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Sterling, Massachusetts
Sterling Town Common
Sterling Town Common
Official seal of Sterling, Massachusetts
Location in Worcester County and the state of Massachusetts.
Location in Worcester County and the state of Massachusetts.
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Worcester
Settled 1720
Incorporated 1781
 • Type Open town meeting
 • Total 31.6 sq mi (81.8 km2)
 • Land 30.5 sq mi (79.0 km2)
 • Water 1.1 sq mi (2.8 km2)
502 ft (153 m)
 • Total 7,985
 • Density 252.7/sq mi (97.62/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (Eastern)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 351 / 978
FIPS code 25-67385
GNIS feature ID 0619490

Sterling is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA. The population was 7,985 at the 2020 census.


Sterling was first settled by Europeans in 1720 and was officially incorporated in 1781.

Previous to its incorporation it was "the Second Parish of Lancaster," and was commonly called by a portion of its Indian name, Chocksett. The original Indian name of the area being Woonsechocksett. The land encompassing the Chocksett region was not originally included in the first land sold by the great Indian Chief Sholan to the settlers of the Lancaster grant. However, Sholan's nephew Tahanto would eventually sell the Chocksett land to inhabitants of Lancaster in 1713.

The first white settlers arrived in Chocksett seven years later in 1720, formerly inhabitants of Lancaster proper. Among these first settlers were families such as Beman, Sawyer, Houghton, and Osgood; names reflected to this day in the names of Sterling's oldest roads.

A short time after settlement, in 1733, the residents of the Chocksett area requested its own incorporation, separate from Lancaster, due to the "great inconvenience" of a long distance to the church in Lancaster's center. This request was denied. However, by 1780 the population of Chocksett was so numerous as to constitute a majority, and so the voters of the area voted out the existing Lancaster town officers and began to conduct town business and meetings in Chocksett. This was enough to convince the rest of Lancaster that it was now time for Chocksett, the Second Parish of Lancaster, to go its own way.

In 1781, Chocksett was incorporated as its own town: Sterling. The town derives its name from General William "Lord Stirling" Alexander, a Scottish expatriate, who served valiantly under Gen. George Washington in the New York and other campaigns. His portrait hangs in the town hall, and the town commemorated Alexander with a medallion during its bicentennial celebration in 1976. A duplicate portrait resides in the town hall of New Windsor, NY.

Residents recently approved and built new facilities for the police and fire departments. The town enjoys a low crime rate even though it has large metropolitan areas both north and south of its borders.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 31.6 square miles (82 km2), of which 30.5 square miles (79 km2) is land and 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2), or 3.42%, is water.

Interstate 190 cuts Sterling in half. Sterling is also crossed by Massachusetts Route 12, Massachusetts Route 62, Massachusetts Route 140, and Massachusetts Route 110.

Sterling is bordered by Leominster to the north, West Boylston to the south, Princeton and Holden to the west, Lancaster to the northeast, and Clinton and Boylston to the southeast. Sterling borders Boylston on the Wachusett Reservoir.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1850 1,805 —    
1860 1,881 +4.2%
1870 1,670 −11.2%
1880 1,414 −15.3%
1890 1,244 −12.0%
1900 1,420 +14.1%
1910 1,359 −4.3%
1920 1,305 −4.0%
1930 1,502 +15.1%
1940 1,713 +14.0%
1950 2,166 +26.4%
1960 3,193 +47.4%
1970 4,247 +33.0%
1980 5,440 +28.1%
1990 6,481 +19.1%
2000 7,257 +12.0%
2010 7,808 +7.6%
2020 7,985 +2.3%
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.
Old Sterling Town Hall
Old Town Hall

As of the census of 2000, there were 7,257 people, 2,573 households, and 2,068 families residing in the town. The population density was 237.7 people per square mile (91.8/km2). There were 2,637 housing units at an average density of 86.4 per square mile (33.4/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 98.06% White, 0.58% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.40% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.28% from other races, and 0.58% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.81% of the population.

