by Lorenzo P. Blood
Samuel Adams Drake, History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Containing Carefully Prepared Histories of Every City and Town in the County, by Well-Known Writers; and a General History of the County, from the Earliest to the Present Time. 2 volumes. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880.
Settlements in the part of Groton west of the Nashua River were commenced as early as 1720. In 1742, the number of families having increased to forty-two, a petition from them to be set off as a distinct precinct was granted by the General Court. Groton West Parish included all the territory bounded southerly by the road as then traveled from Fitch’s Bridge to Townsend, westerly by Townsend, northerly by Dunstable West Precinct and Old Town, and easterly by the Nashua River. As a parish, it was empowered to act for itself in matters of parochial nature, but in all other respects it still remained a part of Groton.
At the first legal meeting of the parish, January 17, 1743, all the requisite officers were chosen, and ten pounds lawful money were voted to defray necessary charges. At a subsequent meeting, February 16, Samuel Wright was appointed a committee to provide preaching till the last day of April next ensuing; and it was voted “to build a meeting-house at the most convenient place near Jo. Blood’s fordway.” During the two years or more before the house was built, public worship was held at the house of Enosh Lawrence, at the East Village, and at the house of Nehemiah Hobart, near where Elijah A. Butterfield now lives.
So much dissatisfaction was manifested in regard to the location of the meeting-house, that before the expiration of the year a parish meeting was called, the vote reconsidered, and another passed, “to locate the meeting-house three-fourths of a mile northeast of the center of town, or at the next convenient place.” The result was a fierce contention, which at one time threatened the disruption of the parish. As a final resort, an appeal was made to the General Court, which appointed a committee to adjust the matter. The parish also chose a committee “to show the Court’s Committee the inhabitants of the place.” So promptly was the business attended to and settled that the parish voted, February 19, 1745, “to set the Meeting-House on the Place that the General Court perfixed,” which is the spot still occupied by the meeting-house of the First Parish.
The house – forty-two feet long, thirty feet wide, and twenty feet to the eaves – was soon after raised, and finished sufficiently to be occupied in the early part of the year 1745; although it was not completed for several years, as appears from the following recorded votes: –
March, 1745, “to build the Pulpit and ye Body seats below; — to seal the Meeting House as high as the girts all Round.”
March, 1746, “that Windows be cut where needed, Provided that they who cut them, Maintain them at their own Cost, so that they be no Parish Charge.”
March, 1746, “to finish the building seats in ye Gallery, and to seal ye Meeting House from the Gallery floor up to the beams.” Also, “to Glaze the Public Meeting House, and to provide boards to Lay Loose on ye floor overhead.”
The house at best could have been but little better than a barn; and it must have required no little exercise of fortitude and resignation to sit through lengthy services in an unfinished and unwarmed house, especially in mid-winter. But our hardy ancestors had not attained the modern ideas of church luxury nor of parish debt.
In the settlement of a minister they appear to have proceeded in a more united and prayful way. March 13, 1744, the parish voted “to keep the last day of March instant a day of fasting and prayer to Almighty God for direction on the important affair of settling a minister.” It seems rather unfortunate that in this vote the location of the meeting-house was not also included.
A church was gathered on the 29th of January, 1747, consisting of fifteen male members and about the same numbers of females, most of whom had withdrawn from the church at Groton, for the purpose of forming this. On the 25th of February following, Rev. Joseph Emerson of Malden was ordained and settled in the gospel ministry over the church and the parish. He received a settlement of forty acres of land within half a mile of the meeting-house, and 120 pounds; also a yearly salary of thirty-five cords of firewood cut an delivered at his door, and 62 pounds 10s., to be increased 12 pounds 10s when the parish should contain one hundred ratable families; the number of families at that time being seventy-two. This salary was regulated according to the price of provisions from year to year; but the plan occasioned considerably difficulty, and after a few years was by mutual consent of pastor and parish abandoned, Mr. Emerson receiving annually 73 pounds 6s. 8d., reckoning silver at six shillings per dollar, and at six shillings and eight pence per ounce.
Municipal and Political,– On the 12th of April, 1753, Groton West Parish became a district by act of the General Court, and was named Pepperell in honor of Sir William Pepperell, the hero of the memorable capture of Louisburg in 1745. Mr. Emerson and been chaplain in that expedition, and probably suggested the name of his old commander as the name of the new district. Sir William acknowledged the compliment by the customary present of a bell, which, however, was never received by those for whom it was intended. It was cast in England, being the inscription of the donor’s name, and the couplet,
“I to the church the living call,
And to the grave I summon all.”
