Townsend Town

Middlesex County, Massachusetts

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Townsend Town Hall is located at 272 Main Street, Townsend, MA 01469.
Phone: 978‑597‑1700.

Beginnings [1]

Originally part of an area called Wistequassuck by the Native Americans, the land which eventually became Townsend, Massachusetts was first surveyed by Jonathan Danforth in 1676. The land had been granted to Major William Hawthorn of Salem as a political thank-you gift. Although the major never saw the land, it was known as "Hawthorn's Grant" for many years.

By 1719, the House of Representatives decided to divide an area called Turkey Hill, of which Hawthorn's Grant was a part, into North Town (Townsend) and South Town (Lunenburg). The first meetinghouse to serve the 200 settlers of North Town was built in 1730 on Meetinghouse Hill, and on June 29, 1732 the town was incorporated as Townshend. It was named after Charles Townshend, the second Viscount of Raynham, and a former British Secretary of State (the viscount was also known as Turnip Townshend for introducing England to the large-scale cultivation of said vegetable).

In 1733, a dam was built on the Squannacook at the place now known as Townsend Harbor (harbor referring to a place of refuge, comfort or security), and a gristmill and sawmill were erected along the river. This part of Townsend was the first to be settled even prior to the incorporation of the town, and a tavern built by the Conant family around 1720, known as the Old Mansion, still exists today. Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, Townsend Harbor was the industrial heart of the town.

Through the 18th century, the boundaries of the town changed. A triangle of land in the northeastern part of town was lost to Dunstable. In 1741, a third of the town was lost when the border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire was moved south. The final change occurred around 1767 when the western boundary was moved to the east to make way for the town of Ashby.

That same year, the Townshend Acts, proposed by Charles Townshend's grandson, were passed by England's Parliament. These acts placed a tax on common items imported by the colonies, and further infuriated the colonists, who were already suffering under the Stamp Acts of 1765. Eventually, most of the Townshend Acts were repealed, but the seed for revolution had been planted. Townshend sent 73 soldiers toward Concord on April 19, 1775, nearly 10% of the population of 821 (1776 census). As the war progressed and patriotism took root, the "h" began to drop out of the spelling of the town's name in the written record, and soon Townsend was the accepted spelling.

After the war, growth in the town began to shift to the west. Because of the earlier boundary changes, the geographic center of the town had moved, and so the second meetinghouse, built in 1771, was moved in 1804 to Townsend Center. The first floor of the building was used as the town hall until the 1890's, when Memorial Hall was built to commemorate those residents who fought in the Civil War.

As the 19th century progressed, most commercial and manufacturing interests moved closer to the center of town as well. These interests included the production of stockings, clothing, pails and tubs. But the major industry in town was the production of coopering stock. The B. and A.D. Fessenden Company became the largest employer in the town, running lumberyards and sawmills in addition to the cooperage factory. The company finally closed in 1960 after many productive years.

The development of West Townsend, the third village in the town, was linked to the turnpike which passed through the area on its way to western Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Several taverns were built, and by 1806, the Joslinville Tavern on Main Street was a main stop on the Boston to Keene Stagecoach. In the 1830's, the West Village Female Seminary was built, which helped West Townsend become the cultural center of the town. The railroad came to Townsend in 1846 and had a unifying effect on the town. Many of the goods manufactured in town were now shipped via the railroad, which further enhanced the development of these industries. By 1900, three trains ran in and out of town each day.

With a quick mode of transportation now available, farms were able to increase their production. Cranberries were raised in a bog off Spaulding Street, the Harbor Farm on Main Street produced milk, apples and produce, and several poultry farms became major suppliers to the New England egg market. Many of these businesses lasted well into the 20th century. The booming manufacturing and agriculture industries created other needs. By 1871, the town district schools made way for its first high school located near the center, which also housed primary and intermediate grades. The first bank was chartered in 1854, and the fire department was established in 1875. The first police department came fifty years later in 1926.

As was true all across New England, by the middle of the 20th century many of the manufacturing and agricultural businesses began to slow. The train ran only three times a week. The Fessenden Company closed in 1960. The poultry industry waned until only one farm remained in operation in the 1970's. The last Boston and Maine train left Townsend in 1981.

By the end of the century, Sterilite was the largest industry remaining in town. With the decrease in industry, Townsend has become a residential community with many of the requisite service providers while retaining much of its rural character. The town adopted its governing charter in 1999, and Memorial Hall was beautifully restored ten years later. In 2007, Townsend celebrated its 275th anniversary with many activities, culminating with a grand parade in September of that year.

  1. Town of Townsend, Massachusetts, Middlesex County, Master Plan, 2008,, accessed May, 2017.

Nearby Towns: Fitchburg City • Lunenburg Town •

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