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 is 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) (Greater Boston). The city features many examples of Victorian-era mill architecture.
The Pakachoag tribe of the Nipmuc nation of Native Americans were the indigenous settlers of the area. They called it Quinsigamond, meaning "fishing place for pickerel". Lake Quinsigamond provided fine hunting and fishing grounds a short distance from their main village near a spring on Pakachoag Hill in what is now Auburn. Mt. Wachusett was their sacred place.
Worcester was first settled by the English in 1673, along the Upper Boston Post Road. The modest settlement of six or seven houses was burned to the ground during King Philip's War on December 2, 1675, when settlers were either killed or driven off. The town was subsequently resettled and was incorporated in 1684. On September 10 of that year, Daniel Gookin and others petitioned to have the town's name officially changed from Quinsigamond to Worcester. However, its inhabitants were still vulnerable to attack, and some, such as Samuel Leonardson Jr., were taken hostage by natives during the 1690s. When Queen Anne's War started in 1702, the town was again abandoned by its English inhabitants except for Diggory Sargent. Sargent was later tomahawked, as was his wife, who was too weak to make the journey on foot to Canada. Their children were taken to Canada and survived.
In 1713, Worcester was resettled for the third time, permanently, by Jonas Rice (1673–1753). Jonas Rice held many offices and was selected as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for Worcester County. His farm was located atop Union Hill and a commemorative Massachusetts Tercentenary historic marker stands as a reminder where Plantation St. and Massasoit Rd. intersect.
Named after the historic city of Worcester, England, Worcester was incorporated as a town on June 14, 1722 and chartered as a city on February 29, 1848. When the government of Worcester County was established on April 2, 1731, Worcester was chosen as shire town (later known as a county seat). From that date until the dissolution of the county government on July 1, 1998, it was the only county seat.
As political tensions rose in the months before the Revolution, Worcester served as a center of revolutionary activity. Because it was an important munitions depot, Worcester was targeted for attack by Loyalist general Thomas Gage. However, officers sent secretly to inspect the munitions depot were discovered by Patriot Timothy Bigelow. General Gage then decided to move on to the second munitions depot in Lexington. In 1775, determining that Boston was too dangerous, Isaiah Thomas moved his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, to Worcester. The Massachusetts Spy was one of the few papers published continuously during the Revolution. On July 14, 1776, Isaiah Thomas, intercepting the packet from Philadelphia to Boston, performed the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence ever in front of Worcester City Hall. In 1812, Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society, a research library holding nearly two-thirds of the items known to have been printed in America from 1639 through 1820. The Society's holdings from 1821 to 1876 compare favorably with those of the Library of Congress and other major research libraries.
Known for innovation in commerce, industry, education, and social thought, Worcester and the nearby Blackstone Valley were major contributors to the American Industrial Revolution. Ichabod Washburn, an early industrialist, developed a process for extruding steel wire. His company, Washburn & Moen, founded in 1831, was "the company that 'barbed-wire fenced the American West, '" and held the battle lines during World War I. In 1840, Loring Coes invented the monkey wrench. In the 1850s, George Crompton and L.J. & F.B. Knowles founded companies that manufactured textile looms which drove the Industrial Revolution. Another Worcester innovator, physician Russel Howes, invented the first envelope folding machine in 1856. It could produce 25,000 envelopes in ten hours, using three operators.
Women found economic opportunity in Worcester. An early female entrepreneur, Esther Howland, designed and manufactured the first American valentine cards in 1847. Women also found opportunity in The Royal Worcester Corset Factory, a company that provided employment opportunity for 1200 women; it was the largest employer of women in the United States in 1908.
Several entrepreneurs brought growth to Worcester's economy during this period. John Jeppson, a skilled potter, emigrated from Höganäs, Sweden. He began working with Frank B. Norton at his stoneware manufacturing company located on the Blackstone Canal. He later bought out Norton and during the 20th Century, Norton Company was one of the largest industries and employers in Worcester. In 1988, Norton Company was acquired by Saint-Gobain, the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of performance engineered abrasives for technical manufacturing and commercial applications, in addition to general household and automotive refinishing. Jeppson created economic opportunity for the thousands of his countrymen who followed him to Worcester, and others. Many Irish immigrants settled in Worcester during this period, as well. They helped build the railroad and Blackstone Canal, further driving Worcester's economic engine.
An innovative form of affordable housing appeared in the 19th century: the three decker. Hundreds of these houses were built, affording capacious, comfortable apartments for a homeowner and two tenants. Many extended families settled in these houses, developing safe, stable neighborhoods for city factory workers. While considered passé by the 1960s, they have enjoyed renewed interest and attention due to the quality of - and attention paid to - the quality of construction and variety of design. Intricately carved doorjambs and moldings considered too expensive to produce today are common in these homes, as well as hardwood floors and built-in glass-doored china cabinets. Many homes in the Vernon Hill and Grafton Hill neighborhoods have been restored to their original appearance inside and out.
In December 1999, the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire received national attention. Two homeless people, deemed mentally disabled, accidentally knocked over a lit candle in an abandoned cold storage warehouse, igniting a conflagration. Six firefighters lost their lives in an attempt to rescue the homeless people. This fire was one of the worst firefighting tragedies of the late 20th century. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and other local and national dignitaries attended services and a memorial program.
The first decade of the 21st century saw the closing and creation of major cultural institutions in the city. In April 2006, the Worcester Center Galleria, a mall that occupies a large swath of downtown Worcester, was set to be demolished to make way for the long-planned "City Square", a multi-use collaboration of several downtown buildings for commercial, retail, and residential use. The Worcester Foothills Theatre, formerly located in the Outlets, "suspended operations" on May 10, 2009, due to lack of funding. It is unclear if it will ever reopen. In March 2008, the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts opened as a venue for touring Broadway-style shows.