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The Gateway to Medfield, East Main Street: Robert Sproul Road to Brook Street

This is the second in a three part series on the historic houses of East Main Street.

As part of a three-part series on the historic houses of East Main Street, this week will focus on the section of East Main Street from Robert Sproul Road to Brook Street.

East Main Street, from the area of the Peak House and the 1750 Eliakim Morse house down to the Baptist Church, is truly the “Gateway” into Medfield. It is the initial impression one gets when coming into Medfield along Route 109. It contains homes dating back to the Colonial Period and magnificent landmarks out of the 18th and 19th centuries. That historic stretch is one of the factors that makes Medfield, Medfield. It is a factor when people decide to move here, it is a part of the historic heritage that gives Medfield its historical uniqueness, and it is a factor that helps to preserve and maintain the property values we have in Medfield, no matter where in town your house is located.

The area is also not protected; it is not yet in an historic district, as is West Main Street. The town has been fortunate so far that most of those living along East Main Street appreciate the value their historic house has to the town, they have done a beautiful job in maintaining and preserving the historic characteristics of their house. But that has not always been true nor may it be true in the future. Demolition of two of these landmarks has already taken place and future demolitions, replaced by high density condominium or 40B apartment building and this unique historic gateway into town vanishes.

George Metcalf Smith House Ca. 1860: 378 Main Street

In 1858, George Metcalf Smith bought approximately six acres of land from Lucy and Mary Morse on which to build a house for himself and his wife, Joanna Harding. Smith was a farmer and brush maker. In 1893, the Historical Society placed Native-American named plaques on historic houses around the town. This house was given the name “Weetamoo” and was constructed by carpenter and builder Tyler Thayer. It had a larger than usual rear ell to accommodate Smith’s brush making shop. This house is one of the finest examples of the Italianate style still standing in Medfield. It has recently been restored and painted and has received the Medfield Historical Commission’s Preservation Award.

Wesley Balch House, Ca. 1818: 383-385 Main Street

This house, built in 1818 by Wesley Balch, was originally located further to the west on Main Street and directly opposite present day Brook Street. The house was moved to the site of the original barn, now 383-385 Main Street. When the house was moved, it was placed sideways to Main Street, with the entrance reoriented. Balch came to Medfield when he was a young man and worked in a bakery, then on the corner of North and Green Streets. He later started his own bakery business on North Street, opposite the present day Post Office. In 1818 he erected the present house for use as a residency and a bakery.  He was active in local government serving as selectman and treasurer repeatedly.  Balch oversaw a thriving business, with his goods sold throughout neighboring towns.

387-389 Main Street, Ca 1888

This house is dated to ca. 1888. It was originally built as a one family but was later converted to the present two family house.

Hewins House, Ca. 1845: 393 Main Street

This house was built about 1845 by Nathaniel Cheney at the time of his marriage to Clarissa Hartshorn. By the 1870’s the property was owned by Alonzo Parker, the town mortician. At the same time, James Hewins, newly married to Jennie Stedman, moved back to Medfield from Jamaica Plain and built a house just to the west of 393 Main Street. Eight years later, with a growing family, Hewins and Parker agree to switch houses, with Hewins now moving into the 393 Main Street house. The Hewins would raise six children in the Main Street homestead. James died in 1906 and Jennie stayed until her death on June 9, 1924.

James received his early education in the Medfield and Walpole schools, completing his studies at Amherst College and Harvard Law School. He was admitted to the Suffolk Bar in February of 1868 and later became a member of the Norfolk County Bar Association. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1884 and then as a member of the Board of County Commissioners in 1897. He played a major role in the building of the current Registry of Deeds and Probate Building in Dedham. He was active with the Medfield Historical Society, the Medfield Board of Trade and the First Parish Church. Jennie lived a very active life and took part in many social activities especially those of the First Parish Church. She had a special love of her 393 Main Street home and was tireless in her devotion to her family. She was a curator with the Medfield Historical Society and a prominent member of the Hannah Adams Club.

In the second half of the 20th century, 393 Main Street was home to the Nye family. The Nye’s continued the tradition of service to the community, serving on several town boards and committees.  Until recent times a sign hung over the entrance to the barn, which read “Light of the East,” indicating the property’s name.  The house was later divided into a 3-family unit and the property still later sub-divided with Nye Road being built.  Today the house has been returned to its original single-family character and charm and has been given care and historic restoration by the Ashcroft family. It remains one of the valuable pieces of the East Main Street puzzle that gives the town its historic look and feel.

Daniels/ Roberts House Ca. 1792/ 1839: 396 Main Street

This house was built by Noah Daniels, a carpenter, shortly after his marriage to Abigail Allen in 1792. It was a modest 2-story, hip-roofed house which stood close to Main Street. The house has undergone many alterations and enlargements over the years. The house was sold by Daniels in 1809 to Lothario Danielson, a practicing physician who moved to Medfield from New York in 1800. Dr Danielson remained in the house until he sold it to Robert Roberts in 1826. Roberts married Adeline Rowe of Boston and inherited a large sum of money from his father, a ship captain. Roberts was known for his lavish spending. He decorated the parlor of the house with elaborate, French landscape wallpaper, ornate mirrors and paintings.

In 1875 the property was purchased by Charles Dunn who moved the house from the street line, back to its present location. Dunn was also responsible for many of the Victorian Eclectic-style alterations which embellish the house today. A mansard roof with a cupola which had been added by Dunn was destroyed by fire, and was rebuilt and reconfigured to its present modified gable shape.

