The Shirley Connection

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About Shirley

In 2001 Shirley was named the most historic small town in the United States for its number of historic sites and its work at preserving these sites. More recently the Town of Shirley has been selected as a "playful community". Today, Shirley residents and businesses foster an excellent sense of community as evidenced by the number and variety of active clubs and organizations which can be found on the Town's website along with contacts and information regarding the Town of Shirley at

Town of Shirley History in Brief

The Nipmuc or Pennacook Indians, the first inhabitants of Shirley, called the area Catacunemaug meaning "swampy area". Shirley was first settled by Colonists about 1720 and was once part of "The Plantation of Groton.". In 1753 Shirley broke away from Groton and became an independent incorporated town. The town was named in honor of William Shirley who was the Governor of Massachusetts from 1741 to 1757.

In 1775, eighty Shirley farmers were among those who marched to Concord and Lexington to help in the fight against the British. For many years, Shirley remained a farming community with sawmills and gristmills appearing on the banks of its rivers. The old center of town activity, with the Meeting House, Cemetery and Town Hall, was and still is located at the intersection of Center, Brown, Horsepond, Parker and Whitney Roads.

A paper mill was built around 1790 and in 1812 Shirley established the first of seven cotton mills. When the railroad came through Shirley in the 1840s, factories expanded along the rail lines with local products including paper, cotton, iron, nails, textiles, rope and suspenders.

The Shaker utopian religious community was established in Shirley in 1793. They advocated pacifism, common property, celibacy and communal living renowned for their plain architecture and simple furniture. The Shaker movement peaked in the 1840s and the Shirley Shaker Village closed in 1908. The property was sold to the State of Massachusetts to be used as an Industrial School for Boys which closed in the 1970's.

In the early 1900s French-Canadian and Polish immigrants came to work in the mills broadening the character of the town. With the growth of neighboring Fort Devens during World War I and World War II, the multicultural character of the town grew even richer as people settled out side of the Fort.

You can find additional information on the history of Shirley at



The Shirley Connection  ·  P.O. Box 1277  ·  Shirley, MA 01464