The Early Development of Westborough through Church and State: A Walking Tour

Created by Emily Bartee and Kayla Niece of Girl Scout Troop 30551 (with special thanks to Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, The Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library).

(Note: Clicking on the underlined site names will take you to pages with more information about them.)

Our tour begins at the Westborough Rotary, Westborough’s town center. As you walk a short distance down West Main Street, you will see buildings and sites showing the gradual separation of church and state from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.

The Rotary marks the center of Westborough. It is always busy because so many businesses are located here and because the roads that stem off of it lead to many different places in town. Take a look at the big brick building that is front and center. That’s the Arcade Building. A long time ago in 1749, the Second Meeting House in Westborough stood at this location. Reverend Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister, once gave sermons here (many in his own handwriting are still in existence). At the time, both church services and town meetings were held in this building. In early Massachusetts, everything revolved around the church. For example, people worshiped at the church, people paid taxes to support the church, and people went to town meeting in churches as well. Nationally, church and state began to separate after the First Amendment to the Constitution was written, yet Massachusetts was one of the slower states to adopt these changes.

Now turn and walk down West Main Street and on the right you will find the Memorial Cemetery where the grave of Rev. Parkman is located. Many of the gravestones in this cemetery provide insight into Puritan views on life and how they changed over time. (Click on the link for more information.) The cemetery officially became a town burial ground in 1747, and many prominent Westborough families are buried here. The monument and fountain in the middle of the cemetery honor fallen soldiers from the American Civil War.

On the opposite side of the street is Town Hall. After church and state separated in Massachusetts in 1833, the government in Westborough needed a central place to conduct business, so they built a town hall on this spot, while church services continued to be held in the Second Meeting House. If you walk inside Town Hall today, you can see many Westborough artifacts hanging on the walls. Many government functions have been housed in town hall over the years, like the library, police department, and town offices. The Forbes family funded construction of a new town hall to replace the old one in 1927, and it was recently renovated in 2018-19.

Next to Town Hall is the First Baptist Church. Until 1811, residents paid taxes to support the state church, which was the Congregational church. After this time, their taxes could be used to support their own church. As Baptist membership outgrew the ability to hold meetings in people’s homes, they built a more spacious meeting house. The church has been through many renovations, and it even once held a bell cast by Paul Revere. After the church dissolved, the building was eventually sold to a local home health agency in 2012.

Diagonally across the street from the First Baptist Church is a building built in the early 1900s. The Forbes Municipal Building holds the police department, the school department, and a few other town offices. Frank and Fannie Forbes first funded the construction of the building as a high school, and since that time it has been used for many different town activities over the years.

Next to the Forbes Building stands the Westborough Public Library. The founding of the first town library is credited to Rev. Parkman’s son, Breck Parkman. At one point, books were housed on the first floor of Town Hall until the library you see today was built in 1908. Later in 1978, the town built an addition and renovated the historical building. The library has many fascinating sources and historical artifacts inside.

Beyond the library is the Evangelical Congregational Church. In 1834, the First Church of Westborough divided into the Unitarian church and the Evangelical Congregational church. This corresponds to the ending of the state support of religion in Massachusetts in 1833. The Congregationalists decided they wanted their own space, so they built this church and moved into it from the Second Meeting House. (The Unitarian Church was built across the street.) The Parkman Memorial Chapel, on the Church Street side of the building, is dedicated to Rev. Parkman and holds both his Bible and his pulpit.

That concludes the tour of some of the most important historical buildings in Westborough’s Town Center. These sites follow the growth of the town and show how the First Amendment has affected the nation, even though Massachusetts was one of the last states to give into the division of religion and government.