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150 years ago

The first Waltham Watch Company building in Roxbury was erected. In 1850 the name of the company was changed from Dennison, Howard & Davis Company to the American Horologe Company.




  •  Royal E. Robbins, who bought the Waltham Watch Company in 1857 and made it the greatest watch factory in the world, died. According to the book, “Timing A Century” this precipitated a fight for control of the company between the president, Ezra Fitch, who believed in expansion and Royal Robbins’ son who was conservative like his father. Neither really won but the company’s earnings started to drop.

  • William Henry Nichols starts a machine shop in the cellar of his home at 15 Spruce Street, which later became the W. H. Nichols Company on Woerd Avenue.

  • High school football is organized throughout the Waltham area. Waltham plays its games at Bicycle Park under Coach Nate Tufts. It wins the league championship with a record of 10 wins and 0 losses. They scored 248 points and had only 5 scored against them. Edward Mullen was the captain on the team. (Note: A slide show on the 100 year history of Waltham football will be shown during Historic Waltham Days this year.)

  • Charles Metz leaves the Waltham Manufacturing Company in 1902 and starts the Waltham Developing Company on Whitney Avenue. In 1909 he will return to take control of the Company and change its name to the Metz Company.

  • The American Crayon Company on Pine Street leaves Waltham and moves to Sandusky, Ohio. Dr. Francis Fields discovered crayon here in 1835.

  • In 1902 the American Waltham Manufacturing Company, which made Comet bicycles at the old Mass Hardware warehouse, goes out of business. They tried to compete against the Orient bicycle.

  • Albert Fisher takes over a bottling company on Massasoit Street in 1902 and calls it the New York Bottling Company. Later he moves it to Woerd Avenue where he changes the name to the Fisher Ginger Ale Company. In 1932 he sells out to John Warren Cox.




In 1901 (100 years ago) the Boston Manufacturing Company, Waltham’s cotton mill, was beginning to have competition problems. New cotton mills were being built in the South, close to the source of cotton. A big reorganization took place at the Waltham mill in 1901.

     The American Waltham Watch Company was doing well. One million watches would be made between 1901 and 1902. The plant was expanding in five ways:

1.    Increasing its length by extending the south wing.

2.    Replacing the pitch roofs with a flat roof.

3.    Adding a fifth floor to most wings of the factory.

4.    Starting additions to front entrances on Crescent Street.

5.     Buying land between the factory and Prospect Street.

In 1901 the watch factory started its conversion to electric power. Motors were replacing some main shafting. New dynamos were being installed. Electric elevators were being installed. Within the next ten years steam power and the main shafting was obsolete.

     Other watch related companies were doing well. The American Watch Tool Company on Elm Street made additions to the front of the building, bringing them out to the street line in 1901.

            Elsewhere, the Waltham Free Press Tribune of February 6, 1901, gives an account of a ride in an automobile built by George M. Tinker and James W. Piper in their factory. The ride was taken after a heavy fall of snow had stalled a trolley car on Crescent Street. The automobile was driven around the trolley through 6-12” deep snow and was driven up to Reed’s Corner at nine miles per hour.



100 years ago

APRIL 14 -       Waltham-Lexington electric car service began.        

·           Railroad Depot

The Fitchburg Railroad Station on Carter Street was absorbed by the Boston & Maine Railroad.

  • Waltham votes No License, closing saloons for the first time in many years.
  • The Lawrence Building at Central Square was erected. Rex Trailer's office is in this building today.
  • The new Waltham Training School for Nurses was built behind the Christ Church on Main Street. The contractor was Robert Glancy.
  • Finally, it should be noted that Allan Peirce, a long-time member of the Friends of the Waltham Museum, was born on March 25, 1900 and will be 100 years old this March. In 1918 Peirce drove an ambulance during the influenza epidemic in Waltham. He was in the State Guard at that time. In 1919, as a member of the Guard, he served in Boston during the Boston Police Strike.

MAY 30 - Miles and Stafford, a motorpace team, were killed in a racing accident at Bicycle Park. 

