Worcester History

by Christopher Glenn Dodge

It has been reported that excellent records were kept on file at the first Town Clerk's office when the Town of Worcester was first settled, but today the exact date of the Town's organization remains a mystery. A fire destroyed the Town's early records.

It is known that Worcester was chartered by Governor Ben Wentworth of New Hampshire on June 8, 1763 to 64 people who originally owned the 71 shares of a plot of land they chose to name Worcester. At the time, the Town measured six miles square and contained 23,040 acres.

It wasn't until 1797, however, that Worcester's first settlement was made by John Ridlan and George Martin. Early census reports show the Town was not settled rapidly at first. By 1800 the population was a scant 25 persons and by 1810 had increased to 41. The population increased by only three more persons during the next decade. In 1816 the Town was nearly deserted for reasons that remain unclear. There has been speculation that 1816 was the "Year With No Summer" when volcanic ash altered weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, causing a frost every summer month and driving foodless settlers from the Town. However, between 1820 and 1830, the Town experienced a population explosion when about 400 people were added to the census.

Duncan Young was the first Worcester Town Clerk and he organized the Town on March 3, 1803. The Town Records were maintained in Worcester until that fateful year of 1816, when they were moved to Burlington for storage. That was the year the records were lost in a fire.

After 1816, the Town's history is more clear. One of the first recorded Town Meetings occurred on March 14, 1821 at the home of Amasa Brown. A number of candidates were elected to several committees and boards and Amasa Brown managed to be elected to most of them. The first recorded marriage, after new record keeping began, was between Oliver Watson and Esther Brown in 1817.

The Reverend Harvey Gurnsey succeeded in building Worcester's first Methodist Church in 1848, about two years after he began preaching in Town. In 1888 a new church was constructed with seating for 250. The Sunday School program began the same year and had weekly attendance of 40 students. The church occupied the present Town Hall location until it burned in 1907. The site remained vacant until 1912, when the Town Hall was erected.

During the first half of this century, agriculture played a prominent role in the community. Many hill farms were operating in addition to those in the North Branch valley. A combination of economic cycles and government programs forced the number of local farms to dwindle. Today, one dairy farm and several smaller agricultural operations continue.

Worcester continues to have a modest commercial and employment base. A transportation company, a retail store, an auto repair shop, a machine shop and realtors operate in the community. Less apparent but equally viable are the many home-based professions and businesses that operate at many locations in Worcester, including a cabinetmaker, computer consultants, attorneys, a landscaping operation, two publications and others.
Nearly 200 years after its first settlement, Worcester still enjoys the rugged beauty of its mountains and valleys that attracted the first settlers here.

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