Incorporated in 1639, the boundaries of Sudbury included (by 1653) what is now Wayland (which split off in 1780, initially as East Sudbury), and parts of present day Framingham, Marlborough, Stow and Maynard (the latter town splitting off in 1871). Nipmuc Indians lived in what is now Sudbury, including Tantamous, a medicine man, and his son Peter Jethro, who deeded a large parcel of land to Sudbury for settlement in 1684.
The original town center and meetinghouse were located near the Sudbury River at what is now known as Wayland's North Cemetery. For the residents on the west side of the river, it was a treacherous passage in the winter and attendance at both worship services and Town Meetings was compulsory. In 1723 the West Parish meetinghouse was built west of the river at an area known as Rocky Plains (presently the Town Center). It served as a place for both worship and Town Meetings. After the split with Wayland, the new location grew to have houses, a school, and in 1846, a new Town House. Since then, the Sudbury Center Historic District has changed little.
Sudbury also contributed the most militia during King Philip's War and was the site of the well-known attack on Sudbury. Ephraim Curtis was a successful leader of the militia of West Sudbury and would lend his name to the town's junior high school. 24–75 Sudbury militia participated in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, in 1775, where Sudbury members sniped on British Red Coats returning to Boston.
One of Sudbury's historic landmarks, the Wayside Inn, claims to be the country's oldest operating inn, built and run by the Howe family for many generations. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote Tales of a Wayside Inn, a book of poems published in 1863. In the book, the poem The Landlord's Tale was the source of the immortal phrase "listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." Henry Ford bought the inn in 1923, restored it and donated it to a charitable foundation which continues to run it as an operating inn to this day. Ford also built a boys' school on the property, as well as a grist mill, and the Martha-Mary Chapel. He brought in the Redstone Schoolhouse from Sterling, which was reputed to be the school in Sarah Josepha Hale's nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb. However, Giuseppi Cavicchio's refusal to sell his water rights scuttled Henry Ford's plans to build an auto parts factory at the site of Charles O. Parmenter's mill in South Sudbury.
In the period after World War II, Sudbury experienced rapid growth in population and industry. Defense contractor Raytheon was a significant employer, operating a large research facility in Sudbury from 1958 until 2016. Another major employer in that period was Sperry Rand. In the 1970s, the town was home to many of the engineers working in the minicomputer revolution at Digital Equipment Corporation in nearby Maynard. Sudbury was also one of the largest carnation-growing towns, with many greenhouse operations.
From 1960–1969, Sudbury challenged and prevailed against a proposal by Boston Edison Company that would have installed overhead transmission lines through what is now Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Ultimately, the line was instead buried under streets to Maynard.
Residentially, Sudbury's 1-acre (4,000 m2) zoning bylaws helped the town maintain a more rural character through the 1970s and 1980s when developments of single-family Colonials and large Capes established it as an affluent location. Economic growth was restricted to the town's main thoroughfare, US Route 20. Significant tracts of open space—including much wetland—were preserved in the northern half of town and along the Hop Brook corridor flowing from the Wayside Inn Historic District in the southwest part of town through the King Philip Historic District (the site of a conflict in King Philip's War) and into the Sudbury River at the southeast border with Wayland. A significant portion of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (opened in 2005) is located in Sudbury.
The town's ZIP code of 01776 was specially assigned in recognition of the town's historical connections to the Revolutionary War, according to the Sudbury Historical Society. Residents of the town at the time disagree. The code was assigned without regard to historic significance.
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