Woburn, Massachusettes City History

The History of the
City of Woburn, Massachusetts

Woburn's Incorporation as a City

The incorporation of Woburn as a city was a slow process. Even in the early 1870's, the population of the Town of Woburn gave credence to the belief that in a few short years of continued prosperity, the town would have the required 12,000 inhabitants entitling it to become a city. Although not all members of the community wanted to change their form of government, the selectmen's report for the year ending March 1, 1874 expressed the need to become a city : "Unfortunately just now our population is too large for the proper management of local affairs under our present system and too small to come under such restrictions and regulations as a city gives for the control of affairs of large communities." Woburn, however, continued to function as a town for fifteen more years. In 1883 the idea of becoming a city progressed to the point where the General Court was petitioned for a city charter. The Committee on Cities at the State House voted to refer the matter to the next Legislature. Proponents for city government were further disappointed when a census taken the following May showed that the population had decreased to only 11,454. Finally in 1887, when the population had increased sufficiently, a committee of twenty-one was appointed at Town Meeting to prepare a city charter. On May 18, 1888 the charter, submitted to the General Court on behalf of the town, was enacted by the Legislature. Woburn voters accepted the charter on June 12, 1888 by the decisive vote of 966 to 32. As the first mayor of the City of Woburn related in the "History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts": "As soon as the result was announced, twenty-five blows on the firealarm alternatedwith an equal number of peals from the cannon to emphasize the verdict of the citizens in declaring Woburn to be the twenty-fifth city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Woburn's First Mayor

After literally years of anticipation, on January 7, 1889, Edward F. Johnson stepped forward to receive the oath of office as the City of Woburn's first mayor. A holiday spirit prevailed throughout the new city. Buildings were decorated with red, white and blue bunting. Business and industrial outlets closed early as over 2,000 citizens made their way to Main Street for the ceremony. At Lyceum Hall only half the crowd could be seated. The others remained outside in the relatively mild mid-winter afternoon, relying on reports from those inside concerning the events of the two hour inaugural. Promptly at three o'clock William C. Kenney, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, appeared on the stage at Lyceum Hall. He was followed by Judge Parker L. Converse of Woburn District Court, Rev. Dr. Daniel March of the First Congregational Church, Town Clerk David F. Moreland, members of the present and past Board of Selectmen and delegates from surrounding towns as well as elected officials of the new city government. Chairman Kenney initiated the proceedings with a few introductory remarks. Next was an invocation given by Rev. Dr. March. Town Clerk Moreland then read the vote for mayor and invited Mr. Johnson to step forward to receive the oath of office. The mayor-elect's walk across the stage was accompanied by tremendous applause from the audience. The oath of office taken by the city's first mayor was much the same as the oath which has been administered to every mayor of Woburn since that time. The votes for Aldermen and Council were each read and the men elected to these positions were sworn in, to complete the basic structure of city government. Once these formalities were concluded, Mayor Johnson again stepped forward and commenced his inaugural address. According to the Wobum Joumal printed January 11, 1889 "it was a clear, comprehensive and able" speech. Mayor Johnson discussed his proposals for everything from the schools and taxation to the condition of the city streets. The oration was considered the highlight of the inaugural ceremonies. By five o'clock that afternoon the public ceremony had come to an end. Immediately, the new city officials elected presidents for each Board and later that same evening met again to fill key positions in the city. With perseverance, dignity and celebration, Woburn completed its evolution from town to city.
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