Billerica Massachusetts, 1890

Billerica is an ancient and pleasant town in the northeasterly part of Middlesex County. Its boundaries are Chelmsford on the northwest, Tewksbury on the northeast, Wilmington and Burlington on the east, Bedford on the south, and Carlisle on the southwest. It is twenty miles from Boston on the Boston and Lowell Railroad ; the main line of which passes through the northeast side of the town, having stations at East Billerica and North Billerica ; while the Bedford Branch, passing through the length of the town, north and south, has stations at South Billerica and Billerica village, at the centre. The last, and North, East and South Billerica, are the post-offices. The other villages are West Billerica, Pattenville and Rutland.

The area of the town is 15,307 acres, aside from the highways and water-surfaces ; and of this, 6,375 acres are woodland. The land is elevated in the centre of the town, and commands extensive views of the surrounding country, with the summits of Wachusett and the New Ipswich Mountains in the distance. Gilson Hill in the northwest and Fox Hill in the northeast are noted elevations. Winning's Pond of ten acres in the southwesterly, and Nutting's Pond of ninety acres in the southerly, part are handsome sheets of water, from which many pickerel, bream and perch are taken. The Concord and the Shawsheen rivers enter the town from Bedford on the southwest, and, pursuing parallel courses, leave it, the one at its northern and the other at its northeastern angle. The Concord is here a deep and sluggish stream, with excellent hay and cranberry meadows on its borders. Fox Brook is a tributary of the Shawsheen. The timber growth is chiefly oak, ash, walnut, maple, gray birch, and white and yellow pine. The blue gentian (Gentiana Andrewsii), the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), the lady's slipper (Cypripedium spectabile), and other beautiful specimens of the floral kingdom, decorate the meadows.

The geological structure of this town is, in the main, calcareous gneiss. On the summits of the ledges many marks of glacial action are observed. The soil is various ; in some parts light and sandy, in others strong and deep, repaying well the labors of the husbandman.

In 1885 there were 212 farms cultivated in the town. The dairy products were valued at $53,906 ; hay, etc., $55,337 ; fruits, berries and nuts, $21,036 ; vegetables, $28,745 ; and wood products $11,008. There were 1,384 neat cattle, and 21,219 fruit trees. The value of the aggregate product was $201,737. The number of manufactories operated in the same year was 18, the leading articles made being boots and shoes, woollen goods, dyestuffs, leather, wood and metal goods, including machines, and carriages and wagons, lumber, and furniture, -- whose aggregate value was $964,547. The more notable establishments are the two extensive woollen factories and a logwood mill on the Concord River at North Billerica ; and in addition the town has two saw mills, one machine shop, one large chemical, one cabinet, and one soap factory. The valuation of the town in 1888 was $1,654,513 ; with a tax of $10 on $1,000. The schools are graded, and occupy ten buildings, whose value is placed at upwards of $21,000. Mitchell's School for Boys (a private institution) has a wide reputation and is largely attended. The Howe School is a well-endowed academy, incorporated in 1852. There are seven libraries accessible to the public, containing nearly 10,000 volumes. The public library building, a memento of the public spirit of the Bennet family, is a handsome structure in the Gothic style, and contains upwards of 2,000 well-chosen volumes. There is also an association library, and a church and several Sunday-school libraries. The town has the credit of a good weekly newspaper, the "Billerica Tribune."

The Unitarian church edifice at the centre is about a century old, and a fine example of Colonial architecture. The Congregationalists and Baptists also have pleasant, well-furnished churches . At North Billerica are the Roman Catholic church (Saint Andrew's), and the Baptist society, whose neat edifice was a gift from ex-Governor Talbot.

The territory now embraced in the town was granted to Cambridge in 1641, "provided they would make it a village to have ten families settled there within ten years." The first settlement was made, about the year 1653, by John Parker, John Kittredge, John Rogers, Jonathan Danforth, Rev. Samuel Whiting, Simon Crosby, Edward Farmer, Thomas Richardson, and others. The town was surveyed, and divided into what were denominated ten and five acre lots, by Jonathan Danforth. A ten-acre lot contained 113 acres of upland, and twelve of meadow ; a five-acre lot, half that quantity. The place was called Shawsheen by the Indians, a name which is perpetuated by the pretty stream in the eastern part of the town. Billericay, in England, from which some of the settlers came, furnished the new name, under which it was incorporated May 29, 1655. The first house of worship was covered with thatch, instead of shingles, and completed about 1660; and the Rev. Samuel Whiting, the first minister, was ordained over the church at its formation in 1663. He died in 1713, and was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel Ruggles. During Philip's War, in 1675-76, this town suffered no important injury ; but during the French and Indian War, in 1695, an attack was made upon the people, and several were slain. On the 5th of August of that year, the Indians entered the house of John Rogers, in the northerly part of the town, and discharged an arrow at him while asleep, which entered his neck, and severed the main artery. "Awakened by this sudden and unexpected attack, he started up, seized the arrow, which he forcibly withdrew, and expired with the instrument of death in his hand. A woman, being in the chamber, threw herself out of the window, and, though severely wounded, made her escape by concealing herself among some flags. A young woman was scalped, and left for dead, but survived the painful operation and lived for many years. A son and daughter of Mr. Rogers were made prisoners. The family of John Levistone suffered most severely. His mother-in-law and five young children were killed, and his oldest daughter captured. Capt. Thomas Rogers and his oldest son were killed. Mary, the wife of Dr. Roger Toothaker, and Margaret, his youngest daughter, with four other persons, were slain. Though the Indians were immediately pursued by the inhabitants of the centre of the town, yet so effectually had they taken precautions in their flight, that all efforts to find them proved unavailing. It is said that they even tied up the mouths of their dogs with wampum, from an apprehension that their barking would discover the direction they had taken. The shock given to the inhabitants by this melancholy event was long had in painful remembrance."

The first patriot who fell at the battle of Bunker Hill was a young man by the name of Asa Pollard, belonging to Billerica The manner of his death is thus related by Col. Prescott : "The first man who fell in the battle of Bunker Hill was killed by a cannon-hall, which struck his head. He was so near me that my clothes were besmeared with his blood and brains, which I wiped off, in some degree, with a handful of fresh earth. The sight was so shocking to many of the men, that they left their posts, and ran to view him. I ordered them back, but in vain. I then ordered him to be buried instantly. A subaltern officer expressed surprise that I should allow him to be buried without having prayers said, I replied, 'This is the first man that has been killed, and the only one that will be buried to-day. I put him out of sight, that the men may be kept in their places. God only knows who or how many of us will fall before it is over. To your post, my good fellow, and let each man do his duty.' He was struck by a cannon-ball thrown from the line-of-battle ship 'Somerset.' "

On October 8, l873, the town consecrated a fine granite monument in honor of its soldiers lost in the war of the Slaveholders' Rebellion.

There were living in Billerica, in 1885, 44 persons who were over 80 years of age, 16 who were over 85, and four who were over 90.

William Crosby, an eminent jurist, was born here June 3, 1770, and died March 31, 1852. The late Hon. Thomas Talbot, a governor of the Commonwealth, was a citizen of this town for thirty years. Here, too, at "Brightside," was the residence of the late Rev. Elias Nason. Hon. Onslow Stearns, a governor of New Hampshire ; Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, the author and philanthropist ; and Miss Harriet Rogers, the founder of the system of teaching deaf-mutes to read the lips in speech, were natives of this place.

pp. 148-151 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890