The Charles River, wrapping around three sides of Newton, determined the original development of “The City of Trees.” Within this riverine arc, seven hills demarcate the territory of what has become one of Metropolitan Boston's largest suburbs.
Originally granted as part of Newtowne/Cambridge (1636), Newton became a separate town in 1692. Where the Charles River highlands were used for agriculture in the colonial period, milling began at several sites along the river as early as the 1660s. An iron forge and paper mill at Lower Falls and a fulling and other mills at Upper Falls were also inaugurated in the eighteenth century. From the meetinghouse, moved to Newton Center in 1721, roads radiated across the landscape, creating the dispersion of agricultural settlement with industry along the fringe. The industrial potential of water-powered sites attracted both capital from Boston merchants and inventive mechanics that created new processes and products. As the nineteenth century progressed, Nonatum joined Lower Falls and Upper Falls as an important industrial magnet.
The building of the Boston & Worcester (1834) and Charles River (1852) railroads brought another industry to Newton—home building. The paper, iron, and cotton industries that dominated throughout most of the nineteenth century were in decline or had disappeared by the 1870s. Although others rose to replace them, the growth was now centered in suburbanization. During the final quarter of the century, Newton established itself as one of the preeminent Boston suburbs, further reinforced by the opening of the Circuit Line from Newton Highlands to Auburndale, with stops in Eliot, Waban, and Riverside. Estates along Commonwealth Avenue and on West Newton Hill and in Auburndale alternated with more middle-class neighborhoods in Newtonville and Newton Center. By World War I, Newton's industries were shrinking and the city of suburban villages had triumphed. The streetcar lines that fanned the flame of this residential development were abandoned by 1930, when improved automobile routes, especially the east/west artery of Boylston Street/Route 9 (1932), were upgraded. As elsewhere in suburban Boston, Newton experienced its most intense development during the 1920s, by which time much of the available land had been converted to house lots. The establishment of a new civic core at Bulloughs Pond between Newton Center and Waban in 1938 signaled the final victory of perfected suburb over the former industrial city.
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