There are only two towns named Millbury in the United States, one here and one in Massachusetts. But, if it wasn’t for a coin toss and a cantankerous cow, there would be no Millburys.
First, the cow. In 1813, when residents of the North Parish of Sutton, Massachusetts, considered incorporation, Napoleon Bonaparte had just ravaged Europe and was headed for Russia. There, he was stopped at the battle of Moscow. At that same time, many Americans forming cities in our growing country proposed honoring the Russians by adopting Moscow as their town’s name. The people of the North Parish made such a proposal. However, one influential citizen, General Caleb Burbank, strongly protested, according to 1915 book The Centennial History of Millbury, Massachusetts.
The authors write that when Gen. Burbank was growing up, his family had “an ugly kicking critter” they called the “Morse cow.” Burbank alleged he couldn’t stand living with the “unpleasant associations” the similar names evoked. As the area was home to a number of textile mills, he suggested Millbury as an alternative.
The name was deemed fitting and adopted. One of those mills has been in continuous operation for nearly 300 years. Today, the S & D Spinning Mill located on the Blackstone River creates the red stitching for major league baseballs.
This brings us to the other Millbury, our own.
Sometime in the 1850s, a railroad company constructed an east-west connection from Cleveland to Toledo to meet with an existing north-south rail line. They called this area Clay Junction and sent Milo Gage, an Englishman, and George Hewitt of Millbury, Mass. to attend to the switch.
When residents petitioned for a post office in 1856, Hewitt, who eventually became the town’s first postmaster, suggested naming the town Millbury, according to the book A History of Lake Township, Wood County, Ohio edited by Cathy J. Meadows. However, residents liked the name Mark Lane, the name of the largest grain market in England. They thought this a better moniker as a lot of grain was being shipped through Clay Junction. Debate ensued, so did a coin flip and heads won. So, today there are two Millburys and no Moscow, Mass., nor Mark Lane, Oh.
Millbury, Mass. is celebrating its Bicentennial this year and next. Members of the bicentennial committee have been searching for historical information which led co-chairman Roger Desrosiers to Google Millbury and to call this paper.
Desrosiers, who occasionally visits friends in Findlay, Ohio, knew of our Millbury, but didn’t know the connection between the two Millburys, although he heard rumors of the two men who went west to Ohio in the 1850s.
I sent Desrosiers historical information about Gage and Hewitt and put him in touch with our mayor, Mike Timmons. Mayor Timmons can provide the recent history as he has been mayor for 32 years.
Mayor Timmons will also send a letter of proclamation honoring the other Millbury on its Bicentennial. More may be done next year as the two talk. Desrosiers mentioned a sister-city relationship as a possibility.
Desrosiers said his city kicked off its year-long celebration this June with a concert by the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra accompanied by fireworks. Other events included a Revolutionary War Reenactment and a classic car show.
The car show had special meaning and another Ohio connection. Cincinnati’s William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States (1909-1913), spent summers in Millbury, Mass. with an aunt. He was an automobile enthusiast who replaced the White House fleet of horse-drawn vehicles with motor cars, according to the website whitehousehistory.org.
Events planned for 2013 include a period ball in April, a Bicentennial parade in June and fireworks on July 4th.
Millbury, Mass. was first settled in 1716. It is located in Worcester County in the south central part of the state. Population is a little over 13,000. Our Millbury was incorporated into a village in 1874 and today has a population of around 1,200.