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Worcester & Worcester Common

By Zelotes W. Coombs, A.M., D.Sc.

The writer of this most excellent monograph on Worcester and Worcester Common is an outstanding citizen of Worcester, and one of the best versed in its local history. Born in Wrentham, Massachusetts, Dr. Coombs has been a resident of this city since 1871, and a student in its public schools graduating from its high school in the class of 1884 as valedictorian. He is a graduate of Amherst College, Class of 1888, later obtaining the degree of Master of Arts from his Alma Mater in 1895. For a year after graduating from college, he was instructor at the University of Virginia, and from 1890 to 1937 was connected with Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the various capacities of instructor, professor, dean and secretary of the facility. During this period on two different occasions he took courses of study in both Berlin and Paris. In 1943 the honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred on him by Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

During all these years of active teaching, and since his retirement in 1937, Dr. Coombs has been most active in civic matters in his city, serving as trustee of the Worcester Public Library, as member of the School Committee, delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, and more recently as a member and secretary of a Local Selective Service Board. In addition, he as been affiliated with various local, state and national organizations of a diversified nature, and is president emeritus of the Worcester Historical Society.

One of his greatest interests in life has been the local history of his community, and he has delved exhaustively into every source available to obtain all the information possible on the subject. Dr. Coombs has also been in great demand as a speaker on various aspects of Worcester local history, and has been most generous in his response to these appeals.

The designation of Dr. Coombs by the Worcester city government to write this brief story of Worcester and its Common was therefore most natural and exceedingly fitting, and the scholarship and historical background indicated in the subject matter furnish indubitable proof of his preeminent qualifications for the assignment.

George R. Stobbs
President
Worcester Historical Society

Settlement & Early History

The settlement of what was to become Massachusetts began with the coming of the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620, and with the foundation of that colony. From this small beginning there was steady progress in colonization along the coast, later inland. The date of the settlement of Boston may be set at 1630, although smaller efforts are noted even before this date, as at Charlestown, Winthrop, Salem and various other points. Naturally the seacoast attracted those pioneers, communication by sea with the mother country still being of paramount importance. Moreover the sea fisheries held the highest value to those hardy settlers as sources of food.

As time went on, however, advances into the interior were bound to come. Agriculture, the cultivation of the soil, had always been an important factor in the lives of our English ancestors, and the appeal along this line was still strong and must be met. Progress into the interior of the new country was slow, partly, of course, because of the crude methods of transportation, even more because of the ever-present danger of attacks by Indians, who resented this incursion into their territory. As time went on this Indian menace was most effectually overcome although at the cost of much blood and suffering. Then the tide of immigration into the interior set most strongly, gaining a momentum which did not end until the inland country was dotted with small hamlets, some destined to remain small, others destined, equally, to become cities of considerable size.

As one travels into the interior of the state from the seacoast, it is interesting to note a few of these earlier settlements. Concord, in Middlesex County, was the first to be occupied inland, dating from 1635. Sudbury, on the way to what was to become Worcester, also in Middlesex County, was settled in 1639. Like so many of those inland villages it suffered terribly in King Philip's War, in April, 1676, Captain Wadsworth and his little band, being entirely destroyed in the famous Sudbury fight. Still further on the Worcester road comes Marlborough, also in Middlesex County, dating from 1666. Shrewsbury is of more recent date, 1717 marking its beginning. It is in Worcester County and was founded by settlers from Marlborough. And in Worcester County there were several towns antedating Worcester in settlement, for many years surpassing it in population, in importance, and seemingly destined to outstrip far in course of time this insignificant plantation by the great pond, Quinsigamond, which was ultimately to become the county seat and surpass them all.

What were these several towns? Four may be mentioned. They were Lancaster, incorporated in 1653; Brookfield dating from 1660; Mendon, dating from 1667; and Oxford, from 1683. Oxford, to be sure, was not settled until nine years after the first and unsuccessful attempt at what was to be Worcester, in 1674, but it attained permanence a third of a century before the final colonization of Worcester in 1713.

The first attempt to plant a colony near the great pond, Quinsigamond, was, as noted above, 1674. Many factors lured the settlers, the great lake itself, the smiling country with promise of fertile fields, the many streams meandering through forest and plain, evidence of good irrigation to say nothing of possible water power. This attempt was destined to come to naught, the most potent reason for this failure lying in the threat of King Philip's War, which did break out with full violence the following year.

Curiously, even at that early date, the title to the grant of land that was to be taken up by these first settlers, in 1674, was somewhat clouded. A young man from Sudbury, Ephraim Curtis, had, some time previously, purchased a tract of land near the great lake from the heirs of a certain Ensign Noyes, who seems to have gained title to this property. Curtis had built himself a dwelling on this tract, had improved the land, and had occupied his possession, for some time before the coming of the settlers in 1674. His property is described in the old records as "on the Connecticut Road, to the west of the head of Lake Quinsigamond." Curtis had led a hermit's life during those early years, but he was a resolute man and later distinguished himself in the wars with the Indians and in many other ways as a man of daring and unusual ability. The matter of the title was ultimately cleared up, and the settlers who came in 1674 had no more difficulty in regard to their right to occupy. Other factors were too powerful, however, and the effort failed.

