The City of Beverly shows patterns of settlement and development in its landscape, following a similar pattern in most New England towns. In this narrative, the settlement and development of Beverly will be traced through the years 1628 to 1920 using primary documents.
What triggered the start of the migration and then later settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the social unrest of the English Church. A group of Englishmen wanted to simply and purify the religion and break away from English Church, thus earning the label Puritan. Most of the first settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony belonged to the Puritan faith. The first real settlement of Beverly occurred in what was then called Salem. (Salem once included part of present-day Beverly). The town of Beverly was founded in 1628. The original settlers were Roger Conant, John Balch, John and William Woodberry. All migrated from Devonshire, England with the exception of John Balch who was from Somersetshire, England.
Like many New England towns Beverly started off as what is known as a “nuclear village”. An ordinance of the Massachusetts General Court of 1635 stated that no house was to be above a half a mile away from the meeting house, (unless it was a mill house or a farmhouse of those who already had dwellings in the main town ). 1 This was also used as a form of defense for the township. Beverly had what were known as infields and outfields. Each proprietor was granted an area for plow land, for tillage, meadows for haying, and pasture for grazing. Beverly, like most early American towns, had a common where the livestock could feed . It was most likely a three cornered or “wedge” common .
Between the years 1680 to 1760 New England underwent a transformation from nuclear village to range township. This was due in part to the segregation of the Puritan Church into two separate churches. Typically, the highly educated went to the Unitarian Church and the everyday person went to the Congrational Church. People started to move away from the main area, expanding the town living space. In a sense, this marked the start of Beverly’s neighborhoods.
There are now twelve main neighborhoods in Beverly. They are Goat Hill, Fish Flake Hill, Downtown, Gloucester Crossing, Ryal Side, The Cove, Montserrat, Beverly Farms, Pride’s Crossing, North Beverly, and Centerville.
Between 1770 to 1840 there was not much movement in Beverly and residents were mostly native born. But this pattern of migration or settlement would soon change due to both a flood of immigration in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, and the railroad.
Around the years 1835 to 1845 European nations such as Ireland, Italy and Russia were facing economic and social unrest. Many flocked to North America. Beverly had its share of immigration, mostly from Ireland, Sweden, Italy, and Russia. Many settled around the Rantoul Street area, Goat Hill (Irish), Downtown, and later Gloucester Crossing. 2 Around this time, Beverly started to expand industrially.
In 1844 the Boston and Maine opened northern bound tracks for Newburyport. They began to lay the tracks to Beverly in 1847, due to many complaints from North Shore bound Bostonians. Beverly began to see to new types of migration due to the railroad. One was the daily commuter who could live farther away from work. And the other was the wealthy Boston socialites that could leave their stuffy Boston houses and summer in Beverly’s Gold Coast, Beverly Farms.The wives and children could stay all summer and the father could commute to Boston to work or take care of the family’s affairs. This new flocking to the coast gave immigrants new jobs. Some Irish and Italian workers workedas gardners and servants in the estates. This could not have been possible without the railroad. ButBeverly greatest settlement was still to occur.
In 1903 the United Shoe Machinery Company opened it doors and created what we know as Beverly today. This company opened many new job opportunities in the City of Beverly. In the Rantoul Street census of 1910, seven years after the opening of the Shoe, about 35% to 40% of adult residents of Rantoul Street worked there. 3 Ten years later, in the Rantoul Street census of 1920, about 45% to 48% of adults worked at the United Shoe Machine Company and about 40% of them were children of immigrants. 4 The Shoe provided a public school for the worker’s children (the McKay School) which remained in operation until 2000. The Shoe also gave Beverly a Recreation Club, which is now called Beverly Golf and Tennis. The Shoe closed in the 1970s and later became the Cummings Center which now holds many new businesses.
As early as 1920 Beverly was becoming a suburban community. Those who didn’t work at the United Shoe commuted to Boston which is about 30 to 45 minutes away.
The settlement of Beverly like most cities and towns in the United States was diverse and unique. Through its beginnings as a small Puritan village to a small city, Beverly has developed and settled quite like many surrounding towns. One can still see signs of the earliest settlement in original buildings such as the Balch House or by stumbling upon a stone wall or an old gravestone while walking through town or in the woods. Looking at an old Beverly High School yearbook one can see diversity in the names of the students. But all in all Beverly’s pattern of development and settlement could be characterized by the effects of the church, the factory, vacation homes, and suburbanization.
“Beverly’s Neighborhoods.” The Beverly Citizen. December 13, 1996. Pg 4-15.
Garland, Joseph. The North Shore, Boston’s Gold Coast. Beverly, MA.: Commonwealth, 1981.
Lenney, Christopher. Sightseeing. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2003.
U.S. Census of 1910. Rantoul Street, Beverly Ma. 1910.
U.S. Census of 1920. Rantoul Street, Beverly Ma. 1920.