partridgeville, Riceville and Wheelerville. The area is 20,411 acres, or about 36 square miles, including highways and water surfaces. About 7,523 acres are forest, mostly of pine, chestnut and oak. There are some old maple and elm trees along the highways ; and the town reports 11,606 fruit trees. The underlying rock is calcareous gneiss, in which occur specimens of allanite, fibrolite, epidote and babingtonite. The principal elevations are Chestnut Hill, a long eminence in the north ; Round Gap, an abrupt hill in the east ; Pierce Hill, northwest of this ; and High Knob, near the centre. Miller's River and its tributaries reach well over the town. Local mention is made of Setin Lake, Lake Ellis and Eagle Mill Pond ; the names given on the county map are White Pond, in the southwest part of the town (containing about 100 acres), and Babcock Pond, in the northwest (containing 44 acres).

The soil is rocky, but, being sandy loam, is easy to work, and is strong and productive. The product of the 225 farms reported in the census of 1885 was $143,653, which the dairy products formed the largest item, being valued at $43,252. But the prosperity of the town is owing largely to its manufactures, of which the largest were textiles (woollen, cotton and silk) $228,884 ; wooden goods, $204,310 ; metallic, and wood and metal goods, $122,929; straw goods and clothing, $35,225 ; shoes, $388,849 ; the total product of that year being $1,323,948. Smaller products which go to make up this aggregate are hollow ware, scythes and other agricultural implements, paper, cabinet ware, palm-leaf hats, pocket-books, boxes, lumber and builders' furnishings. There are two national banks, and a savings bank having deposits and undivided earnings, on January 1, 1889, to the amount of $1,348,650. The town's valuation in 1888 was $2,773,692, with a tax of $16 on $1,000.

Athol has eight churches. The Unitarians and the Methodists have two each, one of the latter being located at South Athol. The Baptist Society was organized in 1813, the Congregationalist (Trinitarian) in 1750, the First Congregational (Unitarian) in 1750, and the Second Unitarian society in 1877. The new and beautiful church edifice of this society was dedicated September 7, 1881. There is also a Second Advent society, which has a church edifice. Athol has graded schools, and six school buildings valued, in 1885, at $13,000. Eight or more libraries furnish entertainment and instruction to inhabitants. The aggregate is about 7,006 volumes ; of which the town public library has about 2,500. There are two printing offices, and two weekly papers, the " Athol Transcript" and the "Worcester West Chronicle."

The Indian and the plantation name of this place was Payquage, or Poquaig. The territory was granted by the General Court to sixty persons anterior to 1734. The first settlers were Richard Morton, Ephraim Smith, Samuel Morton, John Smeed and Joseph Lord ; who with their families first kindled their camp fires here September 17, 1735. Most of their provisions, for the first year, had to be brought through the unoccupied wilderness from Hatfield, thirty miles away. Their location was at the point now called "The Street." Being a frontier settlement, the planters lived in garrison houses, much of the time holding themselves in constant readiness to receive the savage enemy. In August, 1746, Mr. Ezekiel Wallingford was killed by the Indians while running to the garrison and in the earlier part of the ensuing year, Mr. Jason Babcock was taken captive. The town was probably named in honor of James Murray, the second Duke of Athol, Lord Privy Seal of Scotland. It was incorporated March 6, 1762. There have since been an unusual number of changes in its territory. In 1783, parts of Athol, Royalston, Warwick, together with Erving's Grant, were established as the district of Orange. In 1786, parts of Athol and Templeton were established as Gerry. In 1799, parts of Athol and Gerry were annexed to Royalston. In 1806, part of Gerry was annexed to Athol. In 1816, part of Orange was annexed to Athol. In 1829, certain common lands were annexed to Athol. In 1830, and again in 1837, parts of New Salem were annexed to Athol. It is to be hoped that the boundaries of the town are now permanently settled.

Pp. 123-124 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890

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