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Encyclopedia > History of Acton, Massachusetts

Acton is a small town West of Boston in an area that has records of human habitation which stretch back 7000 years. Acton citizens had a small but critical role in the American Revolution. Acton's history reflects the major events that were occuring in Massachusetts, New England, the United States and the world.


Early Settlement

The rivers that run through Acton were used by Native Americans as part of their annual migration patterns thousand of years ago. A Native American archeological site was discovered in Acton in 1999 which produced evidence of habitation dating back 7000 years. This site has been named the Pine Hawk site and is one of the oldest archeological sites in New England. [1]

Before the English colonists settled in this area, the Massachuset tribe of the Algonquins lived in eastern Massachusetts. The group who lived in the Acton area were members of the Pawtucket people. They practiced swidden agriculture where they would use a field for several years until soil fertility dropped and then move to another field. The Massachusett were a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the coastal areas of what is now the state of Massachusetts. ... This article is about the Native American tribe. ... The Pennacook are an American Indian group who once had villages in the Merrimack River valley in southern and central New Hampshire, northeastern Massachusetts, and southern Maine. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Shifting cultivation. ...

Around 1615, an epidemic killed almost 90% of the Indians in eastern Massachusetts. The description of the symptoms lead current historians to believe that this disease was viral hepatitis introduced by European traders and sailers.[1] The epidemic had such a huge impact because the native residents had no resistance to European diseases. A smallpox epidemic swept through in 1633 and further devastated the region.[2] In medicine (gastroenterology), hepatitis is any disease featuring inflammation of the liver. ... Smallpox (also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera) was a highly contagious viral disease unique to humans. ...

Colonial Acton

The first colonial settlement in this area was Concord which was incorporated in 1635. Concord sits at the junction where the Assabet and Sudbury rivers combine to form the Concord River. Concord farmers used the land which is now Acton as grazing fields for their animals. The first permanent residents of Acton settled there in 1639. They were farmers who needed to be closer to the grazing fields for their animals. Concord is a town located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 16,993. ...

In the mid-1600s, colonists began a program of converting Native Americans to Christianity. The converted Indians were settled into towns which were known as 'Praying Indian Towns'. One of these towns (Nashobah) was located on Nagog Pond which is now on the border between Acton and Littleton. [2]

When King Philip's War (1675 - 1676) broke out, the Praying Indians were considered with suspicion by the colonists. In October, 1675, the General Council in Boston ordered that all Praying Indians be removed from their towns and taken to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. They were released in 1677 when King Philip's War was over. Attack King Philips War, 1675–1676, was the end result of the English rapacity for land in present-day southern New England. ...

Acton was incorporated as an independent town in 1735. Acton has held Annual Town Meetings since 1735 and the records of those Town Meetings are held at Acton's Memorial Library. [3]

American Revolution

In the period before the outbreak of hostilities with Great Britian that eventually led to the American Revolution, the relations between colonists and Great Britain grew increasingly strained. In May of 1774, the British Parliament passed a law which made it illegal for colonists to hold Town Meetings and to legislate their own affairs. In defiance of this law, the Town of Acton held a series of Town Meetings where they elected a representative to the illegal Provincial Congress and began to raise a local militia unit. The Town of Acton sent a list of grievances to King George III on October 3, 1774. The anniversary of this day is celebrated in Acton as Crown Resistance Day. [4]

