By Alexandra Molnar, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The next time you are driving through Northborough, take a moment to look up from the road to notice the three new glinting bronze signs marking areas of historic significance that will transport you to the town as it was more than 100 years ago.
The Northborough Historic District Commission (NHDC), with funding from the Community Preservation Act and support from Northborough Department of Public Works, initiated the creation of three historic signs to mark Assabetville, Chapinville and Woodside, all industrial areas of Northborough in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The signs aim to educate the public about Northborough’s history through recognition of the town’s former economic drivers and the townspeople who made them possible.
The signs, installed in August, are all located along the Assabet River, an important natural feature that fueled factories, such as for woolen cloth manufacturing and corn and flour production, at the industrial sites.
Chapinville, whose sign is adjacent to Chapin Court off of Hudson Street, marks a small industrial village that began in 1820. Amory Barnard, a Northborough resident and town selectman from 1825-26, first harnessed water from the Assabet River to produce corn and flour. The property was purchased by Caleb Chapin in 1864 who then built a large woolen cloth factory. Chapinville had its own post office, housing for workers, the factory itself, and Chapin’s mansion. Three brick homes and the original office building remain as private residences along Chapin Court.
Assabetville, named as such in the 1800s, comprises the area where the Assabet River flows under Main Street near the intersection of River Street. Here, a fulling mill built in 1751 by Samuel Wood took advantage of the water power. The fulling process involves cleaning the cloth and increasing its thickness. The site was later used for blacksmithing, iron works, spoke manufacturing, baby carriage manufacturing, comb making, and target rifle manufacturing. The rifle shop was managed by Edwin Wesson, brother of Smith and Wesson founder, Daniel Baird Wesson.
Woodside, which was located where apartments now exist on the corner of Hudson and Allen streets, was the site of cotton and woolen cloth and yarn manufacturing, including a factory erected in 1814. In 1826 the factory was reported to have produced 80,000 yards of cloth annually. Combs were eventually produced at the site as well.