Dudley, Massachusetts is a town located in Worcester County along the Connecticut border. It is situated between the French and Quinebaug Rivers. Neighboring towns include Oxford, Southbridge, Woodstock, Thompson, Webster, and Charlton, with which it shares a school district. Dudley is about 22 miles south of Worcester and 59 miles away from Boston.
Dudley covers 22 square miles of land area, one of which is occupied by water. It has a population of 11,390, for a population density of 516 people per square mile.
The town places a strong emphasis on conservation, with three protected open areas. Both the French River Corridor and the Northeast Corner are priority landscapes. The Tufts Branch Valley covers a third of the town, including wildlife habitats, historic farmlands, and two other priority landscapes.
During the 1600s, the Nipmuc tribe that inhabited much of central Massachusetts sold land to investors. However, the land of Dudley was reserved for the tribe until 1714, when it was sold and settled. It was incorporated as a town in 1732, named after Paul and William Dudley, landholders in the town.
The town was built up around Dudley Hill, which was located at the geographical center of town. It was here the Nichols Academy was built in 1816. Many of the town’s historic buildings can be found on and around Dudley Hill.
Like many Massachusetts towns of the era, Dudley was reliant on an agrarian economy for much of its early history. During the late 1800s, the economy switched to dairy production, with the West Dudley Cooperative Creamery being established in 1887. Over the ensuing years, dairy farming took over 1/3 of the farming land. The industry continued for many years, slowly shrinking over time.
The French River provided the opportunity for mills to flourish. The textile mills drew immigrants from many countries, contributing to the current day diversity of Dudley. The town was the primary manufacturer of Brogan boots and Union uniforms during the Civil War.
Nichols College was founded in 1815 as Nichols Academy atop Dudley Hill. Today it is still located in Dudley, and is a 4-year college. It is one of the top-ranked business colleges in the nation, offering 12 business specialties as well as several other majors.
Nichols College owns 50 acres of land in the center of Dudley, including many of the town’s most historic buildings. The college has demolished several historical buildings, leading the town to attempt to open lines of communication about the importance of saving Dudley’s architectural history.
Dudley, Massachusetts is a special town with a long history. Through its preserved architecture and protected open spaces, the town retains the feelings of the old farming village it once was, while embracing the future.