Isaac Davis Monument
Isaac Davis Monument

At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, on April 19, 1775, a company of minutemen from Acton responded to the call to arms initiated by Paul Revere (who rode with other riders, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, with Prescott the only one of the three who was able reach Acton itself) and fought at the North Bridge in Concord as part of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Acton minutemen were led by Captain Isaac Davis. When a company was needed to lead the advance on the bridge which was defended by the British regulars, Captain Davis was heard to reply, "I haven't a man who is afraid to go." Combatants American Revolutionaries, France, Netherlands, Spain, Native Americans Great Britain, German mercenaries, Loyalists, Native Americans Commanders George Washington, Comte de Rochambeau, Nathanael Greene William Howe, Henry Clinton, Charles Cornwallis (more commanders) The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence,[1] was a conflict that... Lexington Minuteman representing John Parker Minutemen is a name given to members of the militia of the American Colonies, who would be ready for battle in a minutes notice. ... Portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley, c. ... William Dawes William Dawes, Jr. ... Samuel Prescott (1751 - 1777?) was a U.S. patriot during the American Revolution. ... The Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 was the first battle of the American Revolutionary War and was described as the shot heard round the world in Emersons Concord Hymn. ...

The colonists advanced on the bridge; in the exchange of musket fire that followed, Captain Isaac Davis and Private James Hayward were killed and Abner Hosmer, also of Acton, was mortally wounded. Thus Isaac Davis was the first officer to die in the American Revolutionary War. In Acton they refer to "the battle of Lexington, fought in Concord, by men of Acton." Muskets and bayonets aboard the frigate Grand Turk. ...

Each year on Patriot's Day (the 3rd Monday in April), the Acton Minuteman lead a march from Acton Center to the Old North Bridge in Concord. This route is known as 'The Isaac Davis Trail' and is listed on the the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1970, The Boy Scouts of America have organized an annual Patriot's Day campout and march on the Isaac Davis Trail. Patriots Grave in the Old Burying Ground, Arlington, Massachusetts. ... The National Register of Historic Places is the USAs official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. ... This article is about the national organization. ...

Industrialization and Civil War

After the Revolutionary War, Acton continued to grow in population. By the mid-1800s, Acton was an industrial center for the production of barrels (cooperage). There were also three grist mills and four saw mills in town. The fulling mill at Mill Corner was one of the first large-scale manufacturers of woolen cloth in the country. In addition, gun power mills were located in the area which is now South Acton. [3].

In 1843, the railroad came to Acton. The Fitchberg Railroad was routed through South and West Acton so that it could serve the mills. With the railroad came increasing development in those areas.

In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. In response, Acton Town Meeting passed a set of resolutions condemning the Act. The governor of Massachusetts, John C. Andrew, urged all towns to prepare their militia units for the threatening war. On April 12th, 1861 the Civil War Began.

"On April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers. By 7:30 the next morning, Captain Tuttle with his entire command of 52 men reported to Lowell, fully equipped and ready for duty. Company E of Acton of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was to be the first company of the first regiment of the Union Army to arrive in Washington in response to the President's call."[4]

After the Civil War, industry continued to grow in Acton with the establishement of a cigar factory, a piano stool factory and a pencil factory.

In 1874, the population of the town was almost 1700. The town established its first newspaper The Acton Patriot and the residents of West Acton formed the first library The Citizen's Library. In 1890, the Memorial Library was completed and given to the town by William A. Wilde as a memorial to the Acton soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

20th Century

At the beginning on the 20th Century, Acton had approximately 2120 residents. The primary business of the town was agriculture. The 20th century saw substantial growth and change in the town.

In 1912, after prolonged debate, a Water District was established which provided water initially to the West Acton and South Acton villages. At this time, each of the five villages had its own fire department. On July 22, 1913, there was a very serious fire in West Acton. It destroyed houses, barns, businesses and factories. The whole village could have burned if it was not for the newly installed water system. After the fire, Town Meeting voted to establish a town-wide fire department.

Acton had excellent roads due to a contribution from a former Acton resident - Mr. Alvin Nothrop. He had grown up in Acton before moving to Washington D.C. and becoming a successful merchant. He donated money to the town of Acton to purchase a stone crusher for improving local roads. Because of this contribution, Acton had water-bound macadam highways long before its neighbors.[5] Macadam is a type of road construction pioneered by John Loudon McAdam in the early 1800s. ...

The Board of Health was instituted in 1901 and its first task was to administer the smallpox vaccine to the children in the local schools. The smallpox vaccine is the only effective preventive treatment for the deadly smallpox disease. ...