A second attempt was made to settle the same grant, in 1684, but this attempt also failed, the Indian menace still being strong. Nevertheless two facts in connection with this second attempt are of more than passing interest. The name applied to the first attempted settlement was Quinsigamond Plantation, but with the second attempt, for some reason or other, the name Worcester was given, or was adopted by the pioneers themselves, and this name has clung ever since. Worcester was, of course, the last battle fought and won by Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, and we may well believe that the tradition of this battle was still strong among those hardy Englishmen whose fathers and grandfathers, who, possibly, themselves, had taken part in this final struggle, fought as recently as September, 1651. Moreover, with this second attempt came the beginning, in a most humble way, of that industrial growth and development which has marked Worcester through the years of its existence. Captain John Wing, a hardy mariner, was given permission by the authorities of the settlement, to erect a saw and grist mill on the small stream that flowed through the area marked out for settlement, not far from the present Lincoln Square. In early times the brook bore the name Bimeleck, but later generations have known it as Mill Brook, an insignificant watercourse in comparison with the larger rivers of New England but a mighty factor in the industrial growth of Worcester in course of time. The dual nature of the mill erected by Captain Wing was necessary in those early days, the erection of the rude structures and the grinding of the crops establishing need.

Although the second attempt to colonize what was to be Worcester was a failure, the organization that fostered this attempt seems to have been continued even after all possibility of success had vanished. We do not know exactly when the settlers left, but we do know that one brave, although reckless, settler, who had improved a farm on Sagatabscot, now Union Hill, refused to leave in spite of increasing menace from the Indians. This was Digory Serjent. Queen Anne's War was now raging, and the outlying settlements were a constant prey to the wandering savages. Serjent had built his house and farm buildings, had improved a fair piece of land in the wilderness, and refused to leave. He was repeatedly warned, and finally, in the early winter of 1702-3, a file of soldiers under Captain Howe, was sent from Marlborough, to remove him and his family by force if necessary. Pitching their camp a few miles from Serjent's habitation, the following morning they reached the farm and found the door of the house broken down and Serjent dead on the floor, in his own blood. Wife and children and disappeared.

Months later the story of the attack and murder was revealed by one of the party of marauding Indians. It seems that this group of marauders had made the attack a few hours before the arrival of the soldiers. Serjent had bravely defended himself but had had no chance against the assailants, and fell at once. Wife and children had been carried off to Canada. On the way, passing over the Tatnuck hills, the wife, not in good health, was unable to keep up with the others. A savage stepping up behind her, cleft her skull with his tomahawk, and the body of the poor woman was left lying there. The children went to Canada with their captors. Two of these children became enamored with this wild life and remained in Canada. The others returned to Massachusetts, one daughter marrying a man named Daniel Shattuck, and, with her husband, occupying the farm developed by her father.

With the third and successful attempt at settlement, the name of Jonas Rice is indissolubly connected. He had taken part in the second attempt in 1684. He returned in October, 1713, built on Sagatabscot Hill, occupying some of the lane that he had previously cultivated. He remained with his family quite alone in the forest until other settlers came in the spring of 1715. Mr. Rice was a leader in many civic undertakings, was repeatedly elected to local and provincial offices, and proved himself a worthy pioneer in this unpretentious settlement which was to become our present prosperous city. Moreover he was the father of the first male child to be born in Worcester, Adonijah Rice, born November 7, 1714. From these ancestors have come many of the name of Rice, an honored name, in this part of the country as well as far more widely.

As has been noted, the third effort at settlement was successful and the Worcester of today really dates from 1713, when the small band of hardy pioneers established their homes at the north end of modern Worcester, along Mill Brook, also following the line of the rude path that led to Boston and the seacoast settlements, a path that, to the west, led to the outposts along the Connecticut River.

The Erection of Worcester County

It may seem odd that Worcester soon outstripped the four towns in what was to become Worcester County noted above, that antedated its foundation, that had already attained some standing in population and in general importance. These towns, and embryo Worcester, were all in Middlesex County when they were established, and it was not until 1731 that Worcester County was erected. But with this new county the central location of Worcester was bound to be a determining factor, as it proved to be. This central location determined the county seat in preference to any one of the older communities, and, as county seat, Worcester was the center where the courts met, where the county buildings, jail, various registration offices, etc., were located, in fact, a real center to which different lines of business would come, which would naturally be the site of taverns, which would equally become a center of transportation where stagecoach lines would meet, whither citizens from all parts not only of the county but of the state would resort for endless purposes. Growth in population was bound to result, as was actually the case. By the year 1720 the population was between 200 and 300 souls. In 1763 it had risen to 1,478; in 1800 to 2,411; and in 1820, a full century and more after the foundation, the population was 2,962. Growth during the next hundred years was rapid, population being 118,421 in 1900, and by no means stopping then, since the next four decades saw the population almost doubled. Certainly this growth in population as well as the constantly increasing importance of the city in many ways is phenomenal, when we consider the almost total lack of natural resources which would seem to foretell and justify such increase.

