Southbridtge Evening News Staff - 1996
Just how did Southbridge get its name? Today, as we
prepare to blow out the 180 candles on the birthday cake, one needs to
wonder how close we came to be named Vienna or Newbern or Quinebaug.
Before 1816, when Southbridge was incorporated as
a distinct community, the territory was a part of Charlton, Sturbridge
and Dudley. Sturbridge, in fact, was the greater part of this area, with
all the land west of Elm Street belonging to it. Everything north of Main
Street was part of Charlton and everything east of Elm Street belonged
Where did the name Southbridge come from? The explanation most often found in historical records is that a bridge once spanning the Quinebaug River, a short distance from the present stone bridge at Central Street, was aptly named “South Bridge.” Since the highway over the bridge was one of the chief routes from Worcester and Boston and south into Connecticut, it became an important landmark. Just about everyone in the towns and parishes knew where the “South Bridge” was located.
As many know, a Scotsman named James Deneson was the first to settle here in 1728, and lived in a cave under Dennison Rock, still intact in the Dennison district of town. By 1816, the population along the Quinebaug had reached 830 and by 1860, 3,575. The early settlers here didn’t like the idea of belonging to three towns and wanted to become a distinct community with a name of their own.
Sometime, say records, about 1801, they began preparations for a separation. There was strong opposition from neighboring Sturbridge, Charlton and Dudley, who were not keen to the idea of having their territory or revenue diminished by a secessionary group. In late 1801, the demand for a separate community was so strong that it was decided to create a poll parish, a preliminary step to becoming a town.
This was done and the community was unofficially called “Honest Town,” for its friendly, honest-dealing townspeople. The name hung on long after Southbridge became a town. Creation of a poll parish gave residents specific rights and privileges, such as spending the bulk of tax money within the parish.
Honest Town was not independent; however, it did as
it pleased under the poll parish system for 15 years. As a poll parish,
Honest Town erected its first meeting house, on the land at Main and Foster
Streets, where Central Baptist Church is located. One of the early town
leaders, Col. Benjamin Freeman, donated an acre of land off Main Street,
later to be known as Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The interest in becoming a town never waned and in
1813, a group of men met at Freeman’s Tavern, the site of the fire station
on Elm Street, and drafted a petition to the General Court, requesting
a new town be established and called Vienna. Opposition to the petition
was too strong and it was denied but the citizens fought harder and in
1814, a new petition went to Boston with the same request – only the name
changed to Southbridge.
On Feb. 15, 1816, the court passed the articles of
incorporation and Southbridge, a town “south of the bridge” was born.
History of Southbridge Bridges - Supplied March 2009 by Margaret Morrissey
(Jacob Edwards Library