Historical Sketch of South Reading, MA
Source at bottom of page.



Historical Sketches
Franklin County
Hampden County
Hampshire County
Middlesex County
Norfolk County
Worcester County

New York


History at
Rays Place

Also see [ Railway
Officials in America


THE settlement of this place, now called South Reading, was first commenced by emigrants from Lynn. As early as the year 1639, a grant of land was made by the general court to the town of Lynn, as appears from the following extract from the records of the court: “Sept. 7, 1639. The petition of the inhabitants of Lynn for a place for an inland plantation at the head of their bounds is granted them of four miles square.” After this grant, certain persons from Lynn and other places immediately commenced the settlement of the place; indeed, some had taken possession of certain spots of territory, and perhaps had removed hither, in 1638, the year before the grant. The settlement that commenced was called Lynn Village, being a part of the town of Lynn. The land was also purchased of the Indians for £10 16s., and the deeds signed, in 1640, by Sagamore George, his sister Abigail, and Quanapowitt. Lynn village was incorporated by the name of Reading about this time, being about five years since its first settlement. The following are the names of the first settlers, viz:

Nicholas Brown,
Boniface Burton,
John Bacheller,
Goodman Barker,....
Goodman Blots,
Isaac Barnup,
Wm. Cowdrey,
Thomas Clark,
Josiah Dustin,
Thomas Dunton,
Samuel Dunton,
Richard Walker,
Geo. Davis,
Wm. Eaton,
Jonas Eaton,
Zachariah Fitch,
Benjamin Fitch,
Henry Feltch,

Jeremiah Fitch,
John Fuller,
Goodman Gould,
Thomas Hutchinson,
Wm. Hooper,
Samuel Walker,
Thomas Hartshorn,
Thomas Kendall,
Goodman Knight,
Wrn. Marlin,
Thomas Marshall,
John Poole,
Thomas Parker,
John Person,
Jeremiah Swaine,
Richard Sader,
Edward Taylor.

The first Congregational church in this town (being the 12th in the colony) was gathered in 1645, and Rev. Henry Green was ordained its first minister. Mr. Green died in 1648, and was succeeded by Rev. Samuel Haugh, in 1650.

Johnson, in his "Wonder Working Providence of Zion's Saviour in New England," published, about this time, says: "Reading is well watered, and situate about a great pond; besides, it hath two mills, the one a saw mill, the other a corn mill, which stand on two several streams. It hath not been so fruitful for children as her sister Woburn hath; her habitation is fuller in the very centre of the country; they are well stocked with cattle, for the number of people. They have gathered. into a church and ordained a pastor from among themselves, at the same time a young. man of good abilities to preach the word, and of a very humble behaviour, named Mr. Green. He, having finished his course, departed this life not long after, whose labors are with the Lord: after him succeeded in the place one Mr. Hagh, a young man, one of the first fruits of New England, a man studious to promote the truths of Christ. They are both remembered in the following verse, written by Johnson:

"On earth's bed thou at noon hast laid thy head,
You that for Christ (as Green) here toiled have taken;
When nature fails, then rest it in earth's dead,
Till Christ by's word with glory thee awaken;
Young Hagh, thou must be second to this man
In field encounter, with Christ foes shalt thou
Stand up and take his bright sword in thy hand,
Error cut down, and make stout stomacks bow.
Green's gone before, thy warfare's now begun,
And. last it may to see Rome's Babel fall;
By weakest means Christ's mighty works hath done,
Keep footing fast till Christ thee hence do call."

The township of South Reading comprises a tract of 4,200 acres, and is about equidistant from Boston, Cambridge, and Andover, being about ten miles from each. It was originally the first parish in Reading. It was incorporated as a distinct town in 1812. About this period there was quite a political excitement in Reading, as well as in many other places; the inhabitants of the south parish, being mostly on the Democratic side, were left in the minority of the town. Feeling themselves aggrieved by their townsmen who were on the Federal side, they petitioned the legislature for an act to incorporate them into a distinct town, which was accordingly granted.

The following shows the appearance of the central part of South Reading, as it is seen while descending the hill a little west of the village. On the left is seen the southern extremity of Reading Pond or lake, near which is the Congregational church; the spire of the Baptist church is seen further to the south. South of the Congregational church extends a handsome green, called the "cornmon," containing about S or 10 acres. The different parts of the town, when spoken of in reference to the residence of the people, are designated by the following terms: "The Common," "Fitch's Hill," "Leather Street," "Side the Pond," "Cowdrey's Hill," Lafayette Street," "Eaton Street," "Water Street," "Little World," "West Ward," "East Ward," and "South Ward."