JUNE 24 - A dairy barn at Lowell Grove Dairy in the Bleachery section of Waltham was destroyed by fire. It was owned by Jerry Harding. A crowd of 5,000 watched until well after midnight.

AUGUST 16    - The first New England Veteran Firemen's muster was held at Lowell Field at Grove and Willow Streets.     




200 years ago

Jonathan Brown Bright of Waltham was born on April 23, 1800. Today Bright Street and Bright School reflect his family name.



500 years ago

In the year 1500 the watch industry began in Nuremberg, Germany. Also in 1500 the Algonquins name the river Quineboquin (Crooked River), now the Charles River.



1000 years ago

In the year 1000 Norsemen in Viking ships under Leif Ericson, sailed up the Charles River and made two settlements; one in Watertown and one at Stony Brook. Earlier the Vikings had made settlements in Greenland, Newfoundland and Canada. Today a stone monument in Weston near Stony Brook marks this settlement. However, it should be said that many historians and scientist do not believe that the Vikings got this far south.



Waltham - 100 Years Ago (1896 1996)

In 1896, Waltham had a population of 22,000 and the mayor was Charles B. Bond. He was also the local State Representative in Boston. Bond won the mayor's election with 1,619 votes over E. Irving Smith who got 1,108 votes. Surprisingly, Dr. Alfred Worcester, the founder of the Waltham Training School for Nurses and the Waltham Hospital, came in third with 789 votes.

The police chief was James H. McKenna and the fire chief was Freeman C. Hodgdon. Waltham was prosperous. The American Waltham Watch Company was at that time the greatest watch factory in the world, making 500,000 watches a year. The Boston Manufacturing Company, Waltham's cotton mill, was also doing well with over 2,000 employees.

Some of the other companies that made Waltham prosperous were the American Crayon Company on Pine Street; the Waltham Grinding Wheel Company on Bacon Street; the Davis and Farnum Foundry; the Bleachery; Roberts Paper Mill; Judson L. Thomson; the American Watch Tool Company on Elm Street; and the Waltham Manufacturing Company on Rumford Avenue which made 30,000 Orient bicycles that year. The United States Watch Company on Charles Street went out of business in 1896, but that same year the Columbia Watch Company on Whitney Avenue started out. John Lally, a young Irish immigrant, was inventing the Lally Column at this time. This invention along with nine others in the building trade would make him one of the success stories in Waltham's history.

More on 1896

In 1896, electric lights were replacing gas lights in the homes throughout the Bleachery section of Waltham. On May 30, 1896, the horse named Benson H broke the mile record for horse racing at Central Park in Waltham with a time of 2 minutes 19 seconds. In Springfield, Massachusetts, a man named Pat Carroll of Waltham broke the mile record for running with a time of 4 minutes 26 seconds on October 28, 1896.

Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse from England, wrote a long inspiring letter to the student nurses at the Waltham Training School for Nurses on December 23, 1896. In the mayor's inaugural address, the problem of the Moody Street railroad crossing was also brought out again. This problem was difficult to solve and it is still with us today. A new high school was brought up. The existing wooden high school in 1896, with a capacity of 139 students, had an enrollment of over 200 students and growing. In 1902 the new brick high school that most of us knew was built. In 1896, the City of Cambridge was building its reservoir in northwest Waltham, using immigrant laborers, many from Italy and Sicily.

Waltham Wasn't Completely Prosperous

In Mayor Bonds' inaugural address, he stated the following about 1896: The greatest evil perhaps, with which the police department is contending with at the present time, is the rapid growth of the tramp element. The number of tramps cared for at our police station for the past year has exceeded by considerable, 4,300, the largest number in the history of the city. This is a gain over the previous year of over 600. Since 1892 the number of tramps cared for at the station has increased about 2,000. The evil has now come to be of such large proportions that I feel that immediate action should be taken for devising a preventive. The law now provides that tramps may be made to work until eleven o'clock in the morning in return for lodging and breakfast. Under the present arrangement in our city this class of people are given lodging, with crackers for food, which they do not often ask for, preferring to beg their food at the homes of residents. This begging has come to be not only an annoyance to our citizens but is often times a source of more or less danger. I am firmly convinced that the best possible method of putting an end to this condition of affairs and at the same time bestowing charity in a reasonable and proper way, would be to provide suitable quarters for these unfortunate people, and give them sufficient work to do to make them earn that which they receive. I believe that this policy would be effective in keeping away from our city very many of this undesirable class.

