Ayer, Massachusetts

Ayer (/ɛr/, Eastern New England English /ɛə/) is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. Originally part of Groton, it was incorporated February 14, 1871,[1] and became a major commercial railroad junction. The town was home to Camp Stevens, a training camp for Massachusetts volunteers during the American Civil War. Later, Fort Devens was established by the federal government to train New England soldiers for World War I. Fort Devens is a major influence on the area, although it is considerably smaller than when it was first closed in the mid-1990s. The town's population was 7,427 at the 2010 census.[2]

For geographic and demographic information on specific parts of the town of Ayer, please see the articles on Ayer (CDP) and Devens, Massachusetts.

Ayer, Massachusetts
Main Street
Main Street
Official seal of Ayer, Massachusetts

Location in Middlesex County in Massachusetts
Location in Middlesex County in Massachusetts
Coordinates: 42°33′40″N 71°35′25″W / 42.56111°N 71.59028°WCoordinates: 42°33′40″N 71°35′25″W / 42.56111°N 71.59028°W
CountryUnited States
IncorporatedFebruary 14, 1871[1]
 • TypeOpen town meeting
 • Total9.6 sq mi (24.8 km2)
 • Land9.0 sq mi (23.4 km2)
 • Water0.6 sq mi (1.4 km2)
226 ft (69 m)
 • Total7,427
 • Density770/sq mi (300/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (Eastern)
ZIP code
Area code(s)351 / 978 (978 Exchanges:588, 772,784,796)
FIPS code25-03005
GNIS feature ID0618215


Native American history

Ayer was originally inhabited by the Nashaway, a Nipmuc people that inhabited the lands along the Nashua River and its tributaries. A small settlement was located along the banks of the Nonacoicus Brook, located in the western part of the town. The name of the Nashaway village, its people and the brook, pronounced by locals as /ˈnɒ nə ˌkɔɪ ʃəs/, was also recorded in early English sources as 'Nonajcoyjicus,' 'Nonocoyecos,' 'Nonacoiacus' and 'Nonaicoics.'[3] According to the personal manuscripts of Justice Samuel Sewall, best known for his controversial role in the Salem witch trials, he was told sometime in 1698 by Hanah, wife of Sachem Ahaton of the Ponkapoag Massachusett tribe, that the name was actually Nunnacoquis (modern Wôpanâak Massachusett dialect Nunahkuqees /nənahkəkʷiːs/)[4][5][6] and signified 'an Indian earthen pot' although literally refers to a 'small dry earthen pot.' The name was likely a reference to a series of small mounds along the banks of the Nonacoicus Brook.[3]

Very little archaeological evidence has been found of settlement in the region, most likely lost to centuries of cultivation and development, although a handful of stone tools or evidence of habitation have been found along the shores of the Nashua River, Nonacoicus Brook, Sandy Pond and Long Pond as well as a rock shelter on Snake Hill. Although some have been dated to the Early Woodland Period (3000-2000 BP), the majority of findings are from the Late Woodland and Early Contact Period (1000-450 BP).[7] In addition, portions of Main Street and Sandy Pond Road are believed to follow the vast network of trails used by Native peoples for trade, travel and communication.[8] The Nashaway likely cultivated corn, beans and squash, but depended on foraging for fruits, nuts, tubers and seeds to supplement their diets. Seasonally, camps were set up in hunting areas, but the most important gatherings were likely the annual spawning migrations of Atlantic salmon, alewife, American shad, blueback herring and sea lamprey that once swam up the Nashua River from the sea via the Merrimack River.[3]

The arrival of English settlers in the seventeenth century greatly disrupted things. Virgin soil epidemics such as smallpox, leptospirosis, influenza, scarlet fever and measles ravaged Native communities due to their lack of immunity to Old World diseases. The influx of English settlers also led to competition for land and resources and efforts to subjugate and assimilate the Native peoples. The Nashaway were visited by the missionary John Eliot, who had translated the Bible in the Massachusett language, understood throughout New England as a second language, began teaching Indians to read and write and train as missionaries and teachers. Land was set aside for the Indians for the Praying town of Nashoba in what is now neighboring Littleton, Massachusetts which likely attracted many of the Nashaway families in the surrounding areas. Nashoba was one of fourteen communities in the colony established for the Indian converts, where they came to meld English and traditional ways.

