Syrians had been arriving in Massachusetts since the late 1880s. Many came from what is today, the countries of Lebanon and Syria, and these immigrants were mostly Christian. Traditionally, this area was a largely agricultural region. They settled in Boston where they found work as peddlers, lace makers, and in many of the area’s manufacturing industries. Before World War I they had established a large Syrian community in Boston’s Kneeland Street neighborhood. It appears the Syrians were the first to arrive in Norwood, as the Joseph Howard family is listed in the 1900 US Federal census. Although the census does not record the name of the road the family was living on, Howard was working at a paper mill, which would put him in Southern part of Norwood, somewhere near the Bird paper mill. In 1903 John Abdallah bought the Robbins estate on Washington Street, initially it appears he rented rooms and flats here, as several Sanborn fire maps clearly mark a large extension off the main house as “flats.” Abdallah had operated a dry goods business on Kneeland Street, which he continued to run for many years before he moved his family to Norwood around 1911. In South Norwood he ran a similar business on Washington Street. Also arriving around 1902 was the family of Habib Tomm, who bought the old Morrill property on Dean Street, a beautiful Italianate House. Tomm operated a handkerchief factory on Dean Street; his employees took the train from Boston daily to work in his factory.

The domes of St George’s Syrian Orthodox Catholic Church (photo LLKearney)

Over the next twenty years, Norwood’s Syrian community had grown to around 150 people. By then they began to explore the notion of establishing a church in the neighborhood. Initially they traveled into Boston to attended Sunday Mass, and around World War I the held services in various homes. They purchased a piece of property, and built St George’s Syrian Orthodox Catholic Church, which was dedicated in 1921. The original church burned to the ground in 1933, undeterred, the small congregation built a new church on the Atwood property, which was dedicated the following year. Today this Byzantine Neo-Romanesque style church still stands. It is the heart of Norwood’s Lebanese-Syrian community, offering services, Sunday school, and a place for organizations to meet. Over the decades, Norwood’s Lebanese-Syrian population continued to grow. Some opened shops and business along Washington Street, which offered goods that supported their traditions and culture, but also provided goods and services for all of Norwood.

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