The Past, Present, and Future of Criminal Justice Reform in New England – Corey Wise

AMST 335

Professor Gieseking

Corey Wise

The Past, Present, and Future of Criminal Justice Reform in New England

Understanding what America is requires retrospective understanding of its past, acknowledgement of its present, and honest appraisal of its future.  Although the past may not always be something of which we are proud, there is value in learning from both the mistakes and the successes of all of our ancestors.  Making the United States into a place that we all want to live in requires a critical look at our past and present as a means to shape a better and more-inclusive future.  In this paper, the debate and progress on criminal justice reform will be described as it applies to the geographical imagination of the New England Village, with a particular focus on how these reforms would be represented in 2038.  Where applicable, the Town of Wayland, Massachusetts, will be highlighted as a case study for specific examples.

It is important to understand the sobering and depressing statistics around America’s failing criminal justice system when assessing criminal justice reform.  In the book Reinventing American Criminal Justice, Michael Tonry’s chapter, “Making American Sentencing Just, Humane, and Effective,” brings to light many of the startling inequalities demonstrated in the justice system.  Over the past 30 years, imprisonment in America rose from 160 people per 100,000 population, to a staggering 753 per 100,000.[1]  This number is not only more than double what it was in the 70s and 80s, but it also is 8 times greater than the European average.  Michael Tonry writes, “The implications of the literatures on deterrence and incapacitation are straightforward:  fewer convicted offenders should be sent to prison and for shorter times.  There are no evidence-based grounds for believing that the use of prison sentences generally and lengthy ones in particular has significant crime-preventive effects.  There is good evidence that imprisonment fails to reduce later offending and may increase it.”[2]  This shows that the unjust imprisonment rates don’t even serve the purpose of rehabilitation or deterrence, but in reality destroy lives that can lead to more crime with repeat offenders.  Tonry contends that the “short-term goal should be to reduce the national imprisonment rate by half by 2020, essentially to turn the clock back to where things stood in the mid-1980s.  The longer-term goal should be to regain by 2030 an imprisonment rate of 160 per 100,000.”[3]  The decrease is needed, as never before has this alarmingly high rate of imprisonment been the American standard.  This current rate isn’t really an acceptable standard in any country.

Justice and fairness have always been a concern in American history.  The New England Village was established with strong roots in communal living and shared resources, as seen in the creation of town commons and the town meeting form of representational government.[4]  The New England Village, at its idealistic best, was the original proponent of living your best life through community engagement, as exemplified by sharing the experiences of safety, security, resources, and infrastructure with fellow villagers.  It is important to note that prime land was (and still is) carved out to share communally and not just for individual profit.[5]  While the Puritan New England Village was quite intolerant and punitive in nature, with punishments often embracing public humiliation, physical harm, and banishment, the New England Village evolved into a more tolerant and compassionate geographical imagination as the centuries unfolded.  The Transcendentalism movement of the mid-1800s helped soften the inflexibility of the earliest New England Village settlements through its philosophical belief in the power of the individual, inherent divinity of all things, and moral responsibility of man to do the right thing.  Henry David Thoreau reiterated this idea in his book Walden, by saying, “Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”[6]

The town where I grew up, Wayland, Massachusetts, exhibits the traits of the New England Village in multiple ways.  In its agrarian past, Wayland residents shared communal resources such as Cow Common, the town green where First Parish and the major town intersections are located, and the militia training field on Training Field Road[7].  More recently, as Wayland became more of a suburb of Boston as opposed to a self-contained New England Village, its citizens quickly prioritized the preservation of conservation land in balance with development.  Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, his inspiration for Transcendentalism, is an integral part of the fabric of Wayland’s schools and community, epitomized by the annual 6th grade Wayland Middle School bike trip to Walden Pond.  This is a rite of passage in which most of Wayland (students, teachers, parents, police and fire departments, neighbors along the route, etc.) gets involved every fall.