By 1675, the peace between the English settlers and the Native Americans was broken with the uprising of the Wampanoag sachem Metacomet. The Praying Indians, the inhabitants of the Praying towns such as Nashoba, were rounded up by English colonial militias and sent to Deer Island where most froze or starved to death. Although heavy losses were inflicted on both sides, the English won and executed a vast number of Indians or sold them to slavery in the West Indies. Many left the region and chose to seek safety with the Abenaki and the French colonists in what is now Canada. Nashoba remained in Indian hands until 1736, the Native Americans began to congregate into a smaller number of communities. Three state-recognized tribes of Nipmuc, descended from the remnant communities that survived the epidemics and King Philip's War include the Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck of Webster, Massachusetts, the Hassanamisco Nipmuc of Grafton, Massachusetts and the Natick Massachusett-Nipmuc, a Massachusett people of partial Nipmuc ancestry.[9]


Ayer, Mass. (2673626229)
Lithograph of Ayer from 1886 by L.R. Burleigh with list of landmarks

The town of Groton, which originally included Ayer as well as several other towns in the region, was settled by English colonists as early as 1655. The first settlement in the portion of Groton that would become Ayer was in 1667, when a mill was constructed to serve a small hamlet that had developed around the Nonacoicus Brook.

The community eventually came to be known as South Groton, or with the arrival of the railroad, Groton Junction. This area was later partitioned and incorporated as the town of Ayer in 1871. The town was named Ayer in honor of Dr. James Cook Ayer, a prominent resident of Lowell, Massachusetts and one of the wealthiest pharmaceutical manufacturers of his day. Dr. Ayer provided the funding for the construction of the Town Hall.

East Main Ayer MA
East Main Street circa 1906

Regional rail hub

The town's growth was influenced by a period of rapid development of railroad transportation. Though only 9.5 square miles (25 km2) in area, the town became a major junction for both east-west and north-south rail lines, and developed into an important commercial center oriented towards the rail industry. Known as Groton Junction and later Ayer Junction, the intersecting railroads included:

  • Fitchburg Railroad in 1844 to Boston and eventually points in New York State (still in operation in 2011 for freight and the MBTA Fitchburg Line).
  • Peterborough and Shirley Railroad in 1848 (became part of the Fitchburg Railroad and later the Boston & Maine Railroad. Its northerly terminus was Greenville, New Hampshire. In 2011 active rail on what is now known as the Greenville Industrial Track serves two customers on line, both located one mile north of Ayer center. Operational rail ceases at a derelict trestle spanning the Nashua River on the Ayer/Groton border. Tracks are intact to Townsend, Massachusetts.
  • Worcester and Nashua Railroad in 1848 (Southern branch to Worcester still in operation in 2011 as a freight line. Northern end of the branch from Ayer to Nashua, NH abandoned in 1981. The Nashua River Rail Trail has occupied the old right-of-way since 2005)
  • Stony Brook Railroad to North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, in 1848 (still in operation in 2011 as a freight line)

The split between the Stony Brook and Fitchburg main line was moved east from the central junction to reduce parallel trackage.

Postcard view showing the two railroad stations that once served Ayer, dated 1910

Military roles

During the Civil War an army training camp, Camp Stevens, was located near the Nashua River. Camp Devens, which eventually became Fort Devens, was established in 1917, during World War I. The presence of thousands of military and civilian personnel on the base shifted Ayer's commercial development towards meeting their needs until Fort Devens was closed in 1996, but was reopened the next day as a reserve training area. It has since been reopened, although on a much smaller scale than the days when it was active.

Ski jump

In 1935, the largest Nordic ski jump in North America was constructed at Pingry Hill near the Willows. A 700-foot-high wooden trestle build, the ski jump operated for a single winter season amid the hardships of Great Depression-era Ayer. Part of the structure was blown down by the wind in the summer of 1936 and it was never rebuilt. Some of the lumber was salvaged by local residents over the next few years. As of 2013, no trace of the massive structure remains.[10]

Modern day

Within its relatively small area Ayer boasts numerous industries, including plants belonging to Cains (no longer in business since August 2017), Vitasoy and Pepsi, a historical downtown unique to the region, and modern commuter rail service to Boston.

