Our Historic Properties
Travel Back in Time
The Needham History Center & Museum is located in the renovated Matthias Mills House (1834) and Upper Falls Schoolhouse (1842). Both historic properties were moved from their original locations on Central Avenue, to their new location at 1147 Central Avenue in 2006.
The Mills House and Schoolhouse provide generous space for the History Center’s exhibits, programs, and research. Part of the structure is an old one-room schoolhouse, with bright red paint on the outside to the chalkboard and old wood stove inside. The Schoolhouse is also the location of our famous third-grade program, the 1850s Schoolhouse Day, and a favored location for receptions and events. The Mattias Mills House is now home the many artifacts of Needham’s past and provides an antique setting for the many exhibits.
We gladly and unreservedly make our resources available to any party interested in the town’s heritage. We welcome you here to see our exhibits, ask a question, take in a lecture, or make a research appointment.
Matthias Mills House (1834 – 2022)
The Upper Falls Schoolhouse (1842 – 2022)
Matthias Mills House Timeline
The Upper Falls Schoolhouse Timeline
The Mills family settled in this area in the 1600s and played a significant role in the history of the Needham.
Benjamin Mills Sr, Benjamin Mills Jr, William Mills and Zechariah Mills were all signers of the Farmers’ Petition to separate Needham from Dedham in 1711.
The Mills family sent twelve men, fathers and sons, to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Five Needham men were killed that day, Elisha Mills and Amos Mills among them.
Matthias Mills was one of the three sons of Lt. Fisher Mills. He built his house on Central Avenue in 1834, at the time of his marriage to Peady Hemenway of Framingham. Originally, Fisher Mills and his three sons all built houses within a half-mile radius of the intersection of Great Plain and Central Avenues. Although Matthias’ house has now been turned to face Central Avenue, it originally faced northward toward Great Plain Avenue, supposedly so that Matthias could look out his door toward the houses of his father and brothers. The Mills families kept large packs of hounds, and the intersection’s traditional name, “Dog Corner,” is said to have originated in their incessant howling and barking.
Matthias built a workshop behind his house where he made glue, in partnership with his brother John. Glue was, at that period, a valued commodity, and the Mills brothers became quite prosperous. Matthias was also a member of the Norfolk Rifle Rangers, Needham’s militia company, and was a founding member of the Evangelical Congregational Church.
The Upper Falls School, or “Little Red Schoolhouse,” was built in 1842 at the intersection of Central Avenue and Webster Street to serve the children of the Upper Falls district.
As the population of Needham grew, the school rapidly became inadequate, and in 1869 a new Upper Falls School (later renamed the Eliot School) was built nearby at the corner of Central Avenue and St. Mary Street.
The old schoolhouse was sold at public auction in 1870, and became a residence.
The schoolhouse remained a residence on its original site until 2000, when the property was sold to a developer. To rescue the structure from demolition, a committee of citizens called Save Our Schoolhouse raised the funds to move it off the site. The schoolhouse was placed temporarily on the St Mary’s Street pumping station property while its new destination was being prepared.
Although the Old Schoolhouse did not have a long life as a school, it is the only surviving example in Needham of a type of building that was once quite common. All of Needham’s early schoolhouses were one-room. Needham built some multi-classroom schools after 1870, but one-room schools were in use in the more remote parts of town until the 1930s.