In the early 1870s, Newton was growing rapidly. Its population had more than doubled over the previous few decades. The water supply needed improvement. The streets were taking a beating from increased traffic. Schools needed more space. And its leaders were pondering what was next for the town that didn’t make sense to keep as a town.
Some leaders—like former Gov. William Clafflin, who lived in Newton—worried a city government would mean corruption and higher taxes and wanted Newton to become part of Boston.
Others, including former Selectman James Francis Clark Hyde, wanted to preserve Newton’s local democracy and pushed for cityhood.
Hyde eventually won that debate. In 1873, voters (at the time, exclusively men) opted to turn Newton into a city and elected Hyde its first mayor.
“It appears that lively debate is in our DNA,” current Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, the city’s first woman mayor, said at the city’s yearlong 150th anniversary celebration kicked off at City Hall Monday.
Indeed, the “Should Newton be a city?” debate of 1873 made the zoning debate of 2023 look like a Patty Cake match.
“Several feisty town meetings ensued, and a small contingent in Newton Corner were so opposed to the city government model that they threatened to secede if Newton voted ‘yes’ to become a standalone city,” Fuller said.
A Special Meeting approved the switch to a city government in a landslide vote.
On January 5, 1874—Inauguration Day—Newton officially became a city and Hyde took office. Hyde would use his position to advocate for updated street lighting, increased railroad access, creation of the Newton Free Public Library and other things that would transform the community.
“So you can see that Newton is a city defined by full-throttled debate, where strong-minded residents voice their opinions and committed elected officials marshal the resources to achieve our common good,” Fuller said.
On Monday, Fuller and Newton Police Chief John Carmichael sliced and handed out cake to residents in the War Memorial Auditorium while families toured City Hall and kids enjoyed a performance of Jenny the Juggler,
Monday’s event was the first in a yearlong series of events planned to celebrate Newton’s 150th anniversary as a city.
Check out these photos from Monday’s celebration: