Woman Leader of the Massachusett Tribe, who is called “Squaw Sachem” by the Tribe today, oversaw the territory that includes present-day Arlington during the influx of European settlers to the area. In the 1630s, she was forced to forfeit tribal lands to settlers in an attempt to ensure the survival of her people. She spent the remainder of her days in the Praying Town of Natick.
Arlington was once a thriving mill town. In 1637, Captain George Cooke took advantage of the swift running water in Mill Brook by building the first mill in this area. Farmers from Cambridge, Woburn, Watertown, and Medford brought their grain to the mill to be ground into flour.
Battle of Menotomy
Arlington (then called Menotomy) played a prominent role on the first day of the American Revolution – April 19, 1775. Minutemen from surrounding towns converged on Menotomy to ambush the British on their retreat from Concord and Lexington. More than one-half of that fateful day’s casualties were suffered in the short distance from Foot of the Rocks (at the intersection of Lowell Street and Massachusetts Avenue) to Spy Pond.
The man for whom the American icon “Uncle Sam” was named, Samuel Wilson, was born in Menotomy in 1766. Wilson started a meat-packing business in Troy, N.Y. which supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for—and personification of—the U.S. federal government.
In 1835, a doctor by the name of Ebenezer Learned left $100 in his will to establish a juvenile section at the Robbins Library. As a result, Menotomy became the home of the first continuous and free children’s library in the nation.
Prince Hall Cemetery
Gardner Street in Arlington is the site of the only Black Masonic Cemetery in the United States. The cemetery, dedicated in 1864, held members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge F & AM, formed in 1776. In 1998, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Prince Hall Cemetery
Industry & Agriculture
At one time seven mills operated along Mill Brook in Arlington and an ice industry thrived on Spy Pond. Ice harvested there was transported to Boston for shipment to the South and even India. Arlington’s market gardens and greenhouses were famous for their produce, especially Arlington lettuce, that was shipped all along the East Coast. California put the farms out of business when refrigerated trains came into use.
The connection between Moxie and Arlington is the legacy left by Arlington resident Francis Thompson, president of the Moxie Co. (from 1904 to his death in 1939), and his wife to the town. This legacy finances scholarships for Arlington High School graduates and more than 100 seniors receive Thompson Scholarships ranging from $200 to $2,000 each year.
The Thompson School is a token of our town’s appreciation for this generous act. In 1867, Mr. Thompson’s father, Dr. Augustin Thompson, developed a syrup he called Moxie Nerve Food and marketed it as a tonic to aid digestion. In 1884, he changed Moxie to a carbonated soft drink that at first was also marketed as a tonic with extravagant claims that it would cure all sorts of ailments.
A few years later Moxie was marketed exclusively as a delicious and refreshing drink, and for a while, was the most popular soft drink in the U.S. In fact, it became so popular that the word moxie became part of our language meaning energy, courage, or guts. Moxie is still enjoyed by many people and can be obtained in local supermarkets.
Cyrus Dallin is a nationally celebrated sculptor, educator, and Indigenous rights advocate best known for his iconic Paul Revere Monument in Boston’s North End and Appeal to the Great Spirit in front of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Dallin was born in Utah Territory in 1861 and moved to Boston at the age of 18 to study sculpture. In 1900, he and his wife Vittoria settled in Arlington where they lived for over four decades and raised their three sons. The couple played key roles in the development of many local institutions, including Robbins Library, Symmes Hospital, and Arlington Friends of the Drama.
Dallin bestowed some of his most masterful public art on Arlington, including the Menotomy Hunter and Robbins Memorial Flagstaff. As a sculpture instructor at the Massachusetts Normal Art School for 40 years (now Mass College of Art and Design), Dallin mentored a generation of Boston School sculptors. He spent the last 20 years of his career working with Indigenous leaders and non-Native allies on efforts to reverse harmful federal vanishing policies. Cyrus Dallin is remembered as a talented artist who valued education, truth, and justice.
The Meaning of Menotomy
According to the Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, Menotomy means “the place that smells.” The name likely reflects the tidal nature of the Mystic River and the abundant Indigenous fisheries and planting grounds (fish was used as fertilizer!) in the area.
The Meaning of Menotomy
Arlington is a town rich with history and we hope you enjoyed this list of fun facts about the town’s history, attractions and interesting stories.