It was shipped to Boston, and stored there. One tradition is, that it was destroyed by the British soldiers during their occupancy of Boston. Another story is, that the people of Pepperell, being so earnestly engaged in the great struggle for independence, neglected to send for the bell until it had been sold to pay expenses of storage, etc. As Sir William died in 1759, neither of these reasons is very satisfactory. Still another version is, that a committee of three, afterwards changed to one, was chosen by the town, to go to Boston to get the bell; that he went, sold the bell, and, having put the proceeds into his pocket, returned and reported the bell non inventus. But no record of any such committee, or of any action of the district in reference to this bell, can be found in the town records.
Mr. Emerson’s previous experience and his martial proclivities led him to take an active interest in military matters. To his influence and encouragement, undoubtedly, was due much of that military and patriotic spirit which characterized the inhabitants of Pepperell, and which furnished sp many brave officers and soldiers from her citizens.
Indian hostilities had nearly ceased before Pepperell became a separate parish, although for several years after Mr. Emerson’s settlement the men carried their guns with them to meeting. As inhabitants of Groton, they had their full share of Indian warfare. Many were the thrilling tales of the red man’s attack and the white man’s bravery; of Indian cunning and of Chamberlain’s circumspection told be the granddames of a generation ago, as received from their grandmothers, whose husbands, fathers, and brothers were the heroes of the story.
In 1758 a company for the French War was enlisted under the command of Captain Thomas Lawrence. Previous to their departure to join the army, Mr. Emerson preached a sermon to the company, congratulating the men for their cheerfulness and becoming seriousness with which they had engaged this affair. Thus he encouraged them: “Boldly, then, advance into the heart of your enemies country. Fear them not; let it never be said of a New England soldier,– let it never be said of, a Pepperell soldier,– that he was afraid to face his enemies, or that he turned his back on them, and cowardly deserted the cause of his country.” The brave and stalwart captain was obedient to the injunction of his minister. While out with a ranging party of about twenty, he was surprised by the Indians, and, with the exception of a few who fled with the first fire, the whole party were killed while fighting desperately; not one was taken alive.
Trained in such a school, and inspired by so zealous an apostle of liberty, the people of Pepperell were all prepared to enter with ardor into the contention between parliament and the provinces, which lead to open hostilities and war. They were among the first to notice and protest against arbitrary acts of the British Ministry, and among the first to sustain that protest by active and forcible measures.
District meetings were called, which were fully attended, and at which resolutions were unanimously passed, instructing their representatives in the legislature “by no means to join any measures for countenancing or assisting in the execution of the said Stamp Act”; to exert themselves “in the Great and General Assembly to the utmost for the regaining of such privileges as have been wrested from us, and establishing those we do enjoy”; and to be ever watchful that they “be in induced by any means to consent to any vote or votes in the Great and General Assembly that may have a tendency to weaken our constitutional rights and privileges.” Resolutions of sympathy, encouragement, and co-operation, “at risk of life and treasure,” were sent to the Committee of Correspondence in Boston; and a Committee of Safety was chosen to act with the committees in other towns. In January, 1766, Mr. Emerson preached a thanksgiving sermon on the repeal of the Stamp Act, and this sermon was printed for general circulation. A company of minute-men was enlisted, which, with companies in Hollis, New Hampshire, Groton, and other neighboring towns, was included in a regiment, of which William Prescott was appointed colonel, and Henry Woods major. The Pepperell company was commanded by Captain John Nutting.
William Prescott was born in Groton Centre, February 20, 1726, but before he was of age had removed to the West Parish, and taken farm in the tract called Groton Gore. He had been a lieutenant of provincial troops in 1755, and on his return from the expedition to Nova Scotia had been promoted to captaincy.
About 9 o’clock on the morning of April 19, 1775, a messenger from Concord arrived in Pepperell with tidings of the flight at Lexington, and the advance of the redcoats towards Concord. Colonel Prescott immediately gave orders to the companies in Pepperell and in Hollis to march to Groton, and join the other companies there. So well prepared were the Pepperell minute-men, and so ready for such an emergency, that they arrived at the Groton rendezvous, five miles distant, before the company there was ready to march; and after a halt of a few minutes they marched on without waiting for the other companies.
