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THE land of this town was originally granted, in 1729, to several petitioners of Medfield, and many of the first
settlers were from that town. and hence the place was called New Medfield, until its incorporated in when it recieved
the name of Sturbridge. The following, respecting the first settlers, is from Rev. Joseph S. Clark’s Historical
Sketch of Sturbridge, published in 1838:
“Henry Fiske, one of the original proprietors, and his brother Daniel, pitched their tent near the top of the hill
which has ever since borne their name. They had been at work for some time without knowing which way they must
look for their nearest neighbor, or whether indeed they had a neighbor nearer than one of the adjacent towns. At
length on a clear afternoon they heard the sound of an axe far off in a southerly direction, and went in pursuit
of it. The individual whose solitary axe they heard had also been attracted by the sound of theirs, and was advancing
towards them on the same errand. They came in sight of one another, on opposite sides of the Quinebaug river. By
felling two trees into the stream, one from each bank, a bridge was constructed on which they were able to meet
and exchange salutations. The unknown man of the axe was found to be James Denison. one of the proprietors, who,
in the absence of a better home, had taken lodgings in a cave, which is still to be seen not far from Westvill.
In that lonely den he continued his abode, it is said, till a neighboring wolf, who probably had a prior claim
to the premises, signified a wish to take possession, when Mr. Denison peaceably withdrew and built him a house
of his own.
“For some time after the work of clearing the forest had been undertaken, no one had ventured to spend the winter
in a place so desolate and distant from the track of man. The proprietors, or whomsoever they employed, usually
came in the spring, and returned to their respective towns in the autumn. Joseph Smith, with no other companion
than his faithful dog, was the first who encountered the rigors of winter in Sturbridge. Alexander Selkirk was
not more secluded from human society on the island of Juan Fernandez, than Mr. Smith was in this place during four
months, having neither seen nor heard from a human being in all that time. The cellar which protected his frugal
store from the frosts of that dreary winter may still be seen on the farm of Jabez Harding, Esq., not far from
an aged pear tree, which Mr. Smith is said to have planted soon after he came.”
The proprietors built a meeting house, which was consecrated, in 1733, by Rev. Joseph Baxter, of Medfield. In 1736
the Rev. Caleb Rice was ordained pastor. About 1747, a number of his church, conceiving they had received new light,
different from the rest of the people, separated from him. Mr. Rice died in 1759. He was succeeded by Rev. Joshua
Paine, who was ordained in 1761. Rev. Otis Lane, the next minister, was ordained in 1801, and was succeeded by
Rev. Alvan Bond, in 1819. Rev. Joseph S. Clark succeeded Mr. Bond in 1831. The persons who separated from Mr. Rice’s
church formed themselves into a Baptist church about 1750. The first meeting house of this society was built on
Fisk's Hill, in 1784. Rev. William Ewing was their first minister. Rev. Jordan Dodge was ordained their pastor
in 1784, and was dismissed in 1788. The next minister, Rev. Zenas L. Leonard, was ordained in 1796. His successor.
Rev. Addison Parker, was installed in 1833. Rev. Isaac Merriam and Rev. O. O. Stearns have been the succeeding
The central village lies in a valley between two hills, which are about two miles apart. The soil in this valley
is fertile. The village consists of about 30 dwelling houses, a Congregational and Faptist church. The engraving
shows the appearance of the village as it appears when seen from the north east, upon the Charlton road. Population,
2,004. Distance, 18 miles from Worcester, and 58 from Boston. The Quinebaug has its source in this town; it originates
from near Lead mine pond, takes a circuitous course into Union, Holland, Brimfield, and back into Sturbridge. Upon
this stream are considerable tracts of interval and meadow lands. There are a number of ponds in this town, near
one of which, called Leadmine pond, a number of adventurers from Europe, many years since, dug deep for ore, a
considerable quantity of which they carried with them to England. They never, however, returned.
In 1837 there were 6 cotton mills, 8,664 spindles; 829,749 yards of cotton goods were manufactured: value, $117,134;
males employed, 71; females, 117; there were manufactured 2,220 pairs of boots, and 12,660 pairs of shoes; value,
$18,306.40; males employed, 35; females, 15: value of pocket rifles manufactured, $20,275; hands employed, 36.
In the southern part of the township is an extensive tract of broken land, called Breakneck, near which the Breakneck
pond in Union, Conn., takes its rise. A ledge of rocks in this tract extends about a mile, which, in some places.
is 100 feet perpendicular. This ledge has been a great place for rattlesnakes. It is stated that an old lady, the
wife of an extensive farmer by the name of Howard, living in this vicinity, after her dairy business was done in
the morning, in the Month of May used to go out and kill rattlesnakes; and that she had been known to have killed
as many as 16 in one morning. These snakes, some years ago, were made considerable use of for medicinal purposes;
the oil as a remedy for the quinsy and sprains, the skin for rheumatism and head aches; and the gall was also used
in medicinal preparations. They were worth from about 50 to 75 cents per head, and it was for the profit of the
business that it was followed by the old lady. The only instance known of any person being bit here by a rattlesnake
was that of a lad, his father filled his mouth with tobacco juice and sucked out the poison, so that the effects
of the bite were scarcely perceptible. Black snakes, upwards of nine feet in length, have been killed In the Breekneck
Historical Collections Relateing to the
History and Antiquities of
Every town in Massachusetts with
By John Warner Barber.
Published by Warren Lazell.