Sudbury History

History of Sudbury Part I – Introduction

The American way of life embodies a whole system of ideals and beliefs, a philosophy with high aspirations driven by a singular guiding spirit, though born of the wills of many. True democracy, free speech, a government for the people by the people, the free enterprise system: a land where every man has the same chance to be heard, to profit from his own ideas and deeds, to succeed – perhaps even to govern – regardless of bloodlines or caste… These wild dreams of a ragtag group of adventurers, outcasts, wayfarers and squatters have long outlived the men who dreamt them. In a sense they have taken on a life of their own, developing with age.

That living entity that is America is alive and well here in Sudbury, Massachusetts. The area where this great country of ours was conceived and raised centers within our town lines. Sudbury’s first settlers were America’s midwives and nursemaids, nurturing the infant with great personal sacrifice in the name of civic responsibility.

It is precisely this tradition of civic mindedness that helped make America what she is today. As the first rumblings of our fight for independence reached England, the ruling class scoffed at what they believed would be a feeble attempt from “…a nation of shopkeepers.” Sudbury’s role in that endeavor has a particularly rich history, and it is our duty to carry on with the advancement of those ideals, especially as “shopkeepers” and business people.

While at first glance the town of Sudbury retains much of the rustic flavor it had when the first settlers “moved to the suburbs,” we’ve come a long way from the rural community incorporated here in 1639. At that time, cattle outnumbered the original 100 residents by 3 to 1. They had come here in search of “a new plantation, upon the river which runs to Concord” chosen for its “straitness of accommodations and want of more meadow.”

The notion of a Chamber of Commerce would have seemed ludicrous to our founding fathers. And yet, after attending a recent Chamber meeting at the Wayside Inn, the old adage “. . . the more things change, the more they stay the same” came to mind. How similar we are to those early settlers. Of course, the issues have changed; most likely Sudbury’s colonial merchants would have met in a dire emergency, such as to forge a plan to defend their stores from the threat of King Philip’s bloodthirsty rampage. While this is hardly on a par with New England Telephone’s restructuring of the region’s area codes, one would have been hard pressed to hear much difference in the heartfelt rhetoric that prevailed at that recent meeting. While the specific problems may be relative to the times, the tradition of civic involvement forged here in Sudbury remains a constant. Through the sharing of individual viewpoints and knowledge within an organized group, we can be heard as one great voice and sometimes even prevail (despite this, Ma Bell ultimately proved a more formidable adversary than King Phillip and his lot).

It was with this spirit that Sudbury’s citizens and merchants instituted the Town Meeting form of government, probably the most direct and purest democratic system. Not 10 years after settling here, the town’s fathers had begun to develop not only a new community, but a new concept: government with the consent of the governed. Their insistence on the right of any citizen to choose his own governors and to be heard in open forum on any issue, did much to lay the foundation for today’s national system of democracy.

The Town Meeting has stood the test of time. Seemingly, every pivotal and major issue that affected or faced this country faced Sudbury first, and the townspeople dealt with each of these issues in town meeting. Some of the solutions they came up with formed the basic tenants of what was to become our constitution, bill of rights, national philosophy and legislature.

Important social and political issues such as the separation of church and state were fought here early on, and in fact the manner in which Sudbury dealt with this particular question was to have a profound influence on the whole of this country while still an infant. The tale of Reverend Brown vs. the town of Sudbury is the story of baby America first showing signs of having an individual identity and a mind of its own.

History of Sudbury, MA – Part II “We shall, or should, be judged by men of our own choosing.”

Sudbury’s earliest townspeople and merchants were not shy when it came to making their needs known, and the Town Meeting seems to have been created as the perfect vehicle for accomplishing that. The colonies were quickly becoming a very different place than mother England in more ways than mere geography could explain.

These differences must have become hard to swallow for the Reverend Edmund Brown, accustomed as he was to the power afforded him by the church in England, where “pastor” translated very closely to “mayor,” only with a degree of divine infallibility thrown in for good measure. Regardless of the fact that he was chosen as the town’s first pastor, or that he was the third signer on the petition to the General Court for the creation of Sudbury in 1638, or even that the town was probably so named in respect for his original English parish, these citizens intended their plot of land to be run in a very different manner from England’s highly organized parish/town governing system. In effect, the town meeting was not only to establish a new form of government, but consequently, a very different role for the church. To begin with, the pastor’s salary was paid from the town treasury. Births, deaths, and marriages were now to be recorded civilly. Once the first Town Clerk was appointed, Sudbury substituted an oath to the Town (instead of the church) as the formal requirement for citizenship. When the first church was built in 1642, it’s construction particulars were decided by the town. It was even referred to as the meetinghouse, as the structure was intended from the start to be used by the town for whatever purposes it saw fit.