Abel Parker—afterwards Judge of Probate for Cheshire County, New Hampshire, and father of the late Chief Justice Joel Parker—was ploughing on his farm two or three miles distant; but as soon as he heard the alarm, leaving his oxen unyoked, he seized his gun in one hand and his best coat on the other, started on a run, and did not stop until he overtook his comrades, about three miles below Groton.
Another of Captain Nutting’s company, Edmund Bancroft, afterwards captain, had just started for Maine when the messenger arrived at his father’s house. His father ran out into the field, and mounting a large rock called to his son, who returned to the house, changed his clothes, took his gun, and started towards Concord. (there is a different version of this, sjs)
Colonel Prescott, with his regiment, hastened on to Concord; but, being unable to overtake the British on their retreat, proceeded to Cambridge, and made that place his headquarters.
The women of those towns were not a whit inferior to the men in patriotism and courage. After the departure of the minute-men, the women in the vicinity of the bridge over Nashua River (now the covered bridge) collected, dressed in their absent husbands’ clothes, and armed with such weapons as they could find. Having chosen Mrs. David Wright commander, they patrolled the road, determined that no enemy to freedom should pas that bridge; and to good purpose, for soon they had the satisfaction of arresting Captain Leonard Whiting of Hollis, a noted tory, and the bearer of dispatches from Canada to Boston. He was sent to the Committee of Safety, while he was detained as prisoner. (more to this story,sjs)
Of the fifteen hundred provincial soldiers who fought at the memorable battle of Bunker Hill, Pepperell furnished the commander and about sixty men, of whom eight were killed and eight wounded, as follows:–
Killed,–Joseph Spaulding, aged thirty-seven; Nathaniel Parker, jr., aged thirty-three; William Warren, aged twenty-eight; Ebenezer Laughton, aged twenty-seven; Wainwright Fisk, aged twenty-four; Jeremiah Shattuck, aged twenty-one; Edmund Pierce, aged forty-four; Benjamin Wood, aged twenty.
Wounded,– William Spaulding, John Adams, Abel Parker, Moses Blood, Simon Green, Jonathan Stevens, Thomas Lawrence, 3rd, William Green.
Colonel Prescott remained in the service until the close of 1776. He was stationed at Governor’s Island, New York, until the American troops were obliged to retreat from New York, when he withdrew his regiment in such good order as to call forth the public commendation of General Washington. In the fall of 1777 he, with several of his former officers, went as a volunteer to oppose the onward march of Burgoyne, and was present at the surrender of the formidable but discomfited army, which, according to the British programme, was destined to insulate New England from the other colonies, and thus effectually crush the rebellion. This was Colonel Prescott’s last military service. He retired to his farm in Pepperell, where he passed the remainder of his days, honored by his fellow-citizens, whom he served in the various municipal offices of town-clerk, selectmen, magistrate, and representative to the legislature. He died October 13, 1795, at the age of sixty-nine.
In person, he was of tall and commanding stature, and well-marked and intellectual features; in deportment he was plain and courteous; in disposition kind and benevolent,–liberal even to a fault, and always ready to assist others to the neglet of his own business.
The old homestead still remains in possession of the Prescott family, having descended to the son, Hon. William Prescott,; to the grandson William H. Prescott, the historian; and to the great-grandson, William G. Prescott, Esq., the present proprietor; by each of whom it has been occupies during the summer and autumn months as a country residence.
By an act of the legislature passes in 1786, applying to all the districts incorporated previous to 1777, Pepperell became a town; although it appears that from 1776 it had made its records as a town, and chosen representatives, who were acknowledged and received as such by the legislature.
The military spirit of the town was kept up for many years. The 17th of June was a red-letter day, whose celebration quite overshadowed the 4th of July. About 1820 a volunteer militia company was organized under the name of the Prescott Guards. From this company were promoted the following officers of the old 6th Regiment: Colonel William Buttrick, General George Green, Major Joseph G. Heald, Major Luther S. Bancroft, Colonel Samuel Pepperell Shattuck Major George T. Bancroft, Colonel Alden Lawrence, Major E. A. Parker, Colonel E. F. Jones.
On the 15th of April, 1861, Colonel Jones received an order from headquarters to muster his regiment on Boston Common forthwith. Although the regiment embraced over thirty towns, yet in a few hours seven hundred men were in Boston, ready for duty, over twenty of whom were from Pepperell.
