Inside Winchester

Table of Contents

Winchester--Village and Town
Statistical Summary
Town Meeting
Town Government
Town Manager
Community Programs
Health Services
Town Finance
Planning, Zoning, and Building
The Public Library


The story of Winchester begins in 1634, when the state legislature granted to Charlestown the area known as Waterfield Valley. In 1640, additional territory was granted with the purpose of creating the new town of "Wooborne". New roads were built for the increasing number of settlers. Early structures included the Converse grist mill, Richardson's sawmill and the first bridge over the Aberjona River at the site of the present Converse Bridge. By 1734, Black Horse Tavern, located at the corner of Main Street and Blackhorse Terrace, had become a stopping place for the stage coach and a center of village life; during the Revolution it was a meeting place for soldiers. Woburn was becoming a leather town and there were many small shoe shops through "South Woburn", as Winchester was then called.

In 1798, the construction of the Middlesex Canal was started. The Canal provided a water route from Lowell, on the Merrimack River, to Boston Harbor, passing through Winchester and the Mystic Lakes. For forty years, barges laden with timber, firewood, granite, ice, and a variety of country produce passed through Woburn's peaceful farm lands to Boston, returning with manufactured goods. Pleasure parties sailed up the canal to dine and dance at the pavilion on Horn Pond. In 1836, with the completion of the Boston and Lowell steam railroad, the Canal became outmoded and by 1850 it was abandoned.

Winchester Incorporated

Construction of the railroad meant that the community of scattered farms became a busy and thriving center. Many people came to work in the mills and others came because of the charm of the village and its easy access to Boston. In 1840, South Woburn voted to build its own Congregational meetinghouse and held its first service there a year later. Although there was bitter opposition on the part of Woburn, Medford, and West Cambridge, a Bill of Incorporation establishing Winchester as a separate town was passed on April 30, 1850. Winchester was named for a resident of Watertown, Colonel William P. Winchester, who subsequently donated $3,000 to the town. Winchester's population then numbered 1,350.

A Thriving Village

The rapid increase in taxable property shows the steady growth of the new community. Four thousand dollars were appropriated to erect four new schools. The Lyceum Building was constructed to contain a hall large enough for Town Meetings. Part of this building is still standing at the corner of Shore Road and Mount Vernon Street. The street pattern had not much changed since the 17th century. A handsome town clock was placed in the belfry of the new Congregational Church after a fire had destroyed the first building. The Boston & Lowell Railroad built a fine new train station, lighted by gas manufactured in the basement of the Lyceum Building. In 1859, the Winchester Library Association gave its collection of about 1,100 books to the Town to form the nucleus of a public library.

By 1870 there were three tanning plants in town. Other factories included the Bacon Mill, near the present Grove Place, and the Whitney Machine Company which operated on the old Converse Mill site, today the location of the Post Office. There was a flourishing business in lumber and hemlock bark for the tanneries, with a yard near the railroad tracks, on what is now part of Manchester Field. The Winn Watch-Hand Factory had been established in 1868 in the old Richardson Mill, still located on Washington Street near Woburn. There were many new stores and newcomers in town were often wealthy. The first bank, the Winchester Savings Bank, was established in 1871. After years of bitter controversy over the creation of artificial reservoirs in what is now the Middlesex Fells, construction of a water system was begun. In 1874, the water was turned on and the same source, filtered since 1996, still serves the central, low parts of the town.

Turning Point

Land for a Common was purchased by the Town, but not until the Winchester Improvement Association was formed in 1882 was there any real attempt to organize and beautify the village. In 1893, the possibility of cooperation between the newly-created Metropolitan District Commission and Winchester to eliminate the railroad yards, tanneries, and lumberyards was suggested. Over tremendous opposition and after months of delay, the beauty of a natural park in the very center of town was assured, and the present character of the community was established.

From 4,861 in 1890, Winchester's population had grown to 9,309 by 1910. Assessed valuation increased from $4,667,055 to $12,758,750 during the same period, and the increase was almost entirely in residential property. No longer primarily industrial, Winchester had become a thriving and beautiful suburb of Boston. The building of the Town Hall, the Public Library, Winchester Hospital, and the development of a modern school facility were among the important advances made around the turn of the century.