Ecclesiastical History

The founders of what was to become Worcester were a God-fearing people, devoted to their church, which we today would characterize as Congregational. Their first rude church building was erected on what we today call Franklin Street, not far from the Green. This was in 1719. In 1763 this first structure was succeeded by a much more elaborate building on the Common, which will be discussed in detail later in this sketch. The other denominations came in the course of time, the Unitarian in 1785, the Baptist in 1812, the Roman Catholic in 1834, the Methodist Episcopal in 1834, the Protestant Episcopal in 1835, the Universalist in 1841, and others as time went on. Today, naturally, the number of church edifices under the various forms of religious belief is very large, and new structures are frequently added. Certainly the religious needs of the city have been well taken care of. The ecclesiastical history of Worcester is of more than passing interest, the people of the city having been swayed by and having participated in so many of the religious movements that have swept state and nation.

Transportation: Highways, Blackstone Canal, Railroads

Transportation has always been, and is today, a most important matter. The growth and development of many cities, of many sections of the country, have been dependent upon this factor, nor has Worcester been an exception. In earlier times roads were poor, in winter often impassable. The traveler must needs proceed by whatever conveyance was available, by the horsedrawn vehicle if that could be obtained, on horseback, not infrequently on foot. The first organized system of transportation came to Worcester in 1783, when two soldiers from the Revolution, Capt. Levi Pease and Capt. Reuben Sikes, established a line of stagecoaches from Boston to Hartford. The journey took four days. This line was the beginning of a very extensive system of stagecoaches which covered the entire eastern section of the new nation. By the year 1826 Worcester had become the starting point or the stopping place of more than a score of stagecoach lines, and this fact contributed not a little to its growth in every way and to its importance. Taverns were necessitated by this growing travel, and Worcester early possessed a considerable number, some of which became famous throughout the growing nation, not a few men of note enjoying their hospitality and carrying their reputation abroad.

With the coming of the stagecoach lines came an emphasized demand for better roads. And this demand was met, slowly at first, but surely, roads in every direction being improved, naturally the important through highways first. One development of this demand for better roads was manifested in the introduction of the turnpike. From Worcester, in 1806, the Stafford Turnpike, to Stafford, in Connecticut, was opened, Stafford Street, in Worcester retaining a memory of this undertaking. This same year, 1806, saw the incorporation of the Boston-Worcester Turnpike, which was opened two years later. While these turnpikes rarely proved profitable to their sponsors, they set a form of road construction well worth following, a form widely copied and contributing to the general development and improvement of the highways throughout the new nation. The engineers who planned these turnpikes had one rather eccentric theory: They laid out their routes as far as possible in absolutely straight lines, over lofty hills, in many instances where a slight deviation from the absolutely straight would have saved expense and would have rendered the roads themselves far more passable. Any old turnpike that has kept its form today will demonstrate this fact. Nevertheless, these turnpikes did produce results in the general diffusion of ideas as to highway construction, as to the importance of improvements from every point of view, hence a betterment of roads everywhere. And indeed, such betterment, with the growth of the nation, was a crying need.

A step of vast importance in transportation facilities for Worcester was the opening of the Blackstone Canal, in 1828, from Worcester to providence. The cost of the Canal was $750,000 and it was a failure financially. It ended its existence in 1848, but it had brought great advantages to Worcester, a real port of entry during its life. It made possible the transportation of heavy articles from tidewater to Worcester, articles that the crude highways and equally crude wagons of that day could never have handled, heavy machinery, etc. Many causes contributed to the final failure of the Canal, lack of water, the winter period, when it was frozen over for three or four months, hence unusable, but, without doubt, the one great reason why the Canal should be given up was the coming of the railroads. And here it may be mentioned, that the head basin of the Canal was never at Lincoln Square, this basin being between Central and Thomas Streets, where the boats ended their voyage from Providence and tied up, awaiting a cargo of Worcester products to transport to tidewater, thence, possibly, all over the world.

