2 - The Growth of the West Parish into Georgetown's Incorporation

By 1700, about twenty families settled within the western section of the Rowley territory and Georgetown was in the making.


In 1686, Elm Street was the first road opened for public travel in the West Parish. Until that time, East Main Street ended at Elm Street. John Brocklebank built a corduroy road made of logs laid one after the other across his swamp. Swamp Road is Library Street today. Redshanks Hill, at the junction of Central and East Street, was known by that name back in 1715. During the gold fever of 1849, Redshanks Hill and Shute’s pasture (Nelson and Central Streets) were cleared of trees that were used for timber to build ships carrying the 49’ers to California. Until 1740, the road from Rowley (East Main Street) ended at the Elm Street intersection. Travelers went over the highlands east of the village where part of North Street was opened to travel in 1713. The following year Haverhill Street (West Main Street) opened. North Street extended to the Newbury line in 1743. Central Street was only wilderness to the north and south until 1800 when a lane was opened from Main Street to the section near Brook and Nelson streets. Many Chaplin families eventually built their homes and businesses in this area of Georgetown and it became known as Chaplinville.


The first meetinghouse was built on East Main Street and Pillsbury Lane in 1729. Citing the difficulty of traveling eight miles to the Rowley church, these West Rowley villagers petitioned for a separate parish. Two years later, in 1731, West Parish was incorporated. After forty years, this first meeting house, in need of repairs, had outlived its usefulness. A new church with steeple and porch was erected at the intersection of Elm and East Main Streets. The building, 55 feet by 40 feet, was raised in one day on July 5, 1769. The steeple’s rooster weather vane inscribed with 1769 is preserved at the First Congregational Church on Andover Street.


The first West Parish schoolhouse was built in 1739 on Searle and East Main Streets to accommodate the village’s West and Byfield sections. Eight weeks schooling in the winter for boys was the norm for more than 100 years. Girls were taught the bible and catechism at home. The Centre Schoolhouse, built sometime before 1795, was on the green in front of our Town Hall. The structure was abandoned in the early 1800’s and demolished in 1840.


As the town grew, so did the need for school districts. By 1840, there were seven one-room schoolhouses located in various sections of the town. Most of the schoolhouses were approximately the same size, 20 feet long and 16 feet wide. All the one-room schoolhouses closed when Central School opened in 1905. The schoolhouses were sold, moved or abandoned. The exception was Schoolhouse #3 or Hill School on Andover Street. It reverted to the Perley family, owners of the property on which it stood. In 1984, the heirs of the property gave the structure to the town. The Georgetown Historical Commission moved the schoolhouse from Andover Hill to the site of the Captain Brocklebank Museum on East Main Street where it is maintained and preserved.


The intersection of East Main and Elm streets was the village center until 1740 when travel went beyond Elm Street to the "Corner," the present square at Main, North and Central Streets. By 1800, the "Corner" had 4 or 5 buildings and about 60 houses were scattered throughout the West Parish. The distances between homes required landowners to clear and maintain a road through their land. The practice was to place a gate across the road and charge travelers a fee to have the gate raised.


Businesses flourished. There was a flax-breaking mill and a snuff mill, molasses produced from cornstalks and watermelons, nails formed with forge and hammer; saddlebags, harnesses and horse-collars were made in an Andover Street house. More than a dozen mills were making apple cider and perry, a fermented beverage of pear juice. The Temperance Reform Movement put an end to cider making in 1849. There also was a rope walk where cordage was made. A man walking backwards on a path coiled twisted strands of hemp around his waist. A helper turning a wheel accomplished the twisting or spinning. The length of the path determined the length of the rope. One unusual industry for this village distant from the sea was the construction of 18 to 20 ton fishing vessels in the area of Chestnut Street. Oxen hauled the completed ships to the water at Rowley or Newbury where the vessels were floated to Essex. The cutting of ship timber for the Essex and Newburyport builders continued until about the mid-1800’s.


The most important industry was shoemaking. In 1810, encouraged by the growth of the West Parish, Benjamin and Joseph Little, brothers from West Newbury, opened a store near the church at East Main and Elm. The Little’s traded their goods for odd lots of coarse shoes in the ell of Solomon Nelson’s tavern, originally the Captain Brocklebank House. Many farmers had little shoe shops adjacent to their homes where they made these coarse shoes during the winter months and off-seasons to barter for their necessities. The shops were called "ten-footers" because they were usually ten foot square. One of these shoe shops can be seen on the grounds of the Capt. Brocklebank Museum. Within three or four years, the Littles moved to the "Corner" where business activity now centered.


The shoe industry grew rapidly in the 19th century. Shops and factories opened in various sections of the village. To name a few, there was Harriman’s on Elm Street, the White Shop on Middle and West Main streets and two Chaplin factories on Central Street in South Georgetown. The Phoenix Block on the corner of Central and West Main streets had a shoe manufactory. Another was in the Odd Fellows Block on West Main and North streets. J. B. Giles’ factory was on the corner of Elm and Chestnut streets and Malloy was on Park Street. C. S. Marston had a shoe factory on East Main and Park streets and in later years made a large percentage of the country’s ice skates and baseball shoes. By 1939, it was the only shoe factory still operating. About 1970, this last shoe factory closed. During one period, the town probably had more shoe manufacturers than any other town in the United States with a similar population. Other businesses related to shoemaking, such as tanning and currying leather and manufacturing shoeboxes, also prospered.


In the early 1800’s, Paul Pillsbury invented a machine that mass-produced shoe pegs. Instead of hand-sewing soles and heels to the upper part of the shoe, shoe pegs now made shoemaking easier and faster. Among Pillsbury’s many inventions were a machine for shelling kernels from ears of corn and another for stripping bark from felled trees.
The West Parish or New Rowley village experienced a building boom from 1830 to 1838 when 80 houses were constructed. In one year, 1839, more than 50 houses and stores were built. The rapid growth brought demands from the townsmen for separation from Rowley. The distance between the two parishes hampered businesses. Mail was delayed because it went to Rowley before being sent to New Rowley. Of Rowley’s population of 2,444, 1500 individuals lived in the New Rowley section and only 944 in Rowley. There was overwhelming sentiment for separation and in 1838 the Town of Georgetown was incorporated. Muddy Brook, on the East Side of Route 95 became the easterly bounds of the new town and Rye Plain Bridge near the Newbury line another.