The record of the old 6th, its march through Baltimore on the twice memorable 19th of April, the service rendered the government at a most critical period, the vote of thanks passed by Congress for its “alacrity, patriotism, and bravery,”—have all become part of the history of our country. The number of soldiers enlisted from Pepperell during the war was nearly one hundred and fifty, of whom fifteen were killed, or died from disease contracted in the army.
The Worcester and Nashua Railroad, which was opened for travel in 1848, was located along the eastern bank of the Nashua River, through Groton. A depot for Pepperell was established opposite Babbitasset Village. Around this station a village grew up, in all its business and interests identified with Pepperell rather than with Groton. A new bridge was built across the river, thus connecting the two villages, and reducing the distance from the depot to Pepperell Center to one mile. In 1857 this depot village, together with about two square miles of territory on the north east corner of Groton, was, by act of the legislature, annexed to Pepperell.
Ecclesiastical Affairs.—Pepperell was called upon to offer up as sacrifice to the cause of liberty not only the eight men who fell at Bunker Hill, but also her beloved minister. Upon the assembling of the army at Cambridge, Mr. Emerson immediately repaired thither to visit his numerous parishioners in Colonel Prescott’s regiment; and it is said that he offered the first prayer that was made in the American camp. While ministering to the physical as well as spiritual needs of the soldiers, he contracted as severe cold which induced a fever that resulted in his death October 29, 1775, at the age of fifty one years. During the twenty-nine years of his ministry one hundred and ninety-six persons had been admitted into the church, and eight hundred and seven baptized.
In 1769 a larger and more suitable house of worship had been erected on the site of the old. Cornet Simon Gilson, the contractor to build the new house, took the old one apart in payment and, and, having removed it to his farm, now J. M. Belcher’s, converted it into a barn. In 1830 it was burned by an incendiary.
Preparatory to the building of this new house a day of fasting and prayer was appointed by the church, wherein “particularly humble to ourselves before God, for our unprofitableness under the means of grace we have enjoyed in the old meeting-house, and to entreat his guidance on erecting a new one.” The only question that appears to have caused any difference of opinion was whether the house should have a steeple, which was finally decided in the negative. Several years subsequently, however, the steeple was built.
On the occasion of the dedication of the new house, March 8, 1770, Mr. Emerson preached a sermon from the text, 1 Samuel, vii. 12, wherein he enumerated the various ways in which God had helped them; that the number of inhabitants of Pepperell had increased, since his settlement, from seventy-two to one hundred and fifty-two families, and that their wealth had increased in equal ratio; and that they had been able to pay the charges of becoming a parish, and then a district, and of building a house of worship; and that peace, love, and harmony had prevailed in the gospel among them.
Mr. Emerson had indeed lived in peace and harmony with his people in all their relations of life, religious, social, and political. Upon the tablet, which the town erected over his tomb, his virtues are thus enumerated:–
“Steadfast in the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Fixed and laborious in the cause of Christ and precious Souls. Exemplary in visiting and sympathizing with his Flock. Diligent in improving his Talents. A kind Husband; a tender Parent; A Faithful reprover; a constant Friend; a true Patriot. Having ceased from his Labours his works follow him.”
Nearly four years passed after Mr. Emerson’s death, when his successor, Rev. John Bullard of Medway, a Harvard graduate, was ordained, October 19, 1779. His ministry of forty-two years was prosperous and happy. He was eminently social in his habits, and is spoken of by a contemporary as “of that almost peculiar urbanity which led him to treat all me of learning and of fair moral character as friends and companions.” He died September 18, 1821, at the age of sixty-four, truly lamented by his people, who long cherished his memory.
Rev, James Howe, of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, a graduate of Dartmouth and of Andover, was ordained October 16, 1822. For several years the relation between pastor and people was harmonious, but at length dissatisfaction began to be expressed by certain of the more liberally inclined in regard to exchanges. In May, 1831, the following vote was passes at town meeting: “To excuse Rev. James Howe from preaching six Sabbaths in the course of the ensuing year, and permit the pulpit to be supplied on these Sabbaths by ministers of other denominations.” The enforcement of this vote Mr. Howe regarded as an expulsion from his pulpit. Accordingly he, with nearly the entire church and a large majority of the congregation, peaceably withdrew, and formed a separate religious society under the title of the Evangelical Congregational Society of Pepperell, to which the church allied itself, and of which Mr. Howe was recognized pastor by a council called for that purpose February 1, 1832. Thus the town was divided into two parishes and two churches; each church, however, claiming to be the original First Church of Pepperell.
(“Peaceably”??-see other history re:church separation-this section needs explanation of church funding at that time in history)
The First Parish, which now included all the legal voters who had not “signed off”, and the remnant of the church which adhered to it, being thus left without a minister, after having heard several candidates, decided in favor of Rev. Charles Babbidge of Salem, a Harvard graduate (class of 1828), and he was ordained February 13, 1833. A gentleman and a scholar in the fullest import of the phase, courteous and affable to all without distinction of sect or party, he soon gained the esteem of his people. He married January 1, 1837, Miss Eliza Ann Bancroft, daughter of one of his parishioners,–Luther Bancroft, Esq.; he bought a farm, built a house, and so fully identified himself with the people of Pepperell and their interests, that he several times refused calls to much larger congregations and more eligible pulpits. He is almost a permanent member of the school-board; and in 1858 he represented the town in the legislature. At the commencement of the late war he was chaplain of the 6th regiment, and the first minister in the country to enlist; thus giving to Pepperell the honor of furnishing the first chaplain for the War of the Rebellion as well as for the Revolution. Having served through the three months’ campaign of the 6th, he received, in November, 1861, a commission as chaplain of the 26th Massachusetts Regiment, in which he served three years. Being discharged November 7,1864, he returned to the peaceful pursuits of his professional life, and to his people, who gladly welcomed him. Although he has passed the allotted age of threescore and ten, and the golden wedding of his ministry is near at hand, yet “his eye is not dim nor his natural force abated.”
During the greater part of Mr. Babbidge’s absence Rev. John A. Buckingham, of Boston, supplied his pulpit as pastor in charge. The old meeting-house having been remodeled and modernized, was dedicated anew October 27, 1836.
The Second Parish, immediately upon their organization commenced to build a commodious meeting-house, which was dedicated October 31, 1832. Previous to this time their public services had been held in an unfinished hall over the store, where the town-house now stands. Mr. Howe, having an hereditary tendency to consumption, found his health and strength gradually failing, until he was obliged to ask a colleague to assist him in his labors. After a trial of several candidates, the choice fell on Rev. David Andrews of Dedham, a graduate of Amherst and of Andover, and he was ordained January 29, 1840. Mr. Howe died the following summer, July 19, 1840, aged forty-four. He was a man of unusual sagacity and foresight. With remarkable tact as well as judgment, his administrative abilities were of a high order. Very few ministers could have led off so successfully, and withal so peaceably as he, so large a majority of church and congregation. There was no legal controversy, no actual quarrel. A spirit of bitterness, however, was developed among the people, and the town was divided into two politico-theological parties, which existed for many years. But the ministers of the opposing sects, although they could not meet each other theologically, always met as gentlemen, on the common ground of Christian courtesy.
Mr. Andrews, who became sole pastor on Mr. Howe’s decease, was, in many respects, quite different from his predecessor. Though a thorough scholar and forcible writer, he was no orator. Kind and sympathizing, he was externally cold and uncongenial. A perfect gentleman at heart, in his deportment he was awkward and constrained. He had no policy, no finesse, but in everything pursued and honest, straightforward, outspoken course. He preached the gospel, as he believed it, plainly, and with a directness that was often more pungent than agreeable to his hearers. More than ten years of the nest portion of his life were literally devoted to his church and society, and he learned, by bitter experience, that republics are ungrateful. He asked a dismission (sic), which was granted April 2, 1850. He afterwards preached several years at Tiverton, Rhode Island, and then went West. He settled in Winona, Minnesota, where he resided until his decease, in 1870.
Rev. Lyman Cutler of Dorchester, a graduate of Dartmouth and Andover, was ordained January 22, 1851. He was a superior scholar, with a ready command of language, and a nervous style of thought and delivery, which thrilled his hearers to the fingers’ ends. Open-hearted and free from guile, he won the regard of all. But he was ambitious for literary distinction, and unsuited to the parochial duties of a country parish. His request for dismissal was granted November, 1853. The following year he was settled in Newton where, after a brilliant but brief career, he died May 2, 1855.
Rev. Thomas Morong, a graduate of Amherst and of Andover, was ordained April 12, 1854, and dismissed November 4, 1855.
