History of Grafton

Grafton is a semi-rural town in east central Massachusetts lying southeast of the City of Worcester. The population according to the federal census in 2010 was 17,765. Grafton was originally occupied by a tribe of Nipmuc Native Americans and was called Hassanamisco (place of small stones). In 1671, an English missionary named John Eliot, who preached in Hassanamisco, established a Native American church and school here where the Bible was studied in the Indigenous language. The church and school were located near the current common. Today there is a Native American homestead on Brigham Hill.

In 1724, a group of 39 men and one woman, mainly from Marlborough, Sudbury, Concord, and Stow, presented a petition to the General Court and were granted the right to purchase 7,500 acres of land from Native American owners. The money was to be held in an account under the direction of the General Court for the benefit of the Native Americans. The Town of Grafton was established in 1735 and named in honor of Charles Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton, and grandson of Charles II.

The present Grafton common was established in 1738. The original 40 proprietors of Grafton voted that four acres of land near the center of the plantation of Hassanamisco were to be set aside as common land and that a meetinghouse, burial ground, schoolhouse, and militia training field be situated at this place. The first meetinghouse of the Congregational Puritan settlement was built in 1730 and stood at the center of the common. This meetinghouse remained on the common for 100 years. The cross behind the pulpit in the present Congregational Church is fashioned of timber from this building, which was subsequently demolished. In 1845, a portion of the original Common was fenced, graded, and planted with trees. The present bandstand was built in 1935 by Hollywood filmmakers for a scene in the production of "Ah, Wilderness," which was filmed in Grafton.

The earliest of homes of the 40 proprietors, some of which are still standing, were scattered throughout town. By the early 19th century, houses were being built along North Street, South Street, and Worcester Street. Many fine examples of Early American, Greek Revival, and Victorian architecture still exist along these streets. Six villages were formed near the centers of manufacturing activity and were called: Grafton (center); New England Village (North Grafton); Centerville (Brigham Hill by the river); Farnumsville, Fisherville, and Saundersville (South Grafton). All but Grafton were located by significant water power.

See a list of existing mill sites remaining from the 19th Century.