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Lancaster Town

Worcester County, Massachusetts

Lancaster Town Hall is located at 695 Main Street, Lancaster, MA 01523.
Phone: 978‑365‑3326.


Beginnings [1]

Lancaster was founded by John Prescott, who gave the Town its name based upon his home town in England. Lancaster was home to Mary Rowlandson, who was captured by the Native American's in the attack on the Rowlandson Garrison during King Philip's War. She survived and went on to write a book about her captivity — a book which is considered to be one of the greatest captivity narratives ever written. Lancaster's elementary school is named after Mary Rowlandson. Lancaster was also home to Luther Burbank (1849-1926), the American horticulturist who developed the Idaho potato credited with helping Ireland recover from its great famine, and the Shasta daisy. Lancaster's middle school is named after Luther Burbank.

John Chapman, who came to be known as Johnny Appleseed, was born in the section of Lancaster that was incorporated as Leominster in 1740. John Chapman was a nurseryman, who came to own many tracts of land throughout Ohio and Indiana. He used this land to plant apple seeds, transplant seedlings and set out orchards. He sold and gave trees to pioneer settlers.

Beginning its town life in the 17th century as a pioneer and farming community, Lancaster became a summer residence for prominent citizens of Boston during the early 19th century. The location of the Carter and Andrews Publishing Company and the Ponakin Mills in Lancaster contributed to the next wave of town growth. Beautiful, tree-shaded roads and large New England style homes came to characterize Lancaster during this phase of its history. In 2006, a Special Town Meeting voted the American Elm as the Town tree, continuing the recognition of the importance of trees to Lancaster's town character today.

Lancaster's rivers, its riverfront land, its traditional settlement pattern, and its extensive natural resources also are at the centerpiece of its historic heritage. Early settlers built homes and hamlets at the confluence of the rivers. Access in and out of town depended upon the bridges over these rivers. The largest oak tree in Massachusetts, the Beaman Oak, was in Lancaster on Route 117 east of Main Street. This oak, whose circumference was 17 feet, was located on what was the land of one of Lancaster's earliest settlers, from around 1659 — Gamaliel Beaman. The tree had come to be known as the Beaman Oak. The tree was severely damaged during a storm in 1989 and had to be removed.

One particular family was critical in shaping Lancaster's history and in creating many of the beautiful historic homes that grace Lancaster's Main Street and South Village. Four brothers of the Thayer family, who made their fortunes in banking and railroads, during the 19th century, built beautifully designed summer mansions, many of which remain to this day. Their grandfather, Rev. Nathaniel Thayer, was ordained in Lancaster in 1793 and served as the pastor of First Church until his death in 1840. He lived in the parsonage, known as "The Homestead", which is now the site of the Thayer Performing Arts Center. Rev. Nathaniel Thayer was pastor when architect Charles Bulfinch designed the Fifth Meeting House for Lancaster. It was completed in 1816. Rev. Nathaniel Thayer had seven children, Sarah Toppan, Martha, Mary Ann, Nathaniel Jr., John, and Christopher Toppan. The four sons of Nathaniel Jr., Eugene V.S. Thayer, Nathaniel III, Bayard, and John E. and grandson, Eugene V.S. Thayer, Jr. built mansions that still exist today in Lancaster. Fairlawn, now the "White House" at Atlantic Union College, was built by Eugene V. S. Thayer, Sr. John E. Thayer built a Tudor-style mansion part of which still exists on George Hill Road. Bayard Thayer built a mansion called Hawthorne Hill, now the site of the Maharishi Veda Health Center. Crownledge, a mansion built by Eugene Thayer, Jr. in 1908-09, is now the home of the Trivium School. Only one of these many historic mansions built by Nathaniel Thayer III — the Homestead" — is presently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now known as Thayer Performing Arts Center, Atlantic Union College. The Lancaster Historical Commission is working to inventory the other mansions and list these on the state register of historic places. Lancaster also has developed as an educational center. The Town is now home to several private schools and a college. Atlantic Union College, founded by the Seventh Day Adventists in 1882 as a secondary school, is now one of the most highly thought-of liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Many of its campus buildings, especially Founder's Hall are of historic importance and interest. The Herbert Parker mansion on Sterling Road is currently privately owned. The Dr. Franklin Perkins School, founded in 1896, is located on 120 acres of land along Main Street that is the former estate of the industrialist Iver Johnson's widow, Mary Speirs Johnson, who built the mansion. The Perkins School is a nationally recognized leader in providing education and services to troubled children, adolescents and adults. Other private schools in Lancaster include the Robert F. Kennedy School, New River Academy, Living Stones Christian School, South Lancaster Academy, Browning School, and the Trivium School.

  1. Lancaster Master Plan, 2007, Chapter CI, Historic and Cultural Resources, www.ci.lancaster.ma.us, accessed June, 2001

Nearby Towns: Harvard Town • Leominster City • Sterling Town •