June 11, 1856, Rev. Edward P. Smith, a graduate of Yale and of Andover, was ordained pastor of the church and society. He was endowed with remarkable executive ability, With him, to think was to act; so much so that he was liable to hastily follow his first impulse, rather than wait for the sober second thought. In his preaching and his while life –pastoral, civil, and political—this characteristic was prominent. St the beginning of the Rebellion he took an active part in arousing people and procuring enlistments. Having obtained a month’s leave of absence in January, 1863, he attached himself to the United States Christian Commission, and went to the front. The month’s absence was extended indefinitely, and a dismissal was asked for. But the society were unwilling to grant it, vainly hoping that, after the war, he could content himself with the quiet life and circumscribed sphere of Pepperell, At length, December 7, 1864, his repeated request for a dismissal was granted. At the close of the war he engaged with his natural ardor in the cause of freedmen, and held a prominent position in the American Missionary Society. He was afterward Indian agent in Minnesota; then was appointed commissioner of Indian affairs. Having resigned this position and been elected president of Howard University, he went to Africa, to become more intimately acquainted with the needs of the Negro race, and the most feasible methods for missionary work among the native tribes. While on his mission he died of African fever =, on board of the United States vessel Ambrig, in the Gulf of Guinea, June 15, 1876, aged forty-nine. One of his colaborers (sic) thus writes of him: “He was noted for his love of Children, his mirthfulness, his generosity, his strong attachments, and his advocacy of the cause of the oppressed. Doing goof in forgetfulness of self was his business, and he pursued it to the end.”
In July, 1859, the meeting-house was entirely destroyed by fire, together with Mr. Luther Tarbell’s tavern and store buildings, in which the fire originated. The house had just been repaired, and the basement finished into a convenient vestry, which the congregation were expecting to use for the first time on the ensuing Sabbath. Instead of which, they met, on that Sabbath, in the Unitarian house, whose use for the afternoons had been cordially tendered, and listened to an impressive discourse by Mr. Smith, from the text (Isa. lxiv. 11), “Our holy and our beautiful house where our fathers praised Thee is burned up with fire.” After considerable delay, occasioned by a want of unanimity on the question of location, the present commodious and well-arranged house was erected on the site of the old one and dedicated January 29, 1860.
The same council that concurred in the dismissal of Mr. Smith ordained Rev. S.L/ Blake, a graduate of Middlebury and of Andover. Having preached acceptably to the people four years, he asked for a dismission (sic) December 28, 1868, in order to accept a call from the Old South Church, in Concord, New Hampshire. His successor was Rev. Horace Parker, a graduate of Amherst, who had previously been settled in Ashby. He was installed March 17, 1979, and dismissed September 16, 1873, on account of poor health. During his pastorate, and through his active efforts, a debt of nearly $1000, which had gradually accumulated, was wiped out, and some $200 additional raised for repairs of the meeting-house. A parsonage was also bought.
After a year and one half of unsatisfactory and unsuccessful trial of candidates, Rev. George F. Swain, the present incumbent, accepted a call, and was ordained May 12, 1875.
The first serious endeavor to introduce the services of Methodism in Pepperell appears to have been made in the winter of 1865-66, under the labors of Rev. A.D. Merrill and Rev. M.M. Parkhurst, at the North Village school-house. The following spring Parker’s Hall, at the East Village, was hired, and Rev. G. Adams was sent from the New England Conference as the first pastor of a church which was organized May, 1866. The succession of ministers has been as follows: Rev. M.R. Barry, 1867; Rev. Asa Barnes, 1869; Rev. A.W. Baird, 1871; Rev. J.H. Emerson, 1874; Rev. J.R. Cushing, 1875; Rev. Alfred Noon, 1877.
In 1873, through the zealous and untiring labors of Mr. Baird, a fund was raised sufficient to build a commodious church edifice in Babbitasset Village, where has been gathered a large flourishing society.
About 1871, a Catholic chapel was built in the Depot Village. Services are held there twice a month by the priest from Ayer.
