Chelmsford (//) is a town in Massachusetts, United States. Established in 1655, it is located 24 miles (39 km) northwest of Boston. The Chelmsford militia played a role in the American Revolution at the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Chelmsford was incorporated in May 1655 by an act of the Massachusetts General Court. When Chelmsford was incorporated, its local economy was fueled by lumber mills, limestone quarries and kilns. The farming community of East Chelmsford was incorporated as Lowell in the 1820s; over the next decades it would go on to become one of the first large-scale factory towns in the United States because of its early role in the country’s Industrial Revolution. Chelmsford experienced a drastic increase in population between 1950 and 1970, coinciding with the connection of U.S. Route 3 in Lowell to Massachusetts Route 128 in the 1950s and the extension of U.S. Route 3 from Chelmsford to New Hampshire in the 1960s.
Chelmsford has a representative town meeting form of government. The current town manager is Paul Cohen. The town has one public high school—Chelmsford High School, which is ranked among the top 500 schools in the nation—as well as two middle schools, and four elementary schools. The charter middle school started in Chelmsford became a regional charter school (Innovation Academy Charter School) covering grades 5 through 12, now located in Tyngsborough. Chelmsford high school age students also have the option of attending the Nashoba Valley Technical High School, located in Westford. In 2011, Chelmsford was declared the 28th best place to live in the United States by Money magazine.
The Pennacook inhabited the area for thousands of years prior to European colonization. Settler-colonizers from the adjacent communities of Woburn and Concord founded Chelmsford in 1652. An act of the Massachusetts General Court in the last week of May 1655 incorporated Chelmsford as a town; it was named after Chelmsford, England. The nearby communities of Groton and Billerica were incorporated at the same time. Chelmsford originally contained the neighboring town of Westford, as well as parts of Carlisle, Tyngsborough and a large part of Lowell (formerly known as East Chelmsford).
Successive Pennacook leaders Passaconaway and Wonalancet strove to maintain a friendship with the European settler-colonizers who founded Chelmsford within their territory. Despite this determinedly pro-peace stance, Chelmsford settlers became increasingly violent towards the tribe, often forcing the Pennacook to flee north temporarily or permanently. On one notable occasion, a handful of Pennacook who were too sick or elderly to flee with their kin remained behind and Chelmsford settlers burnt them alive in their dwelling. Eventually most Pennacook refugees permanently moved north to join relations in Odanak, but their descendants among the Abenaki First Nation and other tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy continue to view Chelmsford as part of their ancestral and unceded homeland.
In 1722 Chelmsford had imposed a fine for keeping strangers in town for more than 30 days. This was used for racial, religious, and political discrimination, as well as to keep out witchcraft. This practice and similar ones occurred until the Act of Settlement of 1793.
In 1760, several women of Chelmsford were suspected of being witches such as Sarah (Hildreth) Byam and Martha Sparks who were charged under these accusations. Martha was held in the Boston Gaol for witchcraft, appeared in court, but was eventually set free after about a month. Some relate her freedom to the influence of the Chelmsford minister.
The Chelmsford militia played a role in the American Revolution at the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The town’s own Lieutenant Colonel Moses Parker fought on the hill. He was wounded and captured, and died from his wounds on July 4, 1775. The Lieutenant Colonel Moses Parker Middle School honors his name, and the lobby displays a representation of the man. He is depicted in the John Trumbull painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775 and in a painting in the Bunker Hill Museum. Captain Benjamin Walker of this town was also killed in this battle.
Chelmsford’s first school for the deaf was established in 1866, with a focus in oralism. There was a maximum capacity of eight students at a time. This pioneer school was eventually closed in order to make way for the formation of a larger deaf school in Rowley known as Clark School.
Chelmsford was the birthplace of the Chelmsford Spring Co. in 1901, which later became the Chelmsford Ginger Ale Company, acquired by Canada Dry in 1928. The ginger ale plant, rebuilt in 1912 after a disastrous fire consumed the original plant, stood on Route 110 until its demolition in 1994. The Chelmsford brand of golden ginger ale continued to be manufactured by Canada Dry for decades. It is currently manufactured by Polar Beverages for DeMoulas/Market Basket supermarkets, based out of neighboring Tewksbury.