Gardner - Past, Present and Future
In 1774, the area now known as Gardner, consisted of several land tracts in Ashburnham, Winchendon, Westminster and Templeton, which were connected by three roads. Access to those surrounding towns, via one of the three roads, was difficult in good weather and all but impossible in inclement weather. Citing the inability to worship or purchase supplies during the winter months, the original inhabitants of the area petitioned Congress to make that area a separate Town. In 1785, a petition was written, enough signatures were gathered and Township was granted. The Town was named for Colonel Thomas Gardner, who was fatally wounded in the battle of Bunker Hill. Seth Heywood, one of the signers of the petition, fought alongside Col. Gardner at Bunker Hill.
Center for Industry
The Town soon became a center for industry. Several businesses opened including a sawmill, liveries, blacksmith, dry goods stores and several woodworking factories. By the mid 1800’s, Gardner’s major industry was the manufacture of chairs and other wooden furniture. Gardner was home to twelve furniture companies, which produced in excess of 1.2 million chairs annually and employed a workforce of over 850. Because of the volume of chairs manufactured, Gardner eventually became known as “The Chair City of the World”. A 20’ chair stands today as testimony to Gardner’s history in the chair manufacturing industry.
Growth was widespread in the latter part of the 1800’s. An item in the Gardner News, published in 1879, stated that “few towns in the Commonwealth enjoyed such an undisturbed prosperity in growth as Gardner. More houses were erected there during the past year than in any other town of its population within the state, and there was the least suspension of business resulting from failures or depression of trade.” With the advent of electricity in Gardner in 1891, the Gardner Electric Railway began its operation in September of 1894, making a circuit through town covering about three and a half miles. This allowed more freedom of travel and spurred more businesses to open along the rail route.
In 1888, an employee of Gardner’s largest furniture manufacturer, Edward G. Watkins, created a time recording device to keep track of the hours worked by the employees. It was so easy to operate, that he named it Simplex. As a result of the adoption of this time clock, the phrase “punching the clock” became a standard of American lingo. In 1901, the Simplex Time Recorder Co. was opened. Mr. Watkins continued to work for Heywood Brothers as well as for his own company, until 1918, when he left Heywood to devote all his time to Simplex.
At a Town meeting in 1919, the townsfolk formed a committee to build a memorial to those who served in the Great War. By 1920, it was decided to erect a new Town Hall (the building that stands today as City Hall) and to petition the Legislature to form a B Charter to become a City. The Charter was granted in 1922 and, for various economic reasons, the new City Hall was not constructed until 1940.
From Town to City
On January 1, 1923, the Town of Gardner officially became the City of Gardner. The City Seal was designed by a local artist by the name of Harrison Cady. The center is a drawing of Col. Thomas Gardner with a view of Crystal Lake in the background. The four letters around Col. Gardner are representative of the towns from which we received the land to create Gardner.
Business continued to grow throughout the 1920s and West Gardner Square became home to such chain stores as Woolworth Five and Ten, J.C. Penney, J.J. Newberry’s and others.
The 1930s saw the opening of the Post Office, a twelve-hole municipal golf course and the organization of the City’s first labor union, which was associated with the United Furniture Workers of America. The hurricane and flood of 1938 caused an estimated $500,000 in damage and caused the water level in Crystal Lake to rise thirty inches above the high water mark.
During the war years of 1941-1945, Gardner rationed supplies along with the rest of the country and converted the old Town Hall into an Amory. The era of the old Town Hall ended with a spectacular fire in 1944.
The onset of the fifties saw the start of the Korean War, a new school building, plans to increase the water supply at Crystal Lake, a new library and the establishment of the Greater Gardner Industrial Foundation to promote industrial development. That organization has evolved today into the Gardner Redevelopment Authority.
The sixties saw the construction of Route 2 through several areas of Gardner and the start of the Vietnam Conflict. A new shopping plaza was built and soon filled to capacity. Mount Wachusett Community College opened its doors in 1964 and, in 1966, was offered land by the City of Gardner in its permanent location on Green Street. The golf course added six more holes, making it an 18-hole course.
The latter part of the 20th century saw many changes occur in Gardner. Most of the furniture manufacturers have stopped producing and transferred operations to the South or overseas. However, Gardner is still known as the Furniture Capital of New England because of the many furniture outlet stores and remaining furniture manufacturers located within its boundaries.
The City has also seen the revitalization of an old rail bed into a bike path, which was built in conjunction with the neighboring town of Winchendon. The new, state of the art, Levi Heywood Memorial Library opened in 2003. The City transferred an abandoned former factory site to the Little League and it will eventually become a recreation field.
The Gardner Senior Center is undergoing renovations to modify it from a former social club into an appropriately laid out senior center.