Happy Spring!

Posted March 20, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: Lost Dedham

Today I celebrated the Vernal Equinox by hiking in the Dedham Town Forest for a few hours. This 71 acre woods has rolling hills, old stone walls, vernal pools, rocky outcrops and a meandering stream. It is located in the most unlikely of places; you probably drive by it all the time and don’t even realize it’s there. DO YOU KNOW HOW TO GET TO THE DEDHAM TOWN FOREST? More details to follow…

Dedham, 1895

Posted March 19, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: Lost Dedham

This is a very cool photograph, taken from the top of the court-house on High Street, looking east. Many of the buildings in this view are long gone, such as Memorial Hall and the train station, both built of Dedham granite quarried nearby. Sticking out of the trees in the background just right of center is the water tower that stood on Walnut St. until recently.

St. Mary’s Church is quite an imposing structure, seen in the back left. The large white building to the left of the church was the estate of Thomas Barrows, who once ran the operations of the Norfolk Manufacturing Company at the Stone Mill in East Dedham. The Barrows home was torn down in 1959 and became the large St. Mary’s parking lot. The stone wall that once bordered the estate (also made of Dedham granite) can still be seen along High St.

Zoom in on the photo and see what other interesting things you can find; you might find yourself lost in old Shiretown for hours!

The Blizzard of ’78- The Final Word

Posted February 23, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham

My sister got these for everyone in the family. It pretty much sums up the whole experience.

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Posted February 21, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery

George and Abe. Two of our most famous, accomplished, and popular presidents. Both of whom visited Shiretown. How many towns can claim that such important figures in U.S. history spent time within their borders, and be able to point out the exact place and time of the visit?

Washington spent the night of April 4, 1776 at the home of Samuel Dexter. Then General Washington was on his way to New York after having successfully driven the British out of Boston. The house still stands on High St., although it has been much altered over the years. There is another Shiretown tale associated with this house which involves the Battle of Bunker Hill, a suicide, a curious soldier, and a rotting corpse. That tale will be told here at a later date.

Just down the street from the Dexter House is the Community House, also known as the Judge Samuel Haven House. It was here that Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln was entertained for lunch on September 20, 1848, while traveling New England in support of presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. Later that day, Lincoln spoke at Temperance Hall on Court St., before catching a train at the station that once stood in the Square where the town parking lot is now located. Below is a map commemorating Lincoln’s Massachusetts visit. See if you can find details of the Dedham trip on the map!

Other presidential visitors to Dedham include Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.

Blizzard of ’78 Part 3- A Haven in the Storm

Posted February 19, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham

Today it’s Joe’s American Bar and Grill. When I worked there for a month as a sophomore in high school in 1975 it was Boraschi’s Villa, and the decorative sign from that incarnation can still be seen in the main dining room of the Route 1 eatery. But in 1978 it was J.C. Hillary’s, and for several days during the Great Blizzard it became home to stranded motorists who trudged up from their abandoned cars on Route 128. Over 500 motorists stayed at both Hilary’s and the Showcase Cinema across the street, which became a Red Cross shelter for several days. Another 20 refugees from Route 128 made their way to the Caulfield home on Vincent Rd. where they were given shelter.

The lobby of the old Showcase Cinema with stranded motorists

Roads were closed by order of Governor Dukakis, and both state and local police were busy handing out citations to people who disobeyed the order.

School in Dedham was closed for 7 days, with Dukakis declaring that the days did not have to be made up, so Dedham students only went to school 176 days that year.

A portion of the roof of the Dedham Mall collapsed over Cummins, a women’s clothing store.

During the storm burglars broke into The House of Sports on Eastern Ave. and made off with $5000 worth of sporting goods, including the toboggans that they used to transport their plunder.

And I walked around with my little camera, taking fuzzy pictures of the Tower St. neighborhood.

Below: The house on Tower St. after the Blizzard of ’78. The bottom picture was taken after another memorable storm, the April Fool’s Day Blizzard of 1997.

Blizzard of ’78 Part 2

Posted February 7, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: Dedham Then and Now, JP's Dedham

This Dedham eatery may be long gone, but it figures in my next tale of the Blizzard of ’78. Do you know where you can find this remnant of the past in present-day Dedham?

The Blizzard of ’78

Posted February 6, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham

Rte. 128 at East St.
Driving around the narrowed streets of Dedham and listening to the news stories of buildings collapsing under the weight of snow naturally causes one to think back to the Blizzard of ’78, which occurred 33 years ago this week. Now 33 years isn’t all that long ago, yet I find it hard to recall many specific details about the storm. Some of my recollections include: walking out to Rte. 128 near East St. to look at all the abandoned cars- people walking from Roche Bros. in Westwood pulling sleds with groceries-watching some guy in a tiny jeep try to plow Tower St. (he finally gave up and left the jeep there in front of the mountainous pile of snow he’d created).

I was working at Wrangler Wranch in the Mall at the time, and I remember some time after the blizzard getting a check from the state for the missed work days due to the state of emergency that kept the Mall closed. What are your Blizzard of ’78 memories?

Etna Rd. and Capen School
LATER THIS WEEK- Blizzard Tales from Dedham!


Posted February 1, 2011 by Jim Parr
Categories: JP's Dedham

It’s been a long time since the last post, but now as Dedham celebrates 375 years as a town, it is time to share more tales from old Shiretown. If you are new to the blog, be sure to read all the old posts. Let me know what you think- suggest possible topics- send photos. Let’s celebrate Dedham’s birthday together!

Catching Air in Tower St. Backyard; February, 1971

We had a small hill in the backyard and would build jumps out of snow. Those plastic coasters were the newest thing at the time. In the background, my older sister is about to go down the hill with my year and a half year old brother in his plastic bathtub.
When I visited the old neighborhodd a few years ago, the family that bought the house on Tower St. from my parents told me they also sled down the hill, which they have named “Mt. Wilcox.” I love when traditions are carried on through the years.

Circle the Wagons!

Posted July 3, 2010 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery, Lost Dedham

Transcript, 1963

I’m pretty sure that Dedham is the only town in the U.S. with a town ordinance that reads like this:

“No person shall set fire to or burn, or cause to be moved through any way or street of the Town, any waste material, paper, wood or any inflammable substance on any wagon, cart, buggy, push–cart or on any vehicle, with the intention of setting fire to or burning same on any way or street of the Town.”

The bylaw was adopted in 1959 in response to the resurrection of a dangerous, unique, and beloved Dedham tradition- the burning of old farm wagons in Oakdale Square on either “the night before” of July 3rd, or the night of the 4th itself. Beginning some time in the early 20th century (my research found the oldest recorded reference to be 1922) thousands of people would gather in the square to witness the event. In the 20’s and 30’s, police and fire officials merely watched and made sure nobody got hurt. The spectacle usually began at midnight when some brave youth would climb the roof of the Good Shepherd Church and ring the bell.

The wagons came from local farms in Dedham and surrounding towns. As authentic farm wagons became scarcer, teenagers would make their own and hide them in back yards and garages until the big night. In 1938, no wagons were found or made, so an old outhouse had to do. Usually the fires got so intense the windows of the stores in the square would crack and the tar underneath would melt. The last Oakdale Square burning was in 1963, when revellers threw rocks and full cans of beer at police and firefighters when they arrived on the scene. After that the burnings disappeared for a few years before the tradition was revived in the Manor. After an explosion and the melting a vinyl-sided house in 1990, police chief Dennis Teehan finally put an end to the burnings.

Transcript, 1957

I remember hearing about the wagon burnings when I was a kid, but I never witnessed one. Every time I have been out promoting my book, dozens of people have come up to me and shared fond memories of this one-of-a-kind tradition. Maybe you have some more tales to add to the collection? Pass them along, and have a Glorious Fourth!

An Execution in Charlestown- Part 2

Posted June 18, 2010 by Jim Parr
Categories: History/Mystery

Crowds in front of the Dedham Court House during the trial

The scene at the Readville train station on March 2, 1934 was just a preview of the frenzy that would surround the Millen Brothers’ case over the next year. Several thousand people gathered at the station to greet the brothers upon their arrival from New York. The crowds continued to gather throughout the trial, with curious onlookers from all over the country heading to Dedham to get a look at the accused and the beautiful young bride, Norma. School kids played hookey and waited in front of the court house to see the defendants brought from the jail. People dressed in suits and carrying briefcases tried to pass themselves off as lawyers in order to sneak into the court room. With Faber’s confession already in hand, the trio would have had a difficult time proving their innocence, and so their lawyers pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Incredibly, Faber’s confession in late February included the details of a Lynn theater hold-up and murder for which 2 cab drivers were on trial in Salem. The judge suspended the trial and freed the 2 men just as the DA was about to present his closing argument. This bizarre chapter in the Millen Brothers case was later dramatized in the 1939 film “Let Us Live,” starring Henry Fonda.

After a two month trial, all three men were found guilty and sentenced to death. The men certainly did their best to avoid their fate by attempting several escapes from the Dedham Jail, but by June of 1935, all appeals had been exhausted and the electric chair awaited them at the state prison in Charlestown. After the executions, the drama continued as a mob of onlookers tussled with members of the Millen families at the cemetery dusing burial services.

Twenty-year old Norma Millen was released from the Dedham Jail two months later, and disappeared into obscurity. Although the case received as much attention in 1934 as the Sacco-Vanzetti trial had a few years earlier, today it remains a little known chapter in Norfolk County legal history. Look up my May 23, 2010 post “The Cage is Removed” to see a courtroom sketch of Faber and the Millens sitting in the “cage” during the trial.

Above- the “lovely” Norma Millen, Below- Norma exercising in the yard of the Dedham Jail