The modern New England Village has felt the full effect of suburbanization and evolution of technology and transportation.  The New England Village has collided with modern transportation and suburbanization, with many villages becoming de facto bedroom suburbs of larger metropolitan cities such as New York City, Boston, etc.  There is, however, a continued commitment to the town meeting form of representational government and preservation of public lands for the use and enjoyment of all.  The current New England Villages within Massachusetts have met the challenges of the failing criminal justice system by recently passing landmark bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation.  On April 13, 2018, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed this sweeping legislation into law.[8]  S2371 (An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform) and H4012 (An Act Implementing the Joint Recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review) became Chapters 69 and 72, respectively, of the Acts of 2018, making them laws of the Commonwealth.[9]  The drive behind these reforms is to grant the ability to turn one’s life around after imprisonment more freely and easily.  These pieces of legislation were compromise bills that combined aspects of competing House and Senate versions from last year.

Some of the key points of this criminal justice reform legislation, as outlined by Massachusetts State Senator William Brownsberger, Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee were as follows:  1) decriminalize minor offenses, 2) divert minor offenses away from prosecution/incarceration, 3) reform bail to reduce unnecessary incarceration, 4) repeal/limit mandatory minimums for non-opiate, non-weight retail drug offenses, 5) strengthen minimum mandatories for opioid trafficking, 6) strengthen protections for public safety, 7) reduce solitary confinement, 8) generally improve prison conditions, 9) release prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk, 10) make it easier for people to get back on their feet, 11) take better care of juveniles and young adults, 12) improve transparency of the criminal justice system, 13) better protect women in the criminal justice system, and lastly, 14) reduce and remedy errors of justice[10].    The present New England Village has taken the bull by its horns and set the benchmark from which to further refine much-needed criminal justice reforms.  Wayland’s State Legislators, State Senator Richard Ross (R) and State Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch (D), have wholeheartedly endorsed these criminal justice reforms from their legislative inception in a bipartisan and collaborative manner.

Criminal justice reform will be more evolved and progressive by 2038 in the New England Village.  The criminal justice reform laws were always viewed as a work-in-progress, an initial blueprint upon which to change the criminal justice system from merely punitive into one which, in the words of MA State Senator William Brownsberger, “is about lifting people up instead of locking people up.  And it is about cutting the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet.  And it is about better protecting the public from drugs and violence.”[11]  Twenty years from now, the diversion programs for veterans, the mentally ill, and addicted, that take the place of incarceration, will be robust and be more tailored to address the specific needs of these individuals.  There will be a greater understanding and acceptance of what drives certain individuals to commit crimes in the first place, and how to best meet their needs as well as the needs of their victims.  By 2038, there will hopefully be a reduction in prison populations as these diversion programs become the preferred method of treatment.  Sentencing will, once again, be more in the hands of the local judges, who will no longer be bound by the mandatory minimums for minor offenses and non-opiate drug offenses.  There will ideally be an equitable distribution of diversion programs throughout the Commonwealth, so that there is a shared commitment to helping veterans, the mentally ill, and addicted.  There will likely be legislation that mandates this equitable distribution of diversion programs across all towns of the Commonwealth of MA, similar to Chapter 40B legislation, the Affordable Housing Zoning Law.  Chapter 40B was enacted with the goal of producing more affordable housing throughout Massachusetts, as well as making housing more accessible.  40B specifies that the “standard is for communities to provide a minimum of 10% of their housing inventory as affordable.”[12]  Massachusetts always seems to be at the forefront of this type of progressive legislation, in keeping with its reputation as a liberal bastion.

In twenty years, transition programs to assist recently-freed inmates (as well as those who have successfully completed diversion programs) successfully reintegrate into society will have been developed and modified to meet best practices.  There will be additional legislation that further decriminalizes marijuana by 2038, and the majority of opiate-addicted individuals who commit crimes will be offered rehabilitation treatment in lieu of jail time.  Solitary confinement will no longer be an acceptable form of discipline in prison.  Other states will enact similar legislation in response to the success exhibited in Massachusetts.  Hopefully, the federal government will also enact similar criminal justice reform laws.  As a continued positive development coming out of the initial criminal justice reforms of the 2010s, legislation that modifies and curtails felony disenfranchisement will be passed at the state levels, and ideally also at the federal level.

Both the past and present New England Village share many common traits with regards to criminal justice.  Both are built on representational government and fairness, a building block of almost all successful towns and villages.  Another similarity is deep roots in the expectation of  individual contributions to the collective betterment of the whole group.  A sense of community is important, and settlements can only succeed when everyone works together.  This concept lies parallel to a lifestyle of communal living and shared resources.  In more modern times, the progressive, liberal thinking embraced in the New England Village is important in creating a connected and well-guided town and state.

Criminal justice reform will play an even bigger role in the collective consciousness of 2038, arguably more than it has in both early America and the present day.  As mentioned previously, the 2038 New England Village will continue pushing the envelope on criminal justice reform, using current literature and experience to improve reforms in a way that is fair and just to all.  The 2038 New England Village will look to all of its past collective heritage in informing its future.  Based on its roots, the 2038 New England Village will continue its progressive mindset and will hopefully have achieved some success with respect to reducing the prison population, developing state-of-the-art diversion programs as a viable alternative to incarceration, and creating transition programs that allow individuals who have been in the criminal justice system to seamlessly integrate back into society.  The Town of Wayland, Massachusetts, will maintain its position as a quintessential New England Village, and will be at the forefront of supporting continued criminal justice reforms, in addition to other progressive initiatives.  An area that could be a source of potential pushback would likely come from any future legislation mandating a set percentage of diversion programs within each town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  While progressive in most state initiatives, town leaders and citizens groups have shown the strongest opposition over the years to proposed 40B developments, which often have to be scaled down or scrapped due to political and legal pressure, in a classic “NIMBY” (“Not In My Back Yard”) mentality.

A very important thing to remember is that American democracy needs to be promoted in any criminal justice reforms.  The 2038 New England Village, in its attempt to advance criminal justice reform, will push an agenda that promotes American democracy.  One of the many travesties of the previous decades of the criminal justice system is that the system has unfairly targeted certain minorities, namely blacks and Hispanics.  Another travesty of the 2017 criminal justice system is that it has a one-size-fits-all approach for all offenses, namely jail time, and does nothing to address the very real roles that struggles such as PTSD, mental illness, and addiction play in the committing of a vast majority of crimes.  An American democracy functions best when it allows everyone to live one’s best life.  Addressing and implementing criminal justice reforms now and in the future goes a long way towards meeting the most ideal definition of democracy.  Wayland has been at the forefront of access and inclusion throughout its history, particularly in the post-Puritan era.  Some examples of this includes the Wayland Town Library, which is the 2nd free library in the nation, and Wayland High School, which started providing gender-neutral bathrooms 2 years ago.[13]

There is plenty of evidence from the American Studies 335 course literature to support the role of the New England Village with respect to criminal justice reform issues in 2038.  A review of the literature covered provides a few examples of how the New England Village geographical imagination lent support to criminal justice reform issues in the past, present, and future.  In the past, the pastoral ideal was essentially codified in the New England Village geographical imagination, and was “embodied in various utopian schemes for making America the site of a new beginning for Western society.  In both forms—one literary and the other in essence political—the ideal has figured in the American view of life.”[14]  In this pastoral ideal, there is always the sense that we can and should do right by our fellow man, with a focus on seeing the good versus bad in a person, no matter how flawed someone is.  There is an inherent belief that a flawed person still has some redeemable qualities.

The modern-day tension of respecting and learning from the past while accommodating the needs and values of today is perfectly summarized by J.B. Jackson when he states, “Almost by definition an inhabited landscape is the product of incessant adaptation and conflict:  adaptation to what is often a new and bewildering natural environment, conflict between groups of people with very dissimilar views as to how to make that adaptation.  The political landscape, artificial though it may be, is the realization of an archetype, of a coherent design inspired by philosophy or religion, and it has a distinct purpose in view.”[15]  New England Villages, including Wayland, have had to balance past practices, many of which have been proven ineffective over time, with new research on criminal justice, in order to develop the criminal justice reform legislation of 2018.

