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58 Eliot Street, Natick, Massachusetts 01760


A Brief History of Natick

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Natick was established in 1651 by the Puritan missionary, John Eliot, who settled a group of "Praying Indians" here on land granted by the General Court which was part of the Dedham Grant. To the Indians it was a "Place of Hills". The Speen family (Indian) owned much of the land in the Natick area and they deeded it to the Praying Indians taking house lots for themselves.
In the area now called South Natick, the Indians settled on both sides of the Charles River. Over the river they built a wooden bridge with a stone foundation that was eighty feet long and eight feet high to withstand the high water during floods. Next, three streets were laid out. To the north Eliot and Union Streets, and to the south Pleasant Street, as they are now called. The Indians then built a meetinghouse with the help of an English carpenter. The two story building was used as church, school, and warehouse, and as a place for Eliot on his fortnightly visits. The building, which stood about where the present Eliot Church stands, was palisaded with a circle of tall trees.

For more than twenty years Eliot instructed and preached to the Indians. A school was set up, a government established, and the Indians were encouraged to convert to Christianity. Eliot learned their language and with the help of the Indians, who had no written language, transcribed the Bible into the Algonquin language. A copy of the 1865 edition is on display at the Natick Historical Society Museum.

The prosperity of the village was destroyed when King Philip, son of the chief, Massasoit, attacked the white settlers causing such fear among them that in 1675 the Indians were restricted to their villages, which made it difficult for them to farm or to tend their livestock. In October of that year, over Eliot's protests, the General Court ordered the Natick Indians sent to Deer Island. Many Indians did not survive the lack of food and the cold and those who returned seven months later found their homes destroyed.

The Praying Indians did not flourish after their return to Natick and Eliot died in 1690. An Indian named Takawampbait had been ordained by Eliot and he carried on until his death in 1716. Two other Indians preached before the New England Company sent first Rev. Oliver Peabody and later Stephen Badger to fill the Indian church pulpit.

The land in the Natick Plantation was held in common by the Indians until 1719 when twenty men were named as Proprietors to oversee any division of land. Eliot had given the Indians their form of government and they held their own town meetings and elected their own officials. However, they were under the Guardianship of the Court and had to have permission to sell land.

White settlers now outnumbered the Indians. Thomas Sawin was one of the first white men to own land in Natick. The Indians asked him to build a grist mill and he was deeded land for this purpose. By 1725 the Indians had sold most of their land to pay their debts and many drifted away or succumbed to disease.

As more settlers began to move into the central part of Natick, an area called the Needham Leg, the Meetinghouse Dispute erupted. Those people in the more northern part of town wanted the Church in the center rather than supporting the Indian church in the southern part of town. This dispute continued over a period of almost sixty years. The people in the "Leg" requested the Court to restore this area of the Natick Plantation to Needham. This was approved in 1761.

During the Revolution Natick sent 174 men out of a population of 534 to fight. Eighteen Minute Men were raised under the leadership of Capt. David Morse on April 19, 1775. However, when the Town Meeting voted to reject the Constitution in 1778 Natick's loyalties were questioned but the town leaders pledged their support to the new government.

Attention turned once again to the Meetinghouse dispute. The church could not be relocated without the approval of the court so the parish petitioned to become a town , and to change the name to Eliot. The name change was not granted, but Natick became a town in February of 1781. In 1796 it was voted to build the new meetinghouse in the center. The inhabitants of the southern part of town did not want to support the new church and petitioned to be separated from the town. The Court resolved the issue in 1797 by restoring the "Leg " to Natick but the south and east sections remained in Needham. The Indian Church dissolved as the congregation dispersed to other parishes and the building fell into disrepair. In 1828 the present Eliot Church was built, the fifth church on the site of Eliot's Meetinghouse.

Natick was originally a farming town, but later, industries began to emerge. Mills had developed along the Charles River with gristmills first, and later nailmaking, papermaking, and woodturning. The shoe industry (which started as a cottage industry with piece work given out and picked up each day by runners) gradually became mechanized, and by 1836 (when the Boston and Albany Railroad came through Natick) became one of the largest producers of boots and shoes and by 1880 had 23 shoe manufacturers. During the early part of this century the shoe industry suffered and the last shoe factory in Natick, the Winchell Shoe Co., closed in l971. H. Harwood and Sons developed the figure eight stitching for baseballs and was the first such company in the country.

Natick developed as three distinct villages, each with it own stage route from Boston to Hartford. The original village in South Natick, to the north Felchville, and in the center Natick. In each village and along each coach route a tavern was built. Felchville Tavern to the north, the Morse tavern in the center and the Eliakim Morrill Tavern in the south. These taverns were used as meeting places and inns.

Two disastrous fires occured. In 1872 in South Natick and in 1874 in Natick Center. Businesses quickly rebuilt and the population increased rapidly. After World War II there was another tremendous population increase, the Massachusetts Turnpike was built through the northern section of the town and there was a spurt in commercial development and demand for housing. Commercial development along Route 9 has been extensive.

Natick boasts several historic figures:

John Eliot, the Puritan minister, who founded the Town.
Henry Wilson who established a shoe factory and later went into politics and became Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of "Old Town Folks", and "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and many other books, who married a native of the town.
Alexander Wheelock Thayer, United States consul at Trieste and the author of the definitive biography of Ludwig von Beethoven.
Horatio Alger, Jr., minister and author of children's books with a "rags to riches" theme.
With the town slogan "Home of Champions " this century will see many names added to the list.