If this wasn’t enough for the good reverend to endure, the next generation of townsmen to come of age were to test him to his limits. In 1649, when a large tract of land was granted to Sudbury, some felt that the traditional merit system of land division was unfair and insisted that this tract should be divided into equal shares for each citizen. John Rudduck spoke for the newest wave of settlers and what was now the second generation of Sudbury residents, a group even more independent and free thinking than their fathers. Unfortunately, the meeting hall wasn’t large enough to fit this growing segment of the population, and their voice, for a time, went unheeded. However, they were eventually able to make clear their need of a new, larger church/meetinghouse that would accommodate all. Much to the consternation of the Reverend, the conservative ruling party was outvoted by the enthusiastic support of the younger townspeople, and plans were drawn up to build the structure without so much as the pastor’s suggestions. This meetinghouse, incidentally, is the one pictured in the seal of the Sudbury Historical Society.

The final straw was cast when it was decided that the builders were to be paid in part with land usage, much of which was to come out of Reverend Brown’s ministerial lot. Once built, the conservatives were voted out of power, and the youth of Sudbury gained control of the Town Meetings.

In 1654, a frustrated Rev. Brown made his final stand, insisting on the divine power of the church over the citizens of Sudbury, and calling in a delegation of ministers from Cambridge, Watertown and Concord in an effort to enforce his rule. Solemnly assembled in Parmenter’s Tavern, the delegation was met by John Rudduck, now Town Selectman, and the issue of church and state separation was dispatched in short order. His words were sure and confident with a wisdom beyond his years.”We shall, or should, be judged by men of our own choosing.”

History of Sudbury, MA – Part III “A Nation of Shopkeepers”

The first businesses in town served the farming community, and some were begun and even funded and administrated by the town. For instance, a town ferry to facilitate Sudbury River crossings from the eastern section of town to the west was run by Thomas Noyes in 1642. He was authorized to charge a fare for this service until the first bridge was built a year later. In 1646, the first blacksmith was brought to the town by committee. He was paid in firewood, timber rights to build a house and shop, and 6 acres of meadowlands on the west side of the river. As Sudbury grew and prospered, this led in time to a number of smiths operating in the bustling town, providing apprenticeships for some of the boys and a sort of gathering place for the townsmen. In this way, commerce and civic responsibility came to be linked from the town’s inception. As far as the business of entertainment was concerned, Thomas Walker held the only liquor license in Sudbury since its incorporation. As this was one of the very few issued in all of Middlesex county, the Wayside Inn, then known as How’s Tavern, was technically illegal until 1692. It was not until then that their liquor license was acquired, reassigned by the town at Walker’s death.

The Inn is undoubtedly the longest continuing business in town. Historically rich, a key reason for their uncanny endurance lies in part with the tavern’s wholehearted involvement in more than day-to-day business. The How family took their civic responsibility quite seriously, evidenced by Innkeeper Eziekiel How’s key role in the American Revolution.

While the early days of colonization saw a peaceful coexistence between white settlers and natives, the differences in their ways were to erupt all too soon into a bloody conflict that seemed to begin and end within Sudbury. The 1670s war with King Phillip began as retribution for the unfair handling of a local chief in the town’s Nobscott Mountain area at the hands of white man’s justice; the turning point occurred during a major battle fought at Sudbury. Captain Wadsworth and his men defended the site to the death. Their bravery is commemorated with a monument here in town. Never complacent, Sudbury would continue to send its sons into battle to preserve the way of life they had worked so hard to create. In addition to this first great Indian war in America, the town would be deeply involved with the four French and Indian wars.

Sudbury was one of the first towns to publicly dissent with England’s handling of the colonies interests. What began as a hushed grumbling, hearthside at How’s Tavern, amongst a few local farmers and merchants grew in numbers and intensity. In an effort to convince the King of the unfairness of his tea taxes and to repeal the stamp act, the town banded together with Boston and other towns to make their views heard. In 1768, citizens unanimously voted to boycott imports and to promote industry, manufacturing and agronomy from within. This was to mark the beginning of the colonies’ fight for independence. The hearty descendants of the original settlers had cultivated a taste for freedom and control over their own destinies as only the taming of a wild and uncivilized place can foster, and they were not likely to tamely give it up. Of course, much of the problem for England lie in those damned Town Meetings. As Lord George Germaine advised King George at the time, “I would not have men of a mercantile caste every day collecting themselves together and debating about political matters. I would have them follow their occupations as merchants and not consider themselves as ministers of that country.”

In these colonial times, Sudbury claimed the largest town population in Middlesex county with over 2000 residents. Consequently, the town sent the largest contingent (346) to Concord on April 19, 1775. What the British command failed to take into account was the fact that Sudbury was home to 360 veterans of the four French Indian wars. More than 60% of Sudbury’s six Militia and Minute companies were seasoned soldiers. Some were to become the leaders in the fight for freedom, such as Colonel John Nixon, who eventually earned the rank of Brigadier General for service under George Washington in New York. And, of course, there was Eziekiel How, Innkeeper of the Black Horse Tavern, later to be known as the Wayside Inn.

After the war, the town settled into the business of building a self sufficient community. As before, all issues and developments were planned and executed through the Town Meeting. As Sudbury’s original borders were quite large and travel to meetinghouse/parish could oftentimes prove difficult, a second meeting hall was built in 1723, west of the river where the Unitarian church is now. Ultimately, this led to the separation of Sudbury and East Sudbury in 1781. The community surrounding this eastern meeting hall was later named Wayland. While other towns developed industrial and manufacturing based economies, Sudbury remained largely an agricultural community, with the attendant local tradesmen and some light industry. Nonetheless, Sudbury’s farmers and merchants earned the reputation as masters of “yankee chess,” the art of bartering and extracting the greatest price possible from the Boston buyers and the growing number of people passing through Sudbury westward. Some were so shrewd as to cross the line into swindle. This apparently became the cause of some concern, that the town might tarnish its good name and thereby be avoided by the very customers many relied upon for their livelihood. It became necessary for the honest merchants in town to stand up for themselves and root out the problem before outsiders might interfere. Through the town meeting, the offenders were identified and chastised and a warning to the business people of Sudbury issued.

Commerce and culture began to center around the major transportation routes passing through the town. Dissected by three major stage-coach routes, three distinct villages developed. The Boston-Worcester line ran through South Sudbury along “The Great Road,” today’s Boston Post Road. Built in 1790 as the link to Albany, Route 20 now extends all the way to the Pacific North West. The Boston-Berlin line ran through the center of town along Route 27 and the Northern route or Fitchburg Highway along Route 117. Largest of these was South Sudbury, today’s downtown, known as Mill Village throughout the 1800′s.

History of Sudbury, MA – Part IV – 19th Century “Downtown Sudbury”

The town’s records and various personal accounts provide us with a quaint picture of life in those times. In the early 1800′s, Enoch Kidder’s leather shop on the corner of Boston Post Rd. and Concord Rd. was almost a cultural center. From here he made his renowned “Old Tongue” boots, sold in Boston’s Faxon and Co. True to the now legendary Sudbury tradition of civic involvement, Enoch had risen to the rank of captain of the Militia in the war of 1812. He also served as Representative in the General Court for several terms. Upstairs from his shop he sponsored the first caucus of the Republican Party, and later, in the 1860′s, local abolitionist meetings were held. Across the street was Hunt’s General Store, selling all manner of goods: groceries, carpets, appliances, along with exotic goods from the West Indies, brokered by the Goodnow Brothers. The sign over the door read “Furniture, Feathers and Crockery Ware Rooms.” The cottage industry of the times was the manufacture of straw braid products, primarily hats, fashioned from the pipe grass growing beside the Sudbury River. Women from the town would harvest the grasses, and, with the help of their children, braided it into “seven strand.” The finished braids would fetch up to 2 cents a yard, traded directly for any of the products needed at Hunt’s store. Behind was Mill Lane, with carriage shops, a malt house, a leather tannery, a tavern, blacksmiths, and both a grain and sawmill. In these days, an establishment such as Hunt’s or Kidder’s served the community as a social center as well, much as one of the many taverns in town. It was a common practice for the proprietor to offer a glass of hard cider to the customer while they exchanged gossip in larger quantities than enterprise.

