The city is located north of Boston, nearly at the head of the Mystic River Valley and roughly halfway between Lowell and Boston. Woburn was settled in 1640 and incorporated as a distinct township in 1642. It is one of the oldest and most historic communities in New England. Colonial Woburn once also encompassed the modern Massachusetts towns of Wilmington, Burlington and Winchester who broke off into separate townships in 1730, 1799 and 1850 respectively.
Though small tanning and shoemaking activities were begun by 1700, Woburn’s economy remained primarily agricultural until the early 19th century. The opening of the Middlesex Canal in 1803 provided Woburn tanners with a new means of obtaining tanbark and the leather business in town boomed. The opening of the Boston & Lowell Railroad in 1835 and its Woburn Loop line in 1844 rapidly expanded the shoe making and tanning industries. The early rubber industry was established in East Woburn by 1836. Charles Goodyear changed both the rubber industry and the world with his pioneer discovery – in East Woburn – of the “vulcanization” process in 1839.
Demand for shoe leather during the Civil War gave a boost to Woburn’s leather production, and by 1865 there were 21 tanning and currying establishments in town. Immigrants from Ireland, Nova Scotia and Canada moved to Woburn to take jobs in the tanneries. By 1885 Woburn was the leading leather producer in the area. The city retained this lead well into the 20th century, developing with it a range of associated support industries, including a chemical works, machine shops, and makers of tanners’ knives. Henry Thayer of Woburn developed the process of chrome tanning in 1901, which took the place of bark tanning. By the 1930s, however, under the combined adversities of the Great Depression and changing markets the tanning industry declined. By 1940 only six tanneries remained. Today there are none.
The Woburn of today is mix of quiet neighborhoods, vibrant planned industrial parks and wooded conservation areas such as the Horn Pond Reservation and Forest Park.