Needham History Center & Museum

Mystery Photo Challenge!

How well do you know Needham? We took two of our favorite photos to the Harvest Fair on Greene’s Field to test our fellow-Needhamites’ ability to identify (or guess!) the locations of the pictures.

 

The Charles River Chamber’s annual Needham Harvest Fair took place last Sunday on Greene’s Field. The Harvest Fair is an opportunity for Needham businesses and organizations to show off their products and projects. The weather was warm and gorgeous, and a lot of people came out to stroll through the booths.

In past years, we used the Harvest Fair for Gift shop sales. This year we decided to do something different, that would give us a better opportunity to talk to folks and enjoy the day – the Mystery Photo Challenge!

We have so any amazing photos in our collections, so we brought two along – one older and one more (sort-of) recent. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to chat, and gave the Challenge a try! We met a lot of new people, and had some great conversations. Most of you were able to recognize at least one of the scenes. We will do this again at the next Harvest Fair!

 

This is Great Plain Avenue at the corner of Chestnut Street, circa 1885. The scene looks west towards Wellesley, and the man is standing in front of the Harvey’s location.

When this photo was taken, the Great Plain was just beginning to take shape as the town center. The old center at Nehoiden Street and Central Avenue was being abandoned as more residences and businesses moved to be closer to the new train line that had crossed the Great Plain about 20 years before. As you can see from the photo, there was not yet much in the new center. Just out of the image to the right was an old house that had been converted into a Post Office and general store. It was known as Village Hall, and although quite modest in size, it was the first public building in the new downtown.

The large building featured in this photo was known as the Moseley Block, and was the first retail block built in the new downtown. The Moseley Block was built in 1874. It housed Crossman’s General Store, a tobacconist/newsstand, an apothecary and soda fountain, a men’s clothing store, as well as some other storefronts on the first floor. There was a large public meeting hall on the second floor. The second and third floors were later rented by the town in 1881, for use as town offices after the split with Wellesley. The second floor hall was the site of Town Meeting for the next twenty years, until the Town Hall was built in 1902. It was later the location of the first Needham cinema.

The Moseley Block was demolished in the 1920s and replaced by the current one-story retail structure. Although the Moseley Block has been gone for about a century, long-time Needham residents might remember a similar building on this block. In 1887 another retail block, known as the Kingsbury Building was built between the Moseley and the railroad track, and the two stood side-by-side for about 40 years. The Kingsbury Building remained after the demolition of the Moseley Block, until it was destroyed by fire in 1977.

 

Yes, there was Howard Johnson’s in Needham. This photo was taken around 1950, or maybe a couple of years before. The location is approximately the site of the now-vacant Acapulco’s.

In the 1930s, the state designated the Circumferential Highway, a route that circled Boston and bypassed the old hub-and-spoke roadway pattern that was clogging up local commerce. The Circumferential Highway was not an actual highway – it was a chain of local roads that described a route from Canton to Peabody. In Needham, the Circumferential Highway was Greendale Avenue and Reservoir Street. In those days, Reservoir met Greendale at the Kendrick Street intersection, and continued straight across to the intersection with Central Avenue (where Panella’s is now).

Howard Johnson’s opened its first restaurant in the 1920s in Quincy. In the 1930s, the company began to expand, and targeted highways as their desired locations. Needham’s Howard Johnson’s restaurant was built on Reservoir Street in the late 1940s, to take advantage of the busy intersection of Reservoir and Highland Avenue. Howard Johnson’s focus on accommodating highway travelers (first the restaurants, and later the motor inns as well) allowed it to grow into one of the most widespread and successful hospitality chains in the country.

In 1948, the Governor published his MA Highway Master Plan, which envisioned two new highways to replace the old Circumferential route – our Routes 128 and 495. The route through Needham demolished much of the old Reservoir Street, leaving only the shorter road that we are now familiar with. Hunting Road was built to carry local traffic along the parallel route. Howard Johnson’s was also in the way of the new road, so in 1951, the building in the picture was torn down for the new highway. After the highway was built however, HoJo’s built a new restaurant, with the now-familiar orange roof. The restaurant employed many a Needham teenager in its day. It was closed in 1988. The restaurant was taken over by an eatery called Brambles for a few years, then the Ground Round, and then Acapulco’s. It is currently vacant.

 

Gloria Polizzotti Greis, Executive Director, Needham History Center & Museum