The Town Lockup In 1857, Rumford Hall, at the corner of Main and Elm Streets, was our town hall. It contained the Police Court, used as a Justice's Court by Judge Josiah Rutter. There was a low flat- roofed shed standing on the south side of the building used as the Town Lockup. Prisoners could look out upon Waltham Common through one or two openings secured by iron grating, and converse with interested friends as to the circumstances of their incarceration and the prospect of release. (Taken from REMINISCENCES OF EARLY WALTHAM by Elliot A. Harrington.) Joseph Adshade, who operated an auto repair shop on Heard Street for many years, told the Waltham Museum that the Town Lockup was moved to 23 Heard Street many years ago and is now part of a family home.

Twenty years earlier, in 1865, Attorney Johnson was the lawyer for Sergeant B. Corbett, the soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth. His services were necessary in order for Sgt. Corbett to obtain his share of the $75,000 reward that the War Department offered for the capture or death of Abraham Lincoln's assassin. In 1914, Johnson wrote a book on the incident. The title of the book is long and reads as follows: ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND BOSTON CORBETT WITH PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF EACH. JOHN WILKES BOOTH AND JEFFERSON DAVIS A TRUE STORY OF THEIR CAPTURE. This information was brought to the attention of the Waltham Museum by Steven G. Miller of Mundelein, Illinois. Miller is writing a book about the men who assassinated President Lincoln and is seeking any information. In past newsletters we have mentioned about Melvin M. Johnson, the son of Bryon Johnson. Melvin was the attorney for Hattie LeBlanc, the accused murdered of Clarence Glover in 1909 at the Waltham Laundry. The Johnson's are descendants of Captain Edward Johnson, who came to America in 1628-29, and made the first map of Massachusetts Bay Colony.



May 30 - Charles P. Nuttings starts a steam launch service from the Moody Street Bridge to Norumbega Park. Service continues until 1908.

June 9 - Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show comes to Waltham and performs at Central Park off Grove Street.

July 2 - Company F, 5th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers are mustered into the U.S. Army for the Spanish-American War.

November 22 - John Lally of Waltham receives his patent for the Lally column.

In 1898 a footbridge was erected across the Charles River between the Chemistry (Calvalry Street area) to the Bleachery (Ames dept. store area) and east of the old railroad trestle. The footbridge was completely remodeled thanks to the efforts of Mary Early of Waltham in 1997.

Also in 1898 a new building was erected at Pumping Station No. 1 near the Charles River. The brick work was done by John Lally, and the carpentry work by Robert Glancy. A new Corliss steam engine and pump, built by the Barr Company, was installed in this building and it more than doubled the existing water pumping capacity.

Looking Back in Waltham on this New Year

In 1899, Waltham's population was about 24,000 and George L. Mayberry was in his third year as mayor. The history books show that it was a quiet but prosperous year in Waltham. Although the Spanish-American War had ended in 1898, Waltham's Company F, 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia returned to Waltham on April 29, 1899.

The Waltham Manufacturing Company on Rumford Avenue was experimenting with the Orient Runabout, their first automobile model. They had been successful with making bicycles and motorcycles since 1893. The Boston Manufac-turing Company, Waltham's 1813 cotton mill, was still operating. The American Waltham Watch Company was doing well, producing 500,000 watches that year, including their new Model 99, Size 16 watch.

When you look back 150 years ago in Waltham you see that the entire south side was purchased from Newton for $1,000 dollars on April 16, 1849. That was also the year that the high school was established in Waltham on July 16, 1849.