The first railroad to enter Worcester was the Boston & Worcester, opened in 1835, its terminus at the old Foster Street Station, approximately at the corner of Foster and Norwich Streets. The Western Railroad, from Worcester to Springfield, was completed in 1839, six hours being required for the trip. Its station was at Washington Square. The Norwich & Worcester Railroad began operations in 1840, its station being at Foster Street, with the Boston & Worcester road. The Providence & Worcester Railroad came in 1847, and for a time it shared the Foster Street Station with the other two roads, but some question arising as to the use of a turntable, it built its own station on Green Street. The Worcester & Nashua Railroad began operations in 1848, its station being located in Lincoln Square. The last railroad to enter Worcester was the Boston, Barre & Gardner, soon to be consolidated with the Fitchburg system, ultimately to be incorporated in the Boston & Maine system. It utilized the Worcester & Nashua Station, at Lincoln Square. As time went on, these smaller units were incorporated in several systems, the Boston & Worcester, together with the Western, into the New York Central; the Norwich & Worcester and the Providence & Worcester into the New Haven; and the Worcester & Nashua and the Boston, Barre & Gardner, into the Boston & Maine. Even before these several consolidations were effected, the railroads had been brought together as to their stations, in 1875, into the Old Union Station, this to be succeeded, in 1910, by the present union Station.

As to local transportation, a street railway began operations on Main Street, in 1861, followed in succeeding years by branch lines to every section. At first horses were the motive power, followed by electricity, and, within very recent times, omnibuses have taken the place of many of the electricity-driven cars, with prospect of omnibuses ultimately displacing the electric cars everywhere. Moreover a similar course has been followed with respect to the suburban electric lines that furrowed the county in every direction. All have yielded to the gasoline-driven omnibus, but most of these suburban lines still maintain their locations, and render their service under these changed conditions, all contributing in many ways to the growth of Worcester as a great center.

The Growth of Industry

The coming of the railroads and their contribution to the healthy growth and development of Worcester were contemporaneous with the growth and development of industry in the city, as it became in 1848. Industry and its leaders had already begun to appreciate the importance of the growing settlement as a site for manufacturing plants, as well as a wonderfully fine center from which to ship the manufactured products all over the world, while many raw materials found ready access.

The founders of Worcester were essentially an agricultural people, and we may well believe that from earliest times every tillable spot within its limits was improved. Moreover from the very beginnings of the attempt at settlement, the site selected seemed to offer few if any opportunities for industry, let alone industrial expansion. In those early days water power was the prime mover, and, while area chosen did possess several small streams, these streams held little promise of sufficient power to warrant industrial growth. To be sure, these small streams were utilized from that day in 1684, when Capt. John Wing, throwing his dam across Mill, or Bimeleck, Brook, erected his crude grist and saw mill. Dams were thrown across every stream - Tatnuck Brook, Kettle Brook, Mill Brook at many points, even little Beaver Brook, and it each mill pond thus created arose one or more factories, textile, woodworking, for machine tools of every description. And soon, as the water power became inadequate, the water in the streams went to supply the steam boilers, the later sources of power, themselves to be supplemented or supplanted by the electric power, transmitted by cables from sources far distant.

In spite of the lack of water power in Worcester, industry began to flourish at an early date, and, in course of time, made the city a great industrial center, as it has continued to be to this day. Earliest among the elementary industries was the manufacture of potash, about the year 1760. Spinning and weaving in simplest form followed soon, hand looms being employed first, to be followed by the crude power looms. Isaiah Thomas, famous for his Massachusetts Spy, needing paper for his publication, built a paper mill at Quinsigamond Village, on the Blackstone, in 1794, and this mill was in operation until 1834. Carpets and plaids were woven as early as 1804, and a card factory had been established in 1798. Tower and church bells were produced at an early date, and those manufactured by Abel Stowell gained a wide reputation. As time went on, every ounce of water power produced by the several dams on the various streams, was utilized to the limit. These dams were thrown across the streams at diminishing intervals, the landscape ultimately being dotted with millponds, many of which still remain although the great majority are but memories. Mill Brook, flowing directly through the city, furnished the greatest amount of power, and had the largest number of milldams and ponds. Today it is difficult to realize this fact, the stream itself having long since disappeared, forming at present a most important element in the city sewer system. But the number and the variety of manufactures steadily increased, by the middle of the century including textile mills producing varied fabrics, wire mills, shops manufacturing every kind of wire, all sorts of machine tools, lathes, planers, drills, etc., woodworking machinery, and the products of these machines, doors, sashes, blinds, etc., lead pipe, furniture, brushes, trunks, harness, ploughs, firearms, wrenches, watches, umbrellas, pianos, cabinet organs, and an almost endless variety of other articles small and large. Moreover there were several foundries, and, as the railroads gained prominence, at least one famous manufactory of railway cars. And the progress marked a century ago has been consistently maintained to the present time, amount and variety of manufactured articles having been increased along many lines.

In the field of industry, too much emphasis cannot be placed on the labors and influence of Ichabod Washburn, founder of the great wire mills at Quinsigamond Village, also at Lincoln Square, the so-called North and South Works, later to be known as the Washburn and Moen plants, later still to be absorbed by the American Steel & Wire Company, ultimately to become an integral part of the United States Steel Corporation. And many of the great industrial plants of modern Worcester had their inception in the small undertakings of individuals as, for instance, the Norton Company, the Wyman-Gordon Company, the Crompton & Knowles Company, and many others. This fact is a tribute to the inventive genius and to the organization and development ability of our Worcester citizens.

