Worcester is a city and the county seat of Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. Named after Worcester, England, as of the 2010 Census the city's population was 181,045, making it the second largest city in New England after Boston. Worcester is located approximately west of Boston, and east of Springfield. Due to its location in Central Massachusetts, amidst Massachusetts' major metropolitan regions, Worcester is known as the "Heart of the Commonwealth", thus, a heart is the official symbol of the city.
Worcester was considered its own region for centuries; however, with the encroachment of Boston's suburbs, it now marks the western periphery of the Boston-Worcester-Manchester (MA-RI-NH) U.S. Census Combined Statistical Area (CSA), or Greater Boston. The city features many examples of Victorian-era mill architecture.
The area was first inhabited by members of the Nipmuc tribe. The native people called the region Quinsigamond and built a settlement on Pakachoag Hill in Auburn. In 1673 English settlers John Eliot and Daniel Gookin lead an expedition to Quinsigamond to establish a new Christian Indian “praying town” and identify a new location for an English settlement. On July 13, 1674, Gookin obtained a deed to eight square miles of land in Quinsigamond from the Nipmuc people and English traders and settlers began to inhabit the region.
In 1675, King Philip's War broke out throughout New England with the Nipmuc Indians coming to the aid of Indian leader King Philip. The English settlers completely abandoned the Quinsigamond area and the empty buildings were burned by the Indian forces. The town was again abandoned during Queen Anne's War in 1702. Finally in 1713, Worcester was permanently resettled for a third time by Jonas Rice. Named after the city of Worcester, England, the town was incorporated on June 14, 1722. On April 2, 1731, Worcester was chosen as the county seat of the newly found Worcester County government . In the 1770s, Worcester became a center of American revolutionary activity. British General Thomas Gage was given information of patriot ammunition stockpiled in Worcester in 1775. Also in 1775, Massachusetts Spy publisher Isaiah Thomas moved his radical newspaper out of British occupied Boston to Worcester. Thomas would continuously publish his paper throughout the American Revolutionary War. On July 14, 1776, Thomas performed the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the Worcester town hall. He would latter go on to form the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester in 1812.
During the turn of the 19th century Worcester’s economy moved into manufacturing. Textiles, shoes and clothing factories opened along the nearby Blackstone River. However, the manufacturing industry in Worcester would not begin to thrive until the opening of the Blackstone Canal in 1828 and the opening of the Worcester and Boston Railroad in 1835. The city transformed into a transportation hub and the manufacturing industry flourished. Worcester was officially chartered as a city on February 29, 1848. The city’s industries soon attracted immigrants of primarily Irish, French, and Swedish descent in the mid-19th century and later many immigrants of Lithuanian, Polish, Italian, Greek, Turkish and Armenian descent. Immigrants moved into new three decker houses which lined hundreds of Worcester’s expanding streets and neighborhoods.
Worcester would become a center of machinery, wire products, and power looms and boasted large manufactures, Washburn & Moen, Wyman-Gordon Company, American Steel & Wire, Morgan Construction and the Norton Company. In 1908 the Royal Worcester Corset Factory was the largest employer of women in the United States.
Worcester would also claim many inventions and firsts. New England Candlepin bowling was invented in Worcester by Justin White in 1879. Esther Howland began the first line of Valentine’s Day cards from her Worcester home in 1847. Loring Coes invented the first monkey wrench and Russell Hawes created the first envelope folding machine. On June 12, 1880, Lee Richmond pitched the first perfect game in Major league baseball history for the Worcester Ruby Legs at the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds.
On June 9, 1953 a F4 tornado touched down in Petersham, Massachusetts west of Worcester, The tornado tore through 48 miles of Worcester County including a large area of the city of Worcester. The tornado left massive destruction and killed 94 people. The Worcester Tornado would be the most deadly tornado to ever hit Massachusetts.
After World War II, Worcester began to fall into decline as the city lost its manufacturing base to cheaper alternatives across the country and overseas. Worcester felt the national-trends of movement away from historic urban centers. This city's population would drop over 20% from 1950 to 1980. In the mid-20th century large urban renewal projects were undertaken to try and reverse the city’s decline. A huge area of downtown Worcester was demolished for new office towers and the 1,000,000 sq. ft. Worcester Center Galleria shopping mall. After only 30 years the Galleria would lose most of its major tenants and lose its appeal to more suburban shopping malls around Worcester County. In the 1960s, Interstate 290 was built right through the center of Worcester permanently dividing the city. In 1963, Worcester native Harvey Ball introduced the iconic yellow smiley face to American culture.
In the late 20th century Worcester’s economy began to recover as the city expanded into biotechnology and healthcare fields. The UMass Medical School has become a leader in biomedical research and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park has become a center of medical research and development. Worcester hospitals Saint Vincent Hospital and UMass Memorial Health Care have become two of the largest employers in the city. Worcester many colleges including the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Clark University, UMass Medical School,Assumption College, MCPHS University, Becker College, and Worcester State University attract many students to the area and help drive the new economy.
On December 3, 1999 two homeless men started a five-alarm fire at the Worcester Cold Storage & Warehouse Company. The fire took the lives of six firemen and drew national attention as one of the worst firefighting tragedies in the late 20th century. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other local and national dignitaries attended the funeral service and memorial program in Worcester.
In recent decades, a renewed interest in the city’s downtown has brought new investment and construction to Worcester. A Convention Center was built along the DCU Center arena in downtown Worcester in 1997. In 2000, Worcester’s Union Station reopened after 25 years of neglect and a $32 million renovation. Hanover Insurance helped fund a multimillion dollar renovation to the old Franklin Square Theater into the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. In 2000, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences built a new campus in downtown Worcester. In 2007 WPI opened the first facility in their new Gateway Park center in Lincoln Square. In 2004, Berkeley Investments proposed demolishing the old Worcester Center Galleria for a new mixed-used development called City Square. The ambitious project looked to reconnect old street patterns while creating a new retail, commercial and living destination in the city. After struggling to secure finances for a number of years Hanover Insurance took over the project and demolition began on September 13, 2010. Unum Insurance and the Saint Vincent Hospital leased into the project and both facilities opened in 2013. The new Front Street opened on December 31, 2012.