Of course, the business community of Sudbury is not without its legends and ghost stories. It was during this time that a different sort of commerce began developing in town. One that, like its legitimate brother, thrived upon the steadily increasing flow of pioneers, adventurers and travelers headed west. Headquartered in a seedy tavern near Water Row and Old Berlin road, a band of highwaymen, led by the infamous Captains Lightfoot and Thunderboldt, for a time conducted a brisk business on the more secluded byways of town. Tom Cook, known as “the Leveller,” was said to frequent the area too. The perpetrators and their cohorts were eventually caught or fled the area and the tavern closed. It is not known for sure just how many were terrorized and fleeced of their valuables by this gang of hoodlums, but when the dilapidated structure was much later purchased, an inspection of the property revealed the whereabouts of a number of coach passengers who had long since been given up as missing. Hidden deep in the cellar, the skeletal remains of a few of the less fortunate of the gang’s “customers” gave quiet testimony to the effectiveness of their sales techniques.

And then there is the legend of “the eternal repairman.” It seems that, for decades, a Tinker with horse and wagon lived and worked in Sudbury river area, until he vanished mysteriously in 1820. There were rumors of sightings many years later, and some say his ghost still haunts the area, his approach signaled by the far off clanging of pots and pans. Despite the ghost stories and dangerous characters, Sudbury and its environs began to develop a reputation as a tranquil and beautiful place to escape the industrial drone of the cities. A place where learned men gathered to summer, to talk and to write. Much as Concord was a haven to Emerson and Thoreau, Sudbury was to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Perhaps drawn to the town by his relation to historic Sudbury defender Colonel Wadsworth, his visits to The Red Horse Inn in the 1840′s prompted The Tales of a Wayside Inn. Published in 1861, it was the fireside tales of Innkeeper Lyman Howe that inspired Longfellow to write his best known and loved story of all, “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”

Another famous visitor worked here briefly at Parmenter and Garfield’s general store in Sudbury Centre, although not as a shopkeeper. It seems the two longtime residents and proprietors were not entirely satisfied with the town’s educational choices. In classic Sudbury style, they decided to take matters into their own hands and do something about it. Consequently, their general store also served for a time as a school for advanced students. In the years 1854 and 1855 they emplyed a young college student as a summer teacher, the nephew of proprietor Garfield. In the seven short years following his stint in Sudbury, this remarkable young man was to graduate from a Massachusetts college, serve as president of another college, be elected state senator, rise to the rank of major general during the civil war and finally settle in to his post as congressman. Eventually, James Abram Garfield became the 20th president of the United States. The building where he taught still stands, although it was moved in 1928 to Marlboro by Henry Ford. Now “the Country Store,” you might have noticed how it matches Sudbury’s Town Hall by design.

Originally there were three stations in town built around the stage routes­North, Central and South. When the Railroad came in 1871, it was logical that the stations be converted to rail use. Local businessman Rufus Hurlburt utilized the rail station and available water power in the South Sudbury area to manufacture steam engine governors and lathe chucks in Mill Village in the mid 1870′s. After inventing the “cutting off lathe,” he joined Samuel Rogers in 1881, forming the Hurlburt and Rogers Manufacturing Company and operated at the site for more than 40 years.

Despite this apparent surge in industrial activity in the area, Sudbury remained primarily a farming community. This era ushered in the greenhouse, and the first one was built in Sudbury in 1879 by Hubbard Brown for the commercial growing of cucumbers. By 1889 the town had more than 30 greenhouses operating with a land area of 100,000 square feet, and burning more than 700 tons of coal annually for heat. Local farmers produced cucumbers, lettuce, rhubarb, tomatoes and pink carnations in hot houses. They relied heavily on the rail service for the delivery of fuel and the shipping of their produce, and thus were located in close proximity to one or another of the 3 depots.

During the latter half of the l9th century, a major interest in culture and education began to develop in the town. 1857 saw the Wadsworth Academy take up residence in Mill Village. With a meeting hall (Lyceum) downstairs for adult education, and academy classrooms upstairs, this was the first institution of higher learning to appear in Sudbury. Built by Arthur Bowen, the academy was privately financed by some of the wealthier citizens and businessmen of town.

