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Town of Dedham
—  Town  —
First Church and Parish

Nickname(s): Contentment
Location in Norfolk County in Massachusetts
Coordinates: 42°14′30″N 71°10′00″W / 42.24167°N 71.1666667°W / 42.24167; -71.1666667Coordinates: 42°14′30″N 71°10′00″W / 42.24167°N 71.1666667°W / 42.24167; -71.1666667
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Norfolk
Settled 1635
Incorporated 1636
 - Type Representative town meeting
 - Town
Bill Keegan
 - Board of
Sarah MacDonald
Mike Butler
James MacDonald
Carmen DelloIocono
Paul Reynolds
 - Total 10.6 sq mi (27.6 km2)
 - Land 10.5 sq mi (27.1 km2)
 - Water 0.2 sq mi (0.5 km2)
Elevation 120 ft (37 m)
Population (2007)
 - Total 24,132
 Density 2,298.3/sq mi (890.5/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 02026 (02027 for P.O. Boxes)
Area code(s) 781 / 339
FIPS code 25-16495
GNIS feature ID 0618318
An article in the
History of Dedham

Dedham /ˈdɛdəm/ is a town in and the county seat of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States.[1] The population was 23,464 at the 2000 census. It is located on Boston's southwest border. On the northwest it is bordered by Needham, on the southwest by Westwood and on the southeast by Canton.



Dedham was settled in 1635 by people from Roxbury and Watertown and incorporated in 1636, and is the county seat of Norfolk County. When the Town was incorporated the residents wanted it to be named Contentment, but the Massachusetts General Court overruled them and named the town Dedham, after Dedham, Essex in England. Some of the original inhabitants were born in Dedham, Essex.

The first public meeting was held on August 15, 1636 in which 18 men signed the town covenant. They swore that they would "in the fear and reverence of our Almighty God, mutually and severally promise amongst ourselves and each to profess and practice one truth according to that most perfect rule, the foundation whereof is ever lasting love."

They also agreed that "we shall by all means labor to keep off from us all such as are contrary minded, and receive only such unto us as may be probably of one heart with us, [and such] as that we either know or may well and truly be informed to walk in a peaceable conversation with all meekness of spirit, [this] for the edification of each other in the knowledge and faith of the Lord Jesus…" The covenant also stipulated that if differences were to arise between townsmen that they would submit the issue to between one and four other members of the town for resolution and that they would each pay their fair share for the common good.

In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts in setting up a liberty pole with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Love Live the Vice President,"[2][3][4] referring to then-President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Brown was arrested in Andover, Massachusetts but because he could not afford the $4,000 bail, he was taken to Salem for trial.[5] Brown was tried in June 1799.[2] Brown wanted to plead guilty but Justice Samuel Chase wanted him to name everybody who had helped him or who subscribed to his writings.[2] Brown refused, was fined $480,[5][6] and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, the most severe sentence then imposed under the Alien and Sedition Acts.[2][5]

Dedham is home to the Fairbanks House, the oldest surviving timber frame house in the United States, scientifically dated to 1637. On January 1, 1643, by unanimous vote, Dedham authorized the first taxpayer-funded public school; "the seed of American education."[7] Its first teacher, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, was paid 20 pounds annually to instruct the youth of the community. Descendants of these students would become presidents of Dartmouth College, Yale University and Harvard University.

Other Dedham firsts include the first man-made canal in North America, Mother Brook, which links the Charles River to the Neponset River. Although they are both slow moving rivers, they are at different elevations. When Mother Brook connected them, the difference in elevation made the current swift enough to power several local mills.

In 1818, though citizens were still at this time taxed for the support of ministers and other "public teachers of religion", Dedham set an important precedent towards the separation of church and state by selecting a different minister than that chosen by the church, a right of selection that was confirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court. The historic Sacco and Vanzetti trial in the 1920s was held in the Dedham Courthouse. Dedham pottery is a cherished class of antiques, characterized by a distinctive crackle glaze, blue-and-white color scheme, and a frequent motif of rabbits and other animals.

Dedham is sometimes called the "mother of towns" because 14 present-day communities were within its original borders.


Dedham is located at 42°14′40″N 71°9′55″W / 42.24444°N 71.16528°W / 42.24444; -71.16528 (42.244609, -71.165531).[8] On the northeast corner of High Street and Court Street the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, now the U.S. National Geodetic Survey, has placed a small medallion into a granite block showing an elevation of 112.288 feet.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 10.6 square miles (27.6 km²), of which, 10.4 square miles (27.1 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km²) of it (1.79%) is water.


