Canton History

Canton, Massachusetts History

1700s

Canton, MA was incorporated in 1797 when it separated from the Town of Stoughton. Yet, its history began long before then. Its location along the Neponset River and in the shadow of the Great Blue Hill provided Native Americans with vast hunting and fishing grounds. The Massachusetts Legislature had identified the Punkapoags as living in one of the 14 Praying towns, where Native populations were encouraged to practice the Christian faith and give up their hunter/gather status to settle the land

In 1707, Dorchester set aside 6,000 acres to be known as the Punkapoag (Ponkapog) Plantation.

By 1725 there were 38 families of settlers. Interestingly, not all settlers were of European origin. Some early settlers were descendants of enslaved African peoples.

Although New England did not have the large slave populations created by plantation farming in the southern states, several white settlers in the northern states did own slaves.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a law providing freedom to the children of slaves who marry Native Americans. This incentivized intermarriage of African Americans with the Native populations. Slavery was finally abolished in Massachusetts by the Supreme Judicial Court is 1783.

Improvements in roads, bridges and waterways in the 18th century encouraged increased movement of goods and people as populations spread from Boston to outlying areas, attracted by the possibility of land ownership. The surrounding rivers, specifically the Neponset River, encouraged dam-building and manufacturing as businesses sought the use of water and the water wheel as a source of energy and transportation.

Iron and metal manufacturing in particular flourished along the Neponset River. The energy source attracted Paul Revere, the entrepreneur, to purchase land and water rights for his future factory which will form the focus of the modern Paul Revere Heritage Site.

1800s

Boston-to-Providence Railroad

Perhaps nothing was as transformative as the arrival, in the 19th century, of the railroad between Boston and Providence, RI and beyond. Now goods could be easily transported, at lower cost, far beyond the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Economic life turned from agrarian to manufacturing. The locus of economic activity moved from along rivers to train depots.

1900s

Just as transformative, and providing an impetus for growth, was the development in the 20th century of the national highway system, as Rte. 128, then Rte. 95, placed Canton on the beltway surrounding Boston. The transportation infrastructure increased populations and businesses. The quiet Town of Canton, like many suburbs, became a bedroom community of Boston.

By 1967, the Rte. 128 corridor became home to 729 commercial enterprises that employed 66,000 people. As manufacturing jobs moved to other parts of the United States, and beyond, Canton followed the local trend by converting to an increasingly technological and service economy. Companies moved their buildings from near train stations to areas providing quick access to major highways. The ‘office park’ became the modern workplace, a far cry from the orchards and farms of early Canton.

Canton’s key location and proximity to transit and highway, attracted large companies, like Reebok (since moved to Boston), and Dunkin’ Brands to locate headquarters in Canton.

Dunkin’ Brands headquarters, Canton MA
Attribution: Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia

2000s

Ponkapoag Pond
By NewtonCourt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
@commons

Today, particularly along Rte. 138 (Canton Commerce Center), and areas near University Ave (Shawmut Park), Canton is home to many innovative industries, providing bio-pharmaceutical and technical/engineering services. Today, many Canton businesses join with other regional companies, as members of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Canton Association of Business and Industry, which features more than 100 companies in its directory. these companies represent many business sectors of various-sized companies and include representation from municipal Canton, as well as labor.

Because of the attraction of Canton for business leaders, the town experienced large spurts of growth requiring increased municipal services. The demand for high-quality fire and police departments, DPW and a school system to serve and contribute to a modern workforce, stretched town resources at times. But an increasingly professionalized town government responded and has managed to meet the needs of its citizens and businesses while attaining a AAA bond rating. This growth activity has encouraged the development of a lively retail sector including the Town Center, and importantly the Village Shoppes at Cobb Corner, located where Sharon, Stoughton and Canton converge.

Despite the strong history of industrialization and economic growth evidenced throughout Canton’s history, the town has managed to preserve significant green space totaling 1,900 acres of conservation land and another 900 of recreational space.

With the availability of the Ponkapoag Pond Trail and Massachusetts Audubon Properties, there are beautiful trails throughout the town, and efforts to link them are underway. Canton and its contiguous communities of Milton and Randolph share 7,000 acres of parkland as part of the Blue Hills Reservation and Houghton’s Pond. The 4.5 mile trail around Ponkapoag Pond features gorgeous scenery and active wildlife. The Audubon properties in the center of town offer easy access to nature’s offerings and a respite from modern intrusions.

In addition, Canton offers numerous recreational fields and playgrounds. There are five golf courses in Canton including Blue Hill, Brookmeadow, Milton Hoosic, Ponkapoag and Wampatuck. The town is currently experiencing a Renaissance of sorts as it seeks to add to its park and recreational areas with the Paul Revere Heritage Site and the Earl Newhouse Waterfront properties, as well as the renovation of the historic (circa 1725) Tilden House.

Tilden House

WITH THE PASSAGE OF TIME, CANTON HAS SHIFTED FROM AN AGRARIAN/CRAFT ECONOMY BASED ON TEXTILE AND METAL PRODUCTION TO BIO-TECH AND CONSUMER PRODUCT MANUFACTURING, CONTRIBUTING TO MASSACHUSETTS AS AN INNOVATION LEADER. FOREST AND FARMLAND HAVE BECOME A SUBURB. THIS REGION’S HISTORY SERVES AS A MICROCOSM OF AMERICAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. CANTON’S STORY IS PART OF AMERICA’S STORY, A STORY TO BE EXPERIENCED AT THE PAUL REVERE HERITAGE SITE AND THE FUTURE PAUL REVERE MUSEUM OF DISCOVERY AND INNOVATION.