Acton is a suburban town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States about twenty-one miles west-northwest of Boston along Route 2 west of Concord and about ten miles (18 km) southwest of Lowell. The population was 21,929 at the 2010 census and ranked 35th on the list of highest-income places with a population of at least 10,000. It is bordered by Westford and Littleton to the north, Concord and Carlisle to the east, Stow, Maynard, and Sudbury to the south, and Boxborough to the west. Acton became an incorporated town in 1735. The town employs the Open Town Meeting form of government with a Town Manager and an elected, 5-member Board of Selectmen. Acton was named the 16th Best Place To Live among small towns in the country by Money Magazine in 2009 and in 2011. The local high school, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009.
Acton was first settled by Native Americans who used the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers for transportation and the fields for farming seasonal crops. There is evidence of Native American settlements in Acton which go back 7000 years. When the colonists arrived in this area, the Native American population dropped dramatically due to European diseases for which they had no immunity.
Colonization Era through Revolutionary Era
Concord was the first colonial town that was settled in this area. Concord residents used the land which is now Acton as grazing fields for their animals. The first colonial residents moved to Acton in 1639.
Acton was established as an independent town on July 3, 1735. Acton has held annual town meetings since 1735, the records of which are held at Acton's Memorial Library.
Acton residents participated in the growing hostility with Great Britain by sending a list of grievances to King George III on Oct. 3rd, 1774. The anniversary of this day is celebrated in Acton as Crown Resistance Day.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, on April 19, 1775, a company of minutemen from Acton responded to the call to arms initiated by Paul Revere (who rode with other riders, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, with Prescott the only one of the three who was able reach Acton itself) and fought at the North Bridge in Concord as part of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Acton minutemen were led by Captain Isaac Davis. When a company was needed to lead the advance on the bridge which was defended by the British regulars, Captain Davis was heard to reply, "I haven't a man who is afraid to go." The Acton men led because, unlike other militias there, they were fully equipped with bayonets.
The colonists advanced on the bridge; in the exchange of musket fire that followed, Captain Isaac Davis and Private Abner Hosmer of Acton were killed. Davis was the first officer to die in the American Revolutionary War. In Acton they refer to "the battle of Lexington, fought in Concord, by men of Acton."
Industrialization and Civil War
During the 19th century, Acton participated in the growing Industrial Revolution. By the mid-19th century, Acton was an industrial center for the production of barrels (cooperage). There were also a powder mill, three gristmills and four sawmills in town. The American Powder Mills complex extended downstream along the Assabet River and manufactured gunpowder from 1835 to 1940.
On October 1, 1844 the railroad came to Acton. The Fitchburg Railroad was routed through South and West Acton so that it could serve the mills. South Acton became a busy rail center and was the division point for the Marlborough Branch Railroad. With the railroad came increasing development in those areas. In addition to the Fitchburg Railroad, two others crossed the town: the Nashua and Acton, and the Framingham and Lowell. These two railroads shared a double track right-of-way that ran from West Concord (aka Concord Junction) through East Acton and then splitting in North Acton in the vicinity of Route 27 and Ledgerock Way.
In 1874, the population of the town was almost 1700. The town established its first newspaper, The Acton Patriot, and the residents of West Acton formed the first library, The Citizen's Library. In 1890, the Memorial Library was completed and given to the town by William A. Wilde as a memorial to the Acton soldiers who fought in the Civil War.