Arlington, founded over 350 years ago, remains proud of its history, even as it has grown into a thoroughly modern community. The birthplace of Uncle Sam, the location of the first public children's library, and the site of most of the fighting when the British marched through it returning from the Old North Bridge at the start of the Revolutionary War, Arlington has preserved many of its historical buildings and even recreated its town common. Once a thriving agriculture and mill town, Arlington's excellent access to metropolitan Boston has made it a very
desirable place to live.
History Highlights of Arlington
The Town of Arlington was originally settled in 1635 as a village under the name Menotomy. In 1807, the Town and a section of what is now Belmont were set off from Cambridge and incorporated as West Cambridge. In 1867, the name was changed to Arlington in honor of the heroes buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
Squaw Sachem: When the first settlers made an agreement in 1635 with Squaw Sachem, she reserved the right to maintain some land near the Mystic Lakes for her use and required as part payment, a new English (woolen) coat every year for as long as she lived. This area was called Menotomy, an Algonquian word.
Captain Cooke: Two years later, Captain George Cooke took advantage of the swift running water in Mill Brook by building the first mill in this area. Farmers from Cambridge, Woburn, Watertown, and Medford brought their grain to the mill to be ground into flour.
The First School: In 1688, Menotomy's 24 taxpayers petitioned for the right to build a school; an unusual request, because they did not have as yet a meetinghouse. The school, located at what is now the cemetery on Pleasant Street, was completed in 1693 and stood there for more than 100 years.
Battle of Menotomy (Patriots' Day): Arlington (then called Menotomy) played a prominent role on the first day of the American Revolution - April 19, 1775. Minutemen from surrounding towns converged on Menotomy to ambush the British on their retreat from Concord and Lexington. More than one-half of that fateful day's casualties were suffered in the short distance from Foot of the Rocks (at the intersection of Lowell Street and Massachusetts Avenue) to Spy Pond.
Uncle Sam: Uncle Sam was born in Menotomy. Samuel Wilson was almost nine years old when the Battle of Menotomy took place. He started a meat-packing business in Troy, N.Y., where he became known as Uncle Sam. People say that the U.S. stamped on boxes of meat for the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 stood for Uncle Sam.
Libraries: Through a gift of $100 from Dr. Ebenezer Learned in 1835, and an additional appropriation of $30 from the town in 1837, the first free public library in Massachusetts was established in Arlington (then known as West Cambridge).
Prince Hall: Mystic Cemetery On Gardner Street in East Arlington there is a monument in a small park on the site of the only Black Masonic Cemetery in the United States. The cemetery, dedicated in 1864, held members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge F & AM, formed in 1776. Though much of the cemetery has since been developed, a geophysical survey of the site in 1988 found remains of the original gate and an obelisk.
Industry and Agriculture: Arlington now is a town of homes with little or no industry or agriculture, but at one time seven mills operated along Mill Brook when it was a mightier stream than it is today. An ice industry thrived on Spy Pond. Ice harvested there was transported to Boston for shipment to the South and even India. Arlington's market gardens and greenhouses were famous for their produce, especially Arlington lettuce that was shipped all along the East Coast. California put the farms out of business when refrigerated trains came into use.
Moxie: The connection between Moxie and Arlington is the legacy that Arlington resident Francis Thompson as president of the Moxie Co. (from 1904 to his death in 1939) and his wife left to the town. The money finances scholarships for Arlington High School graduates as every year, and more than 100 seniors receive Thompson Scholarships ranging from $200 to $2,000.
The Thompson School is a token of our town's appreciation for this generous act. Mr. Thompson's father, Dr. Augustin Thompson, developed in 1876, a syrup he called Moxie Nerve Food and marketed it as a tonic to aid digestions. In 1884, he changed Moxie to a carbonated soft drink that at first was also marketed as a tonic with extravagant claims that it would cure all sorts of ailments.
A few years later Moxie was marketed exclusively as a delicious and refreshing drink, and for a while, was the most popular soft drink in the U.S. In fact, it became so popular that the word moxie became part of our language meaning energy, courage or guts. Moxie is still enjoyed by many people and can be obtained in local supermarkets.
Cyrus Dallin: Born in a log cabin in Utah and where as a boy he played with Indians, Cyrus Dallin showed talent at a young age in art and model making. A Boston businessman who financed the 19-year-old's education in Boston recognized his talent. Later Cyrus studied in Paris. Cyrus Dallin spent his adult life in Arlington; his children and grandchildren grew up here. He is especially known for the heroic-size bronze of Paul Revere near the Old North Church, which reminds us of our national heritage.
Also, he is famous for his Indian statues, the most famous being The Appeal to the Great Spirit that stands in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Others are: Massasoit in Plymouth as well as American Indian equestrian statues in Chicago, Kansas City, and Philadelphia. Arlington's most famous Dallin work, the Menotomy Indian Hunter, was commissioned by the Robbins family to honor Winfield Robbins. This work, which portrays one of the community's first inhabitants, stands in a beautiful wooded setting in the garden between the Robbins Memorial Town Hall and the Robbins Library.
Menotomy Minutemen Historical Trail
The 4-mile Trail follows a loop that begins and ends at the Jefferson Cutter house in Arlington Center. It is designed for self-guided walking tours for anyone interested in American history, including families, school groups, and Boy Scout and Girl Scout units. You can find the trail guide online here.
Arlington 200th Anniversary
In 2007, Arlington celebrated the 200th anniversary of the town being incorporated (at the time West Cambridge). You can view many of the events held in 2007 as well as additional Arlington History at the Arlington 200th Anniversary Committee web site.
Arlington's 200th Celebration Letterbox
Created to commemorate the the 200th anniversary of Arlington's incorporation as a separate town, a group of Junior Girl Scouts created the Arlington's 200th Celebration Letterbox. In searching for this letterbox, follow the clues that will take you past many historically significant areas of Arlington. Even if you don't have your personal logbook, it's a fun way to explore and learn about Arlington. You can view and print the clues here.
Plan about 1.5 - 2 hours to complete the tour.
Arlington 100th Anniversary
"Prepared and published by authority of the committee of the town of Arlington appointed to make arrangements for the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of the town" reads the opening comments of the book Town of Arlington Past and Present: A Narrative of Larger Events and Inportant Changes in the Villiage Precinct and Town from 1637 to 1907 by Charles S. Parker. Published in 1907 and now available to download here from Google books.