Millis is a town in Norfolk County in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It is a small town with a population of 7,891 according to the 2010 census. The town is approximately southwest of downtown Boston and is bordered by Norfolk, Sherborn, Holliston, Medfield, and Medway. Massachusetts state routes 109 and 115 run through Millis.
For geographic and demographic information on the village of Millis-Clicquot, see Millis-Clicquot, Massachusetts.
Millis was first settled in 1657 and was officially incorporated in 1885. Millis was originally part of Dedham, Massachusetts until that town granted the lands of Millis, and other present day surrounding towns, to Medfield in 1651. In 1713, pioneers of Medfield applied for a grant to create a new town and, when approved, named this new land Medway. This new town consisted of West Medway (the present day town) and East Medway (present day Millis). Lansing Millis, the founder of the town, successfully incorporated Millis into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on February 24, 1885.
Lansing Millis was successful in turning the small town of Millis into an important area of Massachusetts. Lansing Millis, who was widely known as a connoisseur in railroads and trains, built up a strong rail system in Millis. This was arguably his most important accomplishment, as the rail system is regarded as the most significant factor in its independence from Medway. In addition, the railroad system was a major factor in the early promotion of economic growth in the town and the integration of Millis to the larger cities of Dedham, Boston, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Currently, this old railroad that used to begin in Medway is known as the Bay Colony Railroad. The Medway tracks have since been dismantled, making Millis the railroad's western terminus. The railroad is now mostly defunct, but several miles of the Bay Colony tracks in Millis are privately owned and operated by the GAF industrial enterprise located in the Clicquot neighborhood of Millis. The Bay Colony Railroad merges with the present day MBTA Commuter Rail in Needham.
Aside from the tremendous contribution of the rail system to Millis' integration with the major Massachusetts cities, another important moment in the town's history is the construction of the Hartford and Dedham Turnpike, known today as Massachusetts Route 109. The road was constructed in 1806 and officially accepted by the town of Millis in 1896. The Hartford and Dedham Turnpike connected Millis, Medway, Medfield, and several other towns directly to Dedham and Boston. Today, Route 109 still serves as a major road connecting Metrowest Boston communities to the city of Boston.
Millis is the home of the nationally famous "Millis Lights". The "Millis Lights" are a display of Christmas decorations and lights on the Causeway Street estate of Kevin Meehan, the owner of several car dealerships. In 2004, Al Roker traveled to Millis for a segment centered around the "Millis Lights". After the publicity of the The Today Show, an estimated 7,000 cars traveled to the "Millis Lights" daily during the Christmas season.
The industrial history of Millis is long and varied, beginning with the water power of a small establishment named Hinsdell's mill. Soon, Millis grew from a small new town with a mill to a successful industrial society. Numerous industries opened up in the town and stimulated employment and growth. Some of these industries include the Holbrook factories, which included a bell foundry, organ manufactory, and organ pipe manufactory, Clicquot Club, and Herman Shoe Company; the latter two being the most notable industries in the town's history.
Today the prominent employers in the town are Tresca Brothers Sand & Gravel, Lucas Manufacturing Co., Inc. and formally the GAF roofing plant. Millis is also home to a thriving automobile recycling industry located in the western, industrial section of town.
Herman Shoe Company
The Herman Shoe Company was an extremely important industry in town. The Herman Shoe Company, a result of several private buyouts, produced large amounts of material, specifically boots and other equipment, during the Spanish-American War. In addition, it produced most of the boots worn by the troops during World War II.
The company is now out of business and the former factory stands empty in the Clicquot neighborhood, next to the former Clicquot Club factory. It has recently been bought by a private entrepreneur who renovated the building, but there is no news on what will become of it.
Clicquot Club was started by Henry Millis, using funds from his father and founder of Millis, Lansing Millis. The company, which distributed the first brand of ginger ale in the United States for about eighty years, is located on Main Street and is the namesake for the village of Clicquot in Millis. The ginger ale produced by Clicquot Club was made using local Millis ginger. Later, the company produced several different sodas and was the first company in the nation to can drinks. Clicquot Club owned more than 100 factories throughout the United States and sold its beverages internationally. As sales declined in the 1960s, however, the company went bankrupt and was bought by the Cott company, which in turn was acquired by Canada Dry.
Causeway Street and the Brickyards
An area of land around Causeway Street, although now a rural street in the west of town, was once a huge industrial hub for the early town of Millis. This area of Causeway Street was used for clay excavation for the manufacture of bricks, as well as sand excavation. The clay excavations were turned into bricks that built many large estates and buildings in the immediate area and beyond. The remnants of clay pits today look like small ponds. In fact, one of the clay pits is so large that it is now a body of water named Heather’s Pond. These abandoned pits are home to many species of wildlife and are protected along with the Great Black Swamp. Historically, the sand from the pits was used to fill in the most recent runway at Logan International Airport. Today, the remnants of old sand pits lay vacant.
The several large brickyards around Causeway Street were owned by a few wealthy families. One of these estates, the Clark Family estate, was later the home to former Massachusetts Governor and United States Secretary of State Christian Herter.
One of the most important sites in Millis is Richardson’s Tavern, which was built around 1720. This tavern accommodated George Washington for lunch on his way to Cambridge in 1775. It is rumored that Nathan Hale and the Marquis de Lafayette also stopped at the tavern to dine.
Millis’ cemetery, called Prospect Hill Cemetery, is home to the grave of Christian Herter, the United States Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Secretary Herter lived on a large farm on Causeway Street in Millis and, it is rumored, when summoned to Washington, D.C., he left his farm directly by helicopter to Logan International Airport.
King Philip's War
The history of Millis is closely tied with King Philip's War of 1675 to 1676. On February 21, 1676, Native Americans killed 17 Medfield citizens and destroyed half of the town (32 houses, two mills, and many barns). Immediately after this attack, the Native Americans under King Philip (Metacom) fled to Millis where they held a grand feast. This spot is marked by “The King Phillip Trees”, which are two hundred year old trees protected by the Millis Historical Society. The next day, on February 22, the Native American forces led an offensive against the Fayerbanke Palisades at Boggestowe Farms, which are in present-day Millis. This attack was repulsed, as well as a second attack, which occurred on May 6.