Taunton Massachusetts, 1890

TAUNTON is a prosperous and in some respects a model manufacturing city, lying in the northeasterly section of Bristol County, of which it is the semi-capital. It is 33 miles south of Boston by the Old Colony Railroad, which traverses all parts of its territory, and by numerous branches, converging here, it is connected directly with Providence, Newport, New Bedford, and a large number of towns within this scope in all directions.

The denser portion of the city is situated on both sides of Taunton River, at the junction of Mill River, and about 17 miles above Mount Hope Bay, into which it flows. The width of the larger river at this point is 110 feet, with a draught of water at high tide of nine feet. The territory extends nearly with the points of the compass from the central mass in four unequal prongs. About it lie Easton, at the northern angle; Raynham, pressing in deeply on the northeast; Middleborough and Lakeville on the eastward prong, which spreads like an anchor; Berkley, surrounded by it on the east, north and west; Dighton on the south; Rehoboth on the west; and Norton on the northwest. The assessed area is 25,207 acres. There are about 7,000 acres of forest. Large deposits of clay exist, together with considerable sand and gravel; and there are occasional outcroppings of granite. The soil is fertile; and the 182 farms in 1885 yielded products to the value of $201,901.

The mean altitude of the surface above sea-level is 55 feet; the lowest being 7.27 feet, and the greatest elevation, 206.73 feet. In the eastern extremity are Furnace Pond, and the smaller Bear-hole, Dean's Factory and Deep ponds, discharging into the Taunton River. This stream enters the town from the east, forming a large portion of the irregular line between it and Raynham on the north; thence flowing to the centre, where it turns southward. In the northern extremity is great Cedar Swamp, and south of it, Scadding, and smaller Watson's and Prospect ponds, feeders of Mill River.

Both water and steam power are used in propelling the machinery in the vast manufactories of this city. The largest of these are the seven cotton mills employing nearly 2,000 persons; the founderies, machine-shops and boiler works, employing nearly 1,000; the stove works, employing some 300; the factories for making shovels and other agricultural implements, files and other tools, nearly 100; the zinc, copper and brass works, and jewelry factories, upwards of 300; britannia and silver-plated ware factories, about 600; tack, nail and bolt (iron and copper), some 500; cutlery about 50; and brick, tile and stove-linings from 200 to 300. Railroad cars and coaches, stone and earthenware, rattan and willow and other furniture, yarn, boots and shoes, horse-trappings, pencils and crucibles, and the numerous other usual manufactures of cities, are also among the products of this busy place. The total number of establishments in June, 1885, was 301; and the total number of persons employed in them upwards of 5,000. The values in 1880 of some of the leading products, according to the U. S. census for that year, were as follows: brick and tile, $145,792; cotton goods, $1,856,881; meal and flour, $169,922; castings and machinery, $1,725,826 iron tacks, nails and spikes, $998,375; copper and sheet-iron goods, $20,400; carriage-wheels, $19,250 horse-trappings, $11,850. The total value of goods made in 1885 (according to the recently published State census) was $7,325,008. The most extensive individual establishments are the Field Tack and Nail Works (established in 1827) and the largest in the country; the Taunton Tack Co. (est. 1854); the Mason Machine Works (est. in 1845), occupying six acres, and making cotton and woollen machinery, car wheels, engines and locomotives; the Taunton Locomotive Mfg. Co. (est. 1847) ; the Old Colony Iron Co. (1844); the Taunton Iron Co. (1837); the Taunton Iron Works (1854); the Phoenix Mfg. Co. (1850); the Dean Cotton and Machine Co. (1848) the Taunton Cotton and Machine Co. (1874); the Whittenton Cotton Mills (5 mills), the Dean Cotton Mfg. Co. (1815); the Bristol Print Works (1833); the Crocker Mfg. Co., making copper goods; the Taunton Copper Company; Reed & Barton's Britannia Works (the oldest and largest on the Continent; successors of Taunton Britannia Co., founded in 1830 by Isaac Babbitt, the inventor of "Babbitt's metal"), making britannia and plated ware; Stearns, Son & Hall Silver-plate Co. (1879) ; and the Taunton Paper Mfg. Co. (1847).

The fisheries of alewives, herring and shad, somewhat larger and of much importance in early days, in 1885 yielded $8,455. The commercial marine embraced 36 schooners and one steamboat; the aggregate tonnage being 21,642. Taunton has three national banks with capital stock aggregating $1,300,000; and two savings banks carrying deposits at the close of last year amounting to $4,679,034. The population in 1885 was 23,674; of whom 5,232 were legal voters. The valuation in 1888 was $17,291,740, with a tax-rate of $16.60 on $1,000. There were 3,813 taxed dwelling-houses.

The city had, in 1885, 17 public school-houses, valued, with appurtenances, at very near $300,000. The high school has a new and beautiful building in the Elizabethan style, with tower and observatory. The Bristol Academy, established in 1796, has a building worth about $10,000. The Taunton Public Library contains about 25,000 volumes; the Bristol County Law Library nearly 4,000 volumes; the Insane Hospital upwards of 2,000; the Old Colony Historical Society some 500; and one or two private circulating libraries complete the list. The "Daily Gazette," the weekly "Household Gazette," and the "Bristol County Republican," constitute an able and useful city press. The churches are one each of the Baptists, Free Baptists, Presbyterians, Trinitarians and Universalists; five of the Congregationalists; three each of the Methodists and Roman Catholics; and two of the Protestant Episcopalians. One of the latter, the Unitarian, and St. Mary's church are considered the most admirable of the city edifices. The Lunatic Hospital (the second established by the State) is an extensive and impressive edifice, and is also very attractive in its fine grounds and farm, with the beautiful river near by.

The post-offices are Taunton (city proper), East Taunton, Britannia and Walker. Other villages are Chace's, Hopewell, Oakland, Squawbetty, North Taunton, Weir, Westville and Whittenton. The city proper is noted for its beautiful shade trees, which abound on all the streets. The largest park is known as "Taunton Green," occupying an elevated area of one and a half acres, in the centre of the city, and well shaded with handsome trees. It has been common ground since 1786. On this spot, it is said, was unfurled, in October, 1774, the first flag bearing the words "Union and Liberty."

The Indian names for this place were Tetiquet and Cohannet. It was incorporated as a town September 3, 1639; being named for Taunton, in Somersetshire, England. The act incorporating it as a city passed March 31, 1860, but was not accepted until May 11, 1864. Several towns have been formed from the original township. The eminent figure in the foundation of the town was Miss Elizabeth Pool, a native of Old England, a Puritan lady of rank and fortune, who came here for the purpose of forming a settlement and converting the Indians to Christianity. (See article on Bristol County.)

Bog-iron ore was early discovered here, and smelting was begun in Taunton in 1652, or earlier, and ever since it has been a leading industry in this section. Henry and James Leonard, of Pontoopool, England, were, in 1656, induced by Governor Winthrop to come hither and engage in this business. The plant was established near the pond, still bearing the name of "Leonard's Forge Pond," in Taunton (now Raynham); and for two centuries the Leonards and their descendants carried on smelting iron and manufacturing therefrom articles of many kinds. Iron even became legal tender in those days; so that James Leonard by his will provided that his wife should be paid 600 pounds of iron annually as long as she remained a widow. The Rev. William Hooke, first minister of this place, married a sister of Gen. Edward Whalley, one of the Charles the First regicides. He was once a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and died in London in 1667.

Among the natives of this town who became eminent were Samuel S. Wilde, LL.D. (1771-1855), a distinguished jurist; Francis Baylies (1783-1852), an able author and M. G. from 1821 to 1827; Joseph L. Tillinghast (1791-1814), a scholar and lawyer; Gen. James Williams (1741-1826), 56 years register of deeds for Bristol County. captain of a company of minute-men in the Revolution; and leader of a company in an engagement with the British in Rhode Island in 1778; John Mason, Williams, LL.D. (1780-1868), an esteemed lawyer, and a judge of the Court of Common Pleas; Hon. Henry Williams, an able lawyer, a member of both branches of the State legislature, and M.C. for several years; and Robert Treat Paine (b. 1773), son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and author (at 25 years of age) of the celebrated song "Adams and Liberty," which was sung throughout the new nation with thrilling effect.

Pp. 633-636 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890