Centuries before the arrival of the first Europeans, Douglas was inhabited by Nipmucs, an Algonquin people who lived here in a settled agricultural and hunting society. In the 1720s, the first English-speaking settlers here established the town as New Sherborn, later renamed Douglas in 1746. Over the next century, Douglas enhanced its agricultural economy with increasing commerce, becoming a crossroads for stagecoach turnpikes from Worcester to Providence and Boston to Hartford. Its growing number of taverns and wayside inns soon transformed Douglas into a hub for people and goods traveling through the Blackstone Valley. In addition, local grist mills turned grain into flour and saw mills processed lumber from Douglas' forests.
Douglas' East Village, now East Douglas, developed in the early 1800s when entrepreneurs established mills on the Mumford River. By harnessing the river's waterpower, they significantly increased the production of goods that for centuries had been made slowly and individually by hand. By mid-century, industrial activity centered upon the miles of buildings along the Mumford which produced edged tools - the "Axe Shops" of the world-famous Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company. The axe business had declined by 1912, undercut by Pennsylvania's steel industry, and was replaced by the Hayward and Schuster woolen mills. By the 1950s, these mills employed 856 town residents, representing 92 percent of the local work force.
While most of the textile mills have gone the way of the axe shops, Douglas remains a thriving community, grounded in a more diversified economy and committed to the re-use of local assets. 20th- century storefronts rest comfortably in 19th-century structures, while older buildings stand renovated nearby. Modern apartments grace old mills, while another produces contemporary industrial fabrics. A former livery stable holds commercial businesses, what was once a factory office is now a restaurant, and the E. N. Jenckes General Store has become a historical museum. In Douglas, rather than bulldozing the past, the residents have reclaimed it.
The Town of Douglas maintains a web site, www.DouglasMA.org.
Reprinted with permission:
Where fields met factories and country met commerce:
A Walking Tour of Douglas.
Published by the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Douglas fireman with their Fire King engine about 1900. A hand pumper, the Fire King required at least twelve men to operate. The old firehouse, located on Cottage street, is now used only for storage. The building at left, the Old Town Hall, is no longer standing.