The clock in the First Parish church was also bought with donations provided by residents and town business owners. Sewall Taylor, a local resident, had helped raise the $475.00 to purchase it in 1872, and took it upon himself to wind the clock weekly for its first quarter century. Ultimately he passed away while performing this task on a sweltering day in July 1895.

In 1861, the Goodnow library was bequeathed to the town by John Goodnow, II. Born in Sudbury in 1791, he spent most of his life in the West Indies trade with the family business, the J. & G. Goodnow Co. His ancestors were among the first settlers of this town, John Goodnow I being the town clerk in 1677. Mr. Goodnow’s gift consisted of 3 acres of land “on the northerly part of the Sudbury Tavern Estate,” $2500 to erect the structure, and $20,000 to be used for books and to maintain the institution. One of the first public libraries in Massachusetts, the distinctive octagon was completed in 1863 and expanded to its present size 30 years later.

In an 1882 Town Meeting, the question was placed before the town of whether or not “women who are citizens should have the right to hold town offices and to vote on town affairs on the same basis as male citizens.” Suffrage, as with so many other important questions, seemed to come early to Sudbury. Indeed, years before the national suffrage movement had gained any real momentum, women had already joined the workforce in Sudbury, some in the most unlikely of professions. It all started with Mrs. Hattie Graham, Sudbury’s first woman blacksmith. There were seven smiths in town at the time, and Hattie proposed to do business in the shop owned by Miss Mary Heard on Concord Road, renowned as one of the town’s finest. Remarkably, yet another was owned by a woman, Mrs. Comfort Clark­apparently, ownership of so traditionally a masculine concern was no cause for alarm, but actually working in such a place was another matter. That opening day in 1895 saw as many cheering women turning out as there were curious and stunned men, but the proof of her skills ultimately won out over the indignant protests as man and woman alike came to rely on her fine workmanship.

A series of fires altered South Sudbury dramatically near the end of the century. Hunt’s store, a local gathering place for decades, burned in 1841, was rebuilt and then burned again in 1887. It was located at the corner of Concord and Boston Post Roads, where N. B. Taylor Realtors is located today. The Wadsworth Academy burned in 1879. The following year saw the Congregational Church South Sudbury chapel erected in its place, and eventually the main Congregational Church relocated from Sudbury Center to the site on which it stands today on Concord Road. In 1886, fire also claimed the Mill Village gristmill. Erected in 1853, and later used by Hurlburt and Rogers for manufacturing, it was replaced by Mr. Charles Parmenter that same year. This gristmill was disassembled 70 years later by Henry Ford and used to create the Wayside Inn’s. Mysteriously in 1887, every railroad station in Sudbury burned to the ground. Years passed before new stations were built, but the South Sudbury station eventually was a large and elaborate facility, and served both the Massachusetts Central and the Old Colony rail lines.

History of Sudbury, MA – Part V – The Other Town Centers: North Sudbury and Sudbury Center

North Sudbury village remained virtually unchanged throughout the 19th century, with 50 or so homes and farms lining the Boston Fitchburg Highway (Rt. 117) since its building in 1800. In earlier times small village shops operated in the area­including the popular stage rest stop Pratts Tavern, a post office, a schoolhouse, a harness and whip shop, a coopers shop, blacksmith and axe shop, a cobbler and several grocery and dry goods stores. Iron ore was mined from the bogs at the current site of Nashawtuc Country club. Over 100 tons were extracted and transported by boat along the Concord river to Chelmsford. In addition, there were 12 cider mills to be found, hard cider being the drink of the day from colonial times until the temperance movement of the 1870′s. The movement was to have quite an effect on the town when, in 1871, the town voted to prohibit the sale of ale, porter, and lagers, putting a number of establishments out of business.

Sudbury Center continued in the role of the political, religious and cultural center of the town in the 1800′s, much as it had since earliest times. The center schoolhouse was sold at auction to the Sudbury Grange agricultural society in 1891 and serves as their meeting place to this day. The Revolutionary War Monument, donated by Johanna Gleason, was dedicated in 1896, and the Civil War Monument was donated by Samuel B. Rogers of Hurlburt and Rogers the following year. Around this time, Reverend Hosmer moved with his family into the house at the corner of Rt. 27 and Concord road, today a historical site.

