The town was first settled by Europeans in 1661 as Nemasket, later changed to Middlebury, and officially incorporated as Middleborough in 1669. The name Nemasket came from a Native American settlement along the small river that now bears the same name. Nemasket may have meant "place of fish", due to the large amount of herring that migrate up the river each spring. There are no contemporary records that indicate the name Middlebury was taken from a place in England, and changed to the more modern Middleborough. The names Middlebury and Middleborough were actually derived from the city of Middelburg, Zeeland, the westernmost province of the Netherlands. Middelburg was an international intellectual center and economic powerhouse. The English religious dissenters called the Brownists developed their governance institutions in Middelburg before emigrating on the Mayflower, and were the earliest settlers of Middleborough where their town and church governance ethics were continued.
During King Philip's War (1675–76), the town's entire populace took shelter within the confines of a fort constructed along the Nemasket River. The site is located behind the old junior high school (now a kindergarten), and is marked by a state historical commission marker along Route 105. Before long, the fort was abandoned and the population withdrew to the greater shelter of the Plymouth Colony; in their absence, the entire village was burned to the ground, and it would be several years before the town would be refounded. Western Middleborough broke away in 1853 and formed the town of Lakeville, taking with it the main access to the large freshwater lakes there, including Assawompset Pond.
Middleborough was once a large producer of shoes and is still home to the Alden Shoe Company, one of the last remaining shoe manufacturers in America. The local Maxim Motors manufactured fire engines from 1914-1989. Middleborough has since become the cranberry capital of the world, hosting the corporate headquarters of Ocean Spray Cranberries. Notable sights include the 1870s Victorian-style town hall, the Beaux Art style town library (1903), and in the spring, the Nemasket River alewife and blueback herring run upstream to the Assawompset Ponds complex to spawn.
In recent history, Middleborough has made its mark through the prowess of its Little League Baseball program. In 1994 the Middleborough All Stars reached the Little League World Series by defeating Milburn-Short Hills, New Jersey to take the East Region title. The team would finish 3rd in the United States. They are one of only two Massachusetts Little League teams to win the East title (Andover Little League, 1988) before the splitting of the New England and Mid-Atlantic Regions in 2001. In 1999, the team again won the Massachusetts State title and fell in the East Region final to Toms River, New Jersey - the eventual U.S. runner-up.
Since 2000, the team has reached the State semi-finals five times, finishing third in the state in 2000 and 2003, and second in 2002 and 2008. In 2012, they finished fourth in the state. The 2012 team was coached by Skeeter Porter and Ron Holmgren. The 2002 team was only beaten by U.S. runner-up, Jesse Burkett Little League of Worcester.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 72.2 square miles (186.9 km2), of which 69.1 square miles (178.9 km2) is land and 3.1 square miles (8.0 km2), or 4.27%, is water. Middleborough is the second largest municipality in Massachusetts in terms of area, smaller only than Plymouth.
Middleborough lies on the western border of Plymouth County. It is bordered by Bridgewater and Halifax to the north, Plympton and Carver to the east, Wareham and Rochester to the south, and Lakeville, Taunton and Raynham to the west. Despite its name, Middleborough is not located anywhere near the other 11 "-boroughs" in the state, lying south and east of all of them. The town is approximately 15 miles (24 km) west of Plymouth, 30 miles (48 km) east of Providence, Rhode Island and 40 miles (64 km) south of Boston.
Middleborough's rivers and brooks feed in two directions. The Taunton River, Nemasket River and their tributaries flow southeastward as part of the Taunton River Watershed, which empties into Narragansett Bay. The other waterways of the town, including the Weweantic River, flow southward into Buzzards Bay. Along Middleborough's border with Lakeville lie the Assawompset, Pocksha and Great Quittacas ponds. Tispaquin Pond, Woods Pond, and several other ponds make up the town's other bodies of water. Middleborough has four wildlife management areas, as well as the Beaver Dam, Great Cedar and Little Cedar Swamps, the swamps being located in the north of town. The town is also the site of several cranberry bogs, especially in the southeastern part of town along the Carver town line. Ocean Spray's headquarters are just over the town line in Lakeville.
Interstate 495 runs through the town on its way to Cape Cod. The town is also crossed by U.S. Route 44, as well as Massachusetts routes 18, 28 and 105, as well as a short, 1,000-foot (300 m) section of Route 58 which passes through the southeast corner of town. Route 79's eastern terminus is on the town line at Route 105; the "Entering Middleborough" sign is barely fifty feet from the end of the road. Routes 18, 28 and 44 meet at a two lane rotary adjacent to I-495 just west of the center of town. Two of I-495's four interchanges are located there. I-495's interchange with Route 24 is located just 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northwest of the town line.
Since the 1840s Middleborough has served as a major rail transportation hub for southeastern Massachusetts, with at one time five rail lines radiating out from the town. Today three rail lines radiate from Middleborough, toward Boston, Taunton and Cape Cod. Two rail freight companies serve Middleborough: CSX Transportation, which serves the Boston, Taunton and a short portion of the Cape Cod lines; and the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad, which serves Cape Cod. The nearby Middleborough/Lakeville commuter rail station of the MBTA's commuter rail system provides frequent direct service to Boston's South Station, and seasonal service to Cape Cod via the CapeFLYER train. The nearest inter-city (Amtrak) passenger rail stations are Providence, Route 128 station in Westwood and Boston's South Station.
