The Nipmuc people were living in the region when the first European settlers arrived in the 1670s and created a community they called Quinsigamond Plantation. The community was renamed Worcester in 1684, possibly for Worcester, England, as an angry gesture at King Charles II of England, who had suffered defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Hostility from the Nipmuc twice forced the abandonment of the settlement; the first permanent colonization came in 1713. Incorporated as a town in 1722, major industrial development began after the opening of the Blackstone Canal in 1828, linking Worcester with Providence, RI. Worcester, Massachusetts was incorporated as a city in 1848.
Worcester played an important role in the political development of the United States. During the American Revolution (1775-1783), it was home to pamphleteer Isaiah Thomas, whose words helped unite opposition to the British. The city was active in Shays’ Rebellion (1786-1787), a revolt against excessive land taxation that helped spur the creation of the Constitution of the United States. Residents were also early supporters of reform movements such as the abolition of slavery in the United States. The first national women’s rights convention was held in Worcester in 1850.
Worcester was home to industrial innovation, including new methods of manufacturing wire, textiles, grinding wheels. Rocketry pioneer and Worcester native, Robert H. Goddard, a professor at Clark University, fired his first liquid fuel rocket in nearby Auburn in 1926. Biotechnological research is important to the city’s economy. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park accommodates research facilities for numerous companies. The University of Massachusetts Medical School, also home to research, is adjacent to the Park. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has constructed a new center for its Bioengineering Institute in the Gateway Park just north of Main Street. Scientists from the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology developed the birth control pill in the 1950s.
Designed by Peabody & Stearns of Boston and built in 1898 by the Norcross Company, a local firm, the present City Hall replaced the town hall, built on the same site in 1825. But in the days before the town hall existed, Worcester citizens conducted community business in “Old South” Church (1763). It was there that town meetings, annual elections, and any business requiring citizen participation were held. It was also the location of the first public reading in New England of the Declaration of Independence, read by Isaiah Thomas.
The church stood on the common next to the site chosen for the town hall. In 1894, forty-six years after becoming a city, Worcester was authorized by the state legislature to borrow $300,000 to build the present City Hall. The four-story building was constructed with grey Milford granite, and has a central tower rising 205 feet above the street. The interior, decorated in marble, oak and mahogany, boasts a grand staircase that goes from ground floor to the third floor. Marble stairs, ornate cast iron balusters, and a mahogany handrail contribute to the elegance of this remarkable architectural feature.
City Hall stands on Worcester Common, land set aside in 1669 for militia training, burials, and livestock grazing. Over the years, the original parcel of twenty acres has been reduced to five. The tracks that were laid across the Common in the early days of flourishing railroad transportation were removed in the 1870s.
The man immortalized by the monument that stood at the immediate left of City Hall since 1908 is the Senator George Frisbie Hoar. His statue, by Daniel Chester French, was paid for by voluntary contributions from more than 30,000 of his admirers. Hoar, whose Worcester home was on Oak Avenue, had been their congressman from 1869 to 1877 and their senator from 1877 to 1904. Throughout his career, he was a passionate abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights.
Worcester is home to the headquarters of the American Antiquarian Society (founded in 1812), with a research library specializing in Americana; the Worcester Art Museum, with a wide-ranging collection of Western and Asian art; and the Worcester Historical Museum, emphasizing the city’s industrial achievements.