Stoneham Town

Middlesex County, Massachusetts

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Stoneham Town Hall is located at 35 Central Street, Stoneham, MA 02180.
Phone: 781‑279‑2600.

Beginnings [1]

Before its incorporation in 1725, Stoneham functioned as a remote and separately populated farming community at the northern edge of Charlestown (settled 1629-1630), called Charlestown End. It was not settled until after 1658 when most of this frontier land was divided and apportioned to Charlestown taxpayers; 600 acres in the northernmost section, known as Charlestown Farms, were retained by corporate Charlestown.

Six known settlers quickly took advantage of the newly opened lands, favoring the northeast section because of its proximity to the South Reading Meetinghouse, established in 1644. These early settlers included four farmers: John Gould, Thomas Green, Patrick Hay, and Thomas Gery; and two masons: Richard Holden and William Bicknell. The latter two were associated with the rich marble deposits on Marble and Summer Streets.

By 1700 the most thickly settled portions of Stoneham were at the outskirts, and there had been no organized movement for incorporation as an independent town. 19th century historians of the town wrote, "The foundations of Stoneham were laid, not by men of culture and wealth, but by the brawn and culture of laborious yeomen."

In 1725 the Stoneham area had approximately 250 inhabitants, one saw mill, one grist mill, one schoolhouse, and about 50 houses scattered throughout the rocky, forested land of Charlestown End. During that year, 54 men petitioned the General Court to set off the area as a separate town. The remoteness of the area from the established meeting houses of Charlestown and South Reading necessitated such a petition, as the Act of Incorporation recognized. With the Act, Charlestown relinquished claim to Stoneham, but retained ownership of Charlestown Farms; that claim was held until 1760.

The name Stoneham seems to have been taken from Stoneham, England. This place name, and others selected by early settlers, reflects their English, Scottish and Irish ancestry.

During its formative period Stoneham was part of a network of small villages and towns in which shoe manufacturing was a foundation of the economy. Shoes were made in home ships, often in small buildings called "ten-footers." Individual artisans produced shoes for middlemen, who sold them in a larger market, usually in Boston. The middlemen supplied materials as well. This handcraft stage ended with the central shop in the early 19th century. Despite the efforts of farmers and shoemakers, Stoneham is recorded as one of the poorest towns in 18th century Middlesex County, a condition that did not improve until the mid-19th century.

The transformation of Stoneham from a farming village with large tracts of land to a nucleated town with a thickly settled village center was triggered by construction of the Medford-Andover Turnpike in 1806. The construction of this major toll road which ran 3-3/4 miles through the length of Stoneham (along the present north-south route of Main Street) changed both the use of the land and the economy of the town. The Turnpike became Stoneham's first direct link with larger regional markets and commercial trade. Its appearance was crucial in transforming Stoneham's incipient shoe industry from a handicraft stage to a central shop phase.

This central shop phase, which occurred in the 1830s and 1840s heralded more specialized and mechanized developments. The central shops created in the 1830s formed the nucleus of the large shoe factories and tanneries which appeared two decades later. Men such as Luther and John Hill, Ira Gerry, and Alien Rowe consolidated the work that independent shoe makers previously performed in their own small shops. These "central shops" were often contained in the general stores of the proprietor or in the residence of the central shop owner. In addition to shoe manufacturing, William Tidd and W. Bloomer began the tanning and currying of leather in a Central Square tavern basement, moving to larger quarters as the business grew.

Although Stoneham's first "factories" were very modest in scale, they were producing 380,000 pairs of shoes valued at $184,717 by 1837. At this time, Stoneham was one of the 24 Middlesex County towns whose chief industry was the manufacture of shoes, but unlike many others, its population remained relatively low (615 in 1820, 732 in 1830, and 1,017 in 1840).

  1. Candace Jenkins and Carole Zellie, consultants, Stoneham Historical Commission, Stoneham Multiple Resource Area (MRA), nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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