Finally if you go back 200 years, you find that the original mansion of Governor Christopher Gore was destroyed by fire.



In 1897, Waltham had a population of 22,000 and the new mayor was George L. Mayberry. Waltham was a "Watch City" with the American Waltham Watch Company being the greatest in the world. In 1897 they once again made a half million watches. The serial numbers went from 7,500,000 to 8,000,000, which shows that since they started in 1849, they had made 8 million watches. In 1897 they came out with a size 14 pocket watch that they called the 1897 model.

Ezra Fitch was still the president of the company and Royal Robbins was the treasurer. They had 4,000 employees.

Nearby on Moody Street, the Waltham Clock Company was starting to make clocks of all sizes and shapes. On January 1, 1897, W.C. Henry became a partner of this company.

However, the big news of 1897 had to do with the opening of Norumbega Park, an amusement park in nearby Newton. The park became an immediate success as it was easily accessible to large segments of the population.

During the previous six years in Waltham, Harvey Bartlett was trying to get his own amusement park at Forest Grove going. Forest Grove had swimming, bathing houses, it had a carousel on the hill, a dance hall, refreshment stand, and even a bridge out to Fox Island.

So Norumbega Park, with its larger facilities and easy accessibility, put a damper on Bartlett's plans. Forest Grove did remain a popular swimming area until 1950.

In a related event, the Bemis line of the Newton Street Railway opened up between Newton and Waltham on May 15, 1897.



The 1938 Hurricane

In eleven days it will be the 60th anniversary of Waltham's worst hurricane which occurred on September 21, 1938. One of the publications in the Meade donation was a historical record book of the hurricane and it was issued by the Waltham News-Tribune in 1938.

Roaring its way from the West Indies the hurricane first threatened Florida, but turned north past Cape Hatterus and swooped onto Long Island and New England. The result was 500 lives lost and 57,034 homes destroyed or damaged. This 90-page publication shows more than 700 vivid views of the damage caused by the 1938 hurricane.



1928 was a national election year and Herbert Hoover was running against Al Smith. At the Olympics in Amsterdam John Lawrence Daly of Waltham won the silver medal for boxing. The Embassy Theater opened and the Spanish-American War statue was erected on the common. The trolley tracks were being removed throughout Waltham.

New slang words introduced were: applesauce, all wet, big cheese, horsefeathers, cat's meow, flapper, hooch, blind date, main drag, and raspberry. This was the "Roaring Twenties."



In February 1676, a second attack was made on Lancaster by One-eyed John. This was followed by two attacks on Groton (north of Lancaster) on March 2, and March 9, 1676. Finally on March 13, 1676 they burned the town of Groton.

After Groton, One-eyed John boasted that he would now burn Chelmsford, Concord, Watertown (Waltham), Cambridge Charlestown, Roxbury and Boston. He said, "WHAT ME WILL, ME DO."

On April 18, 1676, he attacked Sudbury and headed for Watertown (Waltham) where he managed to burn a barn in the western part of Watertown.

The colonists were not asleep, they resisted all these attacks but were forced to retreat. After the burning of this barn, the colonies and the militia of Watertown (Waltham) retreated no longer. On September 26, 1676, One-eyed John was captured and hung in Boston with eight other Indian leaders.

Later King Phillip was captured and killed at his home in Mount Hope, Rhode Island. His head was cut off and carried to Plymouth where it stood exposed on a pole for 20 years. This ended the two year King Phillip War. (Note: Information of the above came from the books, "The Leading Facts of American History," by D. H. Montgomery; and "Waltham, Past and Present," by Nelson.) To get a feel of what it was like to live in those days, one should see the 1939 movie, "Drums Along The Mohawk" with Henry Fonda.



Waltham Threatened by Indians in 1675

For 50 years the Wampanoag Indians of New England lived peacefully with the colonist of Massachusetts. Their chief was Massasoit and when he died his son, King Phillip, fearing the whites would destroy his people started the terrible King Phillip War and massacred many colonists.

