DeSorgher: Medfield and Fenway Park; 100 Years Ago
As the Boston Red Sox prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, Town Historian Richard DeSorgher takes a look at Medfield in 1912.
With the start of spring training having just begun, Major League Baseball soon will be gearing up for the “Opening Day” games of the new baseball season. All eyes will be on Boston as the Red Sox prepare all kinds of hoopla for the 100th Anniversary of Major League Baseball’s oldest ballpark, Fenway Park, which opened in 1912.
What was taking place 18 miles south and west of Fenway Park during its maiden season in 1912?
The year 1912 was an interesting one here in Medfield. The taxpayers at town meeting set the tax rate at $16.70 per $1,000, an increase of $4.20 over 1911 and voted a total town budget of $32,278. The school budget that year was $7,300. The Highway budget of $4,000 included laying the new tarvia (tar) on many of the town streets. The fire department budget of $ 1,600 was approved along with the police budget of $1,200. The street light budget came in at $2,000.
In 1912, Medfield voted to close the town’s Poor Farm, located on West Street in the area currently under debate concerning the proposed 40B project of 96 apartments. The two inmates living there were removed to Sherborn and all personal property at the Poor Farm was sold at auction.
The farm with buildings was first bought by the town in 1837 and paid for in part by the money that was Medfield’s share in the division of the $40 million accumulated in the U.S. Treasury after the national debt was paid off. Before the age of welfare, the Poor Farm gave those unable to support themselves a place to live. Appropriations were supplemented by town meeting funds. Residents also had to work on the farm, eating the food that they grew there and selling surplus foods to augment the budget. Many of the residents were elderly, often without family and often unable to care for themselves.
The year 1912 also produced one of the liveliest presidential elections in history with Teddy Roosevelt bolting the Republican Party and running on a progressive third party ticket, known as the Bull Moose Party. The Republicans stuck with President Taft and the Democrats nominated former Princeton University President and New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson. While Wilson won the presidency, it was Roosevelt who carried Medfield by five votes, 117 to 112 over Taft. Wilson picked up 72 votes in Medfield with Socialist Eugene V. Debs getting two Medfield votes.
The town established a town fire whistle, which was placed at the hat factory on North Street (now the Montrose School). It would stay on the roof of the hat factory until 1930, when it was moved to the roof of town hall, where it is still located today. An epidemic of dysentery hit the Medfield State Hospital, lasting from August until November and killing 14 patients. Also at the hospital in 1912, all attendants were required to wear white duck jackets furnished by the hospital and dark blue trousers furnished by the individuals.
In 1912, for the first time, bubbler water fountains were added to the Ralph Wheelock School on Pleasant Street and were so voted for sanitary reasons. The Lowell Mason School on the corner of School and North Streets received on-site water for the first time with the digging of a new 16-foot well and a pump. Before 1912, water had been supplied to the school by the kindness of neighbors. Six of the town’s teachers and the principal of the high school all resigned in 1912, accepting better positions with higher pay in other towns. Superintendent M.J. West called for an increase in Medfield teacher salaries saying: “It is too much to expect them to remain with us long without some substantial increase in the present salaries.”
Total Medfield school enrollment in 1912 was 268. The senior class graduated with seven students; Gladys Dawson was Valedictorian. Mrs. Pauline Danielson had the former Hannah Adams Schoolhouse, which she purchased from the town in 1911 moved from South and High Streets to her land on High Street to be made into a cottage house (currently a residence on 15 High St.).
Medfield businesses in 1912 included Zietler Taylor Shop on North Street, J.M. Richardson’s General Store in the Harding section of Medfield, A.A. Kingsbury’s carpentering, mill work and jobbing, Fred Smith carpenter and builder, Dragonetti’s fruit, candy, cigars and tobacco store on North Street, School’s Plain and Fancy Grocery Store on Main Street (site of today’s Lords), Fitts’ Old Corner Department Store on the corner of Main and North Streets, David Stain’s shoe repair shop on Janes Avenue, the Medfield Inn, Roy Hunt-optometrist, Ellery Crocker’s boots, shoes and dry goods store located in Monks Block, on the corner of North and Main Streets, Taylor and Heard’s Meat Market on Janes Avenue, Bell’s Fish Market on North Street, the Boston Branch Store on North Street and Caldicott cobbler shop on Harding Street.
Dr. Arthur Mitchell and Dr. Frank Clough served as the town’s doctors with Dr. Sidney Stevens the town’s dentist. In 1912, there were 32 births in Medfield, 25 deaths and 29 marriages. The State Hospital recorded 116 deaths for 1912.
During the year, a band of gypsies came into the town and a short while later losses of money and hens were reported. The town’s volunteer fire department drove the gypsies out of town. The Medfield Grange Hall Association moved the large building they recently purchased onto their six acres of land on Pleasant Street, adjoining Metacomet Park (today the site of the condos on 89-91 Pleasant Street). This Grange Hall building later became the American Legion Hall and was burnt by arson on Dec. 22, 1969. The Park Street Railroad Station was wired for electricity for the first time in 1912, replacing the old kerosene lamps.
Those in Medfield wanting to attend a Sox game at the new Fenway Park could take the trolley from Medfield into Dedham and then the elevated train into Boston and then into Fenway. The trolley ran through Medfield roughly following Route 109, coming east from Dedham and going west through Medway and out to Mendon or south to Frankliin and down to Rhode Island. A court fight between the town of Westwood and the Dedham and Franklin Electric Railway halted trolley traffic through Medfield for a while.
Medfield town meeting voted $1,000 and purchased eight acres of land on Pleasant Street to be used as a public playground (today’s Metacomet Park), a baseball diamond and a horse racing track were built.
The town mourned the death of William S. Tilden, who died on May 14, 1912 at the age of 82. Tilden was a gifted musician, choir director of the Baptist Church and director of the Medfield Town Band.
After the Civil War, he went south under the Freedman’s Bureau, teaching music to the children of freed slaves. Returning to Medfield, he was elected state representative, was in on the formation of the Medfield Historical Society, serving as its first president and spending much time researching and then publishing his History of the Town of Medfield, Massachusetts 1650-1886.
Tilden’s will left the Baptist Church $1,600 and the Medfield Historical Society all his books and manuscripts. The town also sadly noted the passing of William Crane at the age of 79. Crane promoted patriotism in the public schools, was past commander of the Moses Ellis Post 117, G.A.R and was very active in the Republican Party. Town schools were closed for his funeral, with all students attending in mass. Today’s Crane Place, off Cottage Street is named in his honor. Triplets, all girls, were born to Lorne and Annie McIntyre of Vinald Road. These were the first triplets born in Medfield since 1859.
Medfield was also hit with grave tragedy when 17-year-old Carmello Damaria, who was working as a railroad hand, was instantly killed at the Main Street railroad crossing when he came out of the tool house of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and stepped directly in front of an oncoming train. Portions of the body were scattered along the tracks for some distance. His parents lived in Italy and he was buried from St. Edward’s Church.