One Hundred Years Ago

The 250th anniversary of Sudbury in 1889 ushered in a great interest in culture, education and the arts. In the late 1880′s, the Goodman Improvement Society was formed as a historical society and civic organization whose projects centered around Sudbury’s rich historical significance. Plays, concerts and lectures were held in the various churches and town buildings. The Sudbury Brass Band played at special occasions together with the Sudbury Singing Society at the Music Hall, which was located at the corner of Concord and Goodman Hill Roads. Sudbury’s 250th, or “Quarter-Millennial” birthday, was celebrated on September 4th, 1889. There was special entertainment for the children of Sudbury and Wayland, along with a parade, dinners, a concert and a “…grand illumination and fireworks display” on Sudbury’s Common.

The town of Sudbury has always taken care of itself, perhaps a throwback to colonial times when self sufficiency was the only game in town. For those who could not take care of themselves, the Town Meeting faced the dilemma head on, through its committee “The Overseers of the Poor.” The town eventually purchased a poorhouse for the “industrious poor” and the wanderers and carpetbaggers that found their way here following the Civil War. Apparently it was hard to distinguish the truly indigent from the wandering peddlers and they were housed together at “Hotel d’Gilbert,” circa 1877. The home was named in deference to the Warden Gilbert. Hardly a flophouse or charity operation, the tenants were put to work daily at the woodpile to chop wood to heat town buildings and schools in exchange for food and shelter. Not all the tenants were shiftless or lost, reportedly some turned out to be diamonds in the rough, such as Mr.’s Leif Abbott and Fiddling Frank, uncommonly talented at mechanics or genius of the fiddle (respectively).

Despite this seemingly symbiotic relationship, the numbers became a growing concern in 1889. Around the time of Sudbury’s 250th birthday, 711 were fed and housed (actually chained in at sundown to insure fulfillment of chores after food had been “provided”). Nonetheless, Fiddler Frank and some of the other peddlers organized a “Peddlers Entertainment” and helped raise money for the town on their own initiative. Numbers steadily declined in early 1900′s as Civil War vets died off. The house passed into private ownership in 1917 and closed in 1957.

History of Sudbury, MA – Part VI – The Twentieth Century

The automobile invaded this quiet town in 1905, much to the consternation of its citizens. The Town Meeting tried to deal with dangerous speeds­in excess of 15 miles per hour, according to state law­which scattered the roaming cattle and hens. Their solution: possibly one of the first radar traps, which consisted of a pair of trip bars and a stop watch set up over a measured course. At this time there were reportedly 100 cars per day passing along Boston Post Road. Paradoxically, the menacing automobile that did so much to change our rural lifestyle was about to restore some of Sudbury’s quainter history.

In 1923, Henry Ford stepped in to protect the Wayside Inn as a “splendid example of colonial America.” He purchased nearly 1500 acres surrounding the Inn, built a traditional New England style chapel, a field stone grist mill (rumored to be the “most photographed historic site”) and moved The Redstone School or “Little Red Schoolhouse” (of Mary and her little lamb fame) to its current site. In addition, Ford moved the old Parmenter-Garfield general store from Sudbury center to Marlboro and built “Ford’s Folly” (the 60 ft. dam up on Nobscott Mountain, so named for its refusal to hold water despite years of labor). Obsessed with historic authenticity, all construction and renovations had to be accomplished in “the traditional manner” using only man and oxen power.

As an integral part of his vision, Mr. Ford employed and trained more than 50 boys, all wards of the state, to help out with the work. They lived on the property and, in addition to their chores, Mr. Ford made sure they learned “…those tangible objects of American life which helped to interpret to the present generation the genius and progress of the past.” Later, many were also sent through college by Mr. Ford. In the course of building his dream of a living historical museum and self-sufficient utopian complex, he added a working farm, planned a blacksmith and machine shop, and established three schools for the training and education of the wards and children of his employees under the sanction of Sudbury’s School Board (with the agreement that he take on students from the town).

Henry Ford had also planned to open one of his Ford Motors “village industries” here in Sudbury. He actually got as far as buying up more than 100 acres of land surrounding Hop Brook and the Parmenter Mill, the power source that would drive his manufacturing plant. Of course, that plant would have changed the town of Sudbury drastically, if it weren’t for one stubborn farmer who refused to sell out to Mr. Ford despite years of negotiations.