The Hollywood film Conviction depicted the legal drama surrounding the investigation, conviction and eventual exoneration of Kenneth "Kenny" Waters, for the 1980 murder of Katharina Brow. Waters' sister Betty Anne worked with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to overturning the wrongful convictions using DNA test results as evidence. In 2009 the town and its insurers eventually paid a $3.4 million settlement in response to a civil rights lawsuit by the estate of Kenneth Waters.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 9.6 square miles (24.8 km2), of which 9.0 square miles (23.4 km2) is land and 0.6 square mile (1.4 km2) (5.75%) is water.

Ayer borders the following towns: Shirley, Groton, Littleton, and Harvard.


Historical populations
Census Pop.

At the 2010 census,[11] there were 7,427 people, 3,118 households and 1,831 families residing in the town. The population density was 825.2 per square mile (317.4/km2). There were 3,462 housing units at an average density of 384.7 per square mile (147.9/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 84.3% White, 5.9% African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.6% Asian, 2.3% from other races, and 3.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.7% of the population.

There were 3,063 households of which 26.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.0% were married couples living together, 2.8% had a male householder with no wife present, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.3% were non-families. 32.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.86.

Of the 7,427 people in the population, 22.6% were under the age of 18, 7.5% were 15 to 19 years of age, 6.7% were 20 to 24 years of age, 28.1% were 25 to 44 years of age, 28.1% were 45 to 64 years of age, and 11.4% were 65 years and over. The median age was 38.2 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.2 males. For every 100 females 18 years and over there were 97.9 males.

The median household income was $54,899, and the median family income was $78,947. The median income of individuals working full-time was $53,194, for males versus $47,198 for females. The per capita income for the town was $32,179. About 8.0% of families and 12.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.5% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.


As a New England town, Ayer is governed by town meeting and a three-member board of selectmen.


  • "Ayer/Shirley Regional High School". Archived from the original on 2012-12-24. Retrieved 2013-07-31. - Grade Levels: 9-12[12]
  • Ayer/Shirley Regional Middle School at Archive.today (archived December 24, 2012) - Grade Levels: 6th Grade to 8th Grade
  • Page Hilltop Elementary School at Archive.today (archived December 24, 2012) - Grade Levels: Pre-K to 5th grade[12]
  • The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School on Devens is within the old Ayer section of Devens.

Private schools serving Ayer include:

  • Applewild School, established in 1957, - a private, independent co-educational day school for grades Preschool - 8th grade located in Fitchburg, MA.


Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) supplies Councils-On-Aging service.[13] Commuter rail service from Boston's North Station is provided by the MBTA with a stop in Ayer on its Fitchburg Line.[14]

Ayer contains routes 2A, 110, and 111. Ayer is only one town away from both Interstate 495 and Route 2.

Freight travels daily through Ayer over the tracks of the historic Stony Brook Railroad. The line currently serves as a major corridor of Pan Am Railway's District 3 which connects New Hampshire and Maine with western Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York.[15]

The southern segment of the Nashua River Rail Trail commences in Ayer.

Points of interest

Places on the National Register of Historic Places:

  • Community Memorial Hospital - 15 Winthrop Ave.
  • Fort Devens Historic District
  • Ayer Main Street Historic District - Main St.
  • Pleasant Street School - Pleasant St.
  • St. Andrew's Church (1892) - 7 Faulkner St.

Also. the Billiards Cafe on Main Street has the only full-sized (6 ft by 12 ft) snooker table in New England.

