Sterling, Massachusetts is a town of nearly 8,000 residents located in Worcester County. It covers 31.6 square miles, 1.1 of which is water. Sterling is bordered by Leominster, Princeton, Holden, West Boylston, Lancaster, Clinton, and Boylston, as well as the Wachusett River.
Sterling, like many towns in central Massachusetts, has a long history of agriculture. Each year, the Sterling Fair celebrates this history with a multi-day festival with games, rides, exhibits, contests, and more. Though industrial development and residential living have largely overtaken the town, residents still celebrate the importance of agriculture to the development of the town.
Davis Farmland, a local attraction, draws visitors from around Massachusetts to discover the small-town charm of farming, with a petting zoo and world-class cornfield maze, among other attractions. Residents frequently visit nearby Wachusett Mountain, the Leominster State Forest, and Sholan Park in Sterling, providing ample recreational activities.
The Native American presence in Sterling dates back to 7,000 B.C., predominantly by the Nashaway Indians. This tribe was among the most powerful in Massachusetts. In 1643, they sold an 80-square mile section of land to the settlers of Lancaster. This was followed in 1702 by an additional land sale. Between these two purchases, all of the land in current-day Sterling was acquired. Settlement began soon after the first sale, but the first permanent settlement did not arise until 1720, and was called the Second Parish of Lancaster.
Sterling was incorporated as it's own town in 1781, and named after Lord Stirling who aided the colonists during the American Revolution. Without appropriate waterways to power the mills, as was occurring in other Massachusetts communities, residents of the town relied on agriculture and small cottage industries for income.
Residents of the town made many contributions to society, including the invention of the curved snath for scythes by Silas Lamson, the invention of a machine to manufacture needles for sewing machines by Silas Stuart, and tissue paper dress patterns by Ebenezer Butterick. One of the town’s most famous residents, known to children around the world, is Mary Sawyer, whose lamb inspired the classic nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
What was to become a classic nursery rhyme all had its start in Sterling, Massachusetts. Mary Sawyer was born in 1806 in the town. As a child, she took on the care of an abandoned lamb, feeding it and nursing it to health, inspiring great devotion in the lamb. As the poem states, “Anywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.”
One day, Mary did indeed bring the lamb to school, where it was discovered by the schoolmaster to the delight of the children, and thus inspiring the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Sterling denotes this contribution to childhood literature with a statue of the lamb in the town center. The Sawyer house was preserved, but destroyed by arson in 2007; a replica stands in its place. The Redstone School, where this occurred, now stands at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Mary Sawyer (Tyler) is buried in Somerville.
From a history dating back to 7,000 B.C. to a major contribution to childhood literature, Sterling has a long and proud heritage. Today, residents enjoy a wide range of recreational facilities, a strong education system, and a low crime rate in this largely residential community in central Massachusetts.