The challenge for New England Villages like Wayland going forward is to continue to evolve while remaining inclusive and accepting of conflicting viewpoints.  In the year 2038, an even greater variety of beliefs, constituents, and conflicts will need to be incorporated into the New England Village.  In reading about polarization, one author said, “What is emerging nonetheless counts as a significant change.  With a dramatic increase in options and a greater power to customize comes a corresponding increase in the range of actual choices, and those choices are likely, in many cases, to match demographic characteristics, preexisting political convictions, or both.”[16]  The same article also goes on to say, “If diverse groups are seeing and hearing quite different points of view, or focusing on quite different topics, mutual understanding might be difficult, and it might be increasingly hard for people to solve problems that society faces together.”[17]  One of the greatest future challenges for the New England Village, and even for democracy, is to remain open and receptive to all its citizens, and not devolve into myopic, one-sided visions of our shared community.  Even with seemingly non-harmonious opposing views, it is critical that our society work together in the future, in order to produce the best possible outcomes for agendas such as the criminal justice system.

In 2038, the landmark legislation of Massachusetts’s bipartisan criminal justice reforms will be 21 years old.  Hopefully, by then, other states and the federal government will have passed similar legislation.  The past, present, and future geographical imagination of the New England Village has played, and will continue to play, a key role in the migration of criminal justice reforms towards more rehabilitation and less incarceration.  As a nearly ideal representation of the New England Village, the Town of Wayland, Massachusetts, has played a vital and progressive role in leading and supporting the dialogue around criminal justice reform.  American democracy that is fair and just for all of its citizens will benefit from continued criminal justice reforms, allowing everyone to live a life well lived.


Brownsberger, Will. “Final Criminal Justice Package Released.” Will Brownberger – State Senator. March 23, 2018. Accessed May 06, 2018.


Brownsberger, Williams, Cynthia Stone Creem, Bruce Tarr, Claire Cronin, Ronald Mariano, and Sheila Harrington. “Bill S.2371.” The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Accessed May 06, 2018.


Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. Fact Sheet on Chapter 40B The State’s Affordable Housing Zoning Law. PDF. Boston, October 2009.


Foster, David R., Brian Donahue, David Kittredge, Glenn Motzkin, Brian Hall, Billie Turner, and Elizabeth Chilton. New England’s Forest Landscape. PDF. Massachusetts, 2008.


Gieseking, Jen Jack, and William Mangold. The People, Place, and Space Reader. New York: Routledge, 2014.


Jackson, John Brinkerhoff. “A Pair of Ideal Landscapes.” In The People, Place, and Space Reader, edited by Jen Jack Gieseking and William Mangold, 259-62. Routledge, 2014.


Marx, Leo. Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2000.


Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Landscape Preservation Initiative. Putting Historic Landscape Preservation on Solid Ground. PDF. Massachusetts.


McCall, Alison. “DAY TRIPPING: Cow Common Rich with History.” The Sudbury Town Crier. July 31, 2014. Accessed May 06, 2018.


Sunstein, Cass. #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton University Press, 2017


Thoreau, Henry David. Walden: Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.


Tonry, Michael H., and Daniel Nagin. Reinventing American Criminal Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.


Walker, Craig F. “Charlie Baker to Sign off on Sweeping Criminal Justice Bill.” The Boston Globe. April 13, 2018. Accessed May 06, 2018.


Writer, Susan L. WagnerStaff. “Two Wayland High Bathrooms to Be Gender-inclusive.” Wicked Local Wayland. June 02, 2016. Accessed May 06, 2018.


[1] Michael H. Tonry, and Daniel Nagin, Reinventing American Criminal Justice, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2017), p. 493.

[2] Tonry and Nagin, Reinventing American Criminal Justice, P.459

[3] Tonry and Nagin, Reinventing American Criminal Justice, p.460

[4] Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Landscape Preservation Initiative, Putting Historic Landscape Preservation on Solid Ground, (Massachusetts).

[5] David R. Foster, Brian Donahue, David Kittredge, Glenn Motzkin, Brian Hall, Billie Turner, and Elizabeth Chilton, New England’s Forest Landscape, (Massachusetts, 2008).

[6] Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Life in the Woods, (Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1854), p. 68.

[7] Alison McCall, DAY TRIPPING: Cow Common Rich with History, (The Sudbury Town Crier, 2014).

[8] Craig F. Walker, Charlie Baker to Sign off on Sweeping Criminal Justice Bill, (The Boston Globe, 2018).