Each village in Acton had its own grade school but the town struggled with how to provide a high school education for its students. For most of the early twentieth century (until 1925), Acton students were sent to Concord's high school.

The last half of the twentieth century saw enormous growth and change in Acton. In 1950, the town had a population of 3,500 which grew to 17,000 by 1974. This was largely caused by the growth in industry in suburban areas - facilitated by the construction of Route 128. Acton did not attract industry because of the limited water supply.

Instead, Acton became a bedroom community. Acton's farmland began to turn into housing developments. In 1954, the Town established a Planning Board which developed regulations regarding the development of subdivisions. The first large subdivision was Indian Village in West Acton in 1955.

The population in the town doubled between 1950 and 1960 (from 3500 to 7000). It doubled again in the next decade.

In 1953, new schools were constructed to accommodate the growth in the student population. In 1957, Acton and Boxborough created a regional school district for grades 7 - 12. The Merriam School was constructed in 1958. Other schools quickly followed (Douglas (1966), Gates (1968), and Conant (1971)). In 1967 a building was constructed for the Junior High. In 1973 a huge addition was added to this building and it became the high school (the junior high moved to the old high school building).

The Blanchard foundation gave the town the money to contruct Blanchard Auditorium which was used to hold Town Meeting in addition to providing a gymnasium for the schools.


  • Acton Historical Society (1974). A Brief History of Acton. Beacon Publishing Company.
  • Acton Historical Society (1985). Acton: A Second Look.
  • William A. Klauer (2001). Images of America: Acton. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 2001093047.

External links


  1. ^ Mann, Charles C. (2005, December) "Native Intelligence". Smithsonian Magazine, p. 102.
  2. ^ Acton Historical Society: "A Brief History of Acton", page 53. Beacon Publishing Company, 1974.
  3. ^ Acton Historical Society: "A Brief History of Acton", page 33. Beacon Publishing Company, 1974.
  4. ^ Acton Historical Society: "A Brief History of Acton", page 35. Beacon Publishing Company, 1974.
  5. ^ Acton Historical Society: "A Brief History of Acton", page 42. Beacon Publishing Company, 1974.
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The Berkshires · Blackstone Valley · Cape Ann · Cape Cod and the Islands · Greater Boston · Merrimack Valley · MetroWest · North Shore · Pioneer Valley · Quabbin Valley · South Shore · South Coast · Western Massachusetts Image File history File links Flag_of_Massachusetts. ... A state of the United States (a U.S. state) is any one of the fifty states (four of which officially favor the term commonwealth) which, along with the District of Columbia, form the United States of America. ... Official language(s) English Capital Boston Largest city Boston Area  Ranked 44th  - Total 10,555 sq mi (27,360 km²)  - Width 183 miles (295 km)  - Length 113 miles (182 km)  - % water 13. ... This is a list of United States state capitals: Trivia - Jefferson City (Missouri) has the longest name of the U.S. state capitals - Only two of the U.S. state capitals are named for their state: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Indianapolis, Indiana retard See also List of current and former... Flag Seal Nickname: City on a Hill, Beantown, The Hub (of the Solar System), Athens of America Location Location in Massachusetts Government Counties Suffolk County Mayor Thomas Menino (Dem) Geographical characteristics Area     City 232. ... This list of regions of the United States includes official (governmental) and non-official areas within the borders of the United States, not including U.S. states, the federal district of Washington, D.C. or standard subentities such as cities or counties. ... The Berkshires (pronounced as berk-shurs) are a branch of the Appalachian Mountains, centered in Western Massachusetts (with portions located in the adjacent states of Vermont, New York, and Connecticut), often referred to as the Berkshire Hills. ... The Blackstone Valley or Blackstone River Valley is a region of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. ... Cape Ann, Massachusetts Landsat satellite photo of Cape Ann Cape Ann is a rocky peninsula located in northeastern Massachusetts on the Atlantic Ocean. ... Astronaut photo of Cape Cod and Cape Cod Bay Cape Cod (1033 km²) is an arm-shaped peninsula forming the Easternmost portion of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States. ... Greater Boston is the area of Massachusetts closely surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. ... The Merrimack River, formed by the confluence of the Pemigewasset River (left) and Winnipesaukee River (right) is shown on a map of the northeastern United States The Merrimack River (or Merrimac River, an earlier spelling that is sometimes still used) is a 110-mile-long (177-kilometer-long) river in... The MetroWest region is an area outside the city of Boston, in the state of Massachusetts. ... The North Shore is a region north of Boston, consisting chiefly of urban suburban communities of Essex County along Massachusetts Bay. ... The southern portion of the Pioneer Valley looking south down the Connecticut River. ... The Quabbin Valley is a region of Massachusetts. ... The South Shore of Massachusetts is a geographic region stretching south and east from Boston along the shore of Massachusetts Bay toward Cape Cod. ... The South Coast of Massachusetts is generally considered to be the region of southeastern Massachusetts consisting of southern Bristol and Plymouth counties facing Buzzards Bay and includes the cities of Fall River and New Bedford. ... Western Massachusetts is a geographical region of the state of Massachusetts which contains the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley. ...


Barnstable · Berkshire · Bristol · Dukes · Essex · Franklin · Hampden · Hampshire · Middlesex · Nantucket · Norfolk · Plymouth · Suffolk · Worcester This is a list of Massachusetts counties: Massachusetts counties Barnstable County: one of three original counties created in the Plymouth Colony in 1685. ... Barnstable County is a county located in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. ... Berkshire County is a county located in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. ... Bristol County is a county located in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. ... Dukes County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Essex County is a county located in the northeastern part of the state of Massachusetts. ... Franklin County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Hampden County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Hampshire County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Middlesex County is a county located in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. ... Nantucket is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, formed of glacial moraine. ... Norfolk County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Plymouth County is a county located in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. ... Suffolk County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ... Worcester County is a county located in the state of Massachusetts. ...


Agawam · Amesbury · Attleboro · Barnstable · Beverly · Boston · Brockton · Cambridge · Chelsea · Chicopee · Easthampton · Everett · Fall River · Fitchburg · Franklin · Gardner · Gloucester · Greenfield · Haverhill · Holyoke · Lawrence · Leominster · Lowell · Lynn · Malden · Marlborough · Medford · Melrose · Methuen · New Bedford · Newburyport · Newton · North Adams · Northampton · Peabody · Pittsfield · Quincy · Revere · Salem · Springfield · Somerville · Southbridge · Taunton · Waltham · Watertown · West Springfield · Westfield · Weymouth · Woburn · Worcester This is a complete list of cities in Massachusetts. ... Agawam is a city located in Hampden County, Massachusetts. ... For the town in Wiltshire, England, see Amesbury Seal of Amesbury, MA Amesbury is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... Settled: 1634 â€“ Incorporated: 1694 Zip Code(s): 02703 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ... Barnstable is a city located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts; it is the county seat of Barnstable County6. ... Beverly is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. ... Flag Seal Nickname: City on a Hill, Beantown, The Hub (of the Solar System), Athens of America Location Location in Massachusetts Government Counties Suffolk County Mayor Thomas Menino (Dem) Geographical characteristics Area     City 232. ... Settled: 1700 â€“ Incorporated: 1821 Zip Code(s): 02301 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ... Cambridge City Hall Settled: 1630 â€“ Incorporated: 1636 Zip Code(s): 02139 â€“ Area Code(s): 617 / 857 Official website: http://www. ... Chelsea City Hall The City of Chelsea is located in Suffolk County, Massachusetts directly across the Mystic River from the City of Boston. ... Chicopee is a city located on the Connecticut River in Hampden County, Massachusetts. ... Easthampton is a city located in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. ... Everett is a city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. ... Settled: 1656 â€“ Incorporated: 1803 Zip Code(s): 02720-02724 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ... Settled: 1730 â€“ Incorporated: 1764 Zip Code(s): 01420 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... The Town of Franklin is a city located in Norfolk County, Massachusetts. ... Settled: 1764 â€“ Incorporated: 1785 Zip Code(s): 01440 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... Settled: 1623 â€“ Incorporated: 1642 Zip Code(s): 01930 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... Seal of Greenfield, MA The Town of Greenfield, a city to be known as the