There were 2,573 households, out of which 39.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 69.8% were married couples living together, 7.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.6% were non-families. 15.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.82 and the average family size was 3.16.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 27.5% under the age of 18, 5.6% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 27.1% from 45 to 64, and 9.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 99.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.1 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $67,188, and the median income for a family was $76,943. Males had a median income of $51,227 versus $32,734 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,844. About 1.7% of families and 2.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.5% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.


The Sterling public library began in 1871. In fiscal year 2008, the town of Sterling spent 1.59% ($289,567) of its budget on its public library—some $36 per person. The Library Building closed in 2002 so it could be renovated. During this time, the library was temporarily moved to the Old Town Hall. The renovation was finished in 2004, and the library returned to its original location.


Sterling provides town water to many residents although the more rural parts of town remain on private wells. The quality of the town water is high after the installation of a purification system. The water is drawn from a private underground spring which flows from the Chickopee Water Table. In the early 2000s town water supply was affected by high bacteria levels and residents were forced to boil water for three weeks until the situation was resolved. With the exception of the Waushacum Home Owner's Association (whose residents enjoy a private purification system) there are no town sewer services - all houses have private septic systems.

The town also offers curbside trash and recycling pickup for no additional fee. The town recycling center at the Sterling Department of Public Works closed permanently on July 1, 2015. Residents may use the Wachusett Watershed Regional Recycling Center in West Boylston, MA to drop off recycling and larger bulk items.

Sterling is one of 38 or so communities in the state that has its own municipal electric light company that is separate from other municipal government functions. Sterling ratepayers are the owners of this utility and reap the benefits of exceptional service and an early payment discount on their monthly bills. The Light Dept works under the direction and control of three elected Commissioners who serve rotating 3 year terms. The Light Board hires a Manager who runs day-to-day operations. In May 2013, the Light Board began the process of expanding to establish a Municipal Gas Company to bring natural gas service to town.

Points of interest

An annual event, the Sterling Fair, is a popular place to be in early to mid-September. The Sterling Fair is a 2 1/2 day, family oriented, community, agricultural fair with the emphasis on agriculture and education. There is no charge for admission or parking fees. There are carnival games and rides, as well as patron-submitted exhibits and art works, a petting zoo, contests, oxen pulls, a pancake breakfast held by the Sterling Chocksett Club, live music performance, a wide array of food options, and the popular hot air balloon rides.

A close proximity to Wachusett Mountain (state forest and ski area) and Leominster State Forest gives Sterling plenty of outdoor adventure.

Davis Farmland, a seasonal petting zoo for children and Davis Mega Maze, New England's only world class adventure cornfield maze.

Sholan Park located on Lake Waushacum has a beach area with a dock for swimming. It also has grills for cookouts, a sand volleyball court, and a boat ramp.


Sterling is part of the Wachusett Regional School District. Students between Grades K–4 attend Houghton Elementary School while students between Grades 5–8 attend Chocksett Middle School. Most Sterling residents attend Wachusett Regional High School in Holden for high school. Some Sterling residents however can attend Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg.

Private Schools

  • Applewild School, established in 1957; a private, independent co-educational day school for grades Pre-K–8 located in Fitchburg, MA.

Notable people

  • Ebenezer Butterick (1826–1903), inventor of tissue paper dress patterns, which revolutionized home sewing. The town's municipal building is located in the old Butterick School, which was named after Ebenezer Butterick's daughter, Mary Ellen
  • Edwin Conant, Businessman, Attorney, Philanthropist
  • Charles Herbert Colvin, aeronautical engineer
  • Jay Cutler, bodybuilder and four-time Mr. Olympia
  • Prentiss Mellen, United States senator (1818–1820)
  • William Francis Nichols, Arizona Territorial Secretary
  • Le Gage Pratt, U.S. Representative from New Jersey
  • Mary Sawyer Tyler, the alleged real-life "Mary" of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb"
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