[9] Williams Brownsberger, Cynthia Stone Creem, Bruce Tarr, Claire Cronin, Ronald Mariano, and Sheila Harrington, Bill S.2371, (The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2018).

[10] Will Brownsberger, Final Criminal Justice Package Released, (Will Brownberger – State Senator, 2018)

[11] Brownsberger, Final Criminal Justice Package Released.

[12] Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, Fact Sheet on Chapter 40B The State’s Affordable Housing Zoning Law, (Boston, 2009).

[13] Susan L. Wagner, Two Wayland High Bathrooms to Be Gender-inclusive, (Wicked Local Wayland, 2016).

[14] Leo Marx, Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, (Oxford University Press, 2000).

[15] J.B. Jackson, A Pair of Ideal Landscapes. (In The People, Place, and Space Reader, Routledge, 2014).

[16] Cass Sunstein, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, (Princeton University Press, 2017), p. 66.

[17] Sunstein, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, p. 68.

Timeline of Wayland’s History – Corey


AMST 335

Professor Gieseking

Corey Wise

Research Project Statement

In putting together the Listicle for the concept of the New England Village, it suddenly dawned on me that my hometown of Wayland, Massachusetts, has all of the elements of the concept of the New England Village.  This realization excited me and spurred me to learn about my hometown in greater depth.  I already knew some facts about Wayland that I learned over the years, having never moved from our home there since in-utero.  However, I learned so many more interesting facts about my hometown.  Wayland is truly a microcosm for the concept of the New England Village.

I wanted to show and describe a little bit of Wayland’s pre-Colonial and Colonial history in my timeline.  This is the era that I learned the most about in my excellent history classes in Wayland, so I felt the most comfortable researching and re-learning it.  The first settlement of Sudbury Plantation was established in 1638 in what is now the town of Wayland.  Residents of Watertown wanted more land and less crowding and were granted this land east of the Sudbury River.  Sudbury Plantation separated into Sudbury and East Sudbury in 1780, with the Sudbury River acting as their border.  The decision to separate was largely due to the difficulties of citizens in the western part of Sudbury to cross the river to get to church and town meeting, especially in the spring.  Until the Industrial and Transportation Revolutions of the mid-1800s, Wayland was a sleepy, inland farming community.

The next main time period I was trying to display about Wayland, was their industrial period.  Initially, I did not know that much about this period of Wayland’s history, so it was fascinating to learn about the industrial and manufacturing history of my hometown.  It was also interesting to learn about how long the north-south divide in town has been prevalent.  In the 1830’s, the Bent brothers, James and William, expanded their small shoe shop into a manufacturing powerhouse.  Numerous shoe factories were built in the southern part of Wayland, which was renamed Cochituate at this time.  Modern amenities, such as streetlights and streetcars, were brought into Cochituate, as this southern part of town prospered.  There is also a separate post office for Cochituate residents to this day, while North Wayland remained a quiet, farming community.  Eventually, the building of the railroad through North Wayland helped this area greatly, allowing farmers to bring their produce into Boston to sell to a larger market.  This helped northern Wayland to catch up to the rapidly advancing southern Wayland.

The last time period I tried to display in my timeline, was suburban Wayland.  This was another time period in Wayland’s history that I did not know that much about, although I had familiarity with the school system, since I had attended Wayland schools my entire life before coming to Trinity.  This time period saw an absolute explosion in population after World War II, due in part to 3 events:  1) the Baby Boom, 2) the construction of Rte 128 (I-95), and 3) the construction of the Mass Pike.  According to the U.S. census, the population of Wayland surged 137% in the 1950s from 4407 to 10, 444.  To accommodate the school-aged children, 3 new elementary schools were built, as well as a new Middle School and state-of-the-art, Walter Gropius-designed mid-century modern High School.  Wayland had the foresight to preserve some of its farming heritage through preservation of conservation land in conjunction with housing development, so that now 25% of Wayland land is conservation land.

