What better way to discover Medfield than to take the annual “Discover Medfield History Day” trolley tour, which I did this year and my head has been reeling ever since.
The annual trek into Medfield’s past began in 1992 and is sponsored by MEMO, the Medfield Employers and Merchants Organization.
As always, Town Historian Richard DeSorgher entertained and enlightened hundreds of people throughout the day with historical facts and a bit of folklore.
Many of the locations mentioned on the tour can be found on the “Medfield History DVD” available for $10 at Lord’s Department Store or the Medfield Historical Society. For a copy of the DVD or for more information, contact (508) 359-4773 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Medfield Historical Society's website.
Here are some of the things we saw and interesting information we learned.
- Dwight-Derby House, 7 Frairy St., dates back to the 1690's, one of the oldest homes in America.
- Jacob Cushman (later “Cushman and Baker) horse-drawn carriage maker was located at corner of Upham Road and Frairy Street. Originator of the Medfield Butcher Wagon.
- Mansion of Daniel D. Curtis, owner of the hat factory, at Frairy and North Streets. His hat factory employed more than 1,000 people. His mansion resembled a Newport Mansion.
- Medfield Inn (originally Central House), near North and Frairy Streets, had 57 rooms, hosted many hat factory seasonal workers, burned down in 1932.
- Edwin V. Mitchell Hat Factory (originally Excelsior Straw Works), 29 North St., second largest straw and felt factory in the country. Closed in 1956 after employees unionized. Owner Julius Tofias had told employees that if they unionized, he would close the factory – they did and he did. Now home to the Montrose School.
- First Parish Church (aka First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church), 26 North St. This is the third church on this spot – in 1656, a log cabin was first built on this site; in 1706, a wooden structure was built that faced North Street; in 1789, the current church was built. In 1839, the columns and steeple were added, and the building was lifted and turned to face Main Street. In 1890, a taller steeple was added (to top the Baptist Church steeple) but it toppled during the hurricane of 1938.
- The Boston Branch downstairs, Grace Hall upstairs, 20 North Street. The first Catholic masses were held in Grace Hall before the first St. Edward’s Church was built on Main Street. Now home to .
- Keyou Pharmacy, 2 North St., the “anchor” building of downtown. Now home to Medfield Properties.
- Old Corner Store, 461 Main St. Originally, a house stood on this property but in 1816, the house was cut in half and moved to 13 and 17 South St. (where they still stand today), and the Corner Store was built. Now Mobil gas station.
- It used to take four or five hours to travel from Boston to Medfield by stage coach; and would take 10 days from Boston to New York City.
- The trolley went through town from 1899 to 1924 when it was put out of business by the automobile.
- Medfield Town Hall, 459 Main St. Originally built in 1872 with money donated by hat factory owner George Chenery. First burnt in 1874 and was rebuilt. Burnt again in 1923 and rebuilt with flat roof to save money. In the 1920s and 1930s, the second floor was used as a gym for high school students; in the 1940s and 1950s it held a movie theatre. Now town offices including Chenery Meeting Room occupy the Townhouse.
- Rev. Wilson’s House on Main Street was used as a garrison during the King Philip’s War. Resident Elizabeth Adams was sent to Wilson’s house for safety but, on the day of the attack, she was killed by friendly fire from a gun within the building.
- First Baptist Church, 438 Main St., built in 1838. In 1874, it had the tallest steeple in Medfield, a continued contest between the Baptist Church and the First Parish Church. Still standing today.
- Parker Mansion, Main Street was located near modern-day 412 and 414 Main St. Was described as “huge” and was demolished in the 1960s. Now private homes.
- Clark Tavern, 353 and 355 Main St. Built in 1740. Two separate houses that are connected (note drainpipe on front of house). Seth Clark ran a tavern and dance hall on the left side around 1740; in 1773 the son (Ebenezer) built the attached house to the right. Was on the stage coach route from Boston to Hartford, Conn. (where you could then connect to New York City). Members of the Connecticut militia holed up there and rang up a hefty bar tab while waiting for the British to come through the area. Legend has it that Clark sent the bill to the State of Connecticut which they paid. Catholic masses were held in the dance hall at one point.
- Peak House, 347 Main St.Originally thought to be the town’s oldest building; recent dendrochronology reports say the current building was built in 1713 (with wood dating back to 1492). It appears the current building is an exact replica of the Peak House built in 1680 (which replaced the original house that burned in the 1676 attack). The town’s first Catholic settlers (a reported 20 of them) said Catholic Mass at the Peak House in the 1854. At one time, it served as art studio to famed watercolorist John Jesse Francis. When it deteriorated in 1920's, grassroots effort saved the house with the funds from hat factory owner Granville Daley. Currently owned by the Medfield Historical Society, the house is a museum and open to the public.
- Town Pound, corner of South and Pound Streets. Housed the town’s stray animals when the town was a farming community.
- , 446 Main St. Started by Raymond Lord in 1940 near 483 Main St. (now home of Royal Pizza). Moved to current location in 1945. Lord came to town because 1940 market research had showed that Medfield had 3,300 residents. Soon after, when business was slower than expected, he learned that 2,000 of those people were non-shopping 'residents' of Medfield State Hospital.
- Building at 456 Main St. Relocated from North Street in 1860. Once served as overflow for the elementary school (in 1880s) and the headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic (early 1900s). Now home to Zullo Gallery, , and Absi Jewelers.
- St. Edward the Confessor, original church was on Main Street near current library. Was at this site from 1893 to 1980, seated 350 parishioners. By late 1970s, 11 masses were held each weekend. New church at 133 Spring Street was built in 1980. Land now town-owned and part of the Medfield Public Library property.
- Current , Main Street, was at one point the Baxter Homestead (1696-1891), then replaced by the “huge” Harwood Estate which was torn down in 1959 to make way for the “Super Duper” grocery store.
- Causeway Street, just off Main Street. Here is a stately sycamore tree with a large bump in the middle. For many years there was a sign on this tree that said “Causeway Street.” Over the years, the tree grew around the sign until it was finally completely encased around 1996.
- Tannery Farm, 663 Main St. Was a culturally-important gathering place for musicians and artists and frequest guests included Isabella Stewart Gardner.
- House at 661 Main St. The town’s last Native American resident, Lucy Brand, lived in the house.
- Intersection of Main and Bridge Streets. There used to be a toll house at this intersection.
- Bridge Street. Every single house on Bridge Street was burned during King Philip’s War, and seven people died.
- Residence at 49 Bridge St. House was originally built in 1656 but burned in King Philip’s War but was rebuilt. Burned again in 1749 and was rebuilt. In 1997, it burned again and homeowners Kathleen and Stephen McCrossan were told by insurance that it could not be saved. The McCrossans saved what they could and rebuilt an exact replica of the house.
- Poor Farm was located on 100 acres off West Street (across from Bridge Street). Town bought it in 1837 with money from the U.S. Treasury surplus budget under President Andrew Jackson.