A Brief History of Westford
By Robert W. Oliphant
With five of its villages and five cemeteries
listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
Westford has a rich and interesting history.
Westford’s numerous ponds and proximity
to the Merrimack and Nashua Rivers made this a likely
area for Native Americans. There were seasonal fish
runs in Stony Brook, the ponds provided freshwater
fishing, and there were sites for agriculture and
upland hunting and gathering. In his 1883 History
of Westford, Rev. Edwin Hodgman notes several sites
where Native American artifacts have been found. Native
trails linking town centers at Chelmsford, Groton
and Dunstable served Westford’s first settlers.
Chelmsford, Westford’s parent town,
was formed in 1655, and the area of Westford was first
settled in the 1660s. By 1675 less than a dozen families
lived in the area, it being too exposed and remote
for development. The area was largely abandoned during
King Philip’s War (1675-76) and experienced slow growth
until the early 1700s. In 1724 Westford became the
West Precinct of Chelmsford, and the first meetinghouse
was begun on Tadmuc Hill. The First Parish Church
was established in 1727.
“Wesford” was incorporated as a town
on September 23, 1729. An additional plot of land
and part of Forge Pond were annexed from Groton in
1730, completing (after a small adjustment with Chelmsford
in 1974) today’s town boundaries. The first tax list
contained 89 names. A second village formed around
mills at Forge Village after about 1730. The census
of 1765 listed 962 inhabitants in 169 families and
Westford men served in various Colonial
wars, and over 280 Westford men served in the Revolutionary
War. They fought from the Battle of Lexington and
Concord to the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Lt.
Col. John Robinson was one of the first officers at
the North Bridge in Concord on April 19, 1775.
First Parish built a late Georgian style
meetinghouse at the town center in 1794. The Congregational
Society split from First Parish in 1829 and built
a late Federal/Greek Revival style meetinghouse on
the common, now the Parish Center for the Arts. It
was remodeled in 1896 with the addition of a Queen
Anne tower and sash.
The town Poor Farm was established in
1824, and a brick Federal style Poor House was built
on the Town Farm in 1837. The Town Hall was built
in 1870 and enlarged in 1880. The original Second
Empire tower, toppled by the 1938 hurricane, was replaced
with the present Colonial Revival tower.
Five school districts were established
in 1787 with schoolhouses in each district. New districts
were added in 1806, 1822, and 1826. Westford Academy
was incorporated in 1792, and a two-story late Georgian
style Academy Hall was built in 1794 to the west of
Westford’s earliest economy was based
on subsistence agriculture and the grazing of cattle.
Some lumbering was done, and in 1669 the first sawmill
was erected on Sawmill Meadow Brook, an outlet to
Nabnasset Pond. Orchards were introduced in the 1700s.
Naval stores – pitch, tar, and turpentine – were exported
to Salem shipbuilders. Some tanneries were reported,
as well as brick making in the southern part of town.
There was continued activity at the forge and fulling
mill at Forge Pond into the 1800s. In 1826-27 the
first quarrying began at Graniteville, though granite
had been taken before that date from surface boulders.
In 1848 the Stony Brook Railroad was
constructed from Lowell through Chelmsford, Westford,
and Groton to Ayer. In 1872 the Framingham and Lowell
railroad was completed with a stretch running along
Route 27 in the southern part of town. A year later
the Nashua, Acton & Boston Railroad (the Red Line)
was completed running north-south through Westford.
The Old Arch Bridge over Stony Brook is a remnant
of this railroad. By the early 1900s, trolley lines
extended from Chelmsford through Westford to Ayer,
with routes between Whidden Corner and Graniteville,
to Forge Village along Prescott Street, and to the
town center along Main Street.
The opening of the Stony Brook Railroad
brought new industrial activity to all three Stony
Brook villages: Brookside, Graniteville, and Forge
Village. The granite quarries above Graniteville now
had a convenient and economic means to transport their
stone to Lowell and from there to the rest of New
England and the east coast. In 1854 Charles G. Sargent
moved to Graniteville and, with Francis A. Calvert,
converted the old saw and gristmills into shops for
the manufacture of machinery for cotton and woolen
mills. In 1855 Sargent entered into partnership with
John W. P. & John W. Abbot (father & son), forming
the Abbot Worsted Company, said to have been the first
in the nation to use camel hair for worsted yarns.
Two years later Sargent sold his interest in Abbot
Worsted to Allen Cameron, newly arrived from Scotland,
to concentrate on his machinery company. In 1862 Sargent
bought Calvert’s interest in the machinery firm. He
soon sold part of his interest to his son, and the
firm became Charles G. Sargent & Son. George R. Moore
bought the old flour and lumber mill at Brookside
in 1862 and transformed its product to woolen yarn.
