Leicester Massachusetts, 1890
Leicester lies on high land in the central part of Worcester County, 50 miles from Boston. It is bounded on the north by Paxton, on the east by Worcester, southeast by Auburn, south by Oxford and Charlton, and west by Spencer. The assessed area is 14,650 acres; which includes the 6,287 acres of woodland in the town.
The central village (Leicester) occupies a commanding site. A range of hills lies across the town from northeast to southwest; the prominent elevations being Cary Hill north of the centre, Ballard Hill at its southwest, and Denny Hill in the southeast part. In the valleys on each side are pleasant ponds, — Sargent, Burncoat, Shaw and others; and among the hills are many springs and rivulets, — Lynde and Kettle brooks, flowing into the Blackstone River; Town-meadow Brook, into French River; Shaw Brook, into the Chicopee River, and furnishing valuable mill privileges. The higher lands especially are much broken by ledges and bowlders; the soil is clayey and wet, — better adapted to grazing than for planted crops.
The value of the product of the 146 farms in the last census year was $159,518. The wood product was $18,684, —a proportion unusually large. The chief industry is the woollen manufacture, for which there are several mills; one establishment is devoted to hosiery and knit goods. Cordage and twine, shoes, card-clothing, machinery, wire, knives, lumber, boxes, carriages and food preparations are also made in considerable quantity. The value of the textiles made in the last census year was $780,990. The value of the entire manufactures was $1,257,264. There is one national bank with a capital of $200,000, and a savings bank carrying, at the opening of 1889, $383,313 in deposits. The number of dwelling-houses was 530; the inhabitants numbered 2,923; and the legal voters 650. The valuation in 1888 was $1,894,830, — with tax-rate of $9.60 on $1,000.
The villages are Leicester (centre) and, in the east, Cherry Valley (post-offices); Rochdale in the south, having a station on the Boston and Albany Railroad; and Brick City, Greenville and Manville. Another convenient station is Jamesville on the same railroad, just over the line in Worcester, near Cherry Valley.
Leicester has a good town-hall, a fine Memorial Hall containing a public library of some 6,000 volumes, and eight school buildings valued at nearly $20,000. The schools are graded; the high school being included with the Leicester Academy, — which has a good school building, a small library and a meteorological observatory. This institution was founded more than a century ago. The "Academy Echo is issued monthly, and is a popular publication. The Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists and Unitarians have church edifices here.
Joshua Lamb and others purchased the territory of this town from the Indians in 1687. The Indian name for the place was Towtaid but the new owners named it Strawberry Hill. On February 15, 1713, the plantation was incorporated as a town, receiving the name of Leicester from a town in England. The first church was organized March 30, 1721; and the Rev. David Parsons — ordained the September following — was the first minister. Among his successors was the Rev. Z. S. Moore, D.D., settled January 19, 1798, and afterwards president of Williams and Amherst colleges.
The Baptist society in the village of Greenville in this town is the third in age in Massachusetts, having been organized in 1736 by the Rev. Thomas Green, M.D., who was pastor over it until his death in 1773. Captain Samuel Green, his father, settled here in 1717, and built a house which in 1876 was still standing opposite the meeting-house. The Greens were the originators of the mills in the village, which they sold in 1799. This family has given a number of professional men of eminence to the country.
A society of about 70 Jews dwelt here from 1778 to 1783. They built a synagogue; and license was given them " to sell bohea and other Indian teas." In 1790 Pliny Earle of this place made the cards for the mill of Samue1 Slater, — the pioneer in this country of making cotton cloth by machinery. In this business of card-making the town has since stood pre-eminent.
Leicester was prompt to bear its part in the Revolution; and for the support of the Union cause in the late rebellion it furnished 304 soldiers, — of whom 36 were lost. Eminent men of this town were Emory Washburn (1800), a governor of Massachusetts; and William A. Wheeler (1833), author of the "Dictionary of Noted Names of Fiction."
Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890, pp. 408-410