The Town of North Brookfield, situated in Worcester County, has a very varied history with many distinguished residents. The town had rich agricultural lands which were profitably farmed by early settlers, but developed a vigorous industrial economy as well, primarily in the shoe manufacturing and rubber products industries.
Rufus Putnam, one of George Washington’s chief engineers during the Revolution, served his apprenticeship in the town as a millwright at the Matthews Fulling Mills from 1754 to 1757. The Matthews Mills were themselves a tribute to 18th century engineering, since they included several canals and tunnels which made the natural glacial kettle holes in the area part of a mill ponding complex for the fulling mill.
The town avoided the deadly smallpox epidemics of the 1770’s by inoculating over 200 people with weakened smallpox virus. People came from as far away as Worcester to receive the inoculations of the experimental vaccine from North Attleborough physicians, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Kittridge, and then to convalesce through a mild form of the disease in small hospitals the town built on the outskirts of the community.
Along with its neighboring town, North Brookfield sent 150 Minutemen to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. But they also demonstrated against the government they had helped create when residents of North Brookfield were involved in Shays Rebellion in 1780, holding meetings in town and hiding their weapons at Ayre’s Tavern, one of the oldest buildings in town.
Nineteenth century American poet William Cullen Bryant, lived in North Brookfield when he prepared for college with his uncle, the minister in town for 64 years. Bates Observatory was given to the town in the 1890’s and on a clear day, townspeople say, you can see all the way to Boston. George M. Cohan, actor, producer and playwright, was a frequent visitor to town when he came to stay with his grandparents. In the summer of 1934 both Cohan and Connie Mack, another former resident, were honored by the town. The stage of the present Town House was the site of a performance of “Ah, Wilderness,” with the original New York cast directed by Cohan, and the Philadelphia Athletics played an exhibition baseball game in town with the Quabaug Rubber company team, who defeated them, townspeople are quick to note.