Brief History of Sherborn

Sherborn is a small, semi-rural town (pop. 4,500) located about 18 miles west of Boston. Primarily a farming community until the early part of this century, it now is a bedroom town for Boston and the surrounding hi-tech area.

Indians

Little is known about the local Indians. There appear to have been permanent settlements, for the earliest deed of one area refers to the "old fields"; and various implements have been both plowed up and found at Rocky Narrows and near Farm Pond. However, even the name of the tribe is uncertain, for Sherborn seems to have been at the interface between the Massachusetts and the Nipmuck tribes. Several Indians kept land in town after its incorporation (e.g. Peter Ephriam on Brush Hill and Thomas Awussamoag); they appear to have been connected with the Natick "Praying Indian" community.

English Settlement

The whole Charles River valley from South Natick to the falls at Medway kept its Indian name "Boggestow"; it was sought out by the English because of the abundant marsh grass growing on the wide flood plain. The earliest Sherborn land owned by the English took the form of large (200-1074 acres) grants called "farmes" made by the General Court beginning in the 1640's to individuals for payment of services rendered to the colony. These owners later sold acreage to settlers, the first resale being to Thomas Holbrook, and Nicholas Wood in 1652. They and successive settlers bought those wilderness lands and lived there while retaining their citizenship in the nearest incorporated town: Medfield.

Town

By 1674 Boggestow had grown sufficiently to be incorporated as a new town (i.e. the land had never been part of another town) and was arbitrarily named "Sherborne" by the General Court. The original area was of such an awkward shape that the General Court allowed an exchange of 4000 acres with the Natick Indians in 1679; and it was that new land which formed most of the present town.

In the decade after King Phillips War (1675-6) Sherborn settlers organized the local government and drew up a Social Covenant, paid the Indians for land title, attracted a saw miller, built a Meeting House and called the first minister, and granted home lots throughout most of the present town. In the second decade they formed a town militia company, hired a schoolmaster, and acquired a gristmill. Thus by 1700 they had become an "established" town.

General Development

Throughout the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's Sherborn remained a small and relatively self-sufficient farming community. Little industry developed because of the lack of good water power, although there continued to be saw and gristmills on several of the small, intermittent streams. However, apples grew well, and there were always small cider mills. With the coming of both the railroad and steam power one mill developed further, until by the 1890's it was advertised as the "largest refined cider mill in the world". At that time it pressed over 1.25 million gallons of cider per season and exported "Champagne" cider as far west as Nebraska and Texas and as far East as England and Belgium.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's several small cottage industries developed, particularly along North Main Street. They produced guns, shoes, willow baskets, whips, pitchforks and edge tools. Cranberries became an important crop, as well as mixed farming and dairying. Crops and crafts were sold in the Boston markets via stagecoach and later railroad.

The early Twentieth Century saw several new trends. In the early 1900's several wealthy families moved into different parts of town and built estates for either year-round or summer use. Those remaining today are located primarily along the Charles River - The area of first settlement. Dairy and poultry raising increased in importance, as did service related jobs.

Following World War II the town began to change rapidly from one with a relatively static population (c. 1500) to a growing and transient one. Developments were built in 1-, 2-, and 3-acre zones. The disappearance of family farms accelerated as the town became increasingly suburban; today estate-farms form most of the few farms which remain. There is still considerable open space. The town is trying hard to retain its rural character; but that is increasingly difficult as land prices and taxes escalate.

Houses

Because the town was relatively poor in the late 1800's and early 1900's few people "modernized" their old houses by tearing them down and rebuilding. As a result many of the houses built in 1700's and early 1800's remain, as well as six or more with late 1600's portions. Two National Register Historic Districts have been established to include the old Town Center and a two-mile strip along North Main Street; and scattered individual houses have also been listed: a total of 77 old houses. A very small Town Historic District also exists in the old Town Center.

Government

The town is governed by a combination of elected and appointed volunteers and a few key salaried officials. Since town government was set up c. 1678 it has been run by the Selectmen (3 at present) and the traditional open Town Meeting, at which all citizens vote annually on major expenditures and policies. There is no industry zoned in the town. Property taxes support town government and services. Public services are minimal and homeowners rely on individual wells and septic systems. There are a full full-time Police Force and Highway Dept. and both a volunteer "call" Fire Dept. and a rescue Squad, all highly trained. The town has three churches and a modern public library. The schools are small and excellent; the elementary school is local, whereas the junior and senior high schools are regionalized with Dover, a similar town across the Charles River. Town Boards and other organizations depend almost entirely upon volunteer participation, as they have for over three hundred years.

copywriter by Betsy Johnson, 1988. (permission given to reproduce)