Moore erected the stone building comprising the oldest
existing part of Brookside Mill in 1862 (rebuilt in
In 1853 the Westford Forge Company was
organized at the old iron forging shop founded in
Forge Village in the 17th century with Jonas Prescott,
a descendant of the 18th century iron forger, and
John W. P. Abbot of Westford Center as instrumental
investors. The new forge was in operation with three
trip hammers by 1855, but by 1865 the company was
out of business. It was reorganized as the Forge Village
Horse Nail Company and continued in business making
horse, mule and ox shoe nails until 1876. In 1879
Abbot Worsted Mills expanded from Graniteville into
Forge Village, taking over the buildings of the horse
nail factory. Worsted yarn became the principal manufactured
product of the town. C. G. Sargent completed its new
granite Mill #2 on Broadway Street in 1877. Abbot
constructed two- and three-story brick mill buildings
in Forge Village in 1887 and enlarged them until 1910.
In 1869 the Methodist Episcopal Church
at Graniteville was organized, and the Gothic style
church was completed in 1871 on land donated by C.
G. Sargent. The first Roman Catholic church was built
in 1892 across the street from today’s Saint Catherine’s
church, built in 1934 in a late Gothic Revival style.
The Forge Village Mission of St. Andrew’s Episcopal
Church in Ayer began services in the 1903 building
across from Cameron School, now a home. It served
until 1961 when St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was built.
First Parish and the Congregational church reunited
in 1955 forming today’s First Parish Church United
of Westford. Westford Bible church was built in 1974
and rebuilt in 2001 after the roof collapsed in a
The school districts were expanded to
ten in 1851 with the addition of Graniteville district.
New schoolhouses were built in all ten districts in
1869-1874. Nine of these schoolhouses remain. Seven
are privately owned. Parkerville schoolhouse, rebuilt
in 1880 after a fire, is used as a working museum
and meeting hall, and Cameron serves as the Senior
Center. Later the town built Queen Anne style schoolhouses
in Graniteville (Sargent School, 1884), Westford Center
(Frost School, 1897), and Forge Village (Cameron School,
1872, remodeled in 1908 in Colonial Revival style).
Westford Academy outgrew its original building, and
in 1897 a second Academy building was constructed
on Main Street. The highly ornamented building, designed
in a late Victorian Richardsonian Romanesque style,
is unique in Westford. It now serves as the Roudenbush
The Civil War had a great impact on
Westford, as it did throughout New England and the
nation. Westford sent over 200 soldiers to serve in
the war, 36 of whom died in service to their country.
The war effort required an increased production of
cloth for uniforms, which helped the mills in Westford,
and their owners, to prosper. Westford men and women
fought in the two World Wars, Korean, Vietnam, and
our more recent wars. They are remembered with memorials
on the common and in Forge Village and Graniteville.
From the 1870s to the 1920s most of
Westford’s population increase came from the many
foreign-born residents who came to work in the quarries
and mills. By 1915 40% of the total population was
foreign-born. French Canadians formed the largest
immigrant group. Many immigrants also came from Ireland,
England, Scotland, Sweden, and Russia, where Abbot
Worsted actively recruited workers.
In 1916 the original Westford Academy
building, moved from its original location across
Boston Road from the common to its present location
in 1910, was converted for use as a fire station.
After a new police-fire station was built adjacent
to Town Hall in 1974, the old Center fire station
was restored to its original appearance and became
the Westford Museum.
The improvement of the local roads,
particularly Groton Road (Route 40), Concord Road
(Route 225), and Littleton Road (Route 110), and the
introduction of the automobile caused a decline in
the use of the streetcar and railway lines, which
were largely abandoned during the 1920s and 1930s.
With the increased use of the automobile, more and
more farmers sold their land to developers who built
homes for the increasing number of residents who commuted
to work in Boston or the western suburbs. This was
particularly true after Interstate 495 was constructed
through the town in 1961.
Westford census figures saw double-digit
percentage increase every year from 1910 to 2000,
except for 1940, requiring, among other things, the
construction of new schools. The third Westford Academy
building, now Abbot School, was built in 1955, followed
by the fourth in 1973, with a significant enlargement
in 2000-01. Nashoba Valley Technical High School opened
in 1969. Other new schools were the new Nabnasset
School (1960), Norman E. Day School (1965), and Col.
John Robinson School (1970), followed by the Lloyd
G. Blanchard School (1992), John Crisafulli and Rita
Edwards Miller Schools (2002), and the Stony Brook
Middle School (2003).
The mills in town began their long,
slow decline after World War I. The worsted mill in
Brookside was sold to the Abbot Worsted Company in
1920. Well into the 20th century agriculture remained
an important part of Westford’s economy with dairy
farming becoming the predominant agricultural pursuit.
Local orchards produced apples and peaches that were
sold as far away as England, although most of the
produce went to Boston, often transported by local
truckers. Strawberries were grown locally, and poultry
was raised at several locations.
With a population of 20,754 in 2000,
Westford is today a residential suburb with some light
industry and offices – and a great history.