As of the census[9] of 2000, there were 23,464 people, 8,654 households, and 6,144 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,244.6 people per square mile (866.9/km²). There were 8,908 housing units at an average density of 852.2/sq mi (329.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 94.51% White, 1.54% Black or African American, 0.16% Native American, 1.87% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.80% from other races, and 1.08% from two or more races. 2.42% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 8,654 households, of which 30.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them. 56.3% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.0% were non-families. 23.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.14.

Dedham's population is spread out with 22.2% under the age of 18, 5.8% from 18 to 24, 31.1% from 25 to 44, 24.2% from 45 to 64, and 16.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.0 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $61,699, and the median income for a family was $72,330. Males had a median income of $46,216 versus $35,682 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,199. About 3.2% of families and 4.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.9% of those under age 18 and 6.5% of those age 65 or over.

Seal and flag

The Town of Dedham's flag

The town's seal has several features. In the center is a crest containing the Old Avery Oak. When the tree was finally felled the gavel used by the Moderator at Town Meeting was carved out of it. Above the tree are the scales of justice, representing Dedham as the county seat and home to Norfolk County's courts. On the left of the tree are agricultural instruments and on the right is a factory, showing Dedham's history first as a town of farmers and then a one with a number of mills and factories, particularly along Mother Brook. Below the tree is a banner with the word "Contentment."

The town flag is red with the seal prominent and in the center. In the lower left corner is part of the Avery Oak and in the lower right is part of the Fairbanks House. It hangs in the selectmen's chambers at town hall and in the Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House.


The most recent town charter, adopted in 1998, lays out the form of government for the Town.


Town Meeting

According to Dedham's Charter, the "administration of all the fiscal, prudential, and municipal affairs of the town, with the government thereof, shall be vested in a legislative branch, to consist of a representative town meeting." Town Meeting is to consist of no less than 270 members, but not more than necessary to achieve an equal number coming from each precinct.

There are to be "not less than six nor more than nine convenient voting districts, so established as to consist of as nearly an equal number of inhabitants as is possible in compact and contiguous territory." The districts are to be drawn by the Board of Selectmen and the Registrars of Voters every ten years.

Town Meeting sets its own rules and keeps a journal of proceedings. Votes are by voice unless members call for a standing or roll call vote. The Moderator may call for a role call vote at his discretion. All Town officers are required to attend Town Meeting and multiple member bodies must send at least one representative who have all the privileges of a Member except the right to vote.

If 5% of Town voters petition the Board of Selectmen within 14 days of Town Meeting any action taken may be submitted to voters. The final result is to be determined by majority vote, but Town Meeting can not be overruled unless 20% of registered voters participate.

Town Meeting members

Currently Town Meeting consists of 273 members, or representatives, with each of the seven districts, or precincts, electing 39. Thirteen are elected from each precinct each year and serve a three year term. Each precinct elects from its own members a Chairman, Vice Chairman and Secretary.

To be eligible, candidates must have 10 registered voters from their precinct sign nomination papers. Town Meeting Members can not serve on any other elected board or on the Finance Committee. Members who move from the district or are removed by redistricting may serve until the next Town Election, however any member who moves out of the Town immediately ceases to be a Member.

In case of a vacancy, the remaining term is to be filled at the next town election. If no election is to take place within 120 days of the vacancy then the district chairman is to call together the members of the district and they are to elect a member who will serve until the next town election.


The Town Meeting may establish various ad-hoc and standing committees on which any Town Meeting Member or voter may serve.


The Warrant at Town Meeting includes the articles to be voted on. Any elected or appointed board, committee, town officer or ten voters, may place an article on the warrant. Each article to be voted on is directed by the Board of Selectmen to an appropriate board or committee to hear and provide the original motion at Town Meeting. All articles expending funds are directed to the Finance Committee; articles dealing with planning and zoning to the Planning Board; articles relating to by-laws to the By-Law Committee.

Mini Town Meeting

While it is not called for in the Charter, there is a tradition in Dedham for the Chairmen of the several districts to elect from amongst themselves a chairman. This Chairman of the Chairmen hosts what is officially known as the District Chairmen's Warrant Review Meeting but is much more commonly referred to as Mini Town Meeting. The "Mini" is generally one week before the actual Town Meeting. The purpose of the Mini is to air out several of the contentious issues before bringing them to the floor of Town Meeting.

Board of Selectmen

The executive branch of the Town Government is to be "headed" by a Board of Selectmen.

The Board of Selectmen have five members who are elected for three year terms and are the chief policy making body for the town. They appoint a Town Administrator who runs the day to day affairs of the Town. They also appoint constables, registrars of voters and other election officers, the board of appeals, conservation commission, historic district commission, and members of several other multiple member boards.

