Town History

By Duxbury Historical Commission Author Leslie A. Lawrence

Duxbury, Massachusetts (PB)

The idyllic town of Duxbury is located on Cape Cod Bay, 35 miles south of Boston on the South Shore. The topography of Duxbury is the result of the last Ice Age. Captain’s Hill, the highest point in Duxbury, is a drumlin formed during that era. The Myles Standish Monument sits on top of the hill and is a prominent landmark for seafarers. Duxbury’s landscape includes dunes and salt marshes, rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, swamps and cranberry bogs, as well as forests, fields and farms. Enclosing Duxbury Bay is Duxbury Beach, a glacial outwash barrier beach. One access to the beach is by a half-mile long wooden bridge, reputedly, the longest in the country. Bay Farm, an open meadow on Kingston Bay, is Town owned and is the terminus of the Bay Circuit Trail. The O’Neil Farm, the largest remaining dairy farm on the South Shore, is restricted from development as a result of the efforts and contributions of many conservation groups and private donors. It is a source of education and offers guided tours.

The Wampanoags inhabited Duxbury as early as 12,000 to 9,000 years ago. They farmed, hunted and fished. The Massachusetts Historical Commission cites 33 archeological sites in Duxbury. Trails made by the natives were followed by the Colonists, and today, many remain as routes and street.

In 1620, the Colonists arrived in Plymouth where they were required to stay together for seven years. The 1629 land grant gave about one third of the Colonists land to the north along the coast in an area called Mattakessett by the natives, meaning “place of many fish”. Notable settlers include John Alden, whose house is now a museum, Captain Myles Standish, William Brewster the Elder, and Thomas Prence. The Colonists were part time farming residents until an increase in population enabled them to form their own parish and build their own meetinghouse on what is now Chestnut Street, next to the Old Burying Grounds, also known as the Myles Standish Cemetery and is reputed to be the oldest maintained cemetery in the United States. The graves of many settlers, including of John Alden, Pricilla Mullins Alden and Myles Standish, can be found there today.

With increasing population, Duxborough was incorporated in 1637 and became the second town in the Commonwealth. Later land grants added what are now Marshfield, Pembroke, Hanson, and Bridgewater to Duxborough.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Duxbury was a quiet farming and fishing community. The first school was established in 1670. Duxbury men fought in the King Phillip’s war of 1675-1678. As the population grew, inland neighborhoods were established. The industry of shipbuilding began in the early 1800’s. By the end of that century at least 180 vessels were built at some 20 shipyards. The shipbuilding era brought great wealth and Duxbury became the largest and most famous shipbuilding center in the world. Many grand homes were built along the bay. The Weston family’s merchant fleet was the largest in the world. Their home, now a Duxbury landmark known as The King Caesar House, is owned by the Duxbury Rural and Historic Society and is open to the public.

During the Revolutionary War, Ichabod Alden formed a Minuteman company of 60. George Partridge emerged as a statesman and represented Duxbury at the Second Provincial Congress and served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He bequeathed funds to build Partridge Academy, a school for Duxbury’s upper grades until 1928 when it closed. The academy burned in 1935 and The Partridge Fund was established from its insurance. The fund continues to provide scholarships to graduating seniors. Duxbury’s Town Hall, built to resemble the academy, now occupies the site.

In 1784, Duxbury’s wealth increased, supporting the construction of the Fourth Meetinghouse, today known as the First Parish Church. Duxbury’s first bank was established in 1833, issuing its own currency. In 1869, the bank building became the terminus for the French Atlantic Cable and today, exists as a private residence. The Ford Store established in 1826 was the first department store in the United States.

By 1864, the China trade flourished and fast Clipper Ships replaced Duxbury’s slower vessels. The Clippers required a depth deeper than Duxbury Bay provided. Thus, Boston became the shipbuilding center and Duxbury’s ship building era and wealth steadily declined until fishing, farming and cottage industries became the main means of sustenance. The Civil War of the 1860’s further added to Duxbury’s economic downturn.

Fortunately, Duxbury began to attract summer visitors to such a degree that in 1871 the Boston and Cohasset Railroad was extended to Duxbury. Many rooming houses, inns and hotels were established. Today, the remains of the grand Standish Hotel can be found on Standish Shore as two private residences. As vacationers began to build their own summer homes, Duxbury’s largest source of income dwindled.

As income declined, so did the appearance of Duxbury. In 1833, the Duxbury Rural Society was formed for the purpose of beautifying the town. The society purchased the first parcel to be classified as conservation land. The Society, now known as the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, continues to preserve historical properties and documents. It provides publications, lectures and events to advocate the importance of Duxbury’s unique history.

Anticipating rapid growth after the construction of Route 3 in the early 1960’s, a group of farsighted citizens led the way to the first acre zoning in the United States. Duxbury has continued to maintain responsible growth. Much land has been restricted from development and designated as open space, not only for recreational purposes, but most importantly to protect the aquifer, Duxbury’s only source of drinking water.

The Duxbury Historical Commission was established in 1975 to insure that historic preservation is considered in planning, to advocate for preserving historical properties, and to have historical properties and archeological sites properly surveyed. Today, Duxbury is primarily a residential community with a village atmosphere offering excellent schools, beaches, recreation, the arts, town services and government. Duxbury is widely regarded as one of the most desirable and picturesque communities in Massachusetts.

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