Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

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5. the Israel Whitney House (963 Central Avenue)

Posted on: March 24th, 2020 by Needham History Center and Museum

The Old Center c. 1870, showing (left to right) the Whitney House, the Center (Brick) School, Revere Hall, and the First Parish Church.


The Israel Whitney House is typical of the architecture of colonial Needham. Four front rooms (two on the first floor, two on the second) were joined by a stair, with an ell to the rear for kitchens and workshops. Shifting the working areas to the back of the house kept them out of more public view, and minimized the always-high risk of fires in the main structure. This type of house was prevalent in Needham from before 1730 to about 1850, and several examples are featured in this History Walk.

Israel Whitney (1774-1846) was a cobbler and a teacher at the Center School.  He held several town offices, among them Treasurer, Assessor, Selectman, Moderator, member of the School Committee, Justice of the Peace, and Postmaster.  As Postmaster, he is said to have had a casual approach to the job: “Israel Whitney, who was Justice of the Peace and who cobbled our shoes, would bring the mail from his house close by down to the school yard in his leather apron, with his specs on the end of his nose, which was fairly long, and the children would collect around him.  He would then distribute the mail to the children who in turn would take it where it belonged when they went home.”

Back to Map 1 – West of Needham Center

Crossing Borders

Posted on: March 21st, 2019 by Needham History Center and Museum

Crossing Borders:  a Shared History

Historic Newton, the Natick Historical Society, the Needham History Center & Museum, and the Wellesley Historical Society are joining together to present four programs in the Spring and Summer of 2019 that focuses on the development of the four neighboring towns. The partnership combines our research and knowledge, and engages our broad audience in learning about the shared history of these bordering communities.

Program planning is currently underway for these four topics:

  1.  A walking tour of Lower Falls, literally crossing the border between Newton and Wellesley
  2.  The forces that shaped our towns as Boston’s suburbs
  3. The untold history of “praying towns” from a Native American perspective
  4. A river runs through us: new takes on Charles River history

Our collaboration grew from the recognition that borders in this region – municipal and psychological – have shifted over time. Together, our four organizations can interpret a larger story that crosses the porous borders between our cities and towns, learning about the trends that have shaped our region.

More details about the schedule will be available shortly.  For further information, contact each historical organization: Historic Newton, the Natick Historical Society, the Needham History Center & Museum, and the Wellesley Historical Society.


Meeting in the Middle – Needham’s Memorial Park

Posted on: September 18th, 2018 by Needham History Center and Museum

Gloria Polizzotti Greis, Executive Director, Needham Historical Society

The line is now fading, but long-term Needham residents still remember when Rosemary Street. formed the “boundary” between Needham Center and Needham Heights.

Needham in 1850 was not much different from Needham in 1711.  Most Needhamites were farmers, or worked in the trades that supported a small farming community.  The town and church were centered on the intersection of Nehoiden Street and Central Avenue to be near the coach roads – the main travel arteries of the time. The rest of Needham was thinly settled – mostly woodlots and pastureland, except for where it was too swampy to farm much at all.  Highlandville (Needham Heights) was not much different, with the same farms and pastures as the center.

Everything changed after 1850.  In 1853, the railroad came to Needham, in part to transport gravel to Boston to fill the Back Bay.  Stations were built at Highlandville and in the empty pastureland of the Great Plain.  Once the railroad was built, businesses and homes were increasingly drawn away from the old center on Nehoiden Street and toward the convenience and activity of the two train stations.

Also in the 1850s, Needham saw its first significant influx of immigrants since the 1700s.  Irish Catholics escaping the Famine flocked to the Boston area and surrounding towns.  English knitters from the Midlands, displaced by the growing industrialization of the English textile industry, also came to this area.  Many of these families settled in Highlandville.  As the knitters set up their own businesses and then expanded their mills, the need for labor grew, and the Irish and English, and later the Italian and Polish immigrants found work and settled in the neighborhood.