Lovering-Grover House, Ca 1860; 401-403 Main Street

This house was constructed as a double-house during the time of the Civil War. Such double-house construction was unusual for Medfield. The property was owned early on by Mrs. J.W. Lovering and later on the 1876 map by W.B. Grover. By 1891 the house was under the ownership of Henry Parker. Henry lived in the house with his second wife, Maria L. Hall. By 1909 the house was owned by James Hewins and used as rental property. It is a well-preserved example of the late-Greek Revival style and is one of the few double-houses constructed in Medfield Center

Daniel Clark Sanders House, Ca. 1770/1818/1860; 402 Main Street

This massive, highly-decorated 2 ½ story mansard roofed, clapboarded, Second Empire-style house has been enlarged and renovated at least three times in its history. The southern ell of the house, which was completely rebuilt in the 1990’s, dated to 1770. The main 1817 Federal-style house was built by Daniel Sanders, and remodeled into the then-fashionable French Second Empire style in 1860. A cupola crowns the concave mansard roof, which has segmental dormers with scalloped shingles and a heavy cornice with paired brackets. The 1860-era gazebo was recently moved to the rear of the house.  

Perhaps the most famous resident to own the landmark was Daniel Clark Sanders, for which Sanders Way behind the house is named. Sanders bought the 1770 house in 1817 and built the main part we see today from Main Street. Sanders was the first President of the University of Vermont. When the War of 1812 broke out and the college and the town of Burlington were being shelled by the British from Lake Champlain, Sanders closed the college and returned to Medfield. Here he became the pastor of the First Parish Church. Sanders was a graduate of Harvard, Class of 1788, and recipient of honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard in 1809.

In Medfield, Sanders wrote the first historical sketch of the town and authored “History of the Indian Wars,” a controversy book that was criticized because it expressed the idea that the whites had not treated the Native-Americans well. After the separation of the Unitarian and Orthodox groups, that split the church in two, Sanders left the pastorate. His views were too moderate for either group. 

Sanders was then elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1833 and became a member to the state convention for the revision of the Massachusetts Constitution. He served as a member of the Board of Selectmen repeatedly and was prominent on the school committee for many years. Sanders granddaughter married Robert Roberts. It was Roberts who remodeled the house about 1860 to its present Second Empire-style appearance.

Today it is one of the most visually dominant houses in Medfield’s town center. The house was totally restored by Bill and Ann Krawec. After Bill’s untimely death, Ann and her family continued to preserve the house and attached barn. The house has been brought back again in its entire splendor.

Hewins-Parker House, Ca 1870;  405-407 Main Street

This Gothic Revival house was built about 1870 by James Hewins at the time of his marriage to Jennie Stedman. Eight years later, with a growing family, Hewins agree to switch houses with Alonzo Parker, with Hewins now moving into the larger 393 Main Street house and Parker into this house. Parker extended the house to the rear, constructed a barn/carriage house and purchased the land to the rear of the lot extending back to Vine Brook. The side-gabled addition, which stands connected to the rear of the main house, was constructed by Parker between 1891-1909. The property was later owned by Orrin Wilkins. In 1975 the barn/carriage house was torn down.

Henry Noyes House/ Inness Studio, C. 1800/ 1830—406 Main Street (National Register of Historic Places)

In the early 1800’s the oldest part of 406 Main Street (now the rear ell) was used as rental property and associated with the Sanders House at 402 Main Street. By 1838 the Greek Revival front section had been constructed. Between the years 1859-1864, the famed American artist George Inness lived in the house and used the studio located to the rear of the house as his art studio. According to the biography of Inness, written by his son, the six years Inness spent in Medfield were seminal to his development of a distinct painting style. It was in this studio that Inness’ most famous painting “Peace and Plenty,” a scene of the Charles River and now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, was produced. American artist John A.S. Monks was a student of Inness and also painted in his studio. The house today is on the National Register of Historic Places and  is a well-preserved example of a Federal/Greek Revival house.

Quinnapin, 1880: 411 Main Street

This house was originally built in 1880 as the new Baptist Parsonage. Six years later the Main Street parsonage was sold and a new parsonage was built on South Street, on the corner of South Street and Hale Place. The historic 411 Main Street home is located on the original 1650 land grant of George Barber. In 1893, the Historical Society placed Native-American named plaques on historic houses around the town. This house was given the name Quinnapin. In the 1930’s the house had a public tea room.

Louise Mulock August 10, 2012 at 09:28 PM
I think it's a shame our heritage, in terms of a historical district, is not protected. Our past as a town is on display as you enter town. We should all be proud of our town and the many accomplishments of its citizens over the years. I am highly in favor of a by-law that would protect, at the MINIMUM, the exterior of our grand old houses, big or small.
Elizabeth Cowen August 15, 2012 at 01:04 AM
As a resident of one of the historic homes on east Main St I am not in favor of making this area an historic district. While I believe the homes do add character and charm to the town, historic districts place additional restrictions on what home owners can do to their own property. There is no compensation for having live under the restrictions of an historic district. Owners must get approval for making cosmetic changes that anyone in any subdivision can do without a second thought. It is an issue of equity.
Richard DeSorgher August 15, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Elizabeth, That is what is so unique about Medfield's historic districts, unlike the more known ones like in Beacon Hill and Nantucket. In the existing Medfield historic district you can indeed make those cosmetic changes you mentioned; you can do just about anything short of tearing down the house. Talk to those on West Main Street who are in the Metcalf Historic District; they have made many changes and additions, renovations, etc. Also a resident of the district must be on the historic district commission and if you are ever denied anything you can always appeal to the selectman and they can over rule- It is an attempt to save the character of your neighborhood and in turn that of Medfield and secure your and it's property value. Think what would happen if high density condo's like on Brook Street or the proposed project on West Street went next door to you. Thank you by the way for all the Cowens have done over the years in maintaining your beautiful and historic home, we are very much in debt to those efforts!

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