History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1800–1999

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The history of Dedham, Massachusetts, from 1800 to 1999 saw tremendous growth and change come to the town. Having been named Dedham shiretown of the newly formed Norfolk County in 1793, the town got an influx of new residents and visitors. This growth was aided by new turnpikes and railroads. In the 19th century many former farms would become businesses and homes for those who commuted into Boston. The population of the town grew by more than 10 times, and included Horace Mann, Louis Brandeis, and Henry Bradford Endicott.

The Town government expanded dramatically with the institution of the public library, the police department, fire department, department of public works, and others. St. Mary's Church was established, with William B. Gould I doing the plaster work. A number of schools were established, including Dedham High School, Noble and Greenough School, and Ursuline Academy of Dedham. The Town was central to three major court cases, the Fairbanks Case, the Dedham Case, and the world-famous Sacco and Vanzetti Case

The "scenery" of the town was described as "varied and picturesque" with "an appearance of being well kept, and the roads are noticeably good." By the 200th anniversary of the town's incorporation in 1836, Dedham was "a thriving commercial and manufacturing center" and "a town which had long been a focus for the vigorous political activity popularly associated with the Jacksonian era."


The Norfolk House was built in 1802 and once hosted a speech by Abraham Lincoln.

Turnpikes, including those linking Boston and Providence and Dedham and Hartford, were laid through town during the first few years of the 19th century. Inns and taverns sprung up along the new roads as more than 600 coaches would pass through Dedham each day on their way to Boston or Providence.[1] The stable behind Gay's Tavern could hold over 100 horses and eight horse teams could be switched within two minutes.[2]

In 1802 a local mason named Martin Marsh built his brick home at what is today 19 Court Street and was then right on one of the new turnpikes. He saw the traffic flowing daily past his house and quickly turned his home into a tavern. His establishment, the Norfolk House, like the other inns and taverns in Dedham at that time, were bustling with the arrival of both the turnpikes and the courts. He maintained the tavern until 1818, and then sold it to Moses Gray and Francis Alden. It was this partnership that hosted President Andrew Jackson for lunch as he and his entourage passed through town in 1832.[2]

The Norfolk House was also a hotbed for Republican politics in its day. It competed with the Democratic Phoenix House, so named because it rebuilt after having been destroyed by arson, which stood at the site of the present day Knights of Columbus building on the corner of Washington and High streets in Dedham Square. The proprietors of the two establishments generally stayed away from each other but "every once in a while they slipped and then there would be a short burst of newspaper venom."[2]

A young Congressman named Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Norfolk House[1] on September 20, 1848 while in Massachusetts to campaign for Zachary Taylor.[3] He appeared uncomfortable as he arrived but

His indifferent manner vanished as soon as he opened his mouth. He went right to work. He turned up the cuffs of his shirt. Next, he loosened his necktie, and soon after it he took it off altogether. All the time, he was gaining upon his audience. He soon had it as by a spell. I never saw men more delighted. He began to bubble out with humor. For plain pungency of humor, it would have been difficult to surpass his speech. The speech ended in a half-hour. The bell that called to the steam cars sounded. Mr. Lincoln instantly stopped. ‘I am engaged to speak at Cambridge tonight, and I must leave.’ The whole audience seemed to rise in protest. ‘Go on! Finish it!’ was heard on every hand. One gentleman arose and pledged to take his horse and carry him across country. But Mr. Lincoln was inexorable.[4]

The Norfolk House was also the site where "on June 4, 1810, in an expression of public outrage, a number of Dedham citizens assembled" and founded the Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves. Today the "Society is the oldest continually existing horse thief apprehending organization in the United States, and one of Dedham’s most venerable social organizations."[5]

Court cases[edit]

The Fairbanks case[edit]

The first major trial to be held at the new courthouse was that of Jason Fairbanks. He lived in the family homestead on East Street and was courting Elizabeth Fales, two years his junior at 18. Jason had told a friend that "planned to meet Betsey, in order to have the matter settled" and that he "either intended to violate her chastity, or carry her to Wrentham, to be married, for he had waited long enough."[6] On May 21, 1801, Fales met Fairbanks in a "birch grove next to 'Mason’s Pasture'" and told him that she could not marry him.[7]

Fales was stabbed 11 times, including once in the back, and her throat was slashed. Fairbanks staggered to her home, covered in blood, and told her family that she had committed suicide. He also told them that he had also attempted to take his own life, but was unable to, and that accounted for his wounds[7] which left him "still alive, but in a most deplorable situation."[8] The editor of the local paper, Herman Mann, was called to the scene and reported the incident in the next edition of his weekly newspaper under the headline "MELANCHOLY CATASTROPHE!"[9]

Fairbanks' murder trial opened on August 5, 1801 at the Courthouse but interest in the case involving two prominent families was so great that the trial was moved to the First Parish Meetinghouse across the street. When that venue proved to still be too small, the trial again moved to the Town Common. Prosecuting the case was the then-Attorney General and later Governor James Sullivan and defending Fairbanks was future Boston mayor and US Senator, Harrison Gray Otis. The trial lasted three days after which Fairbanks was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He escaped on August 18, at which time a $1,000 bounty offered for his capture and a newspaper implored readers to "Stop the Murderer!"[7]

Fairbanks was captured in Skeensborough, New York as he attempted to escape to Canada. On September 10 he was returned to Dedham from the Boston jail and was hanged. To ensure that he would not escape again two Army Cavalry and one volunteer militia units stood guard. In addition to the military presence, "the 10,000 people who showed up at the Town Common to witness the execution were five times the town’s population at the time."[7]

Within days of the execution the first of four installments of the Report of the Trial of Jason Fairbanks was published by the Boston firm Russell and Cutler. It was 87 pages long and was issued over the course of several months, making it "the first demonstrably popular trial report published in early national New England."[9] A number of books and pamphlets would be written about the case in the months and years to come including "one of the earliest novels based on an actual murder case," the Life of Jason Fairbanks: A Novel Founded on Fact.[10]

The Dedham case[edit]

The First Church of Dedham and church green.

In the early 19th century, all Massachusetts towns were Constitutionally required to tax their citizens "for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety."[11] All residents of a town were assessed, as members of the parish, whether or not they were also members of the church. The "previous and long standing practice [was to have] the church vote for the minister and the parish sanction this vote."[12]

In 1818 "Dedham [claimed] rights distinct from the church and against the vote of the church."[12] The town, as the parish, selected a liberal Unitarian minister, Rev. Alvan Lamson, to serve the First Church in Dedham. The members of the church were more traditional and rejected Lamson by a vote of 18–14. When the parish installed and ordained Lamson the majority of the Church left "with Deacon [Samuel] Fales who took parish records, funds and silver with him."[13] The parish, along with the members of the church who remained, installed their own deacons and sued to reclaim the church property.

The case reached the Supreme Judicial Court who ruled that "[w]hatever the usage in settling ministers, the Bill of Rights of 1780 secures to towns, not to churches, the right to elect the minister, in the last resort."[14] The case was a major milestone in the road towards the separation of church and state and led to the Commonwealth formally disestablishing the Congregational Church in 1833.[15]


The Dedham Public Library was established in 1872 and first occupied rented space at the corner of Court Street and Norfolk Street.[16] It built a permanent home in 1886 at the corner of Church and Norfolk Streets using funds left by Hannah Shuttleworth.[16] The building, made of Dedham Granite and trimmed with red sandstone, opened in 1888.[16] The Dedham Infirmary, also known as the Poor Farm, built a home on Elm Street in 1898.[17] It closed in February 1954.[17]

The first police officers were appointed in 1876 and worked each day from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.[18] The police department was originally housed on the first floor of Memorial Hall.[18] After the department purchased its first police motorcycle in 1923, Abe Rafferty was appointed the first motorcycle officer.[18] By 1936, there were 18 officers.[18]

A bill establishing a representative Town Meeting was established in 1928, and then amended in 1948.[19] It was almost amended again when a resident used a friendly representative in a neighboring community to introduce and pass a bill in the General Court.[19] A Charter was adopted later in the century, and amended again in the 21st century.

The Department of Public Works was created in 1933.[16] The Recreation Department was begun in the 1930s with an effort to build and staff three playgrounds around town.[17] By the 1960s there were 10 playgrounds.[17] The first Recreation Commission was elected in 1941.[17]

Fire Department[edit]

The firehouse in East Dedham was constructed in 1846 on Milton Street near the Old Stone Mill.[20] It was used until 1897, when the firehouse on Bussey Street was constructed.[20] Hose Number 3[a] was purchased by the town for the Milton Street station in 1891 and then moved to the Bussey Street location.[20] That building also housed a supply wagon.[20] The first fire chief was appointed in 1920.[21] Prior to that there was a four-member Board of Fire Engineers who had charge over fires.[21]

Hurricane Carol knocked down the East Dedham firehouse's 80 foot bell tower on August 31, 1954.[22] It flew across the station and landed on 219 Bussey St, the house next door, where Louise Guerrio was feeding her one-year-old son, Joseph.[22] It also crushed three cars parked on Bussey St.[22]

A firehouse was constructed on Westfield Street, near High Street, in 1906.[23][24] The lower level had horse stalls, a stable room, a hose wago, and engine room, and an opening to the paddock in the rear.[24] The second story had a sleeping room, a company room, a lavatory, a bath, and a hay and grain room.[24] The building housed horse drawn steamer engines.[24] It went out of service sometime in the 20th century, but still exists as a private residence.[23][24]

The central fire house was built at the corner of Washington and Bryant Streets.[24] It housed Steamer Number 1, Hose Number 1, and Hook and Ladder Number 1.[24] Both Hose Number 1, which carried 1,000' of hose, and Hook and Ladder Number 1, were drawn by two horses.[24]

Firefighters began wearing uniforms in 1906.[20]

Town Clerks[edit]

Year first elected Town Clerk[25] Total years served
1812 Josiah Daniell 3
1815 Richard Ellis 29
1824 John Bullard 1
1845 Jonathan H. Cobb 3

19th century representation in the General Court[edit]

Year Representative Representative Representative Senator Notes
1800 Isaac Bullard [26]
1801 Isaac Bullard Ebenezer Fisher [26]
1802 Ebenezer Fisher [26]
1803 Ebenezer Fisher [26]
1804 Ebenezer Fisher [26]
1805 Ebenezer Fisher John Endicott [26]
1806 Ebenezer Fisher John Endicott Isaac Bullard [26]
1807 John Endicott Isaac Bullard Samuel H. Deane [26]
1808 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1809 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1810 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1811 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1812 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1813 John Endicott Samuel H. Deane Jonathan Richards [26]
1814 John Endicott Erastus Worthington Abner Ellis [26]
1815 Erastus Worthington Samuel H. Deane Abner Ellis [26]
1816 John Endicott William Ellis Abner Ellis [26]
1817 Abner Ellis William Ellis Timothy Gay, Jr. [26]
1818 William Ellis [26]
1819 William Ellis [26]
1820 William Ellis [26]
1821 Edward Dowse [26]
1822 John W. Ames [26]
1823 William Ellis Abner Ellis Pliny Bingham [26]
1824 William Ellis Pliny Bingham Josiah S. Fisher [26]
1825 Richard Ellis [26]
1826 Richard Ellis [26]
1827 Richard Ellis Horace Mann [26]
1828 Richard Ellis Horace Mann [26]
1829 Richard Ellis Horace Mann [26]
1830 Richard Ellis [26]
1831 Theron Metcalf (in May) Richard Ellis (in November) Horace Mann (in November) [26]
1832 Theron Metcalf John W. Ames [26]
1833 Theron Metcalf Richard Ellis John Morse [26]
1834 John Endicott John Morse Daniel Covell [26]
1835 William Ellis Daniel Marsh John Dean III [26]
1836 Joshua Fales John Morse Daniel Covell [26]
1837 Joshua Fales John Morse Daniel Covell [26]
1838 Joshua Fales [26]
1839 Joshua Fales [26]
1840 Joshua Fales [26]
1841 Merrill D. Ellis [26]
1842 Merrill D. Ellis [26]
1843 Merrill D. Ellis [26]
1844 Joseph Day [26]
1845 Joseph Day [26]
1846 Edward L. Keyes [26]
Edward L. Keyes [27]
1851 Edward L. Keyes [27]
1852 Ezra W. Taft Edward L. Keyes [28][27]
1859 Ezra W. Taft [29]

20th century representation in the General Court[edit]

Dedham was represented by a number of women and men in the Great and General Court of Massachusetts.

Year Representative Senator Notes
1900 Arthur Clark [30]
1905 Joseph Soliday [31]
1906 Joseph Soliday [31]
1907 Joseph Soliday William Otis Faxon [32][33][31]
1908 Joseph Soliday William Otis Faxon [32][33][31]
1909 Joseph Soliday [31]
1910 Joseph Soliday / William G. Moseley Bradley M. Rockwood [34][35][31]
1911 William G. Moseley Bradley M. Rockwood [34][35]
1916 John A. Hirsch [36]
1925 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [37][38][39]
1926 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [37][38][39]
1927 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [37][40][39]
1928 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [37][40][39]
1929 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [37][41][39]
1930 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [41][39]
1931 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [42][39]
1932 John K. Burgess Samuel H. Wragg [42][39]
1933 James M. McCracken Samuel H. Wragg [43][44]
1934 James M. McCracken Samuel H. Wragg [43][44]
1935 Mason Sears Samuel H. Wragg [39]
1936 Mason Sears Samuel H. Wragg [39]
1937 Mason Sears Samuel H. Wragg [39]
1938 Mason Sears Samuel H. Wragg [39]
1939 Mason Sears [39]
1940 Mason Sears [39]
1941 Mason Sears [39]
1942 Mason Sears [39]
1947 Francis Appleton Harding Mason Sears [45][39]
1948 Francis Appleton Harding Mason Sears [45][39]
1949 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1950 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1951 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1952 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1953 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1954 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1955 Francis Appleton Harding [45]
1956 Harold Rosen
1957 Harold Rosen
1958 Harold Rosen
1959 Harold Rosen
1960 Harold Rosen
1961 Harold Rosen
1962 Harold Rosen
1963 Harold Rosen
1964 Harold Rosen
1965 Harold Rosen
1966 Harold Rosen
1967 Harold Rosen
1968 Harold Rosen
1969 Harold Rosen / Charles M. McGowan
1970 Charles M. McGowan Robert L. Crawley
1971 Charles M. McGowan Robert L. Crawley
1972 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1973 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1974 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1975 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1976 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1977 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1978 Charles M. McGowan Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1979 Charles M. McGowan / Deborah R. Cochran Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1980 Deborah R. Cochran Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1981 Deborah R. Cochran Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1982 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1983 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1984 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1985 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1986 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1987 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1988 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1989 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1990 Marie-Louise Kehoe Arthur Joseph Lewis, Jr.
1991 Marie-Louise Kehoe Christopher M. Lane
1992 Marie-Louise Kehoe Christopher M. Lane
1993 Marie-Louise Kehoe Marian Walsh
1994 Marie-Louise Kehoe Marian Walsh
1995 Maryanne Lewis Marian Walsh
1996 Maryanne Lewis Marian Walsh
1997 Maryanne Lewis Marian Walsh
1998 Maryanne Lewis Marian Walsh
1999 Maryanne Lewis Marian Walsh

Nineteenth century[edit]

Scenic community[edit]

The south face of the courthouse in Dedham Square, as it appeared in 1839.

Dedham Village was described at the time as "very pleasant, and possesses every inducement to render it a desirable residence for the mechanic or man of leisure."[46] The "scenery" of the town was described as "varied and picturesque" with "an appearance of being well kept, and the roads are noticeably good."[47]

By the end of the century a gazetteer with entries for each city and town in Massachusetts would describe "the substantial old court house, with its massive columns and yellow dome; the county jail; the house of the boat club on the bank of the Charles; the beautiful building of the Dedham Historical Society; the ample town-hall, erected in 1867 as a memorial of the fallen brave; the old cemetery and the beautiful modern one; and the new library building with its 10,000 volumes,— making a list of attractions such as few towns can show."[47]


Early in the 19th century Dedham become a transportation hub and the "existence of quick freight service promoted a burst of industrial development."[48] Within 50 years of the railroads' arrival the population would almost double to 6,641.[47]

In 1800, a group of tinsmiths from Connecticut, including Calvin Whiting, Eli Parsons, began a business at the corner of Lowder and High Streets.[49][50] They attracted additional businesses, including a dry good store.[49] The area became known as Connecticut Corner.[49][50][b] In 1833, the Russel and Baker furniture company moved into the area but, after two bad fires, moved downtown in 1853.[52] It employed 500 people.[52]

By the 200th anniversary of the town's incorporation in 1836, Dedham was "a thriving commercial and manufacturing center" and "a town which had long been a focus for the vigorous political activity popularly associated with the Jacksonian era."[53] In 1837, the year after the first rail line came to town, Dedham had a population of 3,532. By then the mills and factories in town were producing cotton and woolen goods, leather, boots, shoes, paper, marbled paper, iron castings, chairs, cabinet wares, straw bonnets, palm-leaf hats, and silk goods. Together they were worth $510,755 with the silk goods alone worth $10,000.

A silk factory opened on Eastern Ave in 1836.[54] In later years it became a dye house, a laundry, and a playing card factory.[54] By 1880, the site had become home to the C.D. Brooks Chocolate Factory.[54]

The population grew dramatically in the 19th century, largely by immigrants seeking work in the mills along Mother Brook.[55] The largest group, comprising 75% of new arrivals, were the Irish who fled the Potato Famine.[55] The second largest group were Germans who moved to the area in large numbers beginning in the 1850s.[55] Later in the century, large numbers of Italians and Eastern Europeans would move to Dedham.[55] The immigrants were overwhelmingly Catholic.[55]

Neighborhoods were often segregated by national origin.[55] In the area between Bussey and Washington Streets, the Germans congregated on Shiller Road and Goethe Street.[55] Many Irish lived on Maverick, Colburn, and Curve streets.[55] Curve Street also had a number of Canadians.[55] An Irish immigrant, who lived at 27 Myrtle Street from 1872 to 1907, rose from working in the woolen mills to becoming Superintendent of Streets and then eventually a deal estate developer.[55] He both rented and sold many homes in the Hill Avenue area to fellow Irish Immigrants.[55]

In 1888, Dedham's 6,641 residents lived in 1,228 dwellings and had 97 farms.[47] The farms produced a product valued at $5,273,965 and yet was only $192,294 in 1885.[47] The two major banks included the Dedham National Bank, with over $300,000 in capital, and the Dedham Institution for Savings, with more than $2,000,000 in deposits.[47] There were two weekly newspapers, the Dedham Standard and the Dedham Transcript.[47]

In the 1800s many Dedham men, constrained by the growing population and the scarcity of land, would leave Dedham for the Ohio Country.[56] They could thank, in part, Manasseh Cutler, a former Dedham resident and the son-in-law of South Dedham's Minister, Thomas Balch, who convinced Congress to approve a plantation there.[57]

Hugh C. Robertson moved the Dedham Pottery plant from Chelsea to Dedham in 1896.[58][59] The architect of the building, who also served on the company's board, was Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr..[60] The plant, which rarely if ever employed more than six people at a time, was located on Pottery Lane, off High Street, where the 2012 Avery School stands.[60] The company closed in 1942 and the building burned to the ground in the 1970s.[60] Maude Davenport, who was raised on Greenlodge Street in Dedham, is regarded as the company's most skilled decorator.[61]

With the Industrial Revolution, Dedham would experience the ups and downs of a national economy.[56]


The Dedham Train Station was located in Dedham Square where the parking lot now is.
Sketches of the station

Within a few decades of the turnpikes' arrival, railroad beds were laid through Dedham. The railroad was at first "considered dangerous. It was new fangled. People didn’t trust it, so they wouldn’t ride it. Only a very few brave souls in those opening years" ever boarded one. This fear was short lived, however as the first rail line came in 1836 and by 1842 locomotives had put the stagecoach lines out of business.[2] The first line was a branch connecting Dedham Square to the main Boston-Providence line in Readville. In 1848 the Norfolk County Railroad connected Dedham and Walpole and in 1854 the Boston and New York Central ran through town.[48]

In 1881 the Boston and Providence Railroad company built a station in Dedham Square out of Dedham Granite. There were more than 60 trains a day running to it in its heyday, but it was demolished in 1951 and the stones were used to build the main branch of the Dedham Public Library.[62] In 1886 the railroad built a new bridge over High Street and placed a granite plaque there to commemorate both the new bridge and the 250th anniversary of the town's incorporation. The plaque was removed sometime thereafter and ended up in the woods near railroad tracks in Sharon. It has since been returned to Dedham.[63]

Moses Boyd was the "well-known and gentlemanly" conductor of the Dedham branch of the Providence Railroad. At a party for his 25th wedding anniversary his passengers presented him with gifts of cash that totaled between $600 and $700. In addition to the passengers from Dedham, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, the President and Superintendent of the railroad attended the party at his home and presented him with a silver plate.[64]


In the 19th century many former farms would become businesses and homes for those who commuted into Boston.[56]

Nathaniel Whiting arrived in Dedham in 1641 and over the course of the next 182 years he and his descendants owned mills along Mother Brook and a great swath of farmland. In 1871 William Whiting, the last member of the family to own a mill, sold the remainder of the family farm.[65] Charles Sanderson began laying it out in a subdevelopment to become known as Oakdale.[65] Today, Whiting Ave is home to both the High School and the Middle School, and Sanderson Avenue runs into Oakdale Square.

The following year the Farrington farm was laid out into house plots and became the Endicott neighborhood, and in 1873 the Whiting/ Turner tract of land was developed into Ashcroft. By 1910 the area on the opposite side of the Charles River began to be developed. It was once known as Dedham Island or Cow Island, as the Long Ditch connected the river in two spots and bypassed the 'great bend.' Today, the neighborhood is known as Riverdale. The Sprauge farm by the Neponset River became known as the Manor and in the last major development of town, the Smith Farm became the neighborhood of Greenlodge.[48]

New Dedhamites[edit]

In 1800[66] Colburn Gay of Dedham wished to marry Sarah Ellis of Walpole. The laws at the time said that a wedding must take place in the town of the bride, however Gay insisted that Rev. Thomas Thatcher preside. Thatcher was the minister in Dedham's third parish, however, and could not officiate outside of the town's borders. To resolve this dilemma the couple stood on the Walpole side of Bubbling Brook, and Thatcher stood on the Dedham side. They were married across the stream[67] and had two children before Sarah died in 1810.[66]

Albert W. Nickerson first arrived in Dedham in 1877. He was the president of Arlington Mills in Lawrence and director of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and built a home near Connecticut Corner where he "took an active part in community affairs and made generous donations to charitable causes."[68] He sold the house to his brother George[69] when he had a dispute with the town over taxes and improvements he wished to make to the property a few years later and moved to an estate on Buzzards Bay. Nickerson entertained President Grover Cleveland here and helped convince him to purchase the adjoining estate Grey Gables.[68]

Several years later he bought another parcel in Dedham, this time a 600-acre (2.4 km2) estate on the Charles known as Riverdale. The estate was the boyhood home of ambassador and historian John Lothrop Motley.[68][70] In 1886, he commission the architectural firm of Henry Hobson Richardson to build him a castle on the estate and hired Frederick Law Olmsted's firm to do the landscaping.[71] The castle has a number of interesting architectural elements but its most famous is by far its numerous secret passages[72] and "legendary underground mazes and hallways."[73] It was built on top of a rocky hill "so that the Castle and the River appeared magically to carriages or cars arriving through the forested Pine Street entrance."[74]

Among the other noted men who spoke in Temperance Hall were Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Horace Mann, Abraham Lincoln, William R. Alger, and John Boyle O'Reilly.[75] During the 1800s Dedham became the summer home of many wealthy Bostonians and, with the Industrial Revolution, many immigrants to the United States.[56]


Beginning in 1818, itinerant Methodist ministers held services in private homes in Dedham.[76] The first resident pastor, Rev. Joseph Pond, arrived in 1842 and a church was completed in 1843 on Milton Street near the intersection with Walnut Street.[76][c]

The first Baptist church was opened in 1843 near Maverick Street, but meetings had been held for years prior beginning in 1822.[77] A new church was built at the corner of Milton and Myrtle Streets in 1852.[77]

Episcopal churches[edit]

The 1798 Episcopal church in Franklin Square was replaced by a new building at the corner of Court Street and Village Ave.[78] It was 90' long and had a bell tower in front that was 100' high.[78] The builders, Thomas and Nathan Phillips, were from Dedham.[78] Designed by Arthur Gilman after Magdalen College, Oxford, it was consecrated in 1845 but burned down in 1856.[78]

The fourth church was completed in 1858 with a bell tower added in 1869.[79] The bell was donated by Ira Cleveland.[79] One minister, Rev. Samuel B. Babcock, served as rector in three buildings from 1834 to 1873.[79] A chapel was added later, built with a bequest from George E. Hutton.[79]

Lay readers from the church began ministering to Episcopalians in the Oakdale section of town in 1873 who could not get to the church easily.[80] Out of their efforts grew the Church of the Good Shepard, which was dedicated in 1876.[80] One of the early members was William B. Gould I.[81]

Split at First Church[edit]

The First Church and Parish in Dedham split in 1818 over a dispute about who should become the next minister. With the Congregational Church established in Massachusetts at the time, the dispute eventually reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. As a result of the dispute, a majority of members broke away and formed the Allin Congregational Church.

The remaining members of First Church renovated their meetinghouse and moved the front door to face the church green, and away from the dissenting Allin Church across the street, in 1820.[82] In 1888, on the 250th anniversary of the church, a joint service was held in First Church in the afternoon, followed by a social reunion, and then a second service at the Allin church.[76]

St. Mary's[edit]

In 1843, 85 years after the Acadians arrived, the first Catholic Mass was said in Daniel Slattery's home where the police station now stands in Dedham Square. For the next three years after that first Mass with eight Catholics present, John Dagget, Slattery's brother in law, would drive to Waltham each Sunday and bring Father James Strain to Dedham to say Mass. In 1846 Dedham became part of the mission of St. Jospeph's Church in Roxbury and Father Patrick O'Beirne would celebrate Mass in Temperance Hall.[2][83]

Large number of Irish immigrants fled the potato famine a few years later and many of them settled in Dedham.[84] By 1857 so many had settled that Father O'Beirne built the first Catholic church in Dedham, St Mary's Parish. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Dedham men from all religious persuasions responded to the call but "no church in Dedham lost so many men in proportion to their numbers" as St. Mary's did.[83] In 1880 the current church was built on High Street, next to the rectory that had been purchased three years earlier. Thousands attend the laying of the cornerstone by Archbishop John J. Williams and a special train was run from Boston to accommodate all those who wished to be present. The master of ceremonies was Fr. Theodore A. Metcalf, a descendant of Michaell Metcalfe, the teacher.[83] Theodore Metcalf may also have been a descendant of Jonathon Fairbanks.[85] At the time St. Mary's, "a fine stone church at a cost of about $125,000" was completed there was a Methodist, two Baptist, two Congregationalist, two Unitarian, and two Episcopal churches in Dedham.[47]

It was also in 1880 that the Town Meeting set aside of the town cemetery, Brookdale, for Catholics to be buried in. The following year two Protestant businessmen gave great financial support to the fledgling parish. John R. Bullard contributed the Dedham granite used to construct the great upper church. Albert W. Nickerson paid off the debt still remaining on the old church and contributed $10,000 to help complete the new one.[83]

William Gould[edit]

William and Cornelia Gould with their children.

On September 21, 1862, a slave plasterer working on an antebellum mansion in Wilmington, North Carolina named William B. Gould I escaped with seven other slaves. They rowed a small boat 28 nautical miles (52 km) down the Cape Fear River and out into the Atlantic Ocean where the USS Cambridge of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron picked them up as contraband. Gould joined the U.S. Navy and believed he was "defending the holiest of all causes, Liberty and Union."[81] Beginning with his time on the Cambridge and continuing through his discharge at the end of the war he kept a diary of his day-to-day activities. In it he chronicles his trips to the northeastern U.S. to Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and England.[86]

After he was discharged from the Navy at the Charlestown Navy Yard he married Cornelia Read[81] in November 1865.[87] Cornelia was a former slave who was then living on Nantucket and they corresponded throughout the war. The Goulds moved to Milton Street and together they would have two daughters and six sons. In Dedham Gould "became a building contractor and community pillar."[88]

William Gould with the GAR on Dedham's 250th anniversary.