Financial Institutions

A natural result, or rather accompaniment, of the industrial growth and development of the city, was the coming of financial institutions, aiding and supplementing the industrial undertakings. The Worcester National Bank was chartered in 1804. It was followed by several other banks of discount. The Worcester County Institution for Savings was incorporated in 1828, likewise to be followed by other savings banks. The Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance Company dates from 1823, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company from 1844, and these were but the forerunners of similar organizations that cooperated with the industrial leaders who needed such organizations to assist them in the practical applications of their genius and initiative.

Municipal Government; Education

With the incorporation of the town as a city, in 1848, came, naturally, the change in the form of municipal government, from the former town method, with selectmen and other town officials, to the mayor, board of aldermen, and common council, the form that still obtains, although with some modifications. But with this new form of municipal administration, the cause of education was by no means neglected. The common public school had come with the very beginnings of the settlement. Later a natural development, came the high school, the city possessing four of these schools at the present time, and a great number of graded schools in all parts of the city. There is a Boys' Trade School, and a Girls' Trade School. Moreover higher education has not been neglected. During the last century, the Oread Institute for Women, attained a high renown. The College of the Holy Cross was established in 1843. The Worcester County Free institute of Industrial Science, later the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, dates from 1868, Clark University from 1887. The Old State Normal School, subsequently to be known as the State Teachers College, was established by Act of the Legislature, 1871. It was opened in 1874. In 1921, a four year course was introduced into this institution; it assumed the name by which it is now known, and, in 1932, occupied its new buildings on May Street. Other educational institutions of nation-wide repute, are Worcester Academy, still functioning, and Highland Military Academy, famous in the last century, now given up, looked upon in preparing officers for the Civil War almost as a second West Point.

Cultural Institutions

Worcester may boast other institutions worthy of note. The Worcester Art Museum, one of the outstanding museums of the country, the gift of the late Stephen Salisbury, was opened in 1898. The splendid Auditorium was dedicated in 1933, and the city possesses many other fine structures - the Post Office, the Court House, Horticultural Hall, to mention only a few. Many of the church edifices too are of architectural beauty and interest, and this holds true of many of the college buildings in the city. Nor is Worcester without numerous organizations whose purpose is to foster various lines of research, the American Antiquarian Society, with its fine building on Park Avenue, the Natural History Society, the Worcester Historical Society, and many others, all indicating intellectual progress and a strong tendency toward the strong cultivation of the higher things of life. Nor should we forget the Worcester Free Public Library, a most valuable asset in the intellectual progress of the city, a pioneer in many phases of library economy and administration, methods that have been copied far and wide.

Health & Sanitation

With the incorporation as a city, naturally more attention was paid to sanitary conditions and the health of the citizens. A Board of Health was organized and has functioned ever since, and effectively. A hospital for the insane had been established as early as 1830, the City Hospital dating from 1872, to be followed by many more, Memorial, St. Vincent's, Fairlawn and smaller hospitals, all doing splendid work and making the city a safe place to dwell in from the sanitary point of view.

Military History

From the very beginning Worcester has had a glorious military history. Its men have taken part in practically every struggle, from the intermittent wars with the Indians in early days, in the French and Indian War, the War of the Revolution, when men from Worcester hastened to Concord on learning of the fight there, and they were in practically every battle of that struggle, even at Yorktown, Many of those who went out as privates came back as commissioned officers. Neither the War of 1812 nor the Mexican War made a strong appeal to the North, hence Worcester sent comparatively few representatives to these struggles but there were some at least. But in the Civil War, in the Spanish-American War, and in the two World Wars Worcester has done more than its part. Worcester men were in the blood affray in the streets of Baltimore on April 1861, and they were in every important engagement until Appomattox. So, too, Worcester men were in the forefront of the later wars and have made distinguished records. The military spirit has always been strong in the city, its militia companies have always been recruited to the limit, and the fine State Armory, erected in 1892, at Armory Square, has for years supplied an adequate training place where the young enthusiasts have been able to prepare themselves for the call that has come so often.

Famous Men & Women

Many men and women of national, and even international, renown have been born in Worcester, have resided here for a time, or have had intimate connection with the city and with its people. To mention a few: Dorothea Dix, famed for her work in the fields of mercy and health improvement, was born in Worcester. Clara Barton, famed for her activities on the battlefields of the Civil War, was born in the neighboring town of Oxford, but was closely identified with Worcester during her life. The famous historian George Bancroft, was born here. Senator George F. Hoar, born in Concord, Massachusetts, made Worcester his home for more than half a century, although much of this period saw him in Washington; John B. Gough, the temperance advocate, spent much of his life in Worcester and lectured here many times. Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, commander of a Negro regiment in the Civil War, author and literary man of international reputation, was pastor of the Free Church in Worcester for several years. Edward Everett Hale, for years Chaplain of the United States Senate, was minister of the Church of the Unity here, the church that Senator Hoar attended. And many others might be mentioned.