Little did I realize when I first produced my Listicle for the concept of the New England Village that I was basically writing about my hometown of Wayland, Massachusetts.  It was fascinating to learn about all of the history that I’ve been surrounded with literally my entire life.  The history that I’ve learned about the town explains so many of the details of Wayland that I have always wondered about, but never knew until now.  So many of the towns in New England share this similar history, however it is also interesting to note that some have also struggled, largely left behind recently when the infrastructure of the interstate system drove opportunity to other New England villages.  I am proud that so many of the trends in American life occurred on a smaller scale within my small hometown.


Timeline Bibliography

“About Us: Town Hall.” Wayland Massachusetts. January 01, 2014. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Capriani, Christine. “Days Numbered for Midcentury-Modern School by The Architects Collaborative.” Architectural Record. February 25, 2011. Accessed April 9, 2018.


Carter, Allison. “A City Divided: The Building of the Mass Turnpike Extension in Newton (Pt. 1).” Newton Patch. September 13, 2011. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Dame, Jonathan. “Eversource to Begin Rail Trail Work in Weston and Wayland.” The Metro West Daily News. August 1, 2017. Accessed April 9, 2018.


Dudley Pond. “History of the Pond.” Dudley Pond Association. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Eastern Roads. “Historic Overview.” Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90). Accessed April 09, 2018.


Emery, Helen Fitch. The Puritan Village Evolves: A History of the Town of Wayland, Massachusetts. 1st ed. Phoenix Pub, 1981.


The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. “1950s–1975: Impact of Rte 128 & Rte 495.” Historic Shift Explicit to Implicit Policies Affecting Housing Segregation in Eastern Massachusetts. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Foster, David R., Brian Donahue, David Kittredge, Glenn Motzkin, Brian Hall, Billie Turner, and Elizabeth Chilton. “New England’s Forest Landscape: Ecological Legacies and Conservation Patterns Shaped by Agrarian History.” 2008.


Hogan, Dan, and Will Engel. “Cold War Wayland: Raytheon.” Wayland High School History Project. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Islamic Center of Boston. “About IBC.” Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland, Massachusetts. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Labaree, Benjamin. “New England Town Meeting.” The American Archivist 25, no. 2 (1962): 165-72. doi:10.17723/aarc.25.2.a41x928626p71t16.


Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System. “Hopestill Bent Tavern.” MACRIS Details. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Ogletree, Andrew, and Ben Peterson. “Old Meets New: Dudley Pond.” Wayland High School History Project: Main Page. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Raytheon. “Site Background.” Raytheon. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Reich, Robert B. “Secession of the Successful.” The New York Times. January 20, 1991. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Renschler, Catherine. “Hopestill Bent.” Catherines Corner. February 23, 2015. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Richard, Bay. “Cars, Trucks in Big Parade on New Pike.” The Boston Daily Globe (Boston), May 16, 1957.


Rotker, Drew, and Jarrett Lerner. “Cold War Wayland: The Nike Missile Site.” Wayland High School History Project. Accessed April 09, 2018.


“Route 128: Boston’s Road to Segregation.” Patricia A. Morse, Others, and Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. January 1975. Boston, Massachusetts.


Strum, Beckie. “A Feast for the Eyes: 4 Pilgrim-era Mansions on the Market.” Mansion Global. November 24, 2016. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Temple Shir Tikva. “Shir Tikva: About.” The Temple Shir Tikva. Accessed April 9, 2018.


Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854.


Unitarian Universalist Community. “First Parish: Our History.” The First Parish in Wayland. Accessed April 9, 2018.


The Wayland Depot. “History.” The Wayland Depot. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Wayland Historical Society. “TOWN HISTORY: A SHORT HISTORY OF WAYLAND, MA.” Wayland Museum. Accessed April 9, 2018.


Wayland Public Schools Foundation. Lt. Col. Martin W. Joyce Papers. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Wolfson, Evelyn, and Dick Hoyt. “‘A to Z’: ‘S’ Is for ‘Shoe Industry’.” Wicked Local. January 28, 2010. Accessed April 09, 2018.


Zarracina, Javier. “How the Post Road Wrote New England’s History.” Accessed April 09, 2018.


A Basic Checklist of New England Villages

A New England Village is… Below, I describe ten key things that make up a village.