The new industries and immigrants transformed the Heights economy from farms to manufacturing, and created a new political and social culture that was very different from the old colonial culture of the Center.  The two sections took on different characters that reflected their differing histories.  The Heights was more diverse in nationality and religion, and industrial rather than agricultural.  Neighborhood enclaves were based on nationality.  The local game was cricket rather than baseball.

1700 Needham volunteers used their shovels, wheelbarrows, steam shovels, tractors and plows to level Richwagen’s Hill and create Memorial Park in honor of the town’s World War I veterans and casualties.

However, despite any differences, the construction of Memorial Park was an act of unity, a sharing of grief and memory.  Needham had just recovered from the twin traumas of World War I and the influenza epidemic. The town was more fortunate than many, suffering relatively few losses from either event. Nevertheless, it had been two generations – the Civil War – since Needham had faced such tragedy.

The site chosen for the park was also symbolic – Richwagen’s Hill on Highland Avenue, just midway between the Center Common and the Heights Common.

On April 19, 1921, two parades set off with music and fanfare – one from the Center, and one from the Heights – to meet in the middle at Richwagen’s Hill. 1700 people (one-third of the town) volunteered to work, bringing wheelbarrows and shovels, tractors and horses, to dig down the hill and create a level field.  Veterans of the War wore their old uniforms.  The Women’s Relief Corps set up a camp kitchen in the field across the street (now Sudbury Farms’ parking lot) to feed the workers.

The Women’s Relief Corps set up a camp kitchen to feed the workers a lunch of beans, hot dogs, bread, cheese, pickles, pies, donuts and coffee. The Public Library is in the background.

A large boulder found during the digging was set up for the bronze memorial plaque. The new Memorial Park was dedicated “To Those of Needham who Served their Country in the World War, 1917-1918, and in Memory of Those Who Died in Service.”  In 1995, additional monuments were dedicated in honor of Needhamites who served in the country’s other wars.

Created by the community to honor its heroes, Memorial Park remains at the literal and figurative center of Needham as our park, playing field, and gathering place.

Needham Historical Society is Seeking Part-Time Development Manager

Posted on: January 15th, 2016 by Needham History Center and Museum

P/T Development Manager


The Needham Historical Society is seeking a part-time Development Manager to assist with the development and implementation of the Society’s fundraising and membership strategies. These include the annual appeals, corporate and individual appeals, membership solicitations, sponsorships, grant writing and special events. This is a part-time position, and reports to the Executive Director.



  • Working with development committee to contribute to the organization’s development plan and financial growth.
  • Manage and implement the annual fund and membership appeals including direct mail, social media, and phone and personal interactions with donors in the community and on site.
  • Prepare and maintain accurate donor and membership records and database and reports for board of directors.
  • Collaborate on development and implementation of special events.
  • Attend and participate in development and fundraising committee meetings.
  • Manage and monitor a prompt acknowledgement system. Review periodically for accuracy, efficiency, and tax reporting purposes.
  • Work with staff and volunteers on various projects, including mailings, display, exhibits, and programming.
  • Opening the building and receiving guests for public and private meetings and events. Secure building after guests leave.
  • Other duties as assigned, including greeting and interacting with visitors, answering phone and inquiries.



Associates degree, Bachelors degree preferred.

One year + successful experience in fundraising (annual fund preferred), community organization, or related field.



Microsoft Office Suite

Excellent verbal and written skills with careful attention to detail

Ability to work independently without supervision

Needham resident or familiarity with community a plus


Hours: 16-20 per week. Flexible, including occasional evenings and weekends.

Benefits: Two weeks’ paid vacation; federal holidays unpaid.


