The Town of Athol is located in the North Quabbin region of West Central Massachusetts
in the United States of America. Described as a no-nonsense, blue-collar
community, Athol is one of the many towns and villages that dot the Worcester County
map. With the Tully Mountains
to its North and the Quabbin Reservoir
to its South, Athol offers a unique blend of urban and rural characteristics; including a rather quaint and traditional downtown shopping district and an abundance of outdoorsy recreational activities such as camping, hunting and fishing. Radio reception, however, is not the most favorable in this locale.
Athol was settled in 1735 and was originally named "Pequiag". Its present name was adopted in 1762 along with its incorporation (its seal actually bears the legend, "Athol, Inc."). The origin of its name comes from one of its proprietors, John Murray, because the land reminded him so much of his ancestral home in the hills of Scotland's Blair-Athol. Settled on the banks of the Millers River in the 1790's as a typical New England mill town, Athol has been a strong metalwork manufacturing hub since the turn of the century, earning the nickname, "Tool Town, U.S.A.". Because of its development of industry, commerce, and transportation, Athol was the center of activity for the entire area at the turn of the century.
By 1791 Athol had four grist mills, six sawmills, a fulling mill, and a shop with a trip hammer, all of which were powered by water power. The Athol Cotton Factory, built and proceeded the textile, leather, wood, and metal industries which further expanded the market for goods produced in Athol. Starrett's is the last surviving tool factory in the town.
As industries developed along the river valley, homes and stores were growing up around the hills southeast of the factories. This area, in days past referred to as 'the common' but is today called 'uptown', was the location for the first bank.
Each year the Athol Historical Society hosts many outstanding artists, musicians and other prominent people in addition to a very active local performing arts group that brings "Broadway to Town" at least four times a year. In addition to the arts, Athol is home to the annual River Rat Race spectacular. What began as a local canoeing event three decades ago, has evolved into a major tourist and sporting attraction. The River Rat Race draws contestants from all over the Northeast every April.
Being so remote a town, it became evident that its population was dependent upon its accessibility via roads, rails, and highways. The construction of the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad in the 1840's (now the Boston and Maine), forested industrial growth to the extent that a second line connecting Athol and Springfield was constructed in 1870. The first trolley lines, established in 1894, ran from uptown Athol to Orange, with additional lines later added providing efficient transportation to surrounding areas. During the 1930's, however, the trolley lines were closed due to the increased use of private automobiles and the generally difficult economic times that the '30s had brought with it. When Quabbin Reservoir was flooded, the Springfield route was abandoned entirely. Consequently, Athol's growth leveled off as commerce became more dependant on the interstate highway system. Population increased gradually, reaching a peak of 12,186 in 1995.
Today, the principal highway that runs through this quaint town is MA State Route 2, the old Mohawk Trail, which runs across northern Massachusetts. In the early days of fall, Athol becomes but one of many stops on the scenic route through autumn-tinted foliage. MA State Route 140 and Interstate 190 connect the region to Worcester. The Springfield Terminal Railway line (the former Boston and Maine Railroad) parallels Route 2 and provides access to the network of intermodal facilities serving central and eastern Massachusetts.
- Gagliardi, Ruth. "The History of Athol." The Athol Public Library Website. 2001. Athol Public Library. 10 January 2002. <http://members.safepages.com/apl/town.htm>
- "DHCD - Community Profiles - Athol." The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development Website. 1994. The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. 10 January 2002. <http://www.state.ma.us/dhcd/iprofile/015.HTM>