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

The Gazette – March/April 2013


    The Gazette – March/April 2013

    In This Issue….

    Who Put the Need-  in Needham? …
    … and More about Needham Place Names
    Pansy Day is Coming!  April 6th
    The 2013 Annual Dinner, May 9th
    Calling all Volunteers!  April 25th
    Chocolate & Champagne Roundup (yee-haw!)


    “Hiftorically Speaking”


    “Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit.”  — Salman Rushdie

    Who Put the Need- in Needham?

    I have been reading a book titled Sightseeking – Clues to the Landscape History of New England  by Christopher J. Lenney, in hopes that it might answer some questions I have long had about the origin of some of the place-names of towns in New England… especially in Massachusetts.  Some of my questions about the origins or meanings of many New England place names were answered by Lenney, but not those concerning our town of Needham, and the town of Dedham from which we sprung!

    Our own Needham and Dedham were named after towns in old England – nostalgic reminders of the homes left behind.  Since the earliest settlers of New England came from East Anglia, many of the old towns in Massachusetts bear East Anglian names – Dedham and Needham, but also Chatham, Stoughton, Framingham, Billerica, Chelmsford, Sudbury, Ipswich, and many more.

    But what is the meaning of the prefixes “NEED” and “DED”… although it is well-known that the “HAM”  stood for “HAMLET” (defined as “a small village”)?  I wonder why the original inhabitants named their settlements what might be interpreted today as: “the Hamlet of the Ded” and “a Hamlet in Need”?  I wonder if “Ded” might have been an abbreviation for “Deed” and “Need” simply meant the settlers were in “Need” of  a place to live?

    Or, perhaps the English “Dedham” was located on an old battlefield or graveyard, while Needham was a place where a blacksmith forged sewing and darning needles? Or, maybe, “Ded” and “Need” are abbreviations of then-prominent personal names or are simply archaic old English words such as the “ton” in “Boston” is the short form for “town” while “burg,” as in “Fitchburg,” is an acronym for “borough,” and “ville,” as in “Somerville,” is a contraction for “village.

    Actually, as far as we know, there is no reliable information on the origin of the name “Dedham,” though it was an established town at the time of the Norman Conquest (1066) and appears as a prosperous town in the Domesday Book of 1086 (32 households, 2 mills, 10 horses, 3 cows, 30 pigs, and 100 sheep).  Needham was also a pre-conquest village, a hamlet (in those days) of the town of Barking, Essex.  “Need-“ probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon meaning “lower,” still seen in the English word “nether.”  “Nether” is still a common place-name modifier in England (Netherfield, Sussex; Netherbury, Dorset; the towns of Nether, Middle, and Over Wallop in Hampshire).  Thus, “Needham” would be the “lower” part of Barking Town – though whether lower in topography or lower in status – or both – is not possible to say.

    Many local towns, as well as the names of the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts are in the Algonquin Indian language.  Massachusetts was the name of the Indian tribe that inhabited the area in and around Boston and scholars have translated the word to mean “at the place of great hills.” As I’m sure most folks know, a number of New England cities and towns have Indian names such as Seekonk, MA, Pawtucket, RI, and Penacook, NH.

    The majority of places where the first white settlers put down their roots were named after prominent people in England or America, or after towns in England, or after the settlement’s most prominent landmarks…ranging from Riverside, RI to Lakeville, CT to Hillsboro, NH, to Island Pond, VT.  My favorite Massachusetts’ landmark name is “Barnstable,” which sounds indicative of a barn and stable that stood on or near the original site.  Actually, the English name was originally “Barnstaple” – with a P – and referred to a place designated for meetings in Anglo-Saxon times.

    In Massachusetts, among the 351 names of our cities and towns, 76 have the abbreviation “ton” for “town” tacked at the end of their proper name. That name  might have been chosen to honor royalty (Kingston) or because of something distinctive about the community…like its size (Littleton) or even perhaps after an early settler named Little…or in admiration of some prominent politician like Henry Clay (Clayton). Alphabetically, the 76 Massa-chusetts’ “tons” range from Abington, to Canton, to Groton, to Milton, Upton, and all the way to Worthington.  Forty towns were “ingeniously” named after the fact that the original settlement was in or near a “field,” from Ashfield, Brimfield, Brookfield, Byfield, Chesterfield, and Deerfield, to West Mansfield, West Northfield, West Springfield, and Westfield.

    I leave it up to you, Dear Reader, if you wish to determine what was so special about each of the 40 distinctive “fields” in our state. For example, did they make hats in Hatfield?  And what in Brimfield were they up to their brim in?

    –Bob Hall, Ye Olde Editor

    PRESIDENT’S PODIUM  by Susan Welby

    Spring is here – well, it is trying very hard to be here.  The robins fill the front lawn each day and the redwing blackbirds are near the rivers and ponds calling out to each other, a sure sign of spring!  Another sure sign of spring is Pansy Day and the Society is gearing up for another flower-filled event on April 6th.  Please stop by and pick out your favorite colors and styles of Pansies, a true Needham tradition that is guaranteed to cheer up the surroundings.  If you are unable to make it on the actual day, we will be selling them a few days before and the entire week after (or for as long as our supply lasts).

    We have had a very active winter at the Society, Chocolate and Champagne went Country at Town Hall, and proved to be a really fun change.  It was nice to see so many people there, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.  I am looking forward to doing it again next year.  Thank you to our sponsors and patrons for again supporting the Society.  Gloria has included the complete list in her remarks so I will not try to repeat it here so as not to exclude anyone.

