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Brockton City

Brockton City Hall is located at 45 School St. Brockton, MA 02301; phone: 508-580-7114.

Brockton was originally incorporated in 1821 as the Town of North Bridgewater. The name was changed in 1824 in honor of the British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock. Brockton was incorporated as a city in 1881.

Beginnings [1]

In 1649 the lands now occupied by this city were deeded by the Indians to Miles Standish and John Alden for approximately thirty dollars. The district including Brockton was part of the town of Bridgewater until 1821, when it was set off as North Bridgewater.

The Revolutionary War did not vitally affect the everyday lives of the townsfolk of North Bridgewater, the scene of actual hostilities being comparatively remote. But the post-Revolutionary depression found them vigorously opposing the ruthless laws affecting small debtors. Militant townsmen snatched their hunting guns from the walls and came out into the street in sympathy with Shay's Rebellion.

Continuing their democratic traditions, the inhabitants of North Bridgewater played an important role in pre-Civil War days. The skilled shoe workers, most of whom had fled their respective countries to escape the tyranny of the old order and had come to America to help build a new and free world, felt a ready sympathy with the Negroes of the South. They became devoted followers of William Lloyd Garrison, and developed an intricate system of 'Underground Stations' to facilitate the escape of runaway slaves.

In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, just prior to the Civil War, the invention of the McKay sewing machine, which made it possible to sew together the uppers and soles of shoes instead of pegging them, changed North Bridgewater from a small unimportant farming center to one of the foremost industrial cities in Massachusetts.

Civil War days brought unparalleled prosperity to the owners of the shoe factories. Government orders for army shoes during the Civil War made it the largest shoe producing city in America. Half the Union Army was shod by North Bridgewater.

Workers streamed into town, and by 1880 the population of Brockton — the name adopted in 1874 — had more than tripled. William Cullen Bryant in describing the city said: 'The whole place resounds, rather rattles, with the machinery of shoe shops, which turn out millions of shoes, not one of which, I am told, is sold in the place.'

Before the Civil War the social life of Brockton consisted almost wholly of church functions characterized by a minimum of gaiety a residuum from Puritan days. With the influx of foreign-born workers communal gatherings assumed a livelier cast. Public dances became the vogue. The Swedish workers were the first church group to sanction dancing, holding their parties in the church vestry. Volunteer firemen grouped themselves into engine companies and soon became leaders in the social life of the community. The Firemen's Ball became the most brilliant and colorful social event of the year. Local dramatic groups produced such plays as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and 'Ten Nights in a Bar-Room.'

The young bloods formed secret societies and musical clubs. The workers organized into trade unions, and various foreign-language groups erected halls which were later to become community centers. Civic improvement kept pace with the rapid industrial and social growth of the town. It is claimed that the first central power station in the United States from which power was distributed through three-wire underground conductors was located here, becoming the present Edison Electric Company. An early experimental street railway especially built for the use of electric power was developed here, and Thomas Alva Edison came to Brockton to see the first car run over the line. In 1893, Brockton worked out a solution of the sewage disposal problem for inland cities, and investigating committees came from foreign countries as well as from many cities of the United States to learn the Brockton system and arrange for its adoption.

In 1929, in the neighborhood of Brockton there were thirty thousand skilled shoe workers employed in sixty factories. Three of the largest shoe manufacturing corporations in America are today located in Brockton, as are also several of the largest plants producing tools and supplies for the shoe industry.

During the last few years the emigration of shoe industries from New England, due to attractive offers of cheap unorganized labor and tax rebates in other States, has noticeably affected Brockton. This movement, along with antiquated production methods and lack of foresight on the part of the manufacturers, has been a primary factor in the decline of the shoe industry. Between 1919 and 1929 local production fell off forty-nine per cent.

On the whole, Brockton has been remarkably fortunate in relationships between employer and employee. Aside from two large strikes, the city did not participate in the series of violent industrial revolts that swept the country at the beginning of the twentieth century. Eighty per cent of the local shoe workers are members of the Brotherhood of Shoe and Allied Craftsmen. Brockton had one of the first Socialist mayors in the United States, Charles Coulter, elected in 1900.

  1. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for Massachusetts, Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People, American Guide Series, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1937.
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