A model for similar experiments, Natick was originally settled in 1651 as an Indian Praying Town, a plantation for Christianized Native Americans. Wigwams were erected along Europeanized streets flanking the Charles River at what is now South Natick; a frame building surrounded by a circular palisade served as the meetinghouse. Despite the relocation of the native population to Deer Island in Boston Harbor during King Philip's War, Indians remained the dominant group throughout the seventeenth century. Especially after 1730, Europeans settled here increasingly, becoming the majority by midcentury. Natick incorporated as a separate town in 1781.
Shoemaking gained a toehold, so to speak, here as the major industry in the early nineteenth century, often in modest single-story wooden buildings called ten-footers. The arrival of the railroad in 1835 made Natick Center Historic District (NT1) the commercial and civic core of the community, much of which burned in a fire in 1874. The strength of the local shoe industry, third largest in the country at the time, allowed Natick to rebuild quickly. By the time of the Great Depression, New England had lost its dominance in the shoe industry, and Natick joined the suburban spread of central Boston facilitated by improved automobile highways, such as Route 9.
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