Educational History—In 1741, the town of Groton voted to have a school, kept part of the time at Nissitisset, which was probably the first school on the west side of the river. In 1749 a petition from the parish for means of supporting a school was granted by the town of Groton, on the condition that a school-room be provided without expense to the town. This condition being fulfilled, the town granted the sum of 13 pounds 6s. 8d. In 1751 the parish voted to raise 7 pounds 10s. for schooling, and that the school be kept at the nearest convenient place to the meeting-house; and that all who lived more than two miles distant might draw their proportion of the money, and use it for schooling as they might see fir. In 1754 the district voted that the school be kept in three places but afterwards changed the number to two. A school-house in the Centre is first mentioned in 1764. It stood on the corner where the town-house now is, In 1770, it was voted to have the school successively in four different parts of the district, in dwelling-houses. The school-house is again mentioned in 1771, and a vote passed to have a grammar master; but the school-house appears to have belonged to individuals; for in 1772 the district voted to pay 10 pounds 13s. 4d. for it, and also to build four more. About this time the district was divided into six squadrons, as they were called,– middle, west, southwest, north, south, and east; and a committee of three persons in each squadron was annually chosen to see that the money appropriated was properly expended. In 1809 the name of the squadron was changed to district, and the districts designated by numbers.
In 1819, No. 7 was formed from the eastern part of No. 1, and the following year No. 8 was taken from the western part of No. 6. In 1849, No. 9 was formed from parts of No. 3 and No. 5. The territory east of Nashua River, on its annexation to the town in 1857, became District No. 10.
In 1868 the town voted to abolish the district system, and since then the schools have been under the entire control of the school committee; although for convenience, the old numerical districts are still retained.
The appropriations for support of schools in various years have been as follows: 1758, 10 pounds; 1768, 25 pounds; 1778, 400 pounds (continental); 1788, 90 pounds; 1798, 150 pounds; 1808, $500; 1818, $600; 1828, $750; 1838, $850; 1848, $1,000; 1858, $1,200; 1868, $1,500; 1878, $2,400.
In September, 1833, Mr. Erasmus D. Eldridge, a graduate of Amherst, who had previously taught in Pembroke, New Hampshire, opened a private school for the fall in school-house No. 1. The school was so successful that and interest in education, already awakened among the prominent citizens, was increase so much that in February following an association was formed, with a capital of $1,000, in forty shares, for the establishment of an academy. An eligible lot was brought for $100, and Dr, Nehemiah Cutter, who was always ready to forward to the utmost any public improvement, contracted to build a suitable building for the remaining $900. So expeditiously was the work carried on, that in July, 1834, the school-house was dedicated with appropriate services; and Mr. Eldridge, who had returned in the spring, and reopened his school, took possession of same, with fifty-two pupils, under the name Pepperell Academy.
Mr. Eldridge, though a firm disciplinarian, was, when off duty, exceedingly social and lively. A shrewd observer of human nature, and endowed with a full share of executive ability, he possessed in an eminent degree the faculty of making a school popular. Excelling in the natural sciences, he inclined to more practical methods of teaching than was usual at that day. He extemporized a chemical apparatus, with which he gave frequent lectures to crowded and astonished audiences. With only a school-building, without a dollar in funds or a single volume of library, and with no apparatus, except for his own furnishing, he succeeded in making Pepperell Academy the most flourishing institution in the vicinity. Students flocked to it from a distance of twenty miles or more. In the catalogue for 1836 we find the total number of scholars during the year to be: males 90, females 82, with an average attendance of 70. Of these 44 were classical scholars, and 90 from other towns.
At the close of the fall term on 1837, Mr. Eldridge resigned, in order to enter the ministry. The teachers that have succeeded him are as follows: Rev. George Cook till September, 1838; Hervey B. Wilbur till March, 1839; Willard Brigham till May, 1840; Horace Herrick till May, 1841; Josiah Pillsbury till September, 1842; Charles Cummings fall term of 1842; Moses Case from March, 1843, till May, 1844; J.E.B. Jewett till November, 1844; Moses Case from March, 1845, till November 1847; J. Stone till May, 1849; E.E. Boynton till May, 1850; Rev. Z. M. Smith till November, 1851: L.P. Blood from April 1852, to November, 1853; Charles S. Farrer the fall term of 1854.
An act of incorporation was granted by the legislature of 1841, and a board of fifteen trustees chosen in accordance therewith. But the real estate having been conveyed in such a manner that he corporation could have no legal title to the property, the trustees could only superintend the management of the school. The interest in the school gradually decreased, and there is no record if any meeting of the trustees after March, 1855. The building stood ready for the occupancy of any respectable and competent person who might be willing to take possession and open a school. It was thus successively occupied for a shorter or a longer time By H.T. Wheeler, S. C. Cotton, D.W. Richardson, Miss Caroline A. Shattuck, and A. J. Huntoon. In 1860, A. J. Saunders opened a school, which he successfully maintained for several years.
