He Was Also A Notable Hunter And Collector.
The Mere Mention Of “Lem” Dean’s Name Was Always Good
For A Laugh In Old Days Says Win Everett
Toiling down the corridor of Time, as it passed in Tyot between 1795 and 1880, is a small, whispy figure which is rapidly disappearing into the perspective of oblivion. Let us try to catch a hazy picture of him— ’Lem Dean, the first store-keeper in Norwood. Long ago, when his memory was fresh in minds of those who know and dealt with him, someone should have written a clear close-up of what was one of the most picturesque characters who ever brightened the life of our village. Now it is too late. There are probably only half a dozen folks in town who remember ’Lem. And theirs is only the dim, childish memory of a rather scary little man, frowsy and ill-smelling, trundling a small push-cart on the streets of South Dedham. Yet his memory is indelible in their minds. Because you couldn’t forget the image of a little man, invariably dressed in a black Prince Albert cut-a-way suit and a tall, black beaver hat, rolling a pushcart full of peanuts, skunk skins and cow manure-along the streets, day after day. Such was ