Upton (population 7,200) was founded in 1735 from the outlying areas of four nearby towns. Families worked small farms, with the women spinning wool, making candles, and preserving food, while the men plied supplemental specialties such as blacksmithing or shoemaking.
Between 1730 and 1850, Upton was dotted with small shoe production shops, called ten-footers, which gradually evolved into large assembly line manufacturing companies.
Today, the Upton Historical Society arranges visits to an authentic, circa 1812, "ten-footer" boot shop. Many Upton women braided straw hats in their homes, a tradition that continues today. In the 1830s, entrepreneur William Knowlton turned this cottage industry into what became the largest women's hat factory in the world.
Although changing fashions closed the plant in 1973, the historic factory has been converted into apartments, preserving a key part of Upton's story. A local Eagle Scout produced a brochure documenting the many historic buildings in town that were built or used for housing Knowlton factory workers and management.
Another local highlight is the Polly Dean Bradish House, built in 1844 and one of two known stations in Upton on the Underground Railroad. An outspoken abolitionist, Polly is supposed to have moved more than 500 slaves through her home. Upton's only remaining 18th-century dwelling, the 1740 Dr. Josiah Dean House, continues to be used as a private residence.
Upton is also home to one of the few remaining Grange Halls in the Blackstone Valley, a reminder of the once powerful social, political, and educational farmers' organization. Today Upton is seeking to protect its resources from being lost to development and is nominating two new National Register Historic Districts, encompassing some 200 properties.
Designated a Preserve America Community in June 2004.