What follows are excerpts from the History of Sherborn, written in 1974 (for the tricentennial of Sherborn) by Anne Carr Shaughnessy (available online at History of Sherborn, 1974.
Initially the question of town water arose in Sherborn in the 1870s and was to plague the town for over 50 years. The area which touched off the situation was the northern part of town. This is the section which had caused heated tempers in 1700 when Framingham was incorporated and its Sherborn bounds had to be left undecided for ten years. At that time there were 17 families in the disputed area who wanted to become part of Framingham because it was closer to them, but Sherborn, who had a valid claim here, was reluctant to give them up. Though remonstrances were sent to the Court by the inhabitants of Sherborn and by its minister, the great contention was finally settled by the strong hand of the law against Sherborn, when the Court passed the order in 1710, that the section was to be included in Framingham and to be "accounted part of that town forever." The Court also compensated Sherborn by giving her 4,000 acres of land (which later was incorporated as the town of Douglas).
This transfer to Framingham left a triangular piece of Sherborn projecting between Framingham and Natick which, in 1882, had but five or six houses situated upon it. Although containing approximately 100 acres, it seemed the most unlikely spot for a village as only a small portion was arable with the rest in swampy lowland. However, the Para Rubber Company had set up a large factory in South Framingham not far from the Sherborn line. As a number of the employees for this company would not be from the area, living quarters had to be provided. The owner of this Sherborn acreage made arrangements with the Para Company to erect several blocks of tenements on his land with the manufactory guaranteeing the rents. Soon, others made similar arrangements, or erected cottages for rent, until within two years large numbers of dwellings stood on the only land that was suitable for building.
The number of new residents was estimated at 300 and it became necessary to build and maintain new roads. The school in that section of town which had never been filled was soon overflowing and a new one had to be built. The people, though living in Sherborn, were really not a part of it as their interests and activities all centered in Framingham.
This staid old town of Sherborn was not a little disturbed by these events, and the crux of the problem centered around the providing of water and sewerage for such a densely populated area.
In 1889, a petition was presented to the Legislature to take from Sherborn this territory and another larger strip amounting in all to 575 acres and annex it to Framingham. Historian Doctor Blanchard commented at the time that only the triangle should have been asked for and not the large area mentioned in the petition.
Frank H. Butterworth of South Framingham was the spokesman for the petitioners and stated that the residents of the area lived three miles from Sherborn center and were already a part of Framingham in everything but the name and the privilege of acting in its public affairs. He was not being very diplomatic when he added that they were not receiving the benefits from Framingham's excellent school system, library, water service, fire department and other superior public institutions. He and others, on invitation, attended a Special Town Meeting in Sherborn to discuss this question, and he referred to the compensation to be paid by Framingham but was very indefinite about it, Sherborn was not committing herself, but she did appoint a committee of five to represent the Town at the Legislature.
There was a great amount of interest in the subject and it was the topic of frequent discussion among the inhabitants. The concensus was that the people of Sherborn would not be easily persuaded to give up this acreage, especially if there were not a "fair and equitable compensation," which she had become accustomed to expect, but that Framingham would eagerly vote to accept the gift.
Charles Francis Adams, editor of the Sherborn Tribune, led the opposition and argued that it would be "an act of injustice as well as a financial injury to the town" to part with 575 acres that was "not only self-supporting but able to pay a share towards the maintenance of the Centre." He presented many arguments for not giving up this acreage on which lived one third of the total population of Sherborn. One of his reasons was that the Women's Reformatory, whose lands were included in the 575 acres, "is of some value as an advertising medium to the town of Sherborn and the honor which is conferred upon the town by possessing the only female reformatory in the world is of no small importance."
