The earlier road network continued through the turn of the twentieth century. The only significant late-nineteenth-century road construction was the extension of Wataquadoc Road southwest from the point where it had previously ended at West Berlin Road, to join with roads from Lancaster, Clinton center and west Berlin at Ballville in 1868. The lower section of Ballville Road west of its present intersection with Wataquadoc was discontinued a few years later.
Rail service continued to be significant during this period, with both profitable and unprofitable results. A group of local investors spent several years building a railroad that ran southwest through Bolton to Hudson from Lancaster, called the Lancaster Railroad. A financial disaster even before it opened in 1873, only one train ever ran over its tracks, but its raised roadbed still winds through Bolton today. The Central Massachusetts division of what was later the Boston & Maine operated over tracks crossing the southeast corner of Bolton beginning in 1881. As with the earlier Agricultural Railroad at Ballville, which became part of the Old Colony Line late in the century, a depot, freight house, and a milk house were built nearby. In 1900 the Clinton & Hudson Street Railway began an electric trolley route through Hudson and Berlin that, although it had no franchise in Bolton, utilized a form of "air rights" by building a high, curved trestle over the B & M railroad tracks just inside the Bolton line.
A steep drop in population from 1,348 residents in 1860 to only 770 in 1900 probably reflects the loss of territory in the southeast quarter of town to the new town of Hudson in 1868. For the rest of this period of relative stagnation in Bolton, the population remained fairly stable at just under 800 from 1895 to 1915. Statistics from 1875 to 1905 show some influx of foreign-born residents into Bolton, although the proportion was again much lower than in more industrialized communities. In 1875 the foreign-born population included 55 Irish and 13 Canadians; in 1885 there were 48 Irish, 21 Nova Scotians, and 14 Germans; and in 1905 25 Irish, 17 Nova Scotians, and 26 Germans, with small numbers from other groups. Most of the newcomers were farmers, some of whom may first have worked as farm laborers in town before buying their own farms. Others appear to have acquired enough money working elsewhere to purchase farms here outright. Among them were apparently the cluster of Irish families who in the 1880's and 1890's bought some of the old farms in the northeast part of town, including the Glynns, Haggertys, and McCarthys. Longtime twentieth-century farm owners in southeast Bolton were the Bonazzoli family, whose patriarch, Giacomo Bonazzoli, came here from Gottolengo, Italy in 1906, purchasing the old eighteenth-century James Keyes farm at 258 Hudson Road (#145) a year later.
Improvements in education led to the phasing out of the district school system, with the consolidation of all the elementary grades by 1896 in three schoolhouses that were moved to the center and combined into a graded school.
New organizations continued to proliferate in the late nineteenth century. This was the heyday of temperance societies, and what turned out to be an excessive number of them appeared in Bolton between 1876 and 1889, most of them of quite short active duration. They included the Centennial Temperance Union (founded 1876), the Reform Club, which was active in the mid-1880's, a lodge of the International Order of Good Templars in 1886, the Citizens Temperance Union, and a local chapter of the WCTU, both founded in 1889.
More staying power was exhibited by the farmers' organizations. In 1887 a local Grange was formed which was to last for over ninety years. The Farmers and Mechanics Association held its first Cattle Show on the common adjacent to the First Parish Church in 1874, an event which continues today as the Bolton Fair, having been interrupted for only a brief period during World War II. The annual show was so successful that in 1878 the association built a dining hall behind the Town House to accommodate the large crowd that came annually to eat as well as to view the livestock. Between 1874 and 1880 an unusual organization, which sold shares to local sport fishermen, was active--the Bolton Association for the Raising of Fish. The "Fish Association" actually leased the rights to both Little and West's Pond, stocked them with fish, and outlawed fishing there for several years until the fish could reproduce and grow to maturity.