The village called the "Common" contains about twenty dwelling houses, the two churches represented in the engraving, a number or mercantile stores and mechanic shops, and a large hotel. This is the most thickly settled part of the town. That part called "Fitch's Hill" extends eastward of the north part of the Common, on the Salem road, about one fourth of a mile; this spot received its name from Zachary Fitch, who removed from Lynn, in 1644, and probably erected the first house in this part of the town. It was formerly called "Fitch's Lane," on account of its narrowness at that period. In reference to this, one man rather unwittingly remarked, "that it was so narrow that two teams could not meet." "Leather Street" extends westerly from the Comnion, on the road to Woburn and Reading; it is said to have derived its name from the fact that, many years since, a man lived in. this street who was so much in the habit of stealing sole leather, that if any one lost this article it was said that it had gone to this street. That part designated "Side the Pond" extends about one mile on the Andover road, on the eastern verge of the Great Pond. "Cowdrey's Hill," in the western part of the town, received its name from the family of Cowdreys, who have long owned and still own a large portion of its territory. "Lafayette Street" was laid out for making building lots; it is westerly from the Common, and is about one furlong in extent. "Eaton Street" is on the easterly side of the Common, and is a sort of court, extending about a furlong; it was laid out in 1813, and received its name from L. Eaton, the proprietor of the land. Near this street is built the South Reading academy. "Water Street" extends easterly from the Common, about half a mile, towards Saugus; it derives its name from running alongside of a current of water which comes from Smith's Pond, in the south part of the town. "Little World" is in the south easterly part of the town, and was so named from its peculiar location, being somewhat remote from the center of the town, and is a small extent of territory surrounded by hills on every side. This spot was originally cleared and Cultivated while all the land around was covered with trees, and thus enclosing its inhabitants in what was called a little world." "West Ward" includes that part of the town lying west of the Common. "East Ward" is applied to the east and north east part of the town; "South Ward," to the southern part.

The territorial extent of this town being quite limited, and most of the inhabitants being engaged in manufactures, very little attention is paid to agriculture; the great staple and settled business of the town is the manufacture of ladies' shoes. It is estimated that of the four hundred male polls in the town, 250 are engaged in this manufacture. In 1837, there were manufactured 175,000 pairs of shoes, valued at $142,000; males employed, 260; females, 186; value of tin ware manufactured, $24,000; hands employed, 28; value of block tin ware, $4,700; razor straps, $5,400; shoe tools, $3,000. Population, 1,488. Distance, 18 miles from Concord, 10 from Salem, and 10 to Boston.

The following is extracted from a manuscript History of South Reading, by Lilley Eaton, Esq, to which history the author is indebted for most of the facts relative to the history of this town:

[In 1649,] "Three married women were fined 5s. apiece for scolding.

1650. "The deputy to the general court was Richard Walker. The court ordered
400 acres of land to be laid out to Rev. Samuel Haugh.

"The majority of the court ordered a book lately imported from England, composed. by Wm. Pynchon, of Springfield. on Redemption Justification, to be burnt in Boston, and its author called to an account. Deputy from Reading and 5 others dissented.

1662. "This year the town ordered that no woman, maid, nor boy, nor gall shall sit in the South Alley and East Alley of the M. House, upon penalty of twelvepence for every day they shall Sit in the alley after the present day. It was further ordered, 'That every dog that comes to the meeting after the present day, either of Lord's day or lecture days, except it be their dogs that pays for a dog whipper, the owner of those dogs shall pay sixpence for every time they come to the meeting, that doth not pay the dog whipper.' The names of 26 men are recorded as agreeing to pay to the dog whipper.

1664. "This year the town exchanged lands with Matthew Edwards, he paying 30s. and a gallon of liquor to boot.

1667. "This year the town contained 59 dwelling houses. It was ordered, that every dog that comes into the meeting house in time of service shall pay sixpence for every time he comes.

1741. "Collins, the Journalist remarks, 'that this year there were extraordinary commotions with respect to religion. The people meet often, especially at the Eastward.' This extract refers to an excitement on the subject of religion begun the past year through the preaching of George Whitefield. Mr. Whitefield preached upon our common in the open air; Mr. Hobby, the minister, went with the multitude to hear him.-It is said that Mr. Hobby afterwards remarked that he came to pick a hole in Mr. Whitefield's coat, but that he (Whitefield) picked a hole in his heart. Mr. H. afterwards wrote and published. a defence of Mr. Whitefield, in a letter to Mr. Henchman, the minister of Lynn, who had written against him.

1799. "Twenty three persons, members of the Baptist society, petitioned the parish for liberty to hold religious meetings in centre school house, when the same is not in use, and. obligating themselves to pay all damages this request was not granted.

1800. "The meeting house of the Baptist society was built this year. The dimensions of it were 34 by 38, with a porch. On the occasion of erecting the frame of this house, the society appointed a committee to provide for the hands good. beef, well baked potatoes, bread and. cheese, cider and grog, and enough of each.

1813. "The Universalist society of this town was formed. The town soon after voted. that the Universalists may use the centre school house for religious meetings one Sabbath in a month, preceding the full of the moon."

The following inscriptions are from monuments in the ancient burying ground in the center of the town:

Memento te esse mortalem-Fugit hora. Here lies the body of John Person. Aged 64 years. Died April 17, 1679-vive memor Laethe-fugit hora.

Sargent Thomas Kendall, died July 22, 1684. Aged 63 years.

Reader weep, prepare to die I say,
For death by none will be said nay.
One of the 7, of this church foundation,
So to remain till the powerful voice say
Rise in health, a glorious habitation.
A pattern of piety and of peace,
But now, alas! how short his race.
Here we mourn, and mourn we must,
To see Zion's stones like gold laid in dust.

To the Memory of Capt. John Brown Esq., who, after he had served his generation by the will of God, fell asleep March 11, A. D. 1717, AE. about 83.

Witty, yet wise, grave, good, among the best,
Was he. The memory of the just is blest.
Prudent, a pattern, and mom I say,
A hearty mourner for the sins of the day;
Bless'd God, when dying, that he feared not death.
His pious soul took wings, give up her breath,
Dropp'd here her mantle in the silent dust,
'Which waits the resurrection of the just.

Historical Collections Relating to the
History and Antiquities of
Every town in Massachusetts with
Geographical Descriptions.
By John Warner Barber.
Published by Warren Lazell.