During the Inn’s restoration, the Ford family resided here in Sudbury. Prominent guests of the Inn over the years included Presidents Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy, the poet Robert Frost, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison (who was later inspired to quote the aforementioned “Mary had a little lamb” poem as the first words ever recorded onto the phonograph).

Another famous American to make his home in Sudbury during the 1920′s was baseball immortal George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Purchasing the old Perry farm on Dutton Road, Babe named it Home Plate and tried his hand at gentleman farming, raising chickens, turkeys, cows and horses. A big hit with the kids, if not his neighbors, several times a year he’d have busloads of children from local orphanages up to the farm to visit, have lunch and, of course, play baseball. At other times he could be found fishing or bowling with the children of the neighborhood.

Sudbury in the 1920′s and 30′s was also the home to many commercial truck farms. Other thriving concerns included Featherland Farms, a large commercial chicken farm, and a commercial fox farm. Horseback riding became a very popular local sport, and the first sizable increases in town population were noted during this era, rising by 50% in five years to a total of 1,638.

Fires remained a major concern in these times, and more than a few of Sudbury’s landmarks were lost due to the town’s inability to adequately combat the disasters. In 1922, Hunt’s store was lost, followed by the Sudbury Music Hall in 1925. When the Old Town Hall burned to the ground in 1930, the town took serious action. A Volunteer Fire Department was formed of local farmers and businessmen and the Town’s first fire truck was purchased, a brand new 1930 International. The firefighters were paid 50 cents an hour for active duty. In 1932 a new Town Hall was finished and dedicated, which serves us today.

The great hurricane of 1938 was responsible for the deaths of more than 700 people along the eastern seaboard. In Sudbury, there was considerable damage to lives and property as hundreds of trees were felled throughout the town. Turning disaster into a windfall, Henry Ford utilized the timber strewn across the Wayside Inn estate to construct the Martha-Mary Chapel. In fact, as part of his mandate that all renovations and additions to the complex be accomplished in the same manner as used by our forefathers, only the trees found within dragging distance could be used for the project.

The face of business during the early 40s remained much the same as in the times of Enoch Kidder’s shoe shop and the many general stores scattered throughout Sudbury one hundred years before. Everette Sonders traveled by horse and buggy around Sudbury selling meat from Al Young’s butcher cart to people who had trouble getting to the store. The Post Office at the Hosmer house sold penny candy, bubble gum and baseball cards to the kids while their parents socialized during evening mail pickup, a popular activity at this town gathering place. Bradshaw’s was a landmark in downtown Sudbury and proprietor Forrest Bradshaw an exemplary citizen and businessman in the tradition of Colonel Howe and Enoch Kidder. Not content to simply operate his successful general store in front of Mill Village, Forrest served as town selectman, town clerk, election officer, postmaster, town historian, and held positions on a number of town boards. A.F. Young’s neighborhood store, located on Rt. 27 near the center of town, had a big thermometer out front that often provided the ice breaker to conversations which would inevitably lead to town gossip, politics and the current state of economic tides ebbing and flowing through the coffers of the various area businesses. Bowker’s Store in North Sudbury (at the “V” of Haynes and Pantry Roads), Wagner’s and Nugent’s were all familiar spots, places that sold all manner of goods, and served as gas stations and local post offices, too. The gathered residents couldn’t suspect as they played checkers or cribbage with their neighbors that this would be the end of an era in Sudbury, the end of the quaint small town, seemingly self-sufficient.

History of Sudbury, MA – Part – Part VII – The past 50 years Time of Growth and Change

From 1945, Sudbury’s population grew at a rate of 10% each year until tripling at nearly 7500 in 1960. In the following decade, the population doubled again. During this same period, the school system was hit even harder as school enrollment went from 355 to 3950. In the 1940s there was virtually no Police Department–the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen served as acting chief and one full time officer kept a small office at the Town Hall. Much the same was true for the Fire Department, except that the full-time man doubled as janitor for the Town Hall.

In 1954, the Sudbury Highway Department issued a report that stated the town’s growing fears succinctly: “Sudbury is about to evolve quite suddenly from a small country town into a congested residential suburb.” In 1955, Sudbury was identified as one of the 10 fastest growing towns in the state. In order to fund the types of services the town needed, either taxes would have to more than double or, as the planning board suggested, zoning for business and industry in Sudbury would be necessary. An Industrial Development Board was appointed to actively pursue the right kinds of business, not factories but business centers and R&D complexes. The Board asked townspeople to relay any scrap of information that could be helpful to the commission, post haste.

