These images are taken from postcards collected by Historical Commission member Michael Coffey. Most date from the first two decades of the twentieth century. Since color photography was in its infancy, the postcard publishers added the color to black and white images. Many of these early cards were printed in Germany.
A larger version of each image can be viewed by clicking on the pictures on this page.
Proud of their public buildings, Pepperell citizens of the early twentieth century could purchase views of their favorites to mail to friends and relations who lived elsewhere. The four most prominent town buildings were all located along Main St.
Pepperell's Town Hall on Main Street at the intersection of Elm and Park Streets, was built on the site of an old tavern in 1874. Town meetings were held here for more than a century, along with performance and lectures in its two large meeting rooms. Today it houses a number of town offices and is the site of public meetings by the selectmen and other town boards.
The Lawrence Library, a short distance to the east of Town Hall on Main Street, was built as Pepperell's first public library at the end of the nineteenth century. In his will of 1897, Pepperell native Charles Farrar Lawrence, who had made a fortune in New York City, bequeathed $100,000 to the Town of Pepperell for the construction of a library and art gallery It was designed and erected by prominent New York architect Ernest Flagg and W.B. Chambers. In a transitional style of Romanesque and modern French architecture, it was the most expensive and finely constructed building in Pepperell of its time.Except for an addition to the rear in 1985, the library looks much the same as it did when it opened.
Although a private academy (now the Grange building on Park Street) had offered secondary education in Pepperell as early as 1834, it did not permanently establish a public high school until forced to do so by state law in 1880. Classes were held in the Academy Building until the town erected the first Pepperell High School on Main Street at Chase Hill in 1888. The Grammar School shared this building with the high school for the next decade. In 1938 a new high school, later the Peter Fitzpatrick Elementary School, was built directly behind the old school, which was demolished once the new building was completed.
Opened on August 29, 1898, the Main Street Grammar School, with room for 288 pupils, was the culmination of a decade of school building which replaced most of the town's former one-room schoolhouses. In 1920 this building was renamed the Clara M. Shattuck School, in honor of its long-time principal. It continued as a school until the 1970s, and after being vacant for a number of years was recycled into the town's Public Safety Complex in 1989.
From the 1830s into the 1980s Pepperell had only four church congregations, one Unitarian, one Congregational, one Methodist, and one Roman Catholic (and after 1919, when the Unitarian and Congregational bodies merged, only three).
Pepperell's oldest congregation, established in 1742, built its first meetinghouse in 1745 and replaced it on the same site with a second in 1769. Until Massachusetts disestablished the religion in 1836 taxpayers supported the church and used the building for town meetings. That year the old building was extensively remodeled as shown here. By this time the old Massachusetts state church had split into Unitarian and Congregational wings, and the old church building now housed the Unitarians. Sometime in the nineteenth century the building was shifted from facing west to facing south. It was totally destroyed by fire in 1917 and the congregation merged with the Congregationalists. The site, on Pepperell's green opposite town hall, has remained vacant ever since.
In 1832 Pepperell's Congregationalists broke away from the established church to form their own body, and that year built their own church across the street from the first town church (now Unitarian) on the site of a pre-Revolutionary tavern. In 1859 fire destroyed this building and the following year the church shown here was erected. After the Unitarians lost their church to fire in 1917, the two parishes merged to form the Community Church, which continues to use the building today, largely unchanged.
Pepperell's Methodist acquired their first chapel on Chapel Street in East Pepperell in 1873, and that building, shown here, remained in service until 1938, when it was replaced by the present Methodist church on the same site.
The depot became the center of many a New England town in the nineteenth century, and Pepperell was no exception. When the Worcester & Nashua Railroad built its line along the east bank of the Nashua River in 1848, the river still formed the boundary between Pepperell and Groton. The railroad soon built a station on the Groton side opposite the Pepperell paper mills, and in 1851 the river was bridged, extending Main Street to the depot.. In 1857 the northern part of Groton, including the railroad station, was annexed to Pepperell. By the end of the nineteenth century a bustling commercial district, Railroad Square, had grown around the depot, including stores, coal yards, and a hotel.
The appearance of Railroad Square has varied over the years, in part because of a recurring series of major fires. Because of the position of the railroad tracks, stores are crowded along the northern side of Main Street only at this point.
The original Pepperell Railroad Station, then in Groton, was built west of Groton Street around 1848 by the Worcester & Nashua Railroad. Sometime between 1875 and 1886 the old depot was relocated east of Groton Street and replaced by the building shown here. In 1886 the line became part of the Boston & Maine Railroad, who continued to operate passenger trains from here to Worcester, Nashua, and even, through connections, to Portland and beyond, until 1934. The station was subsequently demolished, but freight trains passed through the square until 1981; the tracks themselves were pulled up by 1984.
Pepperell's second downtown railroad station, on Main Street across the Nashua from Railroad Square, opened its doors in 1892 when the Fitchburg Railroad, a competitor of the Boston & Maine, built the Brookline & Pepperell Railroad from a connection with its Greenville Branch in Shirley to the New Hampshire line, and through other subsidiaries, to Milford, N.H. Unlike the busy Boston & Maine line through Railroad Square, this sleepy branch line saw relatively little traffic. After the Boston & Maine acquired the line along with the rest of the Fitchburg in 1900, the line had little purpose and few passengers must have found their way to this depot; it certainly generated none of the commercial growth seen in Railroad Square. Passenger trains somehow continued to operate from the station until 1931. The line itself was abandoned in 1939 and 1942, except short portion in front of the station retained for switching for a number of years. The depot, Pepperell's only surviving station, now houses a video rental store.
Traveling salesmen or vacationers from the city could take a room in the elegant Hotel Prescott, opposite the depot, on the southwestern edge of Railroad Square. Built in an anachronistic Mansard/Third Empire style in the early 1890s, the hotel fell on hard times in later years and was finally destroyed by fire in July 1977.
A large dam was built across the Nashua around the middle of the nineteenth century, creating Pepperell Pond. The first bridge across the Nashua at this spot was constructed out of wood in 1851 and replaced by the bridge shown here forty years later. This bridge was subsequently taken out by the great floods of March 1936.
Across the bridge west from Railroad Square the business district continued for several more blocks down Main Street, including the town's largest paper mill and until 1903, a large shoe shop. This view, looking west on Main from the bridge, has changed little over the past ninety years.
A hundred years ago Pepperell's scenery attracted visitors and summer residents from Boston and other cities anxious to escape the congestion of urban life. These postcards highlighted Pepperell's rustic charm.
Jo Blood's Fordway was one of the few places where early settlers could cross the Nashua River. In 1742 Jewett's Bridge was built near the ford, and early in the nineteenth century the wooden bridge was covered. Until 1857 the Nashua at this point was the boundary between Pepperell and Groton. The old covered bridge, inadequate to handle the automobile and truck traffic generated by Pepperell's post-World War II growth, was replaced by the present replica bridge in 1963.
This view shows Park Street at the beginning of the twentieth century, looking north from near Town Hall. Paving, street widening, and the terrible loss of New England's elm trees to disease makes this view somewhat less bucolic today.
The cemetery gateway off Park Street looks much the same today as it did in this scene nearly a century ago.
Elm Street a short distance south from Town Hall was a popular location for summering city folk in the years before World War I. Paving would soon alter the appearance of these and many other town roads.
The elegant Pepperell Spring House once stood near the site of today's Belmont Springs bottling plant on Chestnut Street. Pepperell Springs, surrounded by a lush forest, it was popular with both tourists and residents for many years.