The Bolton Improvement Society, its name later changed to the Village Improvement Society, was formed in 1899. Consisting mainly of some of Bolton's more well-to-do citizens, it ran a series of lectures, looked after the condition of roadside trees, lobbied against the growing trend toward large signs and lettering on barns and fences, and took up the cause of bringing electricity to Bolton. Its other major undertaking was Bolton's first "village renewal" and conservation project, in which four of its members bought the rundown mill pond at the center, with its dilapidated sawmill and artisans' shops, and had the buildings torn down. In 1903 the Society hired landscape architect Alfred Stone of Providence to turn the property into a small park, called Pond Park (NRDIS), which is still one of the assets of Bolton center today.
There were a number of other projects that added to the quality of life in the town around the turn of the century. Several horse troughs were placed at various locations throughout Bolton, at least two of them the result of donations--a stone-lined one at Pond Park, and a large granite tub at a spring in the bank at the outer west end of Main Street, the gift of Osro Haynes in 1900, that is still in place today (#944). Several substantial memorial gifts were made for building projects, as well. The present Bolton Public Library (#3--NRDIS) was donated in 1903 by Anna and Emma Whitney in memory their father, Capt. Joseph Whitney, and in 1916 Col. Edward Emerson and the heirs of Frederick Felton donated the Colonial Revival portico for the Town House.
The decline in both population and industry resulted in virtually no overall growth in Bolton during the Late Industrial period. Two late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century trends altered the type of community Bolton had been, however. More and more people were taking summer vacations, and for awhile the main manifestation in town had been the presence of visitors on the farms, where rooms in the old farmhouses were rented to "summer boarders" seeking a wholesome country environment. The owner of the Wilder Mansion in the 1880s, William Moore, actually turned the house into a seasonal hotel, for which he built a large two-story rear wing (later demolished). A few local residents built cabins or fishing shacks on Little and West's Pond, none of which remains. With the nearby access to passenger rail in Hudson, especially after the building of the Massachusetts Central branch in 1881, the woods and open land on lower South Bolton Road gradually acquired a cluster of small summer houses. From the 1890's through the early automobile era, over a dozen cabins and cottages were put up there, most by the interrelated Aymar, Noreau, and Delaney families (see Area Form Q).
Even more significant for Bolton's landscape was the growing "rural retreat" movement, in which wealthy city dwellers bought up existing farms as summer and weekend homes, where they indulged in the pursuits of prize cattle-raising, horticulture, riding, and other gentlemanly pastimes. Although Sampson Wilder's vast farm on Wilder Road had been a lavish country seat equal to any standard of the European aristocracy in the early nineteenth century, and Solomon Howe's "gentleman's farm" on Wataquadoc Hill had raised eyebrows in the 1860's, these had been isolated examples in their eras. By the turn of the century, however, nearly a dozen stylish rural retreats, with names like Open View Farm, Mountain View Farm, and Prospect Farm, had been established on large acreages on Bolton's rural hillsides, especially on the east and west slopes of Wataquadoc Hill. They overlooked spectacular vistas west toward the mountains or east to Boston, and their immaculate fields, pastures, and professionally landscaped grounds all had several buildings upon them, usually including a renovated historic farmhouse, state-of-the-art barns, stables, and often a house built expressly for the resident farm manager. Prospect Farm (Area Form M), owned by the Felton family, on the east slope of Wataquadoc, was composed of two adjoining early-nineteenth-century farms, with one of the farmhouses used as a guest house. Two other farms, on Wilder and Vaughn Hill Roads, were both owned by Col. Edward Emerson, who called them Braecroft and Hillcrest.
There was again considerable growth in agricultural production during the Late Industrial period, due largely to technological improvements and to expanding markets in Boston and in the neighboring manufacturing centers of central Massachusetts. Dairying remained the leading branch of agriculture, accounting for 30 to 35% of the total value of the town's production during the period. The quantity of milk produced increased five-fold between 1875 and and 1885. During the same decade, poultry production more than doubled, to become 10% of the total output of the town. By 1895, however, the town had only a few minor, small-scale industrial enterprises, all of them producing goods and services primarily for the local market. There were three carriage- and wagon-makers and painters, one blacksmith/wheelwright, a gristmill that was about to close, a sawmill, and a cider mill. Several commercial ice houses were built on the larger ponds, two of them by ice companies from Hudson.
Residential: The last quarter of the nineteenth century in Bolton was marked by the near absence of any residential building activity. Only a few late Victorian houses were built, at least half of them to replace earlier ones on the same site. This handful of late-1800s houses are nearly all tall, gable-front two- or three-bay side-hall entry houses with Italianate or Queen Anne detailing and one- or two-story bay windows. A well-preserved Queen Anne house of this type, with two-story polygonal bay windows, patterned shingle, and an open-bracketed porch, is the Proctor/Powers House of the 1890's at 651 Main Street (#76--NRDIS). There are two wide, hip-roofed houses of a simple, Craftsman approach with Colonial Revival detailing in their Tuscan-columned porches, built at 241 Wataquadoc in about 1895 (#311), and at 225 Wilder Road (#273) in about 1910.
Agricultural: While New England barns began to appear in Bolton over the middle of the nineteenth century, the majority of the ones remaining in town today appear to have been built after 1870. While they are of various sizes, and some are attached to houses via ells, sheds, or wings in "connected farmhouse" fashion, they share common characteristics that indicate the preferences of both local farmers and builders. Virtually all the barns are "banked" to some degree, built with either the front or one side against a natural hillside, or with a manmade earthen ramp, often supported with a handsome fieldstone retaining wall. Both methods allow for a generous basement story underneath for a pigsty or equipment storage. The large barn at 131 Forbush Mill Road (#272, see Form #131) is one of the few whose construction date is known. Built and christened with a festive barn-raising by Benjamin Billings in 1888, it is clapboarded, with a high fieldstone basement story that has its own sliding vertical-board doors. A high banked ramp supported by a massive fieldstone wall leads to the main vertical-board wagon door, which, typical of the door systems prior to 1890, is mounted on the interior, and has a long multi-pane transom above it. Some Bolton barns of this period are double-ended, with a ramp and wagon door at each gable end, allowing wagons to pass all the way through the barn. The double-ended barn at 610 Sugar Road (#200, see Form #113) is a rare surviving example in which the wagon doorways are of two different heights--the "great doorway" at the west end is high enough to accommodate loaded hay wagons; the exit doorway at the east end is much lower, reflecting the fact that the wagons passing through it would by then have been empty. This barn, like many others, is built of vertical board. Many barns in Bolton have a leanto bay that runs the length of one of the long sides. Usually meant for cattle stalls or stanchions, the leanto often has its own separate front doorway; many of these have the appearance of having been added to the barn after the main part of building was constructed. Silos, which became increasingly associated with dairy farming after about 1880, would once have been a common part of the landscape in Bolton. Only one appears to remain today, a domed, metal-plate silo of the early twentieth century, at the large cupolaed barn at the Moore/Sawyer/Schartner Farm at 211 West Berlin Road (#321, see Area Form N).
The prevailing New England barn design continued into the first two decades of the twentieth century in Bolton. These later barns, however, tend to have exterior-mounted vertical-board doors, most of them fitted with one or two fixed 6-pane windows in the door itself, instead of having a transom in the wall above.
Institutional: The district schoolhouses were again replaced in the 1870s and 1880s, most with three-bay, gable-front one-story buildings with a double center entry opposite a stove chimney at the rear end of the ridge. Most of those are gone, but the East End School of 1880 still stands at 49 East End Road (#118), later turned 90 degrees and converted to a house. A unique building in the town is the 1903 Bolton Public Library (#3--NRDIS), a low English Revival building of native stone, with a red tile roof designed by Stone, Carpenter and Wilson.
Commercial/Industrial: Because of the slowdown in business and industrial activity, there are no known commercial or manufacturing buildings built during the Late Industrial Period.