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The Town of Shirley is a rural industrial community located on the lowlands of the Catacoonamaug River. It was considered the frontier when the handful of earliest colonists arrived in 1720 and settled on scattered farms in the town. Grist mills, saw mills and fulling mills were developed after 1739 using the town's available water power supplies. Even after that time, the town was treated as the outlying agricultural and mill area of Groton. As the frontier stabilized however, the number of settlers increased and they turned to agriculture and grazing as their main activities. Townspeople planted fruit bearing trees very early and the managing of orchards along with seasonal lumbering became part of the town's economy. Increasing industrial activity included the first paper mill around 1790 and a small iron works and nail factory about 1810. Within a few years, the town had become a textile producer as the first of seven cotton mills was established in 1812 along the Catacoonamaug. These mills included one developed by Shakers in 1849. The railroad from Boston on the Fitchburg route opened Shirley to further development in 1845, and additional industries were established in town, including a pitch fork factory, Samson Cordage Company and the C.A. Edgarton Suspender Factory, which by 1890 was the second largest maker of suspenders in the country. The location of the water to power these industries created an industrial village along the narrow valley in which the town is situated and many of the period brick towered mills survive to create an authentic period landscape. The valley is also the site of the expansion of Fort Devens army base in modern times. (Seal supplied by community. Narrative based on information provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission)
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