A look back at Westborough's Agricultural Society
By Glenn Parker, Special Contributor
This is an article in an occasional series about important events or things from Westborough's past.
Westborough – In 1839 the Westborough Agricultural Society, the forerunner of the Westborough Grange, was founded by 27 Westborough farmers. The purpose of the society was twofold: to promote agricultural education and farm-related techniques and as a social organization. Farming was clearly the primary occupation of the residents and increased with the opening of the Worcester Turnpike in 1810. It was believed that “a society of agriculturists can more easily as well as more expeditiously than individuals collect and distribute such information as cannot but tend to increase the products and improve the soil.” The initial meetings of the society were held at members” homes and later in the lower hall of the townhouse.
The society became the first social organization outside of church meetings, barn raisings and funerals that established a social element for its members and town residents. The society organized an annual town fair that incorporated the various elements of a farmer's life and to promote agriculture. The annual town fair included cattle and livestock competitions, plowing demonstrations with oxen, steers and draft horses. Exhibitions of new equipment, leather products for saddles, harnesses and bicycle seats made in local shops were displayed. Later, trotting horse demonstrations and bicycle racing were also regular events. A farmers” market displayed and sold locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers, grains and breads.
Agriculture reached its highest level in 1865 when 184 working farms were recorded in Westborough ranging in size from 10 to hundreds of acres of farm land, the majority being dairy farms. A century later there were fewer than six working farms remaining in Westborough.
By 1891, the success of the society prompted the members to purchase a tract of land to build a facility and in 1892 George Brigham and other chosen trustees represented the society in negotiations to purchase 19 acres of the late Charles L. Adams on East Main Street from his heir Lucy Merrifield of Worcester for $1,800. The society later developed the site as a fair ground and agricultural park to promote agricultural awareness. A half-mile horse trotting track as well as a smaller bicycle track was built for racing and sport. It was believed that agricultural fairs could be profitable.
The 1898 Westborough map shows the location of the Westborough Agricultural Society Park and the dual track for horse and bicycle exhibitions bordered the Turnpike and East Main Street. The property consisted of 18 acres of flat pasture land, a house, barn, bridle shop and grandstand.
But in December 1901, the society voted to sell the land to James Shaw representing the Boston and Worcester Street Railway Co. However, after 66 years the society had fallen on hard times, a declining membership and loss of revenue. In 1905 the Society dissolved and the remaining members joined the Westborough Grange.
Glenn Parker is a former member of the Westborough Historical Commission and the author of “A Cornfield Meet -? A history of the trolleys of Westborough.” He is also the former Westborough Chief of Police, retiring from active duty in 2012 after 42 years with the department.
Parker and his wife Mary Ellen have four children and six grandchildren.
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