Notable people


  1. ^ a b Cf. Ayer official website
  2. ^ "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (DP-1): Ayer town, Middlesex County, Massachusetts". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Archived from the original on September 11, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Nourse, H. A. (1894). History of the Town of Harvard, Massachusetts. 1732-1893. (pp. 66-68). Clinton, MA: W. J. Coulter, Printer.
  4. ^ Hicks, N. (2006). 'A list of initials and finals in wôpanâak.' (Master's thesis). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 41. From (nun-), 'dry.'
  5. ^ Trumbull, J. H. (1903). Natick Dictionary. p. 285. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  6. ^ Hewson, J. (2017). A Computer-generated Dictionary of Proto-Algonquian. Gatineau, QC: National Museums of Canada. p. 281. Retrieved 2 Dec 2018. From *-axkehkw, 'earthen pot.'
  7. ^ Greater Merrimack Valley Convention And Visitors Bureau. 'Native American Trail.' Retrieved 2 Dec 2018.
  8. ^ Rowcraft, J., Whitney, M., & Darby, M. (2016). Freedom's Way Landscape Invetory: Ayer Reconnaissance Report (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Freedom's Way Heritage Association). Boston, MA. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  9. ^ Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Commission on Indian Affairs. (n.d.). Tuition waiver guidelines. Retrieved from Commonwealth of Massachusetts website: www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/ia/tuitionwaiver.doc.
  10. ^ "Ayer Ski Hill, Ayer, MA 1935-1936"
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Schools in Ayer Public School District - Ayer Public School District website
  13. ^ "MART: Communities Served". mrta.us. Archived from the original on 10 January 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  14. ^ MBTA website.mbta.com. Accessed August 31, 2007.
  15. ^ Pan Am Railways route map.panamrailways.com. Accessed August 31, 2007.
  16. ^ https://www.kissonline.com/history
  17. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Beal, Foster Ellenborough Lascelles" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.

External links

1917 Camp Devens football team

The 1917 Camp Devens football team was an American football team that represented the United States Army's 76th Infantry Division stationed at Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, during the 1917 fall football season.

The team had two players named to the 1917 All-Service football team: halfback Wayland Minot (Walter Camp, 1st team); and end C. A. Coolidge (Paul Purman, 1st team).

1918 Camp Devens football team

The 1918 Camp Devens football team was an American football team that represented the United States Army stationed at Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, during the 1918 fall football season. George Hoban served as both the team captain and coach. The team compiled a 4–2 record.

Ayer High School

Ayer Shirley Regional High School is a high school located in Ayer, Massachusetts. The school colors are maroon and white, and the mascot is the Panther. The student body contains about 350 students in 9th-12th grade.

Bill Aucoin

William Martin Aucoin (December 29, 1943 – June 28, 2010) was an American band manager, well known for his work with the rock band Kiss.

C. L. Blood

Charles Lewis Blood (September 8, 1835 – September 27, 1908; alias C. H. Lewis et al.) was an American con artist and self-styled physician who operated in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. He produced a patent medicine treatment known as "oxygenized air", which he promoted as a cure for catarrh, scrofula, consumption, and diseases of the respiratory tract.

Community Memorial Hospital (Ayer, Massachusetts)

Community Memorial Hospital is an historic hospital building at 15 Winthrop Avenue in Ayer, Massachusetts. The brick and stone Colonial Revival building was constructed in 1929, and expanded in the 1950s. It was designed by the Fitchburg architectural firm of Haynes & Mason, and was the first hospital building dedicated to serving the town of Ayer. The organization that operated the hospital was created by the merger of the Ayer Hospital Association, founded in 1912, and the Ayer Private Hospital, founded 1924. This organization operated the facility until 1957, when it was merged with the Groton Community Hospital. This group continued to operate the facility until 1971, when it moved to new premises and vacated this building.The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The building is currently (2018) being operated as Nashoba Valley Assisted Living.

Douglas Moore (soldier)

Douglas Moore was a United States Army soldier who was killed in Kon Tum Province in South Vietnam on May 22, 1969. He is the namesake of the former Moore Army Airfield at Fort Devens. A native of Ayer, Massachusetts, he was killed by small arms fire while landing a helicopter in a hot landing zone.

Hester A. Davis

Hester A. Davis (1930-2014) was an American archaeologist. Arkansas' first State Archaeologist, she was instrumental in creating national public policy and conservancy standards for cultural preservation as well as developing professional and ethical standards for archaeologists. She was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including two distinguished service awards and induction into the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame.

