Uniquely Medfield: Same Time and Place, 100 Years Ago
A weekly column by Town Historian Richard DeSorgher.
As we enter the final month of the year 2012, and before we enter the new year of 2013, it would be interesting in looking back to what was happening in this same community of Medfield exactly 100 years ago, in the year 1912.
While Medfield’s current appropriations for all our operating budgets went over the $50,000,000 mark for the first time this year, in 1912, the total appropriation was only $32,278 -- about the same amount as this year’s operation and salaries for our conservation commission.
The 1912 budget included $7,300 for our schools, $4,000 for the highway department, $2,500 for street lights, $1,200 for police and $400 for snow removal. The large highway budget reflected the new use of putting tarvia (now known as tar) on many of our once dirt streets. The police budget included money for a night watchman to patrol the town and added expenses needed to enforce the liquor laws as Medfield at the time was a “dry” town.
Selectmen in 1912 were Edward Bent, Albert Shumway and Marvin Blood.
In 1912, Medfield voted to close and lease out the town’s poor farm or almshouse, located on West Street near the present Millis border. The two residents were removed to Sherborn and the personal property was sold at auction.
For the first time, a town fire whistle was installed to be blown when a fire alarm was sounded. The whistle for this alarm was first located on the roof of the hat factory (now the Montrose School on North Street). It stayed there until 1930 when it was moved to the roof of town hall where it is still located today.
In the spring annual town meeting, Medfield citizens unanimously voted the following resolution:
Whereas, George W. Kingsbury has given a lifetime of service to this town, having been continually in office from the age of 22 until the current year, a period of over 50 years, now therefore be it Resolved: That the town at its Annual Meeting witnesses its appreciation of his long, faithful and intelligent services by extending to Mr. Kingsbury its cordial greetings and best wishes for many years of happiness.
Mr. Kingsbury died the following November.
While today we debate the future of the former Medfield State Hospital (the town and state are currently in mediation), in 1912, the hospital had a population equal to that of the town. In August of that year, they reported an epidemic of dysentery struck the institution. The epidemic continued until November and resulted in the deaths of 14 patients.
The town’s education system consisted of two town schools: the Ralph Wheelock School on Pleasant Street which held grades 1-13 (at the time there was a grade 13 which was later eliminated) and served the center and south areas of town, and the Lowell Mason School, on the corner of North and School Streets, which covered grades 1-5 for pupils who lived in the north section of town.
The Lowell Mason School received on-site water for the first time by digging a new 16-foot well and a pump. Water had been previously been supplied by the kindness of neighbors.
Principal Norval Spinney left the Wheelock School to accept a better position in the town of Adams, Massachusetts, and six of the town’s teachers resigned. According to Superintendent of Schools M.J. West, they received offers to go elsewhere at higher pay. “It is too much to expect the teachers to remain with us long without some substantial increase in the present salaries.” Total Medfield public school enrollment in 1912 was 268; seven students graduated with the Medfield High School Class of 1912.
Three new stores opened in Medfield in 1912: Edward Taylor and Joel Heard opened a meat market on Janes Avenue, William Bell leased a store on North Street as a fish market, and George W. Caldicott opened a cobbler shop on Harding Street.
Due to the fall drought, several families in the Harding district of Medfield (Harding Street and Hospital Road areas) were forced to haul water for some distance for domestic needs.
Mrs. John Danielson had the former Hannah Adams School (South School), which she purchased from the town in 1911, moved to her land on High Street, to be made into a cottage house (today, 15 High Street).
In Medfield in 1912, there were 32 births, 25 marriages, and 29 deaths. There were 116 deaths recorded at the then-Medfield State Asylum. That compares to 73 births, 21 marriages and 75 deaths recorded in Medfield for the year ending 2011.
The Dedham Transcript reported that “a band of gypsies arrived in town and shortly thereafter losses of money and hens were reported. A company of volunteers from the fire department drove the gypsies out of town.”
The Medfield Grange Hall Association moved the large building, recently purchased, onto their six acres of land on lower Pleasant Street (area of the Medfield Condominiums, 88-91 Pleasant Street). The Grange Building, which later became the American Legion Hall, was burned to the ground by arson on December 22, 1969.
The Central Railroad Station (Park Street Station) was wired for electric lights, replacing the old kerosene lamps.
The town voted to purchase eight acres of land located on the southwest side of Pleasant Street to be used as a public playground (today’s Metacomet Park). A baseball diamond and a horse racing track were built.
Medfield mourned the death of William Tilden, who died on May 14, 1912.
Tilden came from a family of practiced musicians, He was educated in the Medfield schools and at an early age became the choir director of the Baptist Church, a position he held for over 50 years. After the Civil War, he went south and under the Freedmen’s Bureau taught music to the children of freed slaves. Returning to Medfield, he was elected state representative, held numerous town positions and served on many town committees. He was one of the founders and the first President of the Medfield Historical Society, and he researched and then published a History of the Town of Medfield from 1650-1887. Today, Tilden Village on Pound Street is named in his honor.
Carmello Damaria, age 17, a railroad section hand, was instantly killed at the Main Street railroad crossing (near Baxter Park) when he came out of the tool house 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. He was buried from St. Edward Church.
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