The town of Bolton, one of the many communities that has evolved over the past three and a half centuries from the large Lancaster purchase of 1643, is located at the eastern edge of Worcester county, twenty kilometers (12.4 miles) northeast of Worcester. The Nashua River forms part of the town's western boundary, and its territory is traversed by four regional present-day transportation routes: Route 117 (Main Street/Great Road) passes east/west through the center of the town, Route 110 (Still River Road) is oriented north/south at the northwest edge, Route 85 (Hudson Road) leads southeast to Marlborough through Hudson at the southeast quadrant, and Interstate Route 495, with one interchange at Route 117, slices north-south just east of Bolton center.
For most of its historical existence Bolton has been a rural community--consisting meadows, woods, and grazing lands on Lancaster's outlying territory in the seventeenth century, subsistence farms in the eighteenth, dairy farms and orchards in the nineteenth, and a diverse culture of orcharding, dairying, poultry-raising, and market-gardening in the first half of the twentieth century. Today its remaining agricultural base has been greatly reduced, and the town has been transformed into a largely residential community of handsome single-family houses, most on large lots, providing homes for people who work outside the town's borders. This change in function, however, and its accompanying increase in population, has made the preservation of the town's rural character and the unique and fragile mixture of its historic resources ever more valuable to its citizens. The extensive documentation in the present Survey of Historic, Architectural, and Cultural Resources, which documents buildings, structures, areas, landscapes, objects, and sites over fifty years old throughout the town, and of which this developmental history is a part, should play a valuable role in the recognition, preservation, and appreciation of those resources.
Bolton's varied topography of rolling hills and gently sloping valleys has been one of its primary attractions for centuries. As part of the eastern edge of the central uplands section of Massachusetts (also known as the Worcester plateau), the elevation of the town ranges from 250 feet above sea level in the Nashua valley in the northwest section of town to 600 feet along the Wataquadoc ridge in the central portion. The central high point marks the division between two watershseds. To its west, all the town's streams descend to the Nashua River, which flows through the northwest corner of Bolton as it passes from Lancaster into Harvard. The streams in the east part of town are part of the Assabet River watershed. Historically, Bolton's lack of significant water power limited its manufacturing potential, and most of the town's early industrial activity was limited to small mills on the local streams, and their capacity to products and services for a local and a limited regional market. Several small natural ponds--West's and Little Ponds in the east part of town, and Welsh pond in the southwest--have traditionally been the source of fishing and recreational activities, however.
Bolton is noted for the variety of rocks and minerals found within its borders. In both its natural deposits and its historic stone structures it marks a visible transition between the largely crystalline granitic rock that is the bedrock most characteristic of the region to its east, and the crystalline slate-like rocks of the Nashua Valley region. Both types are visible in the foundations, stone walls or "fences", and engineering sites throughout the town--the eastern granite obvious in the more rounded rocks, the western slate-like stone in the flatter, more jagged pieces that are stacked in the high drylaid walls of engineering structures, and used as ceiling slabs and lintels over doorways. Characteristically, the soils, which derive from the underlying bedrock, are largely of the sandy, loose, stony Gloucester type in the eastern sections of the town, with Bernardston soils derived from the slate-like bedrock at the northwest.
While granite or slate quarries were founded in adjoining towns, Bolton's main marketed mineral resource was the lime from the high-quality limestone deposits discovered by the 1730's in the northeast part of town near Rattlesnake Hill. Lime was quarried, fired, and and processed there by members of the Whitcomb family for over a hundred years.
As the glaciers that covered central Massachusetts during the ice age receded, deposits of glacial till formed Bolton's many drumlins, some of which, such as the five that make up Long Hill, were deposited in clusters. The large glacial lake that formed in the Nashua valley left behind fine-grained sediments that made for valuable agricultural land, later enriched by alluvial deposits from the Nashua River that still wash over the corn- and hay-growing river plains in the northwest section of town. (For a detailed discussion of Bolton's geology, see Preservation Plan for the Town of Bolton, 1998, by Alfred J. Lima.)
The territory within Bolton covers just under twenty square miles. Progressing clockwise from the north, it is bounded by the towns of Harvard, two Middlesex County towns--Stow and Hudson--Berlin, Clinton at the southwest corner, and Lancaster to the west.
Originally part of Lancaster (which was incorporated as a plantation in 1653), Bolton was set off as a separate town in 1738. Part of the south section was divided out for the district of Berlin in 1784. A small section of Marlborough was annexed in 1829, with bounds established in 1838. The southeast corner of town was later incorporated into the new town of Hudson, however, in 1868.