The building had been kept in repair by funds raised by fairs, tea-parties, and similar spasmodic efforts at sundry times. Occasionally the teachers had paid for necessary repairs, rather that attempt to collect from the public.
In 1864, the town having voted for a school of higher grade, and appropriated $700 for the purpose, the academy building was also appropriated, and Mr. Saunders, being in possession, was disposed of by being appointed principal. This high school was sustained for four years and then discontinued till 1873, when it was again established, and continued six years, and then again discontinued.
Meanwhile about $800 had been raised by subscriptions for additional shares of stock in the academy, and the building, having been remodeled and repaired throughout, has been rented to the town for school purposes.
In 1850 a boys’ boarding-school was opened by Rev. David Perry in the house that stood on the spot now occupied by J.E.B. Jewett. This school was quite successful; but in May, 1853, the whole establishment was destroyed by fire, together with the boarding-house and insane retreat of Dr. N. Cutter and Dr. J.S.N. Howe. Mr. Perry removed his school to Brookfield, but returned with it to Pepperell in 1857, and established it on the farm now owned by Colonel S.P. Shattuck. Upon the decease of his wife, about three years after, he abandoned the school and left town.
A female boarding-school was commenced in 1852, in the house now Mrs. Hutchinson’s, and for several years was quite a success under the management of Mrs. A.E. Conant and her two daughters.
A public library was established by the town in 1877. It now numbers over 3,000 volumes, and is very generously patronized by the public.
Industrial.—In the petition to be set off as a parish, the territory of Pepperell was not inaptly described as “good land well situated.” The surface is undulating, in the western part decidedly hilly. The town is noted for its beautiful scenery and fine drive, and attracts during the summer months many visitors from the cities. Along the Nashua River are several fine intervals. The soil is generally good, and well adapted to fruit-culture, to which considerably attention is paid.
During the earlier history of the town the principal industry was farming, almost every farm-house being supplemented by a cooper’s shop, wherein the enforced leisure of winter was improved in making barrels for the Boston market. Farming is still the chief business, although the cooper-shops have nearly all disappeared.
For many years the Centre, with its meeting-house, post-office, and stores to say nothing of the tavern, was the principal village. Two miles north of this is the North Village, a cluster of about a dozen houses, on the Nissitisset River, a small stream, affording here a privilege, which has, from time to time, furnished the power for a saw and grist mill, a carding and clothier’s mill, a shoddy-mill, and now a paper-mill. About one and a quarter miles below, on the same stream, is the East Village, which in earlier times rejoiced in the name of the Lower Store, and later, in the possession of a large tavern and still later, a post-office, which has been removed to the Depot Village. Here are the grain and lumber mills, and also the machine-shops of Blake Brothers, manufacturers of the Blake turbine water-wheel. Some one hundred rods below this are the Nissitisset Mills, owned by H.A. Parker & Co., who manufacture batting, wrapping- paper, and leather board; and have also an extensive lumber-mill and grain-mill. A paper-mill was located here as early as 1820.
About 1834 Mr. And Emerson build a paper-mill at Babbitasset Falls, on the Nashua. This privilege, one of the best on the river, had heretofore been utilized for a clothing and carding mill, and was known as The Forge. The two paper mills were burned, and the property passed through several ownerships, with varied success or want of it, until 1862 Mr. H.M. Clark obtained possession of the whole property, and immediately commenced to develop its capacities. There are now, owned by S.D. Warren & Co., two first–class mills, which employ about one hundred and twenty-five hands, at a monthly pay-roll of $4,000, and make one hundred and fifty tons of paper per month. In the manufacture of tinted paper they claim especial excellence.
Babbitasset Village in 1833 contained six houses, and upon the territory now occupied by the Depot Village, on the opposite side of the river, there was in 1847 one house. The two villages now form one, which, with over on hundred twenty dwellings, has become the business part of the town. Much of its prosperity is due to the enterprise and success of Mr. Frank Leighton, shoe manufacturer. His factory having been destroyed by fire March, 1879, a new one, with all the modern improvements, has already been completed, with a capacity for furnishing employment to five hundred persons.