Worcester's history is an interesting one. An inland town, without natural resources, it has attained a population of more than 200,000, has gained an enviable reputation as an industrial center, has endeavored to grow in intellectual and artistic fields, and has marked progress along many lines. May we believe that this growth has been due to the spirit of its people who, like the founders, have been willing to dare, to overcome difficulties of every nature, to progress?

Worcester Common

The handful of colonists who made the second attempt at a settlement near the great lake, Quinsigamond Plantation, it had been called at the first attempt, in 1674, now, in 1684, set apart a tract of some twenty acres, level ground, primarily as a training field for the embryo militia. Moreover in those early days every man was a soldier. The settlement itself, Worcester as it was to be named with this second attempt, was approximately at what we call Lincoln Square, on Mill, or Bimeleck, Brook, some of the rude dwellings following the path that led to Boston and the settlements on the Bay, or Lincoln Street of today. Neither the first nor the second attempt was to succeed, hostile Indians making success impossible.

The tract set apart in 1684 probably never quite reached the twenty-acre limit, and, as time went on, this original grant was diminished in various ways. After the third and successful attempt, in 1713, highways were laid out across the tract, diagonally, and these highways were in use for many years. Then, too, lots were granted to individuals for the construction of dwellings and barns, or for other purposes. Thus the original tract of approximately twenty acres was, by degrees, reduced to some five acres, its present area, if we include the site of the present City Hall. And this is the Worcester Common.

The diagonally-located highways across the Common were in constant use. Cement walks now follow the lines of these older roadways. As early as 1730, a portion of the Common, at the Salem Square end, was set apart for a burial ground, and this burial ground was in use until 1824. In 1853 the City Council voted that the gravestones in the cemetery be laid flatwise over their respective graves, the inscriptions on the stones being carefully copied and preserved, and this was done. In the course of time all traces of the burying ground disappeared but today the bones of some three hundred of the early settlers still repose under the portion of the Common adjacent to Salem Square.

Buildings on the Common

With the growth of the town, buildings for general town purposes were constructed on the Common, the first church, the Meeting House, later referred to as the Old South, on the corner of Main and Franklin Street, Franklin previously known as Park Street, and Before that as South Street. The first church structure dated from 1719, was reconstructed in much more elaborate form in 1763, and stood on its original site until 1887, when the plans for the new City Hall necessitated its removal. Its new location was at the corner of Main and Wellington Street, where it stands today.

The first Town House was erected on the corner of Main and Front Streets in 1824, and it stood there until the opening of the new City Hall in 1898. Details of the planning and construction of the present City Hall appear on the plaque at the first-floor entrance to the building, these details to be noted later in this sketch. Adjoining the burying ground noted above was a small building in which the town hearse was kept. Close by this hearse house was a structure containing the primitive fire-fighting apparatus of the town. A schoolhouse stood at the corner of Front Street and Salem Square and what is now Franklin Street. These houses were erected at an early date. The Town Pound, for stray animals, stood near this second schoolhouse.

The Monuments on the Common

The two pretentious monuments on the Common are of especial interest. The Colonel Timothy Bigelow monument, near the center of the Common, was the gift of Colonel Timothy Bigelow Lawrence, grandson of that sturdy patriot so active in the cause of the patriots. It was dedicated with impressive ceremonies, April 19, 1861, at the very moment when Worcester soldiers, in the famous Sixth Massachusetts Regiment, on their way to the front at the outbreak of the Civil War, were being attacked by the Baltimore mob.

The inscription on the Timothy Bigelow Monument read as follows:

TIMOTHY BIGELOW
Born August 12, 1739 - Died March 31, 1790
In Memory of the Colonel of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment
Of the Continental Army.
In the War of Independence.
This Monument
Is erected by his Great Grandson Timothy Bigelow Lawrence
Anno Domini 1861

Quebec
Monmouth
Saratoga

Verplanck's Point
Valley Forge
Yorktown

A plaque on the ornamental fence carries the following inscription:

Near this spot are buried these soldiers of the American Revolution.
Samuel Brown
Robert Smith
John Mahan
Abel Flagg
Phinehas Flagg
William Treadwell
Ebenezer Lovell

The Soldiers' Monument, a memorial to Civil War heroes, was dedicated July 15, 1874. Its erection was made possible partly through an appropriation from the City Government; partly by private subscription. The Citizens' Committee responsible for this private subscription was headed by Mr. George Crompton, a leading industrialist of that time. The designer of the monument was the famous sculptor, Randolph Rogers, who left an appropriate memorial of Mr. Crompton in the figure of the sailor on the monument, one of the four depicting various arms of the service.

