As peatlands form they create a temporal archive of community development, allowing the reconstruction of vegetation dynamics through the analysis of sediments and the development of detailed chronologies of successional change. Peatland formation occurs through two mechanisms: (i) terrestrialization, when a water body fills with sediments and peat; and (ii) paludification, the conversion of dry land to peatland. In temperate regions, where high summer temperatures may limit peat accumulation, general models of peatland development suggest that allogenic factors such as climate change control peatland development and that terrestrialization is the primary mechanism of formation. This study evaluates this widely accepted model by comparing the developmental histories of three peatlands within the same climate region in New England in order to: (i) describe the development and timing of successional events among peatlands; (ii) document the roles of paludification and terrestrialization as developmental mechanisms; and (iii) evaluate the importance of climate change vs. autogenic factors in peatland development in this temperate region. Basin morphometry, sediment stratigraphies, and chronologies of community change determined through radiocarbon dating indicate that peatland development at each site involved terrestrialization followed by paludification, with no apparent influence of broad-scale climate change on the timing of these processes. Paludification was consistently initiated coincident with the consolidation of a shrub mat across each lake-basin, and was controlled in extent and rate by the topography of the adjoining uplands. The timing of stratigraphic changes varied among sites, suggesting that autogenic factors associated with the accumulation of peat rather than regional climate change controlled development. These results provide the foundation for a model of temperate peatland development driven by autogenic factors and caution against the use of temperate peatland development as a proxy for climatic reconstruction.