Maine Coast
Massachusetts Hill






A New England Village is a core geographical imagination and a term used a lot where I live in Massachusetts and Maine.  Just because a town is located in New England, many people think it automatically qualifies it as a “New England Village.”  However, that is simply not always the case, and to help clarify that confusion, I have comprised a list of the top ten key concepts that make a New England town a New England Village.


1) House of Worship:


From the arrival of the first English settlers in the mid-1600s, the cornerstone of any authentic New England Village is a House of Worship.  The majority of the original English settlers were from the East Anglia region of England, so most of the “First Parish” churches in New England are Congregational, which is what the religion of the Puritans eventually became.

First Parish in Wayland, MA. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Religious life acted as the hub for activity and dictated all facets of life, such as education, worship, and behavior.  Churches basically acted as the seat of local government to the early settlers, and many of the earliest churches housed records of births, deaths, marriages, and punishments.  Although not as influential now, the churches still stand in true New England Villages, and are often a center of social, if not religious, activity.  Many authentic New England churches still have architectural remnants such as the old horse stalls where the colonial settlers would house their horses and carriages during services, which typically lasted most of Sunday in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Academic source:


2) Town Meeting:

Another one of the key components of a New England Village is the existence of Town Meeting to debate and manage the important business of the town.  Town Meetings are an important part of town government in New England, and many towns in New England still operate through this manner.  It is a place for everyone to come and speak their minds, and debate in a parliamentary fashion.  It is the original form of representational government in colonial America.  Each person has a vote in town affairs which still exists today.  Originally, only men had the right to debate and vote, but Town Meeting has evolved over the centuries to include all citizens over the age of 18.  Town Meeting is a symbol of traditional American freedoms, in which basic levels of democracy are displayed.

Drawing of early town meeting.

The original intent of these town meetings was to disperse the settlement land out amongst the families in the village.  Land had to be distributed through the families and their offspring, as there were typically no pre-existing property boundaries with the original land grants.  Another important part of the original Town Meeting was to establish who would be the town minister.  The minister was basically the head of the town, acting as the main official in the newly formed government.

Academic source:


3) Commons:

One of the best ways to unify a community is to have shared spaces to work, mingle and converse.  That is why a New England Village must have shared Common land for townspeople to freely access.  It is similar in intent to college campuses and how they have commons or quads for all students to access.  The original intent of a town common was to graze livestock and gather for militia training, but over time it has evolved to include many different uses.  Many current activities on a town Common include gatherings and events like graduations and concerts.

Typically, a Common is what makes up the heart of a New England Village, so they typically were and are found in the center of the town.  Historically, often meetinghouses and churches were located on the Common, in large part because those were the most heavily visited buildings.  Additionally, usually main roads would converge there, helping to maximize the use of the town Common.  Particularly in the era of horse travel, it was important to locate most resources close to each other for the greatest efficiency of time and effort.  A Common, then and now, is a cultural hub for the town, where community can come together, and can observe traditions together.  It demonstrates the values of community and is a staple of any quintessential New England Village.  Perhaps the most famous Common of all is Boston Common, and all of the satellite elements surrounding a Common can be easily seen there, such as the State House, a historical church (Park Street Church), and a crazy convergence of busy roads.

Academic source:


4) Conservation Land:

Similar in concept to the town Common, another essential part of a New England Village is having conservation land for the public use.  This is land that won’t be developed, but rather is kept for its natural beauty and the enjoyment of its townspeople.  One of the original uses of conservation land was for hunting, but now that is usually prohibited, with the land being used primarily for recreational activities such as hiking, running, biking and trail-riding with horses.

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS) Statewide Massachusetts Assessment: November 2011

Conservation land in New England typically came about from donations by large landowners of unused farmland or of areas of geographical natural beauty, such as ponds, hills, and rivers.

Crystal Shores Conservation Area, Haverhill, MA

New England as a region seems rather unique in its preservation of conservation land and the importance of balancing development with responsible land stewardship.  One need only look at the suburban sprawl in places like Houston or St. Louis to appreciate this observation.  Farmland and pastures in these areas (and others like them) were turned over to rapid development without ecological consideration or protection.  Even though New England supports one of the densest human populations in the U.S., it is also one of the most heavily forested regions.

