Historical Commission

A History of Burlington

map-segmentThis vicinity was probably first visited by white men as early as 1621. Charlestown was settled in 1629 and the Great and General Court, organized by the ten towns in existence in 1634, granted to Charlestown a wide expanse of territory lying north of it. Within this area were destined to be the towns of Woburn, Burlington and Winchester. The land here was explored by a small surveying party in 1635 and by a larger one in 1640. This latter group established the bounds of a new village called Charlestown Village. Two years later, in 1642, this village became the Town of Woburn. Francis and John Wyman immigrated to America from West Mill, England, in 1640. The Wyman brothers operated tanneries in Woburn. They acquired 1,000 acres of land in present-day Burlington and Billerica. (Image shown is a segment of a New England map from 1781 from the Library of Congress; click the image to see the original.)                            


agricultural-2027183_640Our origin was a small agricultural community with roads that crisscross its hilly terrain. In time, farmhouses, taverns, homes, and schools were built. The rural characteristics of the community persisted from its settlement in 1641 for nearly 300 years.  

treesIn 1642, Native American tribes were here. We know there was an Indian reservation where Chestnut Hill Cemetery is now. Numerous relics, arrow heads, and spears have been found and are displayed at our museum. Burlington was called Bridlington after a seaside town in England. Today residents in England call this seaside town, Burlington. We were also referred to as “Shawshin”, the Indian name of the river it borders. We border on the Shawsheen River.

Woburn Second Parish Meeting House Burlington_MABurlington as a geographical entity was not established until 1730 when this area became Woburn Second Parish. The United Church of Christ was built for this parish in 1732, and is still standing at the top of Lexington Street. This was the Meeting House for the second parish. It was the social center of the community as well as the spiritual center of the parish. Woburn worried that this Second Parish Meeting House might foreshadow a split into another town...and it did! In 1799, Burlington was incorporated as a town.

burlington south schoolSchools

Children travelled to Woburn and Lexington to attend school. In 1794 came a law that required the building of four one-room district schoolhouses. The town of Woburn authorized building four schoolhouses in the Second Parish (Burlington). The one-room schoolhouses were: The North School (Chestnut and Wilmington Road), The South School (Lexington Street, shown in photo), The East School (Mountain Road), and The West School (originally built on the hill in Simonds Park and moved in 1839 to the corner of Francis Wyman Road and Bedford Street.). The only one-room schoolhouse remaining as it was in 1794 is The West School, which was spared from demolition by the efforts of The Burlington Historical Society in 1964. The North School has become a residential property. The East and South one-room schoolhouses have been demolished.

Burlington Historical MuseumAfter our incorporation in 1799, The Center School was built in 1855. The Center School was used as a school, a library, a police station, and Burlington’s present- day museum.

burlingon MA police bstationThe Union School was built in 1898 with the intent to consolidate the town’s school population. It closed in 1972. The old Union School was modernized and is now the Burlington Police Department.  By 1939, Burlington needed its own High School. Prior to that high school students were sent to Woburn and Lexington’s High Schools. The first Burlington High School opened in 1939. It is presently the Human Resource Building. In the spring of 1973, the third and present Burlington High School opened.                                    


Marshall Simonds SchoolBurlington’s Middle School and Elementary Schools:
Pine Glen Elementary
Marshall Simonds Middle School
Fox Hill Elementary School
Francis Wyman Elementary School
Memorial Elementary School        

Grandview FarmSome of Our Many Historical Buildings

Grandview Farm/Marion Tavern, in the center of town, was a stagecoach stop from Boston to Concord, N.H.. There was a large dairy farm and milk route run by Abner Marion. The original house was built in 1770 and connected to the property next door. This is Burlington’s only surviving 19th century connected-farm complex. It was named Grandview, because on a clear day, Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and Mt. Wachusett in Massachusetts could be seen. When the railroad through Woburn put the stages out of business, it became the center of a prosperous farm.

Second Parish Burial Ground Burlington MassachusettsThe old Parish Burial Ground (across from Simonds Park) is situated on a part of what was once known as Forest Field. It was given by Benjamin Johnson to the town for a burying ground in the year 1732.

Burlington MA SEALThe Second Parish of the Town of Woburn under the command of Captain Joshua Walker took a very active part in the events of the 19th of April 1775. John Hancock and Samuel Adams who fled from Lexington early that morning were conducted to the home of Madam Abigail Jones on Lexington Street. That home was The Sewall House, pictured on Burlington’s Town Seal. The Sewall House was destroyed by fire in 1897, and much valuable historical data perished and was lost.

Simonds Park Burlngton MAThe land now known as Simonds Park was willed to the town by Mr. Marshall Simonds in 1905. With it came a sum of money, the interest to be used for the upkeep of Simonds Park. This has proved to be a fine place for the children of the town to play.

cowsFor most of its existence Burlington has been a rather sleepy agricultural community. The Walker, Marion and Ham farms were operated efficiently and profitably at the turn of the century. In 1889 the Burlington Agricultural Society was formed and for a number of years thereafter, the Burlington Cattle Show was one of the biggest drawing cards in Eastern Massachusetts. 

Route 128 OpeningThe last big farm passed out of existence when the Graham brothers sold their holdings. Route 128 was being built on the farmland. Farms gave way to the development of Burlington from a rural landscape with many Colonial era homes and barns, reminding the residents of our connection to history and heritage, into the mixed-use development site it has become today.

Burlington MA mapBurlington became the fastest growing little town in the country in the early 60’s. Population jumped from 3250 in 1950, 5225 in 1955, to 12,852 in 1960, and to 19,473 in 1965. Today the less than twelve square miles known as Burlington has a population of more than 25,000. A long way from the frontier village in 1641.

middlesex county mapBurlington is situated in the Greater Boston area and is approximately 12 miles from Boston, and is bordered by Bedford, Billerica, Lexington, Wilmington and Woburn, in Middlesex County.

burlington-aerialAs Burlington developed and land use changes occurred, its natural environment has been noticeably changed. Agricultural use, urbanization, and development have resulted in alterations to the town’s natural resources. The preservation and enrichment of its remaining resources is critical to maintain wildlife habitat, resource protection, and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. Through efforts of the town and local organizations, cultural and historical assets continue to be protected. The town and local historical organizations have worked to preserve a variety of buildings and sites throughout Burlington. Burlington is home to a broad range of cultural and historical resources and amenities. Burlington Residents value a variety of cultural resources such as Concerts on the Common, the Burlington Players, and community celebrations.

hayrakeThe Hay Rake

This is an example of the sort of horse or tractor drawn rake that was seen all over the United States for many years. It was called a dump rake because the person sitting on the rake would raise and lower the curved teeth in order to collect or dump the hay. Since Burlington was primarily a farm town for much of its existence, rakes like this would be seen on nearly every farm.

This rake is on display in the field between Burlington Police Headquarters and the Grandview Tavern (currently along with sculptures). 


John E. Fogelberg, teacher and author and historian, compiled so much lost history for the Town of Burlington. “Burlington Part of a Greater Chronicle"
Lotta Cavanagh Rice Dunham’s “ History of Burlington” is also treasured as a reference.
Robert J. Costa, historian and author of “Burlington Through Time”, “Images of America Burlington”.