Fitchburg Massachusetts, 1890

FITCHBURG is a flourishing manufacturing city, the semi-capital of Worcester County, situated in its northeasterly section, 50 miles from Boston by the Fitchburg Railroad.

This road, by a northward curve in the town, following nearly the curve of the Nashua River, connects with the four principal villages, Crockerville in the southwest, West Fitchburg, Fitchburg (centre), and South Fitchburg in the southeast. From the central village (which is the city proper) proceeds the Cheshire Railroad through Bellows Falls to Lake Champlain and Montreal. At this village also terminates the northern division of the Old Colony Railroad, which connects it directly with Worcester, Boston and New Bedford.

Ashby lies on the north, Lunenburg on the east, Leominster and Westminster on the south, and. the latter on the west. The assessed area is 16,850 acres; of which 5,134 are woodland. The township is nearly a parallelogram, and is beautifully diversified with numerous hills and valleys, ponds and streams. From Pearl Hill in the northeast, and Brown's Hill in the northwest, from Oak Hill in the southwest, and from Rollstone Hill in the western section, rising grandly from the right bank of the Nashua River, to the height of 300 feet above the plain, may he obtained broad and sweeping views of many charming landscapes. Whitman's River and Nookagee Brook, entering the town from Westminster on the west, soon unite and form the Nashua River, which winds through a rocky valley flanked by steep) and picturesque eminences, to the central village, thence, bending southward, leaves the township at the southeast corner. Though the current of this stream is neither broad nor deep, the descent is so considerable and the dams so frequent, that, in the aggregate, a very large motive power is afforded; and to this, as well as to its railroad facilities and the public spirit of its citizens, the rapid growth of this city may he ascribed.

The underlying rock in the northwest part is gneissic; in the southeast, Merrimack schist; while Rollstone Hill is a mass of granite, and large quantities of good building stone of this variety are quarried near the central village. Iron ore exists in one locality; and at Pearl Hill are found beryl, staurotide, garnets, arid molybdenite. The overlying soil in some parts of the town is clay, beneath a strong loam; in other parts it is gravel carrying a sandy loam. The usual crops of suburban regions are cultivated with profit; the product of the 209 farms, in 1885, being valued at $294,558. Two mills for sawing and preparing lumber find occupation in the place, and some wood is used in the paper manufacture, which is the largest single product of the city. At Crockerville (named from a former leading manufacturer) are seven or more mills for this article. At other points are three cotton and three woollen mills, the works of the Putnam Machine Company, and the Fitchburg Steam Engine Company, making fire, locomotive and stationary steam engines; also establishments for the manufacture of saws machinists' tools, chairs, rattan and other furniture, edge tools, agricultural implements, bricks, bread-stuffs, clothing, palm-leaf hats, boots and shoes, hollow ware, piano-forte parts, and others. In all there are above forty different kinds of manufacture, and not less than 202 different establishments. Such variety of pursuits, has a tendency to quicken the intellectuality of the people; since the knowledge acquired in any one department of business in a community comes to increase the general stock. The aggregate product of the manufactures in the last census year (1885) was $6,231,866. There are in the town four national banks, with an aggregate capital of $950,000; and two savings institutions, having, at the close of last year, deposits to the amount of $4,824, 614. The valuation of the town in 1888 was $13,694,890; with a tax of $16.80 on $1,000. The voters numbered 3,659, and the entire population was 15,375, finding shelter in 2,731 dwelling houses.

The wholesomeness of the place is indicated in the census of 1885 by the fact that there were 96 residents over 80 years, 8 over 90 years, and 2 over 100 years of age The Fitchburg water works system supplies the people at the centre with an abundance of pure water from an artificial reservoir of eleven acres, fed by a copious spring on Rollstone Hill. There are more than 100 miles of streets in the city limits, portions of which are paved; while many are beautifully shaded with elms and maples. Among the conspicuous buildings are the court-house, a handsome stone edifice fronting on a beautiful square, where is a costly monument to Fitchburg's soldiers lost in the war for the Union; the public library (containing some 20,000 volumes); the High School, the Union railroad depot, the county jail, and several of the churches. The schools are effectively graded. and provided for in nineteen school buildings, valued at upwards of $200,000. Beside the town library are a law, a medical, and ten other institution, church and Sunday-school libraries. The churches are the American Episcopal, two Methodist Episcopal, the French and the Irish Catholic, two Congregationalist, Baptist, Unitarian, and Universalist.

The leading newspaper is the "Sentinel," having a daily and a weekly edition. "Our Monthly Visitor," published here, has gained a large circulation.

On December 18 (0. S. Dec. 7), 1719, the General Court voted to lay out two new towns on the westerly side of the Groton west line. One of these, as laid out, included the present towns of Lancaster, Fitchburg and Ashby, and was known as the Turkey Hills, on account of the large number of wild turkeys that came there to feed on the abundant acorns and wild chestnuts. When the committee to whom the business was entrusted first came to make the surveys, they found there a man named David Page, who, with his family, had selected one of the best sites of the place on the south side of Clarke's Hill. He had built a comfortable house, well fortified by a palisade of logs pierced with loop-holes for muskets, and had turned a small brook from its natural course, making it flow some distance underground and then through his garrison.

In November, 1727, the committee directed that a meeting-house should he built, but the settlers came to the conclusion that they should henceforth manage local affairs themselves. In the following year an act of incorporation was passed; and on August 1 the proprietors of Turkey Hills found themselves a town in the county of Middlesex under the name of Lunenburg. The same year they voted to raise £200 ($88.88) for a meeting-house. Three years thereafter a pulpit and seats were added. Persons who wanted pews were at liberty to build them at their own cost; and in 1733 it was voted to finish the galleries, and to build "stears up into them."

In 1729, the town chose an agent to represent it in the consideration of the best place of dividing the county of Middlesex, as it was then deemed too large. Two years later Worcester was set off, this town being within its limits. Public schools appear to have been first established in 1732, when the clergyman was employed to teach school for three months in his own house. During the next year school was held in the houses of several of the settlers in rotation; and in 1735 the selectmen were directed to provide a suitable school-house, and to "hire school dames as they shall see fit."

Soon after March, 1757, the western part of Lunenburg was formed into a new parish, with the meeting-house in the centre; On February 3, 1764, an act was passed incorporating the western part of Lunenburg as "Fitchburg," with all the privileges of a town, excepting that representation to the General Court was to be divided with Lunenburg. The first name on the committee to procure the incorporation was John Fitch, a leading citizen; while Colonel Thomas Fitch, a wealthy merchant of Boston, owned extensive tracts of land in the county; but the honor of the name of the town has been claimed by the friends of each, and still remains in doubt. It then contained about 250 persons.

In 1804, the Burbank paper-mill and dam were built. In 1806-7, work was begun on a brick dam across the river, on which was erected the first cotton-mill; and in 1813 a second cotton-mill was built, and in 1814 a third. In 1823, the Red Woollen Factory was erected; and in 1826 another paper-mill and a fourth cotton-mill were built. In 1845, the place was connected with Boston by railroad, giving a fresh impetus to business; and on March 8, 1872, Fitchburg was incorporated as a city.

The first religious society in the town was organized January 27, 1768, and the Rev. John Payson was elected pastor. He was followed by the Rev. Samuel Worcester, who afterwards became a missionary to the Cherokee Indians.

Records exist showing the active participation and the effective service of Fitchburg in the Revolution. Fitchburg furnished 824 men to the Union forces in the late war, 75 more than its quota; and 57 became commissioned officers.

The Rev. Asa Thornton (1787-1868), missionary for more than forty years to the Sandwich Islands, was a native of this town. Eminent among its citizens during the present century are Hons. Alvah Crocker, Rodney Wallace, Charles . Crocker, Amasa Norcross, William H. Vose, Charles H. B. Snow, David H. Merriam, Salmon W. Putnam and Walter Heywood.

pp. 306-309  in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890