Shrewsbury is a suburban community with an uneven and hilly terrain cut by a number of minor streams providing several small water power sites. Grants of land were made in what would eventually be the town beginning in 1664, with the 3,200 acre grant called Haynes Farm as the largest. Settlers came primarily from Sudbury and Marlborough and the first permanent settler was Gersham Wheelock in 1720.
Townspeople created an agricultural economy with apple orchards and by 1750 there were two stores and four taverns as well as several small industries in operation. The rapid fall of prices for agricultural goods, the shortage of hard currency and the general economic depression following the Revolutionary War produced disastrous conditions for colonists. Shay's Rebellion in 1786 sought to close the courts to prevent debt collections and the foreclosure of mortgages. Shrewsbury became a staging area for the rebellion and the encampment of the more than 400 insurgents, before the march on the Worcester Court House.
A leather industry began in 1786 in Shrewsbury and town farmers developed large cattle herds to support the manufacture of boots and shoes. This was followed by the establishment of gunsmithing operations in 1797 which produced rifles, shotguns and pistols and eventually cutlery. Luther Goddard began in 1809 by making brass clocks and then established a small watch factory employing a few skilled Swiss and English watchmakers. Lumbering created sawmills and they in turn drew chair and cabinet makers, plow and wagon builders.
The development of streetcar routes in the 19th century spurred the growth of single-family housing in town and a summer resort population on Lake Quinsigamond became consumers of the market garden produce grown by town farmers. As Shrewsbury's industry was killed off by the lack of large waterpower sites and the tardy arrival of the railroad, its role as a suburb of Worcester grew more important. The town's population doubled from 1915 to 1940 as continued streetcar suburb growth brought more modern settlers into the community. Other modern developments included an increased number of lakeside cottages, ethnic clubs and recreational areas on the lake. The economy of modern Shrewsbury has been described as depending on agriculture, the resort industry and the providing of recreation and food for the population of Worcester.
It is located in central Massachusetts, bordered by Worcester on the west, Northborough and Westborough on the east, and Grafton on the south and northwest. Shrewsbury is 5 miles east of Worcester, 27 miles south of Fitchburg, 34 miles west of Boston, and 183 miles from New York City.
Narrative compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
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