Academic source:


5) Cape Cod and Colonial Homes:

The classic architecture of homes that is seen in a drive through quaint New England towns and villages is either the Cape Cod or Colonial style.  There are original examples of this architecture still in existence today in this towns, but more commonly seen are modern, fancier versions that copy the basic features of these styles:  central chimney, steep roof, windows and dormers, and either clapboard or shingle siding.

Colonial Style House
Cape Cod Style House

As mentioned earlier, the original English settlers of New England were primarily families of East Anglian stock.  They were solidly middle-class and practical, and built homes that reflected this mindset.  Their homes were built to withstand the long, often snowy, bitter New England winters.  They used building materials that were readily available, which was wood, and employed techniques and styles that were familiar from their homeland.  In keeping with their focus on simplicity and plainness, there was little adornment on their homes.


Academic source:

Virginia Savage McAlester. A Field Guide to American Houses. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2015.


6) Agrarian Roots:

Most New England Villages began as farming communities, with very little industry.  The seemingly unlimited land that was available in the New World attracted settlers that cleared the land for agriculture and grazing.  For over 200 years, the land in New England was deforested, eventually resulting in more than 70% destruction of regional forest cover.

Reminders of the agrarian past can be seen in the remnants of stone walls on conservation land forest.  These walls were built, using easily found granite rocks, to mark the property lines between farms.  Interestingly, unlike many other regions of the U.S., most of the New England forest is owned either privately or by nonprofits.  This is likely a combined consequence of these agrarian roots and the shrinking of agriculture in the region.

2012 USDA Agricultural Stats

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7) Transcendentalism and Romanticism:

Jack and Rose from the Titanic

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were among the literary giants who were proponents of these philosophies.  Both philosophies believe in the power of the individual and personal freedom and in the divinity within nature and humanity, not surprisingly cornerstones of the New England Village, which was the heritage of both of these men.

John Gast, “American Progress”, 1872

The combination of their educational and religious upbringing and the agrarian and forested natural beauty of the New England landscape were instrumental in shaping their beliefs in these philosophies.  The key components of the New England Village created an environment that nurtured this idealistic philosophy and social movement, which interestingly had progressive views on feminism and community, particularly for its time.

Academic source:  Wood, J.S. (1991), “Build, Therefore, Your Own World”; The New England Village as Settlement Ideal. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81: 32-50.


8) Manufacturing and Industrial Shift:

Industrial Shift

The shift from an agrarian to a manufacturing and industrial economy forever altered the idyllic image of the New England Village.  As the population shifted to the cities for job opportunities, many New England towns lost population and farms were either neglected or abandoned altogether.  The centerpieces of the agrarian New England Village, the church and obligation to community, were severely challenged and stressed.

Instead of largely self-contained farming communities, some New England towns and villages morphed into manufacturing and industrial hubs, often based on their proximity to falling water and newly-built road and railroads.  The urbanization of these towns and their surrounding towns marked the end of the New England Village in its original form in many of them.

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9) Transportation:

New England Villages also experienced transformation as modes of efficient transportation changed from water-based schooners and steamboats to land-based railroads and then cars.  As mentioned previously, the prosperous coastal New England towns and villages were challenged in terms of population and opportunity by the growing industrial centers made easily accessible by rail and then car.

Night Highway

Post-World War II, New England saw the explosion of prosperity that the rest of the country experienced, often resulting in somewhat reckless development.  The mass availability of the automobile and development of the interstate system had a further deteriorating effect on the New England Village mystique.

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10) Suburbanization:

After World War II, many New England Villages were further transformed from self-contained towns into suburban extensions of their closest metropolitan area.  Examples of this are the MetroWest, North Shore, and South Shore suburbs of Boston, and the Westchester County and southern Connecticut suburbs of New York City.

Levittown, PA

Town interests have changed from being primarily town-focused to regionally-focused in many of these New England towns and villages.  The generational commitment to the community is often lacking, with the resulting diminishing interest in the participatory dimensions that define community, such as Town Meeting attendance, church attendance, and so forth.  Hopefully, the New England Village does not become a core geographical imagination that is a distant memory only.

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