After more than a hundred years of controversy, the grade crossing of the railroad was finally eliminated with the construction of the rail overpass in 1956. Rubbish disposal problems were "solved" by the installation of an incinerator in 1961. To comply with standards of the state's Clean Air Act, a Town Transfer Station was opened in 1977, and the incinerator was shut down.

Winchester Today

During the period of economic expansion which followed the second World War, new homes were built on Winchester's last large areas of unoccupied land. The population now stands at about 20,000. The assessed valuation of property for fiscal 1996 was ; $2,086,060,577 of which $1,943,225,845 (93%) was residential. The median income is among the highest in the metropolitan area.

Although there are several light industries within its boundaries, Winchester remains primarily a residential town. Its location, just eight miles northwest of the state capital, enables its inhabitants to take advantage of the cultural opportunities offered by Boston's museums, concert halls, theaters, and universities. Many residents commute by train, bus, or car to work in the commercial and industrial centers or at one of the many educational institutions of Greater Boston. The growth of the high-technology industry along Route 128 has added a new flavor to the continuing development of Winchester's population.

Winchester: Village and Town

Despite its steady growth and proximity to a large metropolitan area, Winchester retains the autonomy, the individuality, and the friendliness of a small town. Some eighty years ago, Charles Francis Adams said, "In Winchester, quite apart from the attractiveness of the town and its surroundings, you will find in the community a very unusual civic spirit. The people of that town take an intelligent interest in the management of its affairs and in its continual improvement and beautification.". The tradition of active interest in Town government continues. Winchester is fortunate in that many dedicated and highly qualified citizens volunteer their time and expert knowledge to serve the community.

The Center is a unifying force in the life of the town. In a relatively small area are located the Town Hall, Library, physicians' and dentists' offices, most of the churches, and a shopping district. With the advent of the Winchester Chamber of Commerce and with professional guidance, the Town greatly increased the number and variety of downtown businesses and revitalized Winchester Center.

For local news, Winchester residents turn to the "Winchester Star," published each Thursday. The "Star" has reported town activities since 1880. The Woburn "Daily Times", Winchester Edition, published Monday through Friday, has two or three pages devoted to Winchester activities. The Town Engagement Book, where all organizations may enter their meetings and other activities, is kept in the Public Library. Winchester's local access television station, Channel 3, covers town elections, town meetings, local concerts and sports and events.

Most of Winchester's children attend the local public schools, which have traditionally been the pride of the town. In addition to the public education system, there are several private nursery schools, a Catholic elementary school, a private elementary school, and another church-sponsored school.

Life in Winchester is more than the sum of its government, schools, and organizations. Certain events have taken on the flavor of tradition and become a part of the way of life. In the fall there is the excitement of the Winchester-Woburn football rivalry on Thanksgiving Day. The Winchester Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual Flea Market in September. Halloween is never complete without a trip to the Haunted House. The November church fairs raise a substantial amount of money for the work of the congregations. Early December brings the annual Christmas lighting on the Common and holiday celebration with the local merchants.

January is enlivened by the Winton Club Cabaret, through which the participants and spectators contribute to the Winchester Hospital. Each spring, music is in the air at the annual ABC Concert. Town fields are fully used for sports and recreation. Aberjona River Clean-Up Day in May brings many organizations together to spruce up the Center, the river banks and other adjacent areas. There is the EnKa Parade and Fair in May, where the whole town turns out to parade, to work, or to spend money on the rides and games for the benefit of a variety of local causes. In June, Town Day has become an annual event for the community to gather in the center for food, fun, and fireworks.

Graduation exercises on Manchester Field round off the school year; but the summer is busy in Winchester too. Summer concerts, with audience participation by young and old, are presented weekly on the Common. The circus comes to Manchester Field in July. Enjoy a summer afternoon walking in the Middlesex Fells, watching sailboats on Mystic Lake or ducks and geese on the Mill Pond or relaxing at one of the downtown coffee shops; all this, too, is Winchester.

"You can't do better than go to Winchester" advised Charles Francis Adams in 1893.

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