Raytheon was the first to respond, opening in 1958 with 2,100 employees. Sperry Rand was next in 1960, followed by Star Market and The First National supermarket (now Sudbury Farms). Some of the improvements to follow included the building of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in ’56, followed by Peter Noyes and Ephraim Curtis middle schools and the three elementary schools–Horse Pond, Loring and Haynes. Sudbury’s first real Post Office, the enlargement of the Goodnow Library, the Police Station built in 1960, and the two Fire Stations in the next 2 years were all results of Sudbury’s new understanding with “Industry.” In the midst of all this growth and expansion, the town’s Conservation Commission was awarded for its outstanding work in protecting the environment by the Audubon Society. In the 1970′s, some town businesses and school children teamed up to do some thing on their own about Sudbury’s environment. Known as P.R.I.D.E. (Post Road Indeed Deserves Effort) they formed teams to clean up Rt. 20.

Despite the townspeople’s objections, the last commuter rail rolled away from the little red station on Rt. 20 near Maple Ave. in 1971.

Recent Historical Celebration

The Bicentennial Celebrations in 1976 brought President Gerald Ford to the area. Sudbury’s Militia Company was selected by the President and his Secret Service as Honor Guard. The Militia protected the President armed with only the traditional weapons: muskets, pitchforks and what ever other sharp objects or farming implements were at hand.

Neither the 1976 Bicentennial or our 1989 350th celebration would have been possible without the donations, dedication and determination of local residents and business people. For the 350th, Beverly Bentley served as chairman of the 3 day weekend that consumed 3 years in planning and arranging. Bert Mullen of Mullen Lumber, donated time, services, materials and put up the grand stands that lined Route 20 for the Grande Parade. Raytheon Corporation sponsored the full expense of the Mount Rushmore flag raising, Marrone’s baked the giant birthday cake. Bentley’s, Longfellow Tennis and some others sold items such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and bumper stickers, raising thousands to fund the activities. Chiswick Trading’s generous donations, along with hundreds of others who donated time, money, and services helped to make the Celebration memorable to all who attended.

Members of the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce continue Sudbury’s tradition of civic responsibility. It is our heritage, and, we believe, a necessity if we are to progress into the 21st century armed with the same well justified pride with which our ancestors faced the previous 3 centuries. If our town meeting is the brains, and Sudbury’s proud residents the backbone, then surely we the merchants and business people can provide the muscle to what is now a full grown, living entity. We should be the means by which the town motivates and serves itself. We must stay in shape by exercising our strength often, working in cooperation with the other parts so as to provide the agility to sidestep the future’s pitfalls, ready to spring into action in the case of need or danger and still be able to dance til dawn at our 400th birthday party.

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4 Responses to Sudbury History

  1. avatar susan doherty says:

    This was such a fabulous abbreviated article on the history of Sudbury. I was very much interested in knowing about the Music Hall that was located on Concord road right down the street from my house. I would love to see some old pictures of Concord Road-curious if there might be one of my house,surrounding homes and businesses. Thanks for posting this article.-Susan Doherty

    • Hi Susan.

      Sorry for the delay in replying to you but our town historian Lee Swanson has generously offered up his email address – feel free to reach out directly to him as him might be able to help – sudburyhist01776 at verizon dot net.

      Best,

      David

  2. avatar Michael Heelas says:

    Hi,
    My 9x great grandmother, via her marriage to thomas rice, was elizabeth frost, first wife of Philemon Whale, I have seen that she died in Sudbury in 1647, as did her daughter in 1690. However, looking through many websites I have seen much conflicting data, about all that is clear is that she died in sudbury on june 20 1647. Do you have much information on the early colonists? if so I would be very interested in anything you have on Elizabeth or her husband Philemon, thanks.

    I live in Surrey in the UK.

    Regards, Mike Heelas

    • Michael,

      Wow – the power of the internet! Thanks for sharing your family story with us. Our town historian Lee Swanson has generously offered up his email address – feel free to reach out directly to him as him might be able to help – sudburyhist01776 at verizon dot net.

      Good luck with your quest for more information regarding your family history.

      Best,

      David

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