History of the Norwood Historical Society

History of the Norwood Historical Society by Heather S. Cole, presented to the Norwood Retired Men’s Club on 10 April 2007.

This year the Norwood Historical Society is celebrating our 100th birthday. The society was founded by members of the Norwood Literary Club, an organization formed in 1883 as an early self-governed adult education program. The members read and discussed books, studied the natural world, put on theatrical performances and went on various local excursions. In 1901, as Norwood neared its 30th birthday, the Norwood Literary Club voted to form a historical society to begin to preserve the town’s history. There was a particular concern among the members of collecting the stories from people who had been around in old South Dedham and when Norwood was incorporated as a town.

After the Civil War and around the time of the American centennial, Americans had a renewed interest in local and family history. In some communities, this impetus to remember and preserve the past came from a desire to celebrate local war heroes or colonial settlers; in others it came as a reaction to the influx of outsiders and immigrants and a desire to preserve an idealized past. In many places it was a combination of the two. These trends resulted in the founding of a number of genealogical, historical and preservation organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Hundreds of local historical societies were formed in this period, too. Norwood was actually a little late in jumping on the historical society bandwagon. Dedham had formed a historical society in 1859, Natick in 1870 and Walpole in 1898.

Although the Norwood Literary Society proposed founding a historical society in 1901, it was not until six years later that the Norwood Historical Society was officially incorporated. On February 14, 1907 a charter was granted to the following members: Milton H. Howard, Emily Curtis Fisher, Walter J. Berwick, Frank E. Bartley, Maria E. Colburn, Marcia M. Winslow, Nellie M. Babcock, Charles E. Smith, Clara W. Berwick, David A. Ellis. Some of those names may sound familiar: Milton Howard was a local builder and real estate agent; Walter Berwick was one of the founders of Norwood Press; Marcia Winslow was from the Winslow tannery family and both the Ellis and Fisher families were prominent in South Dedham.

The purpose of the Norwood Historical Society, as described in the charter, was to collect and preserve “historical and antiquarian work and research, the collection and preservation of books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and other articled of historical and antiquarian or kindred subjects.” Many of the first objects donated to the historical society were given by early members and their families. They ranged from clothing to family portraits to miscellaneous objects collected in their travels that may have had little to do with Norwood history. But the objects were dutifully collected and listed in a handwritten catalogue that we still have today.

When it was founded, the Norwood Historical Society did not have a permanent home. Meetings were held at the Morrill Memorial Library or in members’ homes. But it soon became evident that they needed a regular place to meet and somewhere to store the objects of Norwood’s history that they had said they wanted to collect. Not much progress was made until the death of a local resident, Fred Holland Day who left a very generous legacy to the Norwood Historical Society in his will. It had, however, one substantial condition.

Fred Holland Day was an internationally renowned photographer, publisher and literary historian. He was born in Norwood in 1864 and was the only son of Lewis Day and Anna Smith Day, both from wealthy families prominent in Norwood’s early tanning industries. He became famous around the turn of the century for both his publishing and his photography. He published two well-known Victorian literary magazines and co-founded a publishing company—Copeland & Day – which published Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and other Victorian poets, as well as beautifully-illustrated children’s books. Around the turn of the century he also became an influential photographer, one of a small group that first promoted photography as a fine art. Fred Day is best known for his religious photography, including a controversial series of self-portraits reenacting the crucifixion of Christ. And locally, he became known for his research on Dedham history.

Fred Holland Day was born and raised in a house located at the corner of Day and Bullard Streets in Norwood. The Day House belonged to Fred’s mother, Anna Day. When she died, she left the house to be used by Fred in his lifetime, then to be sold and the proceeds donated to charity. Fred Day was an only child and never married. When he died in 1933, he left in his will a bequest to the Norwood Historical Society (and much of his collection of local history and genealogy) provided they could maintain a headquarters for one year. Despite being in the midst of the Great Depression, a group of local businessmen pooled their resources and bought the Day House, with a mortgage, from the estate of Anna Day as a permanent home for the Norwood Historical Society.

The following year, Fred Day’s collections and bequest came to the Norwood Historical Society and the society was able to pay off its mortgage. On December 18, 1935 the mortgage was burned and the historic Day House has been in the care of the society ever since.

The Day House had been built in 1859, but extensively renovated in 1890-93 by Fred Day. It was renovated to resemble an English Tudor Manor House, with a 3-story Great Hall and mahogany paneled dining room. Also leaded glass windows, beautiful stained glass windows, and seven fireplaces. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you haven’t yet visited, please do.

NORWOOD HISTORICAL SOCIETY TODAY

Over the past 100 years, the purpose of the Norwood Historical Society has remained much the same. Our mission today is to preserve our home, the Fred Holland Day House, and to “preserve and share Norwood’s history for present and future generations.” We have, however, expanded our collections, exhibits and programs to include representation from newer residents to Norwood, including the many contributions from immigrants to town. And we have also expended our efforts to include education about local history and historic preservation in general.

Among the highlights of our collection today is Fred Day’s extensive library of more than 800 volumes on local history and genealogy. We also have several of Fred Day’s photographs. Among the artifacts we have from early South Dedham is the blue painted cabinet that was owned by Norwood’s Rev. Thomas Balch and 95 books that once were part of Norwood’s first library. We also have the revolving drum that was Norwood’s first post office. In our archives we have hundreds of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and other material documenting the history of Norwood’s local government, businesses, churches and ethnic groups. And we continue to accept donations relating to Norwood history, pending the approval of our board of directors.

Part of our mission is to educate Norwood residents about local history, so we organize exhibits, programs and lectures such as this one on various topics relating to local history. In recent years we’ve organized exhibits on Norwood’s immigrant history, sports in Norwood, Norwood veterans and weddings in Norwood. This year, in honor of our centennial, we’re putting together an exhibit a few people from Norwood who have helped shape the town we live in today. They include some names you may be familiar with: architect William Upham, philanthropist F.O. Winslow, the Morse Family, Father William Wolkovich of St. George’s Church in South Norwood. I have a postcard with some information on the exhibit, which will be opening in May, and I invite all of you out for a visit.

OBJECTS FROM THE COLLECTION

When you visit the Day House this summer you can see our centennial exhibit and take a tour of the house and see lots and lots of objects from various periods in Norwood’s history. But we also have things in our collections or our archives that, because of space, are not always on display. I thought I’d spend the rest of my time here sharing with you a few of my favorite things from the collections of the Norwood Historical Society. A few of these things I can pass around. The others are too fragile, so I’ll just ask that you come up afterwards and take a look.

Norwood High School Yearbooks

These don’t need much explanation. The Norwood Historical Society has a nearly complete collection of old town reports, yearbooks, the high school literary magazine, etc. But we are always looking for more copies in good condition. I thought I’d send these around for you to look through.

Ballot Box

Does anyone know what this is? This is an old-fashioned ballot box. Through the 1930s, people who wanted to be members of the Norwood Historical Society had to be elected. In order to become a member, prospective members needed to be elected to the Society by a 2/3 vote, using Indian corn and beans. This was done by ballot—and members would drop either a piece of corn or a bean in the box to signify their vote. The corn vote was a yes; the bean vote was a no. In 1934, membership dues were $1 per year. New members were required to pay a one-time admission fee of $2. Now, anyone who pays their annual fee (currently $20) can be a member.

Map of Norwood

This one is pretty self-explanatory. But it is one of my favorite things in our collection. I love maps. And this map is beautiful both for its design–it has fairly accurate renderings of some of the more significant buildings in Norwood—and because it captures Norwood just on the cusp of a transformation. On this map you can see the tanneries, the railroad car shops. [Describe South Norwood]. Within the next ten years, Norwood will experience a population explosion. The Norwood Press will come to Norwood in 1894. Plimpton Press opened in 1897. Bird and Son will build their first Norwood factory in 1904. At the same time, Norwood will see a flood of Southern and Eastern European immigrants who come to work in the factories, and build triple deckers and all sorts of stores in South Norwood. We actually have a similar map of Norwood made in the 1890s hanging in the Day House, and it is remarkable to contrast the two.

Design of Norwood Square

Is anyone familiar with the name George Willett? What did he do? Why is he important to the history of Norwood? George Willett is best known for founding the Norwood Civic Association, founding Norwood Hospital and helping introduce the town manager form of government to Norwood. But he also was very active in shaping the physical layout of Norwood in the early 20th century. Many of the business blocks along Washington Street were commissioned by George Willett, who also arranged to move several of the large mid-19th century Victorian homes off of Washington Street and onto side streets. He founded the Norwood Planning Board in 1912 and served as its chair for 12 years. In 1915 he advocated for the widening and paving of Washington Street, and the installation of sidewalks for the first time. One of his biggest projects was planning out Norwood Square and the new town hall. At the time, Norwood’s municipal offices were housed in an old fire station and were completely inadequate. George Willett advocated for a new town hall built on a new town green that would anchor the northern end of the business district he was building along Washington Street. At the time, Market Street crisscrossed the land George Willett wanted for Norwood Square, and there were several houses built along Washington Street on the land. So he proceeded to buy the land, redirect Market Street, and then gave the land for Norwood Square and the town hall to the town of Norwood. World War I hit, so it would be several years before town hall would finally be built in 1928.

Can any of you tell me anything you notice about this map? Yes, George Willett’s original vision was to have town hall located where Norwood Theater is today. These plans were drawn up for the Planning Board in the 1920s. Norwood would reject these plans, in favor of building the town hall where it is today. One more thing to notice: the plans were drawn up by Arthur Shurtcliff, who was a student of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect best known for designing Central Park in NYC and the Emerald Necklace of parks around Boston.

Norwood’s Original Town Seal Designs

These drawings here were among my favorite discoveries in the archives of the Norwood Historical Society. Remember a few months ago when there was all the bru-ha-ha about the color of Aaron Guild’s coat on Norwood’s town seal? Well, just before that story broke in the local newspaper, I was doing research in the Historical Society archives for a talk I was giving at a historic preservation conference on Old Home Week celebrations in Norwood. I was thrilled to come across these drawings and a collection of glass plate negatives of additional drawings. Here is their story:

In the fall of 1901, the Norwood Business Association (an organization of local businessmen and industrialists – a predecessor to today’s Chamber of Commerce) proposed that the town of Norwood needed to have a town seal. They invited local school children to submit designs for the seal. About 80 students (and a few adults) responded. Several of the propose seals included eagles, flags and other patriotic symbols. Two portrayed Wampanoag chief King Phillip. A few more were drawings of buildings or streetscapes in town. But the most popular symbols included in the town seals were of Norwood’s industries and included imagery of books, printing presses, ink wells, smokestacks, even pieces of flayed and hung leather. This was Norwood as the children saw it. It was apparently not the Norwood that the Norwood Business Association wanted to portray.

At a meeting in April 1902, the Norwood Business Association thanked the schoolchildren for their efforts, but decided to postpone the selection of a seal until a future meeting. It wasn’t until more than a year later that the Norwood Business Association revisited the town seal proposals. In the summer of 1903, the town hosted its second Old Home Day celebration. These celebrations were becoming popular across New England and were generally a weekend of festivities showcasing local businesses and celebrating local history. The organizers decided to showcase the students’ town seal proposals at Old Home Day. Shortly thereafter, the Norwood Business Association awarded first prize to Norwood high school student Ethel Hubbard for her drawing of Norwood’s downtown area, known as “The Hook.” But Ethel’s design never made it onto the town seal. We do not know why. There are no accounts in Norwood’s town reports, the minutes of the Norwood Business Association or to local newspaper to tell us what happened. But two years later, the issue of a town seal came up at Norwood’s annual Town Meeting. A committee was appointed to propose a seal, and the following spring Town Meeting accepted the recommendations of the seal they proposed. But the seal that was finally accepted by Town Meeting in 1906 was not Ethel Hubbard’s design. Instead, the seal that was selected, and that is our town seal today, was the drawing made by the second place winner, high school student George Boyden.

School Bell and Photos from the Everett School

Does anyone know what this is? The Everett School was the first school in Norwood. It was located at Washington and Guild streets at the present location of Post Office. It was built ca. 1850 and named after Israel Everett, a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill who came from South Dedham. The Everett School was originally used as an elementary school, then later as a high school. The original building had 6 classrooms, three on each floor, and held up to 20 students. North and south wings were added to the school during the Civil War. At that time, the second floor became a public hall known as Union Hall. Teachers at the Everett School were almost always female, and they were paid between $300 and $400 per year. Parents were responsible for purchasing the books, slates and pencils for their children to use in school.

The Everett School was torn down in 1931 in the midst of a debate that may sound familiar. In 1923, a State Building Inspector visited Everett School and gave a report to the school board that “the building is in extremely dangerous condition and a grave fire hazard.” At the time, only the 7th grade was taught at Everett School. There was a great deal of debate in the local newspaper as to whether the Everett School was worth saving, or whether it was cheaper to tear it down and build a new school. In 1929, it was decided to tear down the school and transfer the students to the new High School on Nichols Street. In order to accommodate the students, the High School ran two school sessions per day: one from 8am-noon, and another from one to five p.m.

Bell was purchased from the estate of Dr. Ralph M Fogg and donated to the society in 1936 by Jane A. Hewett. In addition to the bell and these photos, we also have several photos of classes at the Everett School and an attendance sheet from 1872.

 

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