At the State House hearing on the "petition of certain citizens of Sherborn and Framingham that that part of the former town commonly known as 'Sherbornville' be annexed to Framingham," counsel for the petitioners presented their arguments and Franklin Grout spoke for Sherborn. Except for one resident, "who got considerably warmed up before he was through" the opposition was mild. Even the Sherborn Committee felt that Sherborn people would favor the line change. The Great and General Court, Chapter 273, drafted an "Act to annex part of the Town of Sherborn to the Town of Framingham," which under due process of law had to be voted on by each of the towns. In May of 1890, the editor of the Framingham Tribune wrote that the Act was a fair one and that "the matter now only awaits the favorable action of the town of Framingham to become law." However, a few days before their June third Town Meeting to vote on the matter, Framingham sentiment had definitely turned against the proposition, for people there had been seriously considering the possible expense involved in sewerage construction. The circulars distributed during the day of Town Meeting were perhaps not necessary. They stated that the annexation was a ploy of Boston's Council and her Agents to have Framingham drain the swamps and install a system for sewerage because Sherborn couldn't afford to do it, but the result was already a foregone conclusion. The referendum was soundly defeated by Framingham and the question was left to fester and plague the towns for another 34 years.
Interesting to see that it was Framingham that turned down that first annexation deal in 1890. Framingham would be far more willing in 1923 when the issue would come up again.
The Town boundary between Sherborn and Framingham, after 1710, ran along Beaver Dam Brook. A small bridge, which is still there, was built over the brook at Beaver Street by the two towns. The Women's Reformatory was in Sherborn, having been constructed in 1877, at the urging of some Sherborn citizens, and the Commonwealth Gas Company was also within our [Sherborn's] bounds. The area was known as North Sherborn. Many of the people were oriented towards South Framingham, where they worked and shopped, but many also preferred to be involved in Sherborn's affairs and held offices on several Town boards.
Since Sherborn did not then have her zoning laws, the properties in North Sherborn were built close together, making water and sewerage a real problem. In 1911, Sherborn had contracted with the Town of Framingham to pipe water to these homes on the town's border, as had been done long before for the Reformatory.
During the years since the defeat of the Annexation Act in 1890, which would have made this section of Sherborn a part of Framingham, the Town had given much attention to this part of town. The three and a half miles of roads there were as good as or better than those in the rest of town. The need for a sewerage system in this section was a vital question, however, as was the concomitant need for municipal water.
When World War I was over, concerned people in both parts of town tried to find a good solution to the problem. One answer proposed was the old one of annexation. Its proponents focused their attention on the question of 'town water' with the expressed opinion that with that defeated, the accomplishment of divestment would readily follow. They also noted that in a short time there would be as many voters in the north precinct as there were in the south, and that town water might then be approved.
The Town Meetings held in the year 1923, were Sherborn's most turbulent. In the Warrant for the regular March Meeting which was twice adjourned, there were 55 articles, and the 41st one was concerned with the installation and operation of a water system and the issuance of bonds to defray the cost of the same. Voting was done by ballot, using the checklist, because a bond issue, then as now, required a two-thirds vote. [To make a long story short, the motion was defeated.]
A Special Town Meeting was called in May 1923, to vote on Annexation, and it was voted to establish boundary lines with Framingham, making part of Sherborn become part of Framingham. The article covered three pages and was concerned with committees to meet with Framingham, the laying out of bounds and the requests concerning surveying and legal expenses. Framingham voted to accept the offer at their June Town Meeting, and plans were drafted by the two towns to be presented to the Legislature, whose acceptance and proposal would be returned to each town in January 1924, to be ratified by a referendum.
The intervening months were trying times for the Town, for there were two sides to this question and each one had valid reasons and figures to back what they felt was best for the Town and its people. Under consideration was what proved to be nearly half a million dollars of taxable property, included in 575 acres. Unfortunately, the press of both Framingham and Natick were numbered among the proponents of annexation, and they antagonized many who might otherwise have been sympathetic.
The Act of the General Court required that the Referendum be held before June first, and Sherborn's vote was cast for Annexation on May 31, 1924, thus eliminating any chance for reconsideration. The Referendum read "Shall an Act passed by the General Court in 1924 entitled, 'An Act to annex a part of the Town of Sherborn to the Town of Framingham' be accepted?" The vote was 318 to 269 with 3 blanks. The legal transfer would take place on January 1, 1925, and many Boards, including the Board of Selectmen, would have to replace members who would no longer be Sherborn residents after that date.
Sherborn basically gave away North Sherborn to Framingham because she didn't want to deal with providing an adequate water system for North Sherborn.