Town of Greenfield is located in Franklin County, Massachusetts. ... Seal of Haverhill, MA Haverhill is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... See Holyoke, Colorado for the city in Colorado. ... High Service Water Tower (1895), also called Tower Hill Water Tower, a notable eyecatcher or folly, named a Water Landmark in 1979 by the American Water Works Association. ... Nickname: Pioneer Plastics City Settled: 1653 â€“ Incorporated: 1740 Zip Code(s): 01453 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... Settled: 1653 â€“ Incorporated: 1826 Zip Code(s): 01852 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... Lynn is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... Malden Auditorium in 1909 Malden is a city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. ... Marlborough is a city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. ... Settled: 1630 â€“ Incorporated: 1630 Zip Code(s): 02155 â€“ Area Code(s): 339 / 781 Location Location in Massachusetts Government County Middlesex County Form of Government Mayor-council city Executive office Mayor Geography Area Total 8. ... Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School prior to its demolition in 2005 Melrose is a city located in the Greater Boston metropolitan area and Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. ... Seal of Methuen, MA The Town of Methuen is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... Nickname: The Whaling City Settled: 1640 â€“ Incorporated: 1787 Zip Code(s): 02740 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ... Seal of Newburyport, MA Newburyport is a small coastal city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... Nickname: The Garden City Settled: 1639 â€“ Incorporated: 1688 Zip Code(s): 02459 â€“ Area Code(s): 617 / 857 Official website: http://www. ... Public Library in the 1920s North Adams is a city located in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. ... Northampton is a city in Hampshire County, Massachusetts in the USA. The population was 28,978 at the 2000 census. ... Seal of Peabody, MA Peabody is a city located in Essex County, Massachusetts. ... Caption Pittsfield is a city located in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. ... Settled: 1625 â€“ Incorporated: 1792 Zip Code(s): 02169 â€“ Area Code(s): 617 / 857 Location Location in Massachusetts Government County Norfolk County Form of Government Mayor-council city Mayor William J. Phelan Geography Area Total 26. ... Revere is a city located in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and borders Winthrop, East Boston and Chelsea to the south, Everett and Malden to the west, Saugus and Lynn to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. ... Settled: 1626 â€“ Incorporated: 1626 Zip Code(s): 01970 â€“ Area Code(s): 351 / 978 Official website: http://www. ... Springfield MA skyline Nickname: City of Homes Official website: www. ... Settled: 1630 â€“ Incorporated: 1842 Zip Code(s): 02143 â€“ Area Code(s): 617 / 857 Official website: http://www. ... The Town of Southbridge is a city[1] in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Waltham on the banks of the Charles river Often called the true birthplace of the industrial revolution, Waltham is a city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. ... Seal of Watertown, MA Browne House. ... The Town of West Springfield is a city[1] located in Hampden County, Massachusetts. ... Nickname: The Whip City Founded Incorporated May 19, 1669   County Hampden County Mayor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. ... Settled: 1630 â€“ Incorporated: 1635 Zip Code(s): 02189 â€“ Area Code(s): 339 / 781 Official website: http://www. ... Benjamin Thompson House, Woburn, Massachusetts. ... Nickname: The Heart of the Commonwealth, The City of the Seven Hills, Wormtown, Woo-town, Wortown (war-town), The City of Diners, Paris of the Eighties Settled: 1673 â€“ Incorporated: 1684 Zip Code(s): 01608 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ...

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