The nearest regional airports are Taunton Municipal Airport and Plymouth Municipal Airport; the nearest national and international airports are T. F. Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, and Logan International Airport in Boston. From 1954 to 1959, a small runway called North Middleboro Airpark was constructed. It was a 3,000 foot-long paved runway, although it was not depicted in the November 1954 Boston Sectional Chart. Sometime between 1982-1994 it was closed,as it was depicted simply as "Landing Strip" on the 1994 USGS topo map. A small field in South Middleborough is also used a place for recreational aircraft, but not for transportation.
As of the census of 2000, there were 19,941 people, 6,981 households, and 5,117 families residing in the town. The population density was 286.7 people per square mile (110.7/km²). There were 7,249 housing units at an average density of 104.2 per square mile (40.2/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.1% White, 1.3% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.4% Asian, <0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from other races, and 1.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.8% of the population.
There were 6,981 households out of which 38.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.4% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 20.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.78 and the average family size was 3.23.
In the town the population was spread out with 27.7% under the age of 18, 6.9% from 18 to 24, 32.8% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 10.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 96.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.1 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $52,755, and the median income for a family was $65,173. Males had a median income of $60,854 versus $40,570 for females. The per capita income for the town was $75,000.00
Middleborough is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a part of three separate districts, the Tenth and Twelfth Bristol and Twelfth Plymouth. The town is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a part of the First Plymouth and Bristol district, which also includes Berkley, Bridgewater, Carver, Dighton, Marion, Raynham, Taunton and Wareham. The town is home to the Fourth Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police. On the national level, Middleborough is a part of Massachusetts's 9th congressional district, and is currently represented by William R. Keating.
Middleborough is governed by the open town meeting form of government, which is led by a town manager and a board of selectmen. The town's services are centralized downtown, with the fire and police headquarters being just to the north of the town hall, and the central post office being northwest of it. The town library is also located downtown.
A second part-time fire department is operated further south along Route 28 in South Middleboro. A third, temporary station was built in the 2000s as the surrogate home for the downtown facility, which was closed for substantial renovations. This third station, near the rotary north of the center of town, has subsequently been closed.
Middleborough has its own school system, headed by a school committee and superintendent. There is one school for kindergarten children, the Memorial Early Childhood Center, housed in the old junior high (previously the old high school). It opened in September 2007 after a $13 million renovation. The Mary K. Goode Elementary and the Henry B. Burkland Elementary Schools serve grades 1 through 5. The John T. "Tiger" Nichols, Jr. Middle School (1999) serves grades 6 through 8, and the Middleborough High School serves grades 9 through 12. Middleborough High's mascot is the "Sachem", and their colors are black and orange. Other sports teams in town include the semi-pro football team: the Middleborough Cobras and the middle school baseball team: the Tigers. The school's main rival is Carver High School, especially in math team.
Middleborough is also home to the Frederick L. Chamberlain School, a private institution that serves students from around the world struggling with learning disabilities.
In 1856, Middleborough-born, Baltimore businessman-wholesale hardware merchant, banker, and steamship line owner, Enoch Pratt, (1808-1896), established as one of his first philanthropies in The Pratt Free School and later added additional bequests upon its incorporation in 1865. It later became a grammar school, preparing students for entering the Middleborough High School. Later in 1882-1886, he endowed the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the nation's first circulating, public library system (with a central library and five branches) and later further endowed a mental health institution, the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.
On June 11, 2012, Middleborough made national headlines after residents approved an ordinance outlawing the use of profanity in public that is punishable by a $20 fine. It passed 183-50 in the town of over 23,000 residents. Many legal experts say the law violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Dozens of residents on both sides of the issue attended a protest in front of the town hall. The Massachusetts attorney general will review the bylaw to determine if it is constitutional and adheres to state law. The Massachusetts state director for the American Civil Liberties Union said, "the Supreme Court has ruled that the government can't prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity." The town meeting actually took the previously existing profanity ban and decriminalized it, making it a civil offense subject to a fine.Isaac Backus, Baptist pastor and founding father during the American Revolution
Joseph Barker, minister and congressman
Samuel Breck, general
Ebenezer N. Briggs, Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives and President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate
Wayne Maurice Caron, sailor - Medal of Honor recipient KIA
Corey Carrier, child actor
Howard A. Coffin, congressman
Rick Fuller, professional wrestler
Daniel J. Kelleher, banker and businessman
Erik Lindgren, composer
Count Primo Magri, a dwarf celebrity with the entertainment shows and circuses of P. T. Barnum
Sean Newcomb, baseball player at Hartford University, drafted in the 1st Round (15th Overall) in the MLB 2014 First Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels
Enoch Pratt, (1808-1896), businessman, industrialist, banker and school founder in 1856/1865 of The Pratt Free School in Middleborough and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, the first circulating, public library system in the country, and further endowed the Sheppard-Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland.
Patrick Regan, army officer
Deborah Sampson, female soldier of the American Revolution who dressed as a man in order to serve in combat
Jay Allen Sanford, author and cartoonist co-creator of Rock 'N' Roll Comics, Revolutionary Comics, Carnal Comics, and columnist/cartoonist for the San Diego Reader
Ebenezer Sproat, Continental Army Colonel, pioneer, surveyor and first sheriff of the Northwest Territory and Ohio
Cephas Thompson, portrait painter
General Tom Thumb, stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton, dwarf celebrity with P. T. Barnum
Glenn Tufts, pro baseball player and scout
Walt Uzdavinis, American football player
Lavinia Warren, dwarf with P.T. Barnum who married Gen. Tom Thumb and later Count Primo Magri
Minnie Warren, dwarf with P.T. Barnum
Tom Thumb House, home of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren
Middleborough Historical Museum, with extensive collection of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren items
Robbins Museum of Archaeology, collections focused on the prehistory of New England's Native Americans