On June 24, 1675, he attacked Swansea (near Fall River) from the south. Then on August 22, 1675, One-eyed John, the Indian Chief in command of a northern tribe from Nashua, attacked Lancaster (near Leominster). Still a third Indian force in Western Massachusetts attacked Deerfield (north of Amherst) on September 1, 1675, and then Northfield (north of Deerfield) on September 2, 1675. Then back near the Rhode Island border the Indians captured Narragansett Fort on December 19, 1675.



The Class of 1907

The names of the 42 graduates noted above are listed below with bits of information. I'm sure many of our members will know some members of this class or their family.

  1. Annie M. Rankin - Married guy Paramenter, Sept. 20, 1914
  2. Sallie Rankin - Married George Sommersby
  3. Robert H. Sanderson - Born Oct. 7, 1889. The football team manager.
  4. E. June Reed - Married
  5. Reginal Webster - Became principal of Newhall and Banks School
  6. Jane Johonnot - Mrs. White
  7. Helen Freeman - Mrs. Carl Nelson
  8. L. Mildred Greeley - Graduated Boston University 1910
  9. Name unclear - Married Fanny Kay
  10. Agnes Howe - Mrs. Bettinger
  11. Name unclear - Married Shawfus
  12. Roland McKenzie - Born 1889, became a doctor
  13. Phillip Drake - Son of Bradford Drake, N. Grammar School Principal
  14. Roland A. Behrman - Became a doctor
  15. Alice Barton - Married S. Eldridge June 22, 1911, died 1934
  16. Elliot Frost - Married Louise Moody
  17. Jeanne Hentzi - Born Dec. 30, 1889. Older sister of Ed Hentzi
  18. George Kilgore* - Married Gladys Bramen ~ George Kilgore is the grandfather of Steve Kilgore, a member of the Friends of the Waltham Museum. Steve helps put on the musical concerts on Waltham Common. He is active in many city events.
  19. Elmer Marsh - Captain and fullback of the football team
  20. Ethel Miller Fittz - Lived at 52 Rumford Avenue
  21. Irene E. Barker - Died 1934
  22. William F. Griffin, Jr.  
  23. Irene E. Barker
  24. Marguerite A. Walker
  25. irving Cummings
  26. Frances Ruth Canter
  27. Elizabeth H. Sanderson
  28. Lillian Readon
  29. Amy E. Randall
  30. Gertrude Belle Clark
  31. Agnes M. Whittier
  32. Marrion Isabel Neale
  33. Ernestine Giddings
  34. Ramah Hull
  35. Florence Trimmer
  36. Gazek E, Brackett
  37. Edutg Riley
  38. Eric Ridstrom
  39. Catherine Wellington
  40. Alice Farley
  41. Katherine B. Rutter
  42. Walter Hicks



January 19 - Waltham's Social Library is established.

May 1 (c) - John Bois, who owned the paper mill at the Charles River waterfalls, sold his mill to Joshua Thomas who adds a spinning mill to the property. In 1813, Francis Cabot Lowell builds his mill here.



Attorney Bryon B. Johnson Attorney Bryon B. Johnson was the first mayor for the City of Waltham in 1885.



June 4 - The first Catholic church on Church Street burns down.



March 6 - Makalot Plastic Company on South Street near the Roberts train stop explodes. Five people were killed.

October 7 - Brandeis University has its inaugration festivities.

November 20 - First Church of Christ Scientist opens.

December 28 - The Waltham Watch Company files for bankruptcy.



