Monadnock Moments No. 72: Wakefield at South Reading
Cyrus Wakefield was born in what is now the town of Roxbury, New Hampshire on February 7, 1811. He was the third child of James and Hannah Hemenway Wakefield. Cyrus grew up on the family farm and walked 1½ miles to the local school when it was in session.
At age 15 Cyrus left home and went to Boston declaring that he “would achieve success and make a name of which his friends would be proud.” Cyrus became a clerk in a grocery store upon his arrival in Boston. He bought and sold barrels in his spare time and soon saved $1000 from this enterprise.
Cyrus used his savings to go into business for himself, and in 1838 he formed a grocery firm with his brother Enoch. Several years later the Wakefield’s accidentally purchased some rattan that had been thrown from a ship as trash. They were able to sell the rattan at a profit to some chair makers who used it to seat chairs.
This favorable purchase led to others and Cyrus soon began a new business that bought and sold rattan. In 1856 Cyrus decided to begin the manufacture of rattan in this country rather than importing it. He made furniture and carriage bodies from the split rattan and developed uses for all of the rattan waste. The business was a success. Cyrus soon built a large factory for his growing business in South Reading, Massachusetts. The rattan works soon covered ten acres and Cyrus became wealthy.
In 1867 Cyrus gave the town of South Reading $100,000 for the construction of an impressive new town hall. As a result, in January of 1868 the townspeople of South Reading voted to change the name of their town to Wakefield, Massachusetts in honor of Cyrus Wakefield, the former farm boy from Roxbury, New Hampshire.