James Cook Ayer

James Cook Ayer (5 May 1818 in Groton, Connecticut – 3 July 1878 in Winchendon, Massachusetts) was the wealthiest patent medicine businessman of his day.

Jamie Morris

James Walter Morris (born June 6, 1965) is a former professional American football running back in the National Football League (NFL) for the Washington Redskins and a record-setting running back in college for the University of Michigan Wolverines. While attending Michigan, he broke the school's all-time records for rushing yards in a season and in a career and for all-purpose yards in a career. His career rushing total was once third in Big Ten Conference history. He continues to hold the career receptions record for Michigan running backs. He also still holds the all-time NFL record for most rushing attempts in a game with 45.

Joe Morris (American football)

Joseph Edward Morris (born September 15, 1960) is a former American football running back in the National Football League who played for the New York Giants from 1982 to 1988. Initially noted for his diminutive stature — 5' 7", Morris was a key member of the Giants team that won Super Bowl XXI in 1987. He rushed for 67 yards, caught four passes for 20 yards, and scored a touchdown in the game.

Lee Alexander (musician)

Lee Alexander is an American bassist, songwriter, and music producer best known for his work on Norah Jones's albums Come Away with Me, Feels Like Home, and Not Too Late.He is also a member of The Little Willies, which also includes Norah Jones.

Mike Gillian

Mike Gillian is an American basketball coach, and formerly served as the head men's basketball coach at Longwood University from 2003 to 2013. Resigning from Longwood on March 14, 2013, he had guided the team in their transition to NCAA Division I play, and into their first season as members of the Big South Conference. Prior to his time at Longwood, he was an assistant coach for seven years under Jim Larrañaga at Bowling Green and George Mason.On November 7, 2013, Gillian was announced as an assistant coach at Florida International University. Gillian was not retained after FIU hired Jeremy Ballard as head coach in April 2018. As of the 2018-19 season, he is providing color commentary for broadcasts on ESPN platforms.

Nashoba Valley Medical Center

Nashoba Valley Medical Center is a 73-bed community hospital located in Ayer, Massachusetts. In 1994, Deaconess Hospital of Boston purchased what was then called Nashoba Community Hospital. The hospital was purchased by Essent Healthcare in 2001, and then subsequently sold to Steward Health Care System in 2011.

Pleasant Street School (Ayer, Massachusetts)

The Pleasant Street School is a historic school building on Pleasant Street in Ayer, Massachusetts. It is a 2-1/2 story Colonial Revival building, with a hip roof pierced by wide gabled dormers with bands of small windows. It was constructed in 1893 to a design by Boston architect Charles E. Parks, and is one of the oldest school buildings in the town. It was enlarged in 1906, doubling it in size. It served as a public school until 1984.The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Raj Rajaratnam

Raj Rajaratnam (Tamil: ராஜ் ராஜரத்தினம்; born Rajakumaran Rajaratnam; June 15, 1957) is a Sri Lankan-American former hedge fund manager and founder of the Galleon Group, a New York-based hedge fund management firm. On October 16, 2009, he was arrested by the FBI for insider trading, which also caused the Galleon Group to fold. He stood trial in U.S. v Rajaratnam (09 Cr. 01184) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and on May 11, 2011 was found guilty on all 14 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud. On October 13, 2011, Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined a criminal and civil penalty of over $150 million combined.As of February, 2018, Rajaratnam is incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, an administrative facility housing male offenders requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental health care. Rajaratnam's release date is July 4, 2021.

Rita Briggs

Rita Briggs [Maud] (March 27, 1929 – September 6, 1994) was an American female baseball catcher who played from 1947 through 1954 for seven different teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Listed at 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m), 120 lb., Briggs batted left-handed and threw right-handed. She was born in Ayer, Massachusetts.

Robert Frazier (writer)

Robert Alexander Frazier (born 1951 in Ayer, Massachusetts) is an American writer of speculative poetry and fiction, as well as an impressionist painter on Nantucket Island.

Sandy Pond School

The Sandy Pond School is a historic school building at 150 Sandy Pond Road in Ayer, Massachusetts. Built in 1868, it is the only surviving district school building in the town. Now a local museum, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

Municipalities and communities of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.