James Edward Pendergast was born on November 22, 1877 in West Dedham (now Westwood), before moving to Norwood at a young age. His father Patrick J. Pendergast was an ironworker in a local foundry. His mother Margaret Cormick Pendergast died in 1891 when he was 14. Patrick raised James and his brother Richard in a house on Railroad Ave close to the foundry.
As a young man, James worked as a grocery clerk at Pendergast and Callahan Grocers, 69 Railroad Avenue. His uncle Edward B. Pendergast ran the store with Daniel E. Callahan. The family owned a large amount of the land on both sides of Railroad Ave between present-day K Street and Cleveland Street, including Clark Swamp.
Daniel Callahan left to form the Norwood Furniture Company at 720 Washington st sometime before 1924. Edward Pendergast and his sons Raymond and Cyril built a new grocery store across the street at 72 Railroad Ave and renamed the business E.B. Pendergast Grocers.
James married Nora G Dalton from Walpole in 1901 and by 1904 he was working as an auditor for the town of Norwood. The family moved to 30 Pleasant Street in 1906, shortly after the birth of their 3rd child (they would have a total of 8).
He was very active in social organizations in Norwood, serving several terms as financial secretary for the Norwood division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was also a member of the Norwood Council, Knights of Columbus, St. Catherine’s Holy Name Society and served as the president of the Norwood Total Abstinence Union.
The selectmen of Norwood unanimously elected James E. Pendergast as the first town bookkeeper and town accountant in January 1911. The salary was $650 a year. The average annual income in 1911 was $520. A pound of butter at that time cost 34 cents, and a half gallon of milk was 17 cents. You could get a pound of round steak for 18 cents, and if potatoes was your preferred side dish, you could add a pound of those for 22 cents. James’ salary would have certainly been sufficient to raise his growing family.
His new duties included all the powers of town auditors; examining all bills and orders before they were paid by the treasurer; reporting when any liabilities appeared to exceed the appropriation; receiving estimates for the ensuing year; compiling statements of appropriations and expenditures; publishing in the town report an account of the finances and attending to the town bookkeeping. His initial appointment was for a three-year term. A year into his second term, the new town charter combined the two roles of bookkeeper and accountant into the new position of Town Clerk.
During his years as Town Clerk, he managed the first recall election in Massachusetts history in 1938. In August of that year, three Norwood selectmen sought to remove Town Manager William C. Kendrick. Outraged by this decision, Clement Riley, former member of the town Board of Health, Robert Riemer, Winter st., and John F. Foley, Myrtle st, filed a recall petition with Mr Pendergast to have a special town election to vote on recall of the three Selectmen. Several prominent citizens of Norwood were “drafted” to run in the special election. All three selectmen lost the recall election in October and were replaced, and Town Manager Kendrick retained the role of Town Manager.
Mr. Pendergast served 25 years total in his various roles for the Town of Norwood, retiring in January 1940 due to health reasons. He died at his Pleasant Street home on November 16, 1940.
On June 20, 1960, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted Chap. 0488. “An Act Designating The Rotary Circle Located At The Junction Of The State Highway Known As Route 1 And Nahatan Street In The Town Of Norwood As The James E. Pendergast Circle.”
A plaque was placed on a boulder in 1968 at the traffic island on the West side of Nahatan st where it meets the rotary at Route 1.