    The Annual Fund Drive notices will be sent out in a few weeks.  This is our big appeal for the year.  The Society is a private, non-profit organization that does not get any financial support from the Town of Needham.  We depend on the generosity of our sponsors, donors and membership.  So please consider donating to the Society during this Annual Appeal.

    Hope to see you all on Pansy Day, April 6!


    DON’T Let This Happen to You! Pansy Day is April 6th!


    In the EXECUTIVE CHAIR  by Gloria Greis

    Yeeee-haw!  Did we have a time!  We had music, we had dancin’, we had rib-stickin’ BBQ, and cakes with chocolate and strawberries!

    What we also had was a whole crowd of generous donors and helpers, that made our annual fundraiser into the most successful and well-attended ever!  Many thanks to everyone who helped out, starting with ~

    The C&C Committee:  These are the folks who spent long hours planning and running the event – Gina McClellan (chair), Susan Anderson, Connie Barr, Marcy Busch, Carol de Lemos, David Drake, Mark Gluesing, Moe Handel, Deb Jacob, Mike Niden, Maryruth Perras, Sally Toran, and Susan Welby.  Spouses Ed de Lemos, Michael Greis, and Joe McCabe also provided valued help.

    Sponsors:  We thank our Lead Sponsor, Roche Bros., and our two Event Sponsors, The Needham Bank, and Heffernan Associates.  Business Sponsors were Moe and Elizabeth Handel, the Petrini Corporation, the Needham Exchange Club, and the Eaton Funeral Home.  Community Sponsors were Maryruth Perras, Robert Heald, Marcy and John Busch, Bob Ernst/FBN Construction, and Seth Medalie/the Bulfinch Group.

    Donors to the event and auctions:  Connie Barr, Carol Boulris, Louise Condon, David and Janet Drake, Rep. Denise Garlick, Michael & Betty Heffernan, Deb and Tom Jacob, Scott and Barbara Jones, Paul Shorthose, Tina Whalen, Blue Ribbon BBQ, J. Grant Braley Interiors, Center Café, Suzanne Connelly/Habitat Clothing, Gari Japanese Bistro, Ian Gopin/G & G Realty, Great Hall Performance Foundation, Needham Community Council, Not Your Average Joe’s the Petrini Corporation, Sweet Basil, Tu y Yo, WXLB Country Radio 102.5 FM, Jerry Goldstein/Y3K Tutor In Your Home.  The Historical Society’s Board of Directors donated the wine for the “Director’s Instant Wine Cellar”.

    The Food:  Blue Ribbon BBQ catered the food and all the fixins’.  Roche Bros. donated the chocolate fudge and strawberry cream cakes (yum!).  Carol Boulris donated the C&C logo chocolate bars.

    The Entertainers:  The adorable Catie Offerman and her country band played the music for background and dancing. She came to us from Berklee College by way of Texas.  Harry Rose called the live auction, and that incredibly good sport Chip Fanelli ran the Photo Booth.  Thanks also to Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding Program for the saddles and other photo props.

    Whew!  I truly hope that I have not left anyone out, because we are so grateful for all the help and friendship that went into making this event so successful.

    We’ll be doing it all again next February  – in fact, we have already booked the Town Hall for February 1, 2014, so mark your calendars.  As Catie would say, See y’all next year!


    While Ye O.E. looked into the origins of our town’s name, I have always been fascinated by the now-gone place names within the town.  In a time before street address numbers, locations were usually designated by owner or feature (“Fisher’s Bridge” or Upper Falls).  But sometimes the names are harder to figure….

    “Granted [by the Town of Dedham] to Thomas Metcalfe and to his Heirs and Assigns forever four acres of Swamp, more or less, near Strife Meadow … abutting upon waste land and swamp in part East and South and upon waste swamp north …” [deed record, dated 1705].

    Wow!  Four acres of swamp in Strife Meadow – forever!  Who could turn down an offer like that?

    Needham’s landmarks were very different in the early 18th century.  We still have High Rock (though it seemed higher then), but where is Cold Spring?  We will try to avoid getting mired in Pine Swamp Neck.  Was Pilfershire the abode of thieves?  The only thing grazing in Ox Meadow these days is expensive houses. Wolf Pit Hill sounds dangerous, but Lambs Town seems nice and safe; let’s just hope they were not next to each other.

    Despite their eternal rights of ownership, the Metcalfes no longer live in Strife Meadow.  By the 19th century, the land took the name of the new tenants, the Fullers.  Strife Meadow Brook became Fuller Brook. The Meadow lies somewhere in the vicinity of Great Plain Avenue near the Wellesley line – the northwestern reaches of Ridge Hill Reservation, the Mary Chilton/Standish Road neighborhoods, and/or the partly-swampy meadow that is now the home of Olin College.

    But wait – there’s more!  “Archaic” MA place names (from the MA Historical Commission),  and a map of place-name origins from the Historical Atlas of  Massachusetts.


    Interested in volunteer opportunities at the Historical Society?  Join us for a coffee & breakfast for prospective volunteers on Thursday, April 25th at 10:00 am.  Come hear about our programs and how you can help.  Call Gloria for more information at 781-455-8860.


    The 2013 ANNUAL MEETING and DINNER, May 9th at 6:00 pm, at the Needham Golf Club
    Our Guest Speaker is Carlo Rotella, Professor of English and American Studies at Boston College and a prolific writer on topics of American life, society, and culture.   He is the winner of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship, a regular columnist for the Boston Globe, an occasional commentator on WGBH, and a contributor to Harper’s Weekly, the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and others.  For tickets, call 781-455-8860 or see our website,