Attorney Johnson was the lawyer for Sergeant B. Corbett, the soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth. His services were necessary in order for Sgt. Corbett to obtain his share of the $75,000 reward that the War Department offered for the capture or death of Abraham Lincoln's assassin. In 1914, Johnson wrote a book on the incident. The title of the book is long and reads as follows: ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND BOSTON CORBETT WITH PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF EACH. JOHN WILKES BOOTH AND JEFFERSON DAVIS A TRUE STORY OF THEIR CAPTURE. This information was brought to the attention of the Waltham Museum by Steven G. Miller of Mundelein, Illinois. Miller is writing a book about the men who assassinated President Lincoln and is seeking any information. In past newsletters we have mentioned about Melvin M. Johnson, the son of Bryon Johnson. Melvin was the attorney for Hattie LeBlanc, the accused murdered of Clarence Glover in 1909 at the Waltham Laundry. The Johnson's are descendants of Captain Edward Johnson, who came to America in 1628-29, and made the first map of Massachusetts Bay Colony.



On October 23, 1936, during his second presidential campaign, President Roosevelt came to Waltham and spoke at Waltham Common. That was a big day in Waltham, and I know that many of our members remember it well.



Queen Victoria and Governor Nathaniel Banks

In 1860, H.R.H. Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and husband of Queen Victoria of England, visited Boston. He was received by Nathaniel Banks the governor of Massachusetts at that time.

A great ball was given in his honor at the Boston Theatre. This brilliant affair was highlighted by Mrs. Banks and the Prince dancing the first dance together as the audience applauded. Earlier Mary Banks and Prince Albert had the honor of leading the march.



The Stirring Times of 1861 in Waltham

On April 12, 1861 confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. Three days later President Lincoln issued the first call for troops.

On the morning of April 16th, five young Waltham men waited for the eight o'clock train to Concord. They had learned that the Concord Company, 6th Regiment Mass. Volunteers had a few vacancies in the ranks. On the following day, the 6th and 8th Regiment left Boston for Washington D.C. On the 19th of April these troops were involved with skirmishes with unruly crowds in Baltimore.

Shortly after, Waltham had its own three year call for troops. A patriotic rally was called in Rumford Hall for the formation of a company. Following the rally a recruiting office was opened and within one week, one hundred men joined Company H. 16th Mass. Vols. Infantry of Waltham.

Captain Gardner Banks, brother of Nathaniel Banks, was in charge of the company. William Smith was the 1st Lieutenant and Francis P.H. Rogers was the 2nd Lieutenant. Waltham women made the men's uniforms on sewing machines set up in Rumford Hall. The cloth used was a cadet gray of good quality. The men were drilled right on Waltham Common by Lieutenant Smith who was an efficient drillmaster and had a gruff voice of command. During the drilling period, the stirring music of fife and drum by Si Smith and Joe Holbrook, was often heard.

This proud unit, Company H. 16th Mass. from Waltham, saw lots of fighting during the Civil War. Many casualties occurred.



The Fame of Historical Waltham

The greatness of Waltham's history began in 1813 when America was engaged in the War of 1812 with England. In that year, Francis Cabot Lowell founded the Boston Manufacturing Company, a cotton mill in Waltham which was the first modern factory in the United States and the first time that all the processes for making cloth from cotton occurred under one roof while using power looms. History books have credited this accomplishment with leading America's industry out of their small shops and into a modern factory system.

This system spread to Lowell, Lawrence, Fall River and eventually throughout the United States. It was the birth of America's Industrial Revolution. Life magazine has called it one of the most significant events in the history of the United States. Fortune magazine has placed Francis Cabot Lowell in its Hall of Fame.

Forty years later the Waltham Watch Company was started in Waltham by Aaron Dennison, a man whose dream was to make watches with interchangeable parts, the parts being precision made, automatically by machines to the closest of tolerances. The success of the Waltham Watch Company in the nineteenth century spread to other industries in the United States and brought them to new heights with precision machines and interchangeable parts. These accomplishments, which were 35 years ahead of their time, are the main reasons for America's great industrial power today.



In 1802 Upham’s dam and paper mill are erected on Stony Brook. It is the third paper mill in Waltham.

Coincidentally, John Robbins, who would later buy the Upham’s mill, was born in 1802. Christopher Gore, who operated another paper mill in Waltham, was having plans for the new Gore house drawn up with the assistance of Mrs. Gore.


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