By Michael Perna, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Since the time Shrewsbury was settled in 1722, there have been many notable figures that have had a significant impact on not only the town but also Massachusetts and in some cases, the country.
- Major General Artemas Ward (1727-1800) was born in Shrewsbury. He lived in a house located roughly in front of the current Heald and Chiampa Funeral Home on Main Street. He graduated from Harvard in 1748, then ran a store out of his home, but also was very involved in the local militia. When the American Revolution broke out, he was soon put in charge of the Colonial forces around Boston, serving during the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege that eventually led to the British evacuating the city. He was later relieved of his command when George Washington was placed in that role. Ward returned to Shrewsbury, living in his still-preserved home at 786 Main St. He continued to play an active role in government, including taking a stand on the steps of the Worcester Courthouse when Shay’s Rebellion broke out and serving as a congressman. A statue of Ward stands in Ward Circle in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery.
- Levi Pease (1740-1824) lived in the house at what was once 864 Main St., (now 32 Main Circle), known since those days as the Pease Tavern. Using stagecoaches, Pease, along with his business partner Reuben Sykes, established the first mail routes in the country. The first mail passed through Shrewsbury and Worcester on Jan. 17, 1786. By 1799, he was so successful that the U. S. government asked him to travel to Philadelphia to help set up a national mail system. In 1808 he lobbied the state legislature to encourage them to build a turnpike between Boston and Worcester – he was successful and today that road is known as Route 9. There is no photograph to show what Levi Pease looked like.
- Luther Goddard (1762-1842) lived in what was then called the Lower Village – the area around the intersection of South and Main streets. He was a travelling preacher, going from town to town to deliver sermons. This fit in nicely with his business of repairing watches – he would pick up watches in need of repair while visiting a town, bringing them back to his shop in Shrewsbury then returning it to its owner on his next Sunday visit. He also made clocks starting in 1784 and built a small workshop in town in 1809. He became the first person to produce watches in the United States. His two sons, Parley and Daniel, became involved in the business becoming apprentices in their early teen years. The business later moved to Main Street in Worcester. Eventually, the business was sold to the still-operating Shreve, Crump and Lowe Jewelers. Watches bearing the Goddard name are extremely sought after by collectors to this day. A painting of Goddard is in the Shrewsbury Historical Society’s collection.
- Anthony “Spag” Borgatti (1916-1996) opened the Shrewsbury Tire and Battery business in a corner of a trucking company building in 1934, shortly after graduating from high school. He used some money earned from selling fireworks, along with a small loan from his mother, to get the business going, but soon started expanding his stock to include all kinds of hardware and other goods. The store grew and grew, eventually expanding to include a number of nearby buildings and warehouse space. The business became a shopping destination for people throughout New England, with its low prices and wide variety of goods. “No bags at Spag’s” became a well-known slogan and the store had a cash-only policy for most of its existence. The Spag’s business empire began to decline after the death of Olive, Spag’s wife and business partner, in 1990. Upon Spag’s death in 1996, the business was taken over by his daughters. The store was sold to Building 19 in 2001, with that store closing in 2011.
- Reverend Joseph Sumner (1740-1824) was the second minister of the First Congregational Church. He held this office for many years, and as a result was a pillar of the local community. He became known throughout the area for his wisdom and sage advice. Rev. Sumner built the first portion of this home in 1797, located right next to the Town Common. Eventually the house was added on to twice until it consisted of 23 rooms. After a long career serving his flock and community, Rev. Sumner passed away in 1824. Today Rev. Sumner’s house is home to the Heald & Chiampa Funeral Home.
- Lieutenant General Willard Stuart Paul was a Shrewsbury resident, living in the house that still stands at 538 Main St. After service on the Mexican border in 1916, he served during World War I. He stayed in the Army and married Ruth Sieurin, a Shrewsbury woman who had served as a nurse during World War I, in 1923. When World War II broke out, General Paul was positioned for a rapid rise through the ranks. He was promoted to Major General in 1942, and by 1944 he was serving as Commander of the 26th Infantry Division, serving with distinction at the Battle of the Bulge. When the war ended he was assigned to help administer post-war Germany, being promoted to Lieutenant General in 1947. Paul retired from the Army in 1948 – he later became president of Gettysburg College – a post once held by Dwight Eisenhower. Paul passed away in 1966 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Richard “Dick” Carney (1927-2011) became Shrewsbury’s second town manager in 1957. He succeeded the first person to hold that position, Allen Wilcox, who had held the job from 1953-1957. Carney oversaw the town during a period of unprecedented growth and development, becoming known for his sound management decisions and wise financial policies. After a long and distinguished career – he served in this position for 41 years – Mr. Carney (as he was known to most residents) retired in 1998. The Town Hall and office building on Maple Avenue, whose construction and expansion he oversaw, was named after him – a rare honor for a still-living public official.
- Dr. Min Chueh Chang (1908-1991) was an immigrant from China. He became a scientist at the then Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology on Maple Avenue in Shrewsbury. While working on a project dealing with the fertilization process, Dr. Chang, along with co-worker Gregory Pincus, made a discovery that would change people’s lives throughout not only the United States, but the entire world – the birth control pill. It goes without saying that Dr. Chang’s work, beginning in the 1960s, has had a profound impact on society. Dr. Chang resided in Shrewsbury along with his wife Isabelle, who still lives in town. They had three children.
- Charles Dean was a Shrewsbury resident who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He later became a successful businessman. As a tribute to his parents, he decided to give the town a gift in the form of what was to become Dean Park. He oversaw the development of the property, with a formal flag raising being held in 1915 (the last surviving participant, his great-granddaughter Grace Edna Walker Dean passed away in 2013). The park has evolved over the years with many changes and improvements. Today it is a vibrant part of the community with ball fields, tennis courts, a playground, lighted fountains and basketball courts – a fitting tribute to the Dean family that has brought enjoyment to many generations of Shrewsbury residents.
- Kenneth Burns (1908-1968) not only served as Shrewsbury’s Chief of Police from 1950 to 1966, but was also instrumental in promoting crew racing activities on Lake Quinsigamond. A rower himself, he won every race he entered from 1922 to 1925. He established a rowing program for Shrewsbury High School in 1937, with his team winning the National Schoolboy Championships in 1939. He brought the Middle States Regatta to the Lake in 1950, the National Regatta in 1951 and the Olympic tryouts in 1952. Later, he helped his daughter, Barbara Burns Caron, develop a girls’ crew racing program for the high school. The Route 9 bridge over Lake Quinsigamond was named in his honor.
Michael Perna, a local historian and author of several books about Shrewsbury, is past president of the Shrewsbury Historical Society, a member of Shrewsbury Historical Commission and served for many years as a member of the town’s Historic District Commission. A lifelong Shrewsbury resident, he is also a retired First Sergeant, having served with the Massachusetts Air National Guard for 36 years and is currently the chief of the Military Records Branch, office of the adjutant general, for the commonwealth of Massachusetts. For more information visit Perna’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Perna-Jr/171488213036869?fref=ts.