Gould "took great pride in his work" when he resumed work as a plasterer and helped to build the new St. Mary's Church.[81] One of his employees improperly mixed the plaster and even though it was not visible by looking at it, Gould insisted that it be removed and reapplied correctly.[81] Gould helped to build the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard in Oakdale Square, though as a parishioner and not as a contractor. It may have been the Episcopal church he attended in Wilmington as a slave that taught him to read and write, and thus to be able to keep his diary.[81]

Gould was extremely active in the Grand Army of the Republic's Charles W. Carroll Post 144. He "held virtually every position that it was possible to hold in the GAR from the time he joined [in 1882] until his death in 1923, including the highest post, commander, in 1900 and 1901." Five of his sons would fight in the First World War and one in the Spanish–American War. A photo of the six sons and their father, all in military uniform, would appear in the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, in December 1917.[87] Gould's great-grandson would describe them as "a family of fighters."[81]

When he died in 1923 at the age of 85 he was interred at Brookdale Cemetery. The Dedham Transcript reported his death under the headline “East Dedham Mourns Faithful Soldier and Always Loyal Citizen: Death Came Very Suddenly to William B. Gould, Veteran of the Civil War.”[81]


In 1832, a tree in West Dedham, today Westwood, was named for the fortuneteller Moll Pitcher, who enjoyed the shade beneath the tree during her travels to the area.[89] On a hot summer day, she once asked a workman for a sip of his cider. When he refused, the broke her clay pipe in two and told the worker that the same thing would happen to his neck. She also said that the Nanhattan Street house he was working on would burn to the ground, which it did years later.[90]

In 1865, the first notice of Abraham Lincoln's death was posted on a buttonwood tree in front of the home of Jeremiah Shuttleworth, today the Dedham Historical Society.[91] Several years earlier, a young recruit to the Union Army opened an umbrella when it began to sprinkle during a training session on the Town Common. An effigy of the "man with the umbrella" appeared hanging from a noose several days later, and the young man quickly left town.[92] For many years many important notices were tacked to the tree, and it eventually was toppled during Hurricane Gloria in 1985.[91]


One of the new residents of Dedham was Horace Mann, who lived for several years at the Norfolk House and opened a law office in December 1823.[93] He soon "became interested in town affairs, was often chosen Moderator of the town meetings, and was an early candidate for office."[93] Mann served as Dedham's Representative in General Court from 1827 to 1832 as well as on the School Committee.[93][94] In only his first year in Dedham he was invited to deliver the Independence Day address. In his speech he "outlined for the first time the basic principles that he would return to in his subsequent public statements, arguing that education, intelligent use of the elective franchise, and religious freedom are the means by which American liberties are preserved."[95] Former President and then Congressman John Quincy Adams later read the address and "expressed great confidence in the future career of Mr. Mann."[93]

Dedham played a role in the development of baseball. On May 13, 1858, members of the various town ball teams in the Boston area met in Dedham to form the Massachusetts Association of Baseball Players. The association developed a set of rules that came to be known as The Massachusetts Game. There were no foul balls, four bases, and games lasted until one team had scored 100 runs.[96]

The first public schoolhouse in the country had by this time grown "complete system of graded schools, which are provided for in thirteen buildings having a value of about $60,000; to which has recently been added a new high school building in a central location in which have been embodied all known improvements."[47] On January 11, 1895, the citizens of the town gathered in Memorial Hall to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first free, tax supported public school in the nation. A "felicitous" speech was made by Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge and an "historical address" was made by Rev. Carlos Slafter. Lieutenant Governor Roger Wolcott, Judge Ely and the Honorable F. A. Hill also spoke.[97]

For nearly 250 years after it was established, Old Village Cemetery was the only cemetery in Dedham.[98] Seeing a need for greater space, the Annual Town Meeting of 1876 established a committee to look into establishing a new cemetery.[99] Town Meeting accepted the committee's recommendation on October 20, 1877 and appropriated $8,150 to purchase more than 39 acres of land to establish Brookdale Cemetery.[100]

Twentieth century[edit]

A postcard of Dedham Square as it appeared in the early 1900s.

Sacco and Vanzetti[edit]

The historic Sacco and Vanzetti trial was held in the Dedham Courthouse in 1921 under heavy police guard.[101] The two were Italian-born American anarchists, who were arrested, tried, and executed for the killings of Frederick Parmenter, a shoe factory paymaster, and Alessandro Berardelli, a security guard, and for the robbery of $15,766.51 from the factory's payroll on April 15, 1920.[102] Many believe that they "were the innocent victims of political and economic interests determined to send a message about the rising tide of anarchist violence."[101]

The trial opened on May 31, 1921 with heavy security. Police were stationed at every entrance of the courthouse and all those entering were searched for weapons. The State Constabulary patrolled outside on horseback and motorcycles[101] and the courtroom was retrofitted with bomb shutters and sliding steel doors that could seal off that wing of the courthouse in case of an attack. The cast iron shutters on the windows were designed and painted to match the wooden ones on the rest of the building. The courtroom was so protected that "the trial would be conducted in a far more formidable cage than the simple prisoner's cage that surrounded Sacco and Vanzetti during their trial."[103]

During the trial Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, who was then in Washington, invited Sacco's wife to stay at his home near the courthouse.[104] He was not the only member of the nation's highest court to be involved with the case. Felix Frankfurter, then a law professor at Harvard, "did more than any individual to rally "respectable" opinion behind the two men, saw the case as a test of the rule of law itself."[105] Several years later, in May 1926, Frankfurter would travel to the Dedham courthouse to make a motion for a new trial after another man, also in the Dedham Jail, confessed to the crime.[101]

The motion was denied by Judge Webster Thayer in October and in the next 10 months the Supreme Judicial Court, a federal judge and three Supreme Court Justices, including Brandeis, each denied motions for either a new trial or a stay of execution. On August 23, 1927 the two were electrocuted in the Charlestown jail. The "executions sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets of six continents."[101] The American embassy in Paris was surrounded by tanks to fend of rioting mobs and demonstrations in Germany ended with six deaths. In Geneva "over 5,000 protesters destroyed all things American: cars, goods, even theaters showing American films."[101] Frankfurter would write a scathing critique of the case entitled "The Case of Sacco-Vanzetti: a critical analysis for lawyers and laymen." It would first be published in The Atlantic Monthly and then as a hardcover book.

Endicott Estate[edit]

In 1904 the home of Henry Bradford Endicott, the founder of the multimillion-dollar Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company[106] had his home on East Street burn to the ground. The fire department was not able to get to the estate in time as they were dealing with three other fires simultaneously,[107] including one at the fire house.[62] Henry cleared the ashes away and built a new homestead on the 15-acre (61,000 m2) parcel.[107] The three story building he constructed has nine bathrooms, eight bedrooms, a library, a music room, a ballroom, a mirrored parlor, a butler's kitchen, a linen room, and servants' quarters.[108]

When he died in 1920 he left the building to his stepdaughter Katherine. She died in 1967 without any children and willed the land and the estate to the town for "education, civic, social and recreational purposes".[107] At the time "town didn't know quite what to do with it" and "Town Meeting voted to offer it to the Commonwealth." Governor John Volpe took the title to the 25 room estate in a ceremony on December 7, 1967 and intended to use it as a governor's mansion. It soon became apparent that it would be cheaper to build a brand new mansion than to remodel the estate to Volpe's wife's "lavish taste" and "crazy notions" than to renovate the Endicott Estate and[109] in 1969 the Commonwealth gave the estate back to the Town.[110] In 1921 Endicott's widow gave $35,000 to the American Legion to build a clubhouse nearby the estate on Whiting Ave.[111]

Private Schools[edit]

In 1922 the Noble and Greenough School moved from Boston to Dedham. They purchased the Nickerson Castle and turned the estate into a 187-acre (0.8 km2) campus in Riverdale along the Charles River.[112] In 1957 Ursuline Academy moved from Boston's Back Bay to a 28-acre (110,000 m2) parcel in Upper Dedham.[113] The Ursuline nuns who ran the school purchased the property which included a grand manor house designed by Boston architect Guy Lowell. The house, described as "one of the grandest of grand mansions west of Boston, and comparable to what one would see in Newport," was built by Francis Skinner for his new wife Sarah Carr, in 1906.[114] Today, the mansion once known as the Federal Hill Farm has "the richest and most elaborate residential rooms in Dedham" and serves as a convent for the sisters who run the school.[114]


Shortly after 2 a.m. on October 19, 1940, a fire at the Log Cafe on Bridge Street was called in.[115][116] The fire destroyed the Cafe and Breed's boathouse.[115] Chief Henry J. Harrigan entered one of the buildings to inspect the progress of the fire when the floor beneath him gave way, causing him to fall 15 feet, stunning him and causing him to become overcome by smoke and heat[115][116][117] Fireman Joseph C. Nagle, "despite the blinding smoke and flames, rushed into the building and carried Chief Harrigan outside," suffering burns and smoke inhalation in the process.[115][116][117]

Nagle was brought to the Dedham Emergency Hospital, and a firefighter worked on Harrigan with a pulmanator before he was taken to the Faulkner Hospital by several police officers in an ambulance.[117] Harrigan, a 47-year veteran of the force, died slightly after 4 a.m., leaving behind a wife and four daughters.[115] A plaque was unveiled in his honor outside the main firehouse on the 75th anniversary of his death, and both Harrigan and Nagle were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.[115][116][117] Harrigan's funeral at St. Mary's Church was attended by 1,500 people, including chiefs from 100 cities and towns.[117]

In 1994, a difficult fire broke out on Rockland Street. A woman was trapped inside, and was rescued by members of Engine Company 3. The Henry J. Harrigan Medal of Honor was established to honor the members of the engine company for their bravery.[118]


In 1907, the Methodist congregation built a new church in Oakdale Square at the corner of Oakdale Avenue and Fairview Streets.[76] St. Luke's Lutheran Church expanded their chapel in West Roxbury in 1917 before building a new church at 950 East Street, on the site of the former Endicott School,[119] in 1960.[76]

The 1852 Baptist church in East Dedham added a bell tower to the church in 1911.[76] A new church was built on the same site in 1972.[76] In 1994, Roslindale's Grace Baptist Church merged with the Dedham church, and the new congregation became known as Fellowship Bible Church.[76]

The Riverdale Congregational Church grew out of a Sunday School class held in William Lent's boathouse.[120] Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bingham donated money and land to build the church, which was completed in 1914 and expanded in the 1960s.[120] When the church closed, the church donated their remaining funds in 1992 to be used as a scholarship for a member of the graduating class of Dedham High School who attended the Riverdale School.[121] As of 2001, the building was used by the Calvary Baptist Church.[120]

The Christian Science congregation first held services in the Odd Fellows Hall in 1920 and in 1930 moved to the Masonic Hall.[122] In 1932, they bought Nathaniel Ames' house, moved it to the back of the lot, and built a new church.[122] The cornerstone for the church was laid in December 1938 and a steeple was added after 1940.[122] The first service was held on March 3, 1940.[122]

By the 1930s, St. Mary's was one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese with over 6,000 parishioners and 1,300 students in Sunday School.[123] During the middle of that decade there were four priests and six nuns ministering to the congregation.[123] In the 1950s, it became clear that a second parish was needed in Dedham, and so St. Susanna's Church was established in 1960 to serve the needs of the Riverdale neighborhood.[124][122] When St. Susanna's opened it had 300 families, while 2,500 stayed at St. Mary's.[125] Before the first mass was said in the new church on February 11, 1962, services were held at Moseley's on the Charles.[122]


In 1903, there were nine blacksmith shops in Dedham. The last one listed in the town directory, Frank P. Kern of Williams Street, appeared in 1941.[54]

By the early part of the 20th century, East Dedham had become developed as a busy mill village.[55] The neighborhood had schools, churches, and homes, in addition to the commercial district known today as East Dedham Square centered at the intersection of High and Bussey Streets.[55] The textile mills along Mother Brook began closing in the 1910s and 1920s, however, as owenrs sought cheaper labor and more favorable conditions in the south.[55][126]

The Rust Craft Greeting Card Company moved to Dedham in 1954 from Kansas City.[127] In 1958, they built what was at the time the largest greeting card factory in the world on what is today Rustcraft Road.[128] They were the first company to sell greeting cards with a fitted envelope and introduced cards for Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, anniversaries, and more.[128] The building has been used for a variety of other purposes since 1980.[128]

On March 1, 1967, Ma Riva's Sub Shop opened in Dedham, where Emily and Addie's was in 2018.[129] It eventually would become D'Angelos and then bought out by Papa Gino's.[129] Both are still headquartered on the old Route 1 in Dedham.

East Dedham urban renewal project[edit]

In 1965, Town Meeting voted to declare East Dedham Square "blighted" and undertake an urban renewal project.[130] The measured passed by a single vote more than was needed to reach the two-thirds majority required.[130] The project was scaled back from 26 to 14 acres, but nine residential properties were taken, forcing the relocation of 42 families.[130]

Much of East Dedham Square was raised.[131] In the 1920s, the neighborhood was home to a haberdashery, an undertaker, stables, a grocery story, a bakery, a pharmacy, a dentist, and more.[131] After the project, a strip mall, public housing, a parking lot, and condo development took their place.[131]


In 1900, the same year St. Mary's was dedicated, a talented young lawyer from Boston bought a home with his new wife at 194 Village Avenue. Sixteen years later Louis D. Brandeis rode the train home from his office and his wife greeted him as "Mr. Justice." While he was at work that day his appointment to the United States Supreme Court had been confirmed that day by the United States Senate. Brandeis was a member of the Dedham Country and Polo Club and the Dedham Historical Society[104] as well as a member of the Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves.[5] He wrote to his brother of the town saying: "Dedham is a spring of eternal youth for me. I feel newly made and ready to deny the existence of these grey hairs."[104]

Around 1900, Dr. Harry K. Shatswell of School Street built and drove a "steam powered horseless carriage" through the streets of town.[132] This was two years after the first automobile went on sale in the United States. That same year, Theodore Burgess purchased three French automobiles for himself and his wife, who is thought to be the first woman to drive in Massachusetts.[132] In 1903, there were 11 cars registered in Dedham.[132]

During World War I, 642 men from Dedham served, and 18 died.[133] The first to enlist was Henry W. Farnsworth who fought with the French Foreign Legion and was killed in action at Tahure, France, in October 1915.[133] Of the 60 soldiers who voluntarily were inoculated with the germs that caused trench fever, two, Joseph Fiola and Norman G. Barrett, were from Dedham.[133] A memorial was erected to those who served in the war at the corner of East Street and Whiting Ave.[133]

In 1920 a man's skeleton was found hanging from a tree in the woods near Wigwam Pond.[89] Another was unearthed on the eastern shore of the Pond in 1923 when workers were digging a foundation for a house.[89]

During the 1936 tercentenary celebrations, Olympians Ellison "Tarzan" Brown and Johnny Kelley ran in a "mug hunt."[134] The roughly 9.5 mile race was the third annual, and was sponsored by the Oakdale Athletic Club and organized by Harold Rosen.[134] The start was in Oakdale Square and the finish was at Stone Park.[134]

In 1957, Joseph Demling, a resident of Macomber Terrace, walked into Town Hall with the carcass of the 35 pound bobcat.[135] He asked for a $20 bounty on the animal, citing a by-law passed by the Town Meeting in 1734.[135] The Town originally balked, suggesting that the animal came from Needham, but eventually paid Demling the money he requested.[135]

The first transatlantic direct dial telephone call was made by Sally Reed in Dedham, Massachusetts to her penpal, Ann Morsley, in Dedham, Essex, in 1957.[136] It was witnessed by Reed's teacher, Grace Hine, Dedham's former chief telephone operator, Margaret Dooley, and several representatives of New England Telephone and Telegraph Company.[136]

The 1960s brought a number of events to Dedham that, like the building of the Fairbanks House, may not have seemed important at the time but have proved to be major events. After an executive order[137] signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 allowed federal employees to unionize, the Federal Employees Veterans Association met in an emergency convention in Dedham. They voted to reorganize themselves into the National Association of Government Employees, today a large and powerful public union.[138]

David Stanley Jacubanis robbed a bank in Dedham the following year, after he was paroled in Vermont. He was, for a time, on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 Most Wanted List. In 1967, the Flag Day Parade began, which quickly became one of Dedham's most beloved traditions.[139]

On August 18, 1964, a 17-year-old Dedhamite was driving in the rain and missed a left hand turn from Whiting Avenue onto East Street.[140][141] His car smashed into the east wing of the Fairbanks House with the rear bumper flush with the wall.[141][140] The 1957 sedan remained in the house overnight until it could be removed the next day.[141] The accident prompted a stone wall to be erected which prevented another car from hitting the house in 1973.[140]

In December 1973, the Dedham Police Department investigated the sighting of several unidentified flying objects over town.[142] A young couple on a date had their car followed by UFO while they drove through Dedham.[142]


The population of Dedham has grown more than 10 times since 1793, reaching its peak around the year 1980.

Historical population


  1. ^ Hose No. 3, which had 300' of house, was built by J.V. Fell, J. Wally & Brother, and J. Lynas.[20]
  2. ^ The term Connecticut Corner has generally fallen out of use in Dedham, but it is listed as a historic district in Dedham.[51] The historic district generally runs down High and Bridge Streets from slightly past Lowder Street to slightly past Common Street. It encompasses the Town Common and the houses around it.
  3. ^ Membership in the church grew steadily for more than 50 years and in 1907 the congregation opened a new church in Oakdale Square.[76]
  4. ^ 27% of the population was foreign born.[55]


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Works cited[edit]

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1910). Election Statistics. Retrieved 27 December 2019.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Parr, James L. (2009). Dedham: Historic and Heroic Tales From Shiretown. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-59629-750-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Slack, Charles (2015). Liberty's First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 978-0802123428.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)