The plaques and inscriptions on the Soldiers' Monument are as follows:

Four Plaques with the names of Worcester men who died for the unity Of the Republic, of the 2nd, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 20th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 31st, 32nd, 24th, 36th, 42nd, 49th, 50th, 51st, 54th, 57th, 58th, 59th, 61st, 62nd, Regiments. 1st Cavalry, 2nd Cavalry, 2nd Heavy Artillery, 4th Heavy Artillery, 1st Battery, 7th Battery. And names of Worcester men who had died while serving in out-of-state Regiments.

Plaque with the inscription: Erected by the people of Worcester in memory of her sons who died for the unity of the Republic AD 1861-1865

Plaque of Abe Lincoln.
Plaque of Seal of Worcester.
Plaque of Seal of Massachusetts.
Plaque of U. S. Eagle.
Plaque with wreath and two swords.
Plaque of soldiers receiving first aid.

The Railroad Across the Common

The Old Norwich & Worcester Railroad began operations in 1840, and for many years its tracks ran across the Common, following the line of what is usually known as the Mall, immediately in the rear of the City Hall. The first Union Station was opened in Worcester in 1875, still standing at Washington Square. The Norwich & Worcester road entered this Union Station, the tracks across the Common therefore being removed. The former terminus of this railroad had been in the Foster Street Station, which it shared with the Boston & Worcester Railroad. Incidentally the Providence & Worcester Railroad, which was opened in 1847, also used the Foster Street Station as its terminus for a time after it began operations, its tracks running across the Common. Shortly it opened its own passenger and freight terminus, on Green Street, thus relinquishing its right-of-way across the Common.

The Common a Training Field

From earliest times the Common served as a training field for the militia of the town, and even of the county. And when actual hostilities broke out, calling for men to enter active service, the Common was a hive of industry, military drill and evolutions occupying this historic site at all hours of the day and evening. In every war, from the first conflicts with the Indians, down through the more pretentious conflicts, the French and Indian War, the War of the Revolution, the Civil War, and the two World Wars, the Common played its part and witnessed the drilling and parading of the many contingents, cheered by their admiring, or sorrowing, friends and relatives, as the troops were starting for the front. Moreover the Common was a favorite meeting place of numerous gatherings, political and other, and here on June 28, 1848, was held the great mass meeting at which was organized the Free Soil Party, the first step, possibly, in the abolition of slavery throughout the nation.

Worcester’s Halls

The growing town lacked sizable halls for the meetings now numerous and growing in size. The Town Hall, noted above, erected in 1824, became the City Hall with the incorporation of Worcester as a city in 1848. This old Town Hall contained the largest auditorium in the community, with the exception of the Old South Meeting House, and of other church buildings that were erected from time to time. Mechanics Hall was constructed in 1854, and supplied a long-felt want. It was in constant use and for every variety of purpose, welcoming the appearance of famous orators, singers, performers on musical instruments, on the great organ in the Hall, in fact, the celebrities of the day. Here Daniel Webster spoke, as did Charles Sumner; Jenny Lind sang, John B. Gough took the pledge and many times thereafter emphasized his abhorrence of liquor in any form. As noted above, prior to the coming of Mechanics Hall, the Town Hall, with its inadequate auditorium, also the Old South Church, sufficed for the various indoor gatherings, although the Common from earliest times welcomed great outdoor mass meetings.

The Star on the Sidewalk

Fixed on the sidewalk in front of City Hall is a brass star, indicating the spot on which was first read publicly, in New England, the Declaration of Independence. This was on July 14, 1776. A copy of the immortal document was being forwarded to Boston, by special messenger, from Philadelphia. The messenger paused in Worcester for rest and refreshment, and that stout old patriot, Isaiah Thomas, read the Declaration from the western porch of the Old South Church, the Meeting House, as it was still called. The star marks the exact spot, although the church building, and its porch, were removed many years ago.

The Memorials on the Common

On the northwest corner of Front and Main Streets, from the City Hall, stands the life sized statue of George Frisbie Hoar, for many years a Senator from Massachusetts. Born in Concord, in this state, in 1826, Mr. Hoar died in Worcester, September 30, 1904. This statue was executed by Daniel Chester French, and was dedicated June 26, 1908, in the presence of a vast gathering. Mayor James Logan presided at the dedication. Invocation and benediction were pronounced by Rev. Edward Everett Hale, former pastor of the Church of the Unity, which Senator had attended, and at that time Chaplain of the Senate. He had been a lifelong friend of Senator Hoar. Incidentally, it is of interest that Daniel Chester French, who designed the statue of Senator Hoar, was the designer of the statue of General Charles Devens which stands in front of the County Court House at Lincoln Square. General Devens had, in earlier years, been the law partner of Senator Hoar. Although born in Concord, Massachusetts, Senator Hoar had made Worcester his home for more than half a century. He had served in he Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1852; in the Massachusetts Senate in 1857, in the National House of Representatives from 1869 to 1877, and in the National Senate from 1877 until his death in 1904.

