Economic Development History Charted

Published May 31, 2000 | Economic Development Committee | Automatically Archived on 10/31/2000

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Incorporated in 1639 as the 19th settlement of Massachusetts, Sudbury included sections of what is now Wayland, Framingham and Sudbury. The center of the town was then located in Wayland, and by the middle of the 17th century additional land grants added much of what is now Maynard. By the early 1700’s, there were 650 inhabitants, more than half of whom lived on the west side of the Sudbury river in what is today Sudbury. Fewer yet wealthier inhabitants lived on the east side of the river (now Wayland). The two main thoroughfares included Boston Post Road, the main road from Boston to Worcester on the current Route 20, and the Fitchburg Highway on what is now Route 117.

The Revolutionary War placed an early financial burden on Sudbury. During the war, towns were required to provide men and supplies to the war effort according to their size, and Sudbury, which was then the largest town in Middlesex County, strained to meet these requirements. This financial strain generated friction from the fewer but wealthier inhabitants on the east side of the Sudbury River. As a result, in 1778, a petition was considered to divide the town. By 1779, the petition to divide the town was submitted to the Legislature, and in 1780, East Sudbury became a separate town.

Following the war, Sudbury continued to grow very slowly as a farming town. During the 1800’s, one of the busiest areas in town was Mill Village, the group of homes and shops which sprang up around a 17th century mill on Hop Brook. The 1800’s also saw the town receive cultural improvements, including an Academy and the Goodnow Library. Sudbury continued to lose land area during this time period. Specifically, 1900 acres were lost to form Maynard in 1871.

By the turn of the century, Sudbury had three main villages comprised of South Sudbury with its Mill Village, Sudbury Center and North Sudbury. South Sudbury was well suited as an economic center because it had railroad access, a number of shops including a blacksmith shop, and a large number of green houses. North Sudbury had 30 dwelling houses with small village industries. The village of Sudbury Center was the center of government and the center for the arts.

The early part of the 20th century brought changes evident today. In the 1920’s, Henry Ford took an interest in Sudbury and bought the Wayside Inn. By 1924, Ford had purchased 1300 acres of Sudbury land, and he constructed the well-known landmark, the grist mill. Mr. Ford was particularly interested in the area around Hop Brook with plans to locate and establish an industrial park for car parts in this area. However, one landowner refused to sell his land to Ford. As a result, Mr. Ford eventually lost interest in Sudbury and located the factory elsewhere.

Sudbury changed significantly from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. In the early 1940’s, Sudbury was still a small town. By the 1950’s, however, concern grew that Sudbury was turning from a small town to a congested suburb because it was one of ten fastest growing towns in the state. Town officials reported that the residents would watch taxes double unless other sources of income were found. As a result, in 1954, the planning board suggested that large desirable areas be zoned for industry, and an industrial committee be formed to interest and invite desirable businesses and industries to Sudbury. The Industrial Development Board was formed and set its sights on attracting large business centers and on research and development to Sudbury. Due in part to such efforts, Raytheon came to town in 1958, locating on Route 20, followed by Sperry Rand, which in 1960 located a research and development site on 150 acres off of Route 117.

The growth in the Town was also found in the number of building permits being issued at the time. In 1959 when growth patterns were a real concern, 326 building permits were issued. By the early 1960’s the population growth slowed, however, as the number of permits issued leveled off to approximately 90 per year, remaining constant during the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. Economic development continued throughout the 1980’s with the construction of several malls on Route 20 and Chiswick Park, developed in 1988.

Today, Sudbury again faces economic challenges. As reported in last week’s letter and as stated in other contexts, Sudbury’s tax base relies too heavily on residential real estate taxes. With greater demands being placed on our schools and town services, over reliance on real estate taxes results in ever increasing tax bills year after year to maintain a reasonable level of service from our Town. This history has been provided to help us understand how we got to this point and to realize that Sudbury has faced economic challenges in the past. It is important to bear in mind that when faced with such situations, as the Town has done in the past, proactive steps must be taken. When the Economic Development Committee implements its mandate and proposes solutions to address the situation, your understanding, cooperation and assistance will be crucial to address this challenge.