They set policy for all agencies below it, but are not involved in the day to day affairs of the Town. They issue licenses and can investigate the affairs and the conduct of any town agency.

Town Clerk

The Elected Town Clerk serves a three year term and works full time for the Town. The Clerk is "the keeper of vital statistics of the town and the custodian of the town seal and all public records, administer[s] the oaths of office to all town officers... [and is] the clerk of the town meeting." In the role as clerk of town meeting he notifies the public and members of the Town Meeting and keeps a verbatim record of proceedings.

Town Moderator

Town Meetings are presided over by the Town Moderator, but he has no vote unless all the Members present and voting are equally divided. At the first Town Meeting following the annual town election he is to appoint, subject to Town Meeting's confirmation, a Deputy Moderator from the elected Members. The Deputy serves in case of the Moderator's absence or disability.

Other boards and committees

The seven members of the School Committee are elected for three year terms and appoint a Superintendent of Schools. They also set policy for the School Department.

The three elected members of the Board of Assessors serve three year terms and annually make a fair cash valuation of all property within the town.

The three elected members of the Board of Health are responsible for the formulation and enforcement of rules and regulations affecting the environment and the public health.

The Board of Library Trustees has five members, each of whom serve three year terms, and have care of the Town's public library at the Endicott Branch and Main Branch. They are responsible for all library policy, the library budget, and hiring and firing the library director. The current Chairman is Joseph B. Craven.

The five elected members of the Planning Board make studies and prepare plans concerning the resources, possibilities and needs of the town. It also prepares the Master Plan.

There are five elected Commissioners of the Trust Funds who manage and control all funds left, given, bequeathed or devised to the town, and distribute the income in accordance with the terms of the respective trusts.

There are five members of the Housing Authority. Four are elected by the Town and one is appointed by the Commonwealth Commissioner of Community Affairs. As a Board they have all of the powers and duties which are given to housing authorities under the constitution and laws of the Commonwealth.


Dedham has seven schools.

  • Dedham High School
  • Dedham Middle School
  • Avery
  • Oakdale
  • Greenlodge
  • Riverdale
  • Early Childhood Education Center

Community organizations

Dedham is home to a number of community organizations, including

Places of worship

  • Allin Congregational Church (United Church of Christ)
  • Calvary Baptist Church
  • Dedham Temple (Haitian Seventh-Day Adventist Church)
  • Fellowship Bible Church
  • First Church and Parish in Dedham (Unitarian-Universalist)
  • St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church
  • St. John's Methodist Church
  • St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church Auxiliary Bishop
  • St. Mary's Catholic Church, home of the LIFE TEEN program, and former church of John Anthony Dooher, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston
  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church
  • St. Susanna's Catholic Church
  • The Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal
  • Fountain of Grace Church

Points of interest


Commuter rail service from Boston's South Station is provided by the MBTA with stops at Endicott and Dedham Corporate Center on its Franklin Line.

Notable residents


Arts and literature






  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ a b c d Stone, Geoffrey R. (2004). Perilous times: free speech in wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the war on terrorism. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 64. ISBN 0393058808, ISBN 9780393058802. 
  3. ^ Tise, Larry E. (1998). The American counterrevolution: a retreat from liberty, 1783-1800. Stackpole Books. p. 420. ISBN 081170100X, ISBN 9780811701006. 
  4. ^ Curtis, Michael Kent (2000). Free speech, "the people's darling privilege": struggles for freedom of expression in American history. Duke University Press. p. 88. ISBN 0822325292, ISBN 9780822325291. 
  5. ^ a b c Tise, Larry E. (1998). The American counterrevolution: a retreat from liberty, 1783-1800. Stackpole Books. p. 421. ISBN 081170100X, ISBN 9780811701006. 
  6. ^ Simon, James F. (2003). What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States. Simon and Schuster. p. 55. ISBN 0684848716, ISBN 9780684848716. 
  7. ^ Schools vie for honor of being the oldest
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  9. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  10. ^ Dedham-native Hamilton recalls ’70 win
  11. ^ Eiselein, Gregory (2001). The Louisa May Alcott encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 358. ISBN 0313308969. 
  12. ^ Greenhouse, Steve. "Tim Costello, Trucker-Author Who Fought Globalization, Dies at 64", The New York Times, December 26, 2009. Accessed December 28, 2009.
  13. ^ a b Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963. 
  14. ^ A Handbook of New England

Further reading

  • Lockridge, Kenneth A. (1985). A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736 (2nd ed.). W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-95459-5.
  • Cremin, Lawrence A., "American Education: The Colonial Experience 1607-1783," First Edition, New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970.
  • Hanson, Robert Brand, "Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635-1890," published by Dedham Historical Society, 1976

External links


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