At the Salem Square end of the Common is the Burnside Memorial Fountain erected in 1918. Money for this memorial was supplied by Miss Harriet P. F. Burnside through a bequest in her will, She died in 1904. The fountain is in memory of her father, a prominent Worcester lawyer. The Commission for the execution of this Memorial had been offered to Daniel Chester French, the famous designer of the Minute Man in Concord, Massachusetts, also of the Senator Hoar and General Devens statues noted above. Pressure of other engagements, however, compelled Mr. French to decline this commission but he did supervise the work, the design having been drawn by Henry Bacon, the famous sculptor who planned the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The City Hall & Its Memorials

The City Hall occupies approximately the site of the former Meeting House, usually referred to as the Old South Church. The cornerstone of the City Hall was laid September 12, 1896, and dedication exercises were held April 28, 1898. The building was occupied May 1, 1898. It is 219 feet long, 85 feet wide, with height from grade to the top of the cornice, 65 feet, to the top of the tower, 205 feet. The cost of the building and of its furnishings was $650,000. The building was designed by Peabody and Stearns, architects, of Boston; the builders, Norcross Brothers, of Worcester.

On the pillar north of the City Hall entrance, is the bronze Bicentennial Plaque, bearing the profile of President Washington, with the inscription:

This Tablet Marks
The
George
Washington
Memorial
Highway
At
Worcester
1732 -1932

This tablet was dedicated June 9, 1932, in connection with the state-wide celebration of the visit to Massachusetts by General Washington when he was President.

On the first floor, at the entrance, is a plaque telling of the order adopted for the construction of the City Hall, November 13, 1895, also the names of the City Hall Commission, of the architects, of the two mayors at approximately that time, giving also other details, the names of the construction builders, etc.

As already noted, the star in the sidewalk in front of the City Hall indicates the spot on which the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly in New England, the reader that stout old patriot-printer, Isaiah Thomas, who stood on the western porch of the Meeting House, the Old South Church.

In front of the City Hall are four plaques in honor of the four companies that served from Worcester in the Spanish-American War. These plaques tell their own story, as do many of the plaques and tablets in the building.

On the first floor, at the entrance, in the corridor, is a plaque stating the dates of the erection of the first house of worship, in 1719, the rebuilding in 1763 of this original meeting house, the final destruction and removal of the church in 1887, this to make was for the coming of the City Hall. On the first floor, at the main stairway, is a plaque commemorating the destruction of the U.S.S. "Maine," in Havana Harbor, February 15, 1898, the event that precipitated the Spanish-American War. This plaque was cast from metal recovered from the hull of the "Maine."

On the second floor, over the main stairway, are two suits of armor worn at the Battle of Worcester, England, September 3, 1651, presented to the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, November 6, 1908, by the city of Worcester, England.

In this second floor corridor are preserved the flags of the 15th Regiment, of the 21st, of the 25th, of the 34th, of the 51st, and the 57th, all of Worcester or Worcester County Regiments and famous for their records in the Civil War. Also here may be seen three flags taken at the Battle of New Berne, March 14, 1862, and sent to Worcester by Captain Thomas O'Neil and his company, who were engaged in this battle.

On the west wall of the second floor corridor is a cast showing General Passacs, of the French Army, decorating the colors of the 104th Infantry, 26th Division, First American Unit to be cited, in the First World War. On this west wall of the second floor corridor is a purple flag with 325 gold stars, representing, by a star, every lad from Worcester who died in World War I. This banner was presented to the city by the Gold Star Mothers.

Also on the west wall of the second floor corridor is a plaque of Orlando Whitney Norcross, master builder, who built the City Hall. Born October 25, 1839, Mr. Norcross died February 27, 1920. He was a Civil War veteran.

In various rooms on the second floor of City Hall are articles of interest as follows:

In Room 27, the trowel used in laying the cornerstone of the Hall, September 12, 1896, presented to the City Hall Commission. The names of the members of the Commission appear on the plaque at the main entrance to the Hall.

In Room 27 is also the plaque of the Worcester Bridge, opened October 28, 1932, by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, this plaque having been presented "to our sister city of Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A., a token of our common citizenship from the Youth Group, League of Nations Union, Worcester England Branch, September 27, 1933."

In Room 27 is also the bust of Hon. Charles Allen, a famous resident of Worcester in the last century. Born in Worcester in 1797, he died in 1868, having served as a Representative and Senator in the State Legislature, as a Representative in the National Congress, ultimately Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. For many years he was the leader of the bar in this section of the state, a man of national reputation in civic affairs.

Also in Room 27 is placed a framed resolution adopted in the Common Council of Worcester, England, expressing pleasure and gratification at the resolution adopted by the Worcester, Massachusetts, City Council, and transmitted to the English body.

In many of the rooms of the City Hall are portraits of former mayors of city solicitors, and of other municipal officers of former years.

City Government
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