Petersham Massachusetts, 1890

Petersham is a beautiful town occupying high land in the northwest part of Worcester County, 75 miles west of Boston by the highways. The nearest railroad stations are those of the Fitchburg Railroad in Athol and of the Massachusetts Central Railroad in Barre. Phillipston bounds this town on the northeast; Barre, on the southeast; Dana, on the southwest; and New Salem and Athol, on the northwest.


The assessed area is 23,016 acres; of which 6,391 acres are forests of pine, hemlock, chestnut, oak and maple. The rocks are generally granite and felspar; and the soil is a clay loam. Petersham Centre occupies a high broad plateau, commanding extensive views. The east and west branches of Fever Brook and various branches of Swift River flow southwesterly through the town, furnishing valuable powers.


At South Petersham are a saw and a grist mill and a powder-keg mill, employing altogether about a dozen men. There are, beside, the usual manufactures of a farming town; the value of the aggregate product in 1885 being reported as $31,466. The value of the aggregate product of the 205 farms was $167,583. The population was 1,032; of whom 308 were legal voters. The valuation in 1888 was $593,216, with a tax-rate of $14.70 on $1,000. The dwelling-houses numbered 287.


The town has a fine new memorial library building of stone. There were 11 public school-houses, valued at upwards of $6,000. The Unitarians, Congregationalists and Baptists have each a church edifice here.


The territory of this town was granted in 1733 to John Bennett, Jeremiah Perley and others, for services rendered in the Indian wars. Joseph Willson and Simeon Houghton were among the early settlers. The place was for some time known as Volunteers' Town, becoming " Voluntown," from its having been granted to volunteers. The inhabitants were at first much annoyed by wolves and rattlesnakes, and at a later period by Indians. The first church was organized, and the Rev. Aaron Whitney settled over it, in December, 1738. He was a royalist; and being excluded from the pulpit, held services with his adherents at his house, and claimed to be minister of the town until his death in 1779. Petersham is memorable as being the place where Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, with the State forces, on February 4, 1787, fell suddenly upon the insurgents under Capt. Daniel Shays, causing them to disperse in great confusion; by which the "Whisky Rebellion" was broken up. The town sent 177 men into the Union armies during the late war, of whom 32 were lost.


This town was incorporated April 20, 1754 ; and its name was probably adopted in remembrance of Petersham, in England. Its Indian name was Nitchawog ; and "Nitchawaug " is the present name of one post-office, Petersham (centre) being the other.

pp. 537-538 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890

Gazetteer