CONTACT:   Please send resume and cover letter to Gloria Greis, Executive Director, at the Needham Historical Society, 1147 Central Avenue, Needham, MA 02492 or

The Gazette – January 2014

Posted on: January 2nd, 2014 by Needham History Center and Museum

In This Issue…

  • Mr. and Mrs. Trees
  • Our History Book Group forges ahead!
  • The Winter Social on February 1st
  • Coming Attractions

 Hiftorically Speaking…


 Greenwood oak

The Greenwood Oak on Nehoiden Street,  which was more than 300 years old when it died in 1908

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  — Warren Buffet

Mr. and Mrs. Trees

I suspect that when some of Needham’s oldest houses were built, “Mr. and Mrs.” trees were planted – one on each side of the front door as was the custom in early New England. These trees – most often elms – were planted to celebrate marriages and represented the shelter and protection of the couple’s new home. Almost every day as I drive around rural northern Massachusetts, where I now live, I see one or two ancient farmhouses where either the Mr. or the Mrs. Tree – and sometimes both – are still standing. I don’t remember where I once observed such a stand in Needham…but, if you, Dear Reader, are aware of a site, please notify Gloria Greis at the Needham Historical Society so she can document this historic artifact.

Unlike my former home on Birds Hill in Needham that featured three trees, each about 50 years old, my  current home in Northfield is surrounded by more than a dozen trees that are 100 years old or more. In one of the two State Forests located in this historic town, a stand of trees is so old that it is known locally as the “Primeval Forest.” And one birch in this forest is reported to be the largest tree of its kind in the world. (It stands 20 feet in circumference and is nearly 100 feet tall, as documented by the American Forestry Association the Massachusetts Department of Conservation, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.)

All the old trees that once stood in Needham’s forests and woodlots – and those of most cities and towns surrounding Boston and Dedham – were consumed in the 1800s by the creation of pasture-land and building lots, and the need for lumber to build houses and barns, ships and wagons, and to make furniture and other fixtures, and, of course, for firewood to heat houses and furnaces and to boil water and cook food and make charcoal. So much wood was burned then that I have read reports of clouds of smoke from burning wood not only darkening the sky over a city or town, but also making the air almost impossible to breathe because of the soot and ash it contained.

It is said that, before the Pilgrims arrived, a squirrel could travel from Maine to Boston without ever leaving the treetops. By the 1870s, more than 80% of New England’s forest cover had been cleared. The survivors – now huge and isolated, like the 240-year-old white oak in the Newman School courtyard – were most often field trees kept for shade, or trees that grew along roads or walls where they did not interfere with the plow. Look for them along the town’s oldest roads.

At one time, Needham’s Great Plain Ave. was lined on both sides by a corridor of tall and leafy elm trees that had been planted in the 1840s. But the Ice Storm of November 1921, the Hurricane of September 1938, elm disease, and other scourges brought an end to these ancient sentinels of the street.

The importance of trees in the lives of early New England settlers becomes apparent when we look back into the time of the Revolutionary War, when the pine tree became the New England symbol: the patriots met under a Liberty Tree, the Liberty Pole was made from a tree, the first coin struck in Massachusetts had a pine tree on it (the “pine-tree shilling”), the flag flown at Bunker Hill had a pine tree in its upper corner, and the Continental flag was known as the Pine Tree flag because of its tree symbol.

In my May-June Gazette I suggested that you look for rocks and stone walls the next time you’re traveling through the back roads of New England – so I now suggest you also look for Mr. and Mrs. Trees, or for some of the massive trees that survived the clearances and are now so rare. If you find any, you will be looking at New England’s ancient history.

 –Bob Hall, Ye Olde Editor

Memberships are Due!

The Membership Renewal Forms were sent out in September.  Membership runs from January 1 to December 31. Dues are $30 Individual and $50 Family. Or renew online on our website.



As the song says, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, the holidays are a time for reflection, recognition and for giving thanks for so many things in life. We at the Society are thankful for the generosity of so many individuals and businesses that help to make us a thriving organization.

In October we held our Needham’s Walk Through History, which for many was a slosh through history because, unfortunately, we had some rain and drizzle for most of the day. However, we did have a fair number of people brave the elements. We also had a large number of people who stopped by the booth at the NBA Harvest Fair to pick up a map and – since the site signs up were up around Town already – they started their self-guided tours on that clear and warm Saturday afternoon. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of so many people, both businesses and individuals, especially our leading sponsors, The Needham Bank, BID Needham, and North Hill.

Our expanded Heirloom Shoppe has proven to be very successful and a fun place to find some unique offerings, so stop by and visit and see what is new at the society and maybe find that special gift for someone on your holiday list. We also have a large selection of Needham-themed items in our Gift Shop that could prove to be a perfect choice for that hard to please person on your list, so check us out on-line  or stop by and visit in person.

I am a firm believer that many hands make light work and there are so many opportunities to help out at the Society. So if you have time and can offer  your services in a variety of ways we would love to have you or your interested friends and neighbors join a committee or project. Contact Gloria for details and get your name on the contact list.

Without the generous support of many individuals and businesses the Society would not be able to do a lot of what we do and we truly appreciate these donations. At this time I would like to especially thank again The Needham Bank, the Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital, Needham, and North Hill for their sponsorship of Needham’s Walk Through History this year. There are many other sponsors that Gloria will mention in her remarks.

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for Saturday, February 1, 2014, because the Society is Going Country once again. This year for our Winter Social we are bringing back by popular demand Catie Offerman and her Country Band. We had a great time last year and hope to make it even better this year. Hope to see you all there.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous  New Year!


In the EXECUTIVE CHAIR by Gloria Greis

In this season of gratitude, I have so many people that I want to thank for their generosity in the past few months ~


The Annual Fund was a success, exceeding our goal for the first time in a few years!  Many thanks to all who contributed — Jeanette Anderson, Alison and Peter Atallah, Bob and Kally Badavas, Connie and Joe Barr, Stephen and Lynn Baum, George Belzer, James and Christine Bezreh, Seymour Bigman, Francesca Borrelli, Alison and Matt Borrelli, Beth Mason and Jason Botelho, Carol Boulris, Michael Caine and Kiyoko Morita, Edwin Cameron, Margot Carleton, Dorothy Caulfield, Robert and Gratia Chase, Linda and Barry Coffman, Jack and Pat Cogswell, Helen and Mel Colman, Bob Lynch and Maureen Commane, Louise and Frank Condon, Lois Camberg and Roy Cramer, Roberta Crocker, Kathy D’Addesio, Dan and Julie Dain, Rick and Gail Davis, Carolin and Samuel Davis, Greta and Jon Davis, Carol and Ed de Lemos, Jess Delaney, Christine Deliee, Joan Dimond, Philip and Mary Ellen Dooher, Molly Drake, Janet and David Drake, Sheryl and Harold Dubin, Susan Duncan, Claire Dee Ecsedy, Janis Soma and Bruce Eisenhut, Judy Flanagan, Claire and Lou Fusaro, Adrienne Smith and Mark Gluesing, Amy and Howard Goldman, Carl Gordon, Mark and Martha Gowetski, Don Gratz, Samuel Graves, Don and Margaret Gray, Donald Reed and Risa Greendlinger, Bob and Celine Hall, Maurice and Elizabeth Handel, Bob Heald, Gail and Tom Hedges, Michael and Betty Heffernan, Helen Hicks, Elliot and Margie Hillback, George and Christine Hoffmeister, Brian and Cerredwyn Horrigan, Mary Lou Edman Hughes, Jack and Elizabeth Hurley, Dolph and Sylvia Hutter, Deb and Tom Jacob, Bruce and Helen Johnstone, Florence and Bob Kelley, Elaine Kile, Marjorie Koebler, Marion Lebourveau, Jeanne and Robert Leeber, Martha Leiby, Theresa Lemaire, Jean Lindblad, Ann MacFate, Ruth MacIntosh, David and Ann MacQueen, James and Sarah Ann Mahoney, Roger Markhus, Susan Anderson and Joe McCabe, Susan McGarvey, Carolyn McIver, John McQuillan, Michael Murphy, Ruth and Joseph Nadol, John Naughton, the Needham Bank, Michael Niden, Marcia Nizzari, George Noyes, Carleen and John O’Brien, Rick and Jill Oetheimer, Elvira Castano Palmerio, Maryruth and Richard Perras, Greg Petrini, Shirley Pratt, Donald Reilly, Jim Reulbach, Eleanor and Jay Rosellini, John and Marcia Russo, Emily Salaun, Debbie Schmill, Miles and Eleanor Shore, Stanley Simon, Nancy Simpson-Banker, Richard and Roseanne Smith, Ron and Lois Sockol, Eliot Sterling, Nancy Stern, James and Roberta Swenson, Bill and Betsy Tedoldi, Michael Terry, Steve and Jane Theall, Leslie and Paul Tillotson, Alice Ungethuem, Donna and William Vello, Jay and Neeta Wadekar, Diana Kleiner and Sam Warner, Cheryl Weisman-Cohen, Susan Welby, Warren Wells, Mark Whalen, Kathy Whitney, Ms Patricia Wiggin, David and Deborah Winnick.


Mark my words – some day the weather will cooperate! Even so, some brave souls came out and got wet, and others checked the weather forecast and took in some of the Walk on Saturday. Many thanks to the leading sponsors of the event – the Needham Bank, BID Needham, and North Hill, as well as the Hub and Site Sponsors: Alison and Matt Borrelli, Carol Boulris, Marcy Busch, David and Janet Drake, Moe and Elizabeth Handel, Deb and Tom Jacob, Barbara and Scott Jones, Jim Mahoney, Susan Anderson and Joe McCabe, Michael and Dawn Nathanson, Maryruth Perras, Sally and Dick Toran, and the Petrini Corporation.

Thanks also to the Committee that planned the event and to the Docents who provided information and guidance on Walk Day – Mark Gluesing, Maryruth Perras, Deb Jacob, Sally Toran, Moe Handel, Susan Welby, Bob Heald, David Drake, Connie Bernstein, Susan Anderson, and Alison Borrelli, Carol Boulris, Claire Fusaro, Michael Greis, and Steve Sauter.



The Book Group meets monthly, usually on Tuesday mornings. We read History, Historical Fiction, Memoir, and Biography, choosing books from a variety of periods and places. So far, we have read The Whistling Season (Ivan Doig), People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks), and Nella Last’s War (The Diaries of Nella Last). Our next meeting is on January 28th, to read Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn by Robert Martello. Dr Martello is a professor at Olin College; we are reading and discussing his book in advance of  his lecture here in February.

Anyone who likes to read in invited to join us! The schedule and booklist are posted on our website, at

Coming Up:

  • Jan. 28 –Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn (Rob Martello)
  • Feb. 25 – Someone Knows my Name (Lawrence Hill) – celebrating African-American History Month!
  • March 25 – Call the Darkness Light (Nancy Zaroulis) – celebrating Women’s History Month!
  • April 29 – The Silver Pigs (Lindsey Davis)


Winter Social 2014

Kick Up Yer Heels at the Winter Social!

Join us on Saturday, February 1st at Powers Hall for the Winter Social!

We had such a great time last year, that we’re doing it all again! – live music from Catie Offerman and her band, cold beer, hot food from Blue Ribbon BBQ, great company, auctions, and maybe a few turns around the dance floor.

And bring yer best Stetson, Pardner – we’re having a Best Cowboy Hat Contest!

Tickets are available now!  The price is $60 in advance (until January 31), and $65 at the door, if still available.  They can be ordered

For more information, call Gloria Greis at or 781-455-8860.



Also on the Calendar for this winter –

FEBRUARY 9, Sunday, 1 pmMidnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise.  Rob Martello, Olin College.

At the Needham Historical Society, 1147 Central Avenue, Needham.

Dr Martello talks about Revere’s other life – as manufacturer and innovator.  Co-Sponsored by the Col. McIntosh Chapter, NSDAR and the Needham Historical Society.


MARCH 9, Sunday, 2 pm – Vikings on the Charles ~ or, the Strange Saga of Dighton Rock, Norumbega, and Rumford Double-Acting Baking Powder.  Gloria Greis, Needham Historical Society.

At North Hill, 865 Central Avenue, Needham.

Was Vinland really in Newton? Why we were invaded by Vikings (briefly) in the 19th century.     Sponsored by North Hill and the Needham Historical Society.

The Knitters of Needham – 4/22/12 at 2pm

Posted on: April 20th, 2012 by Needham History Center and Museum
Come celebrate our new book, The Knitters of Needham, by Chaim M. Rosenberg and the Needham Historical Society.

Join us for a brief presentation and chat with Chaim Rosenberg. Storyteller Cindy Rivka Marshall will appear, in period dress, as “Claire”- a woman who worked at the Thorpe (later called Gorse) Mill at the turn of the 20th century.

The reception will take place on Sunday, April 22 at 2:00 pm, at the Needham Historical Society. Refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

– Needham Historical Society

Old Repairs: The Good, The Bad and the Irreversible

Posted on: March 5th, 2012 by Needham History Center and Museum

The Good, the Bad, and……..
Have old furniture that needs restoration? Has it been restored in the past – for better or for worse? Some old repairs hold up well, while others don’t, and are costly or impossible to reverse and redo. We’ll look at some good ones and some offenders and discuss what went right or wrong and why.

Join us on Sunday, March 11 at 2:00 pm, at the Needham Historical Society, 1147 Central Avenue. The Historical Society is pleased to present Conservator Melissa Hiatt Carr of Masterwork Conservation, who will talk about “Old Repairs: The Good, The Bad, and the Irreversible.”

Melissa Carr has seen more old repairs than she cares to count. She has worked as a conservator of wooden objects for almost twenty years, the last ten of which as the owner and lead conservator of Masterwork Conservation. Her specialties are Asian lacquer, period interior rooms, finish recovery (No! Don’t sand it!), and structural repairs. She consults and treats for major museums, historic houses, and individuals. Her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her graduate degree in conservation were separated by programs in architecture and cabinetmaking, as well as a number of jobs of varying interest.

This presentation is open to the public. Programs are free for members of the Historical Society, and $5.00 for non-members. Refreshments will be served. For more information about this program, please call Gloria Greis, 781-455-8860 or


Chocolate & Champagne Goes Country on Feb 2!

Posted on: January 30th, 2012 by Needham History Center and Museum

It’s Official! Chocolate and Champagne Goes Country!

February 2, 2013 from 7:00 to 10:30 pm
Powers Hall (Needham Town Hall)
Tickets are $55 in advance, $60 at the door.  They can be purchased online.

Join us for something a little different this year with live music and dancing featuring the vocals of rising country music star, Catie Offerman. Catie is an accomplished singer and songwriter with singles such as “Kissing in the Dark” and “You’re From Texas”. Catie has opened for artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Eli Young, Pat Green, Jerry Jeff Walker and numerous others.

Join us at Powers Hall in Needham Town Hall for a buffet dinner from Blue Ribbon BBQ, live music, auctions, contests, and more!

Tickets are $55 in advance, $60 at the door.  They can be purchased by mail by sending a check to the Needham Historical Society, 1147 Central Avenue, Needham, MA 02492 or online at

Hosted by the Needham Historical Society. For more information, please visit or email Gloria at

* * * PLEASE NOTE – All tickets will be held at the door. * * *


Posted on: January 21st, 2012 by Needham History Center and Museum

The Needham Historical Society has unveiled a brand new website!  You can donate, buy tickets to events and even shop!

Visit and let us know what you think.


Welcome to the Needham Historical Society!

Posted on: January 4th, 2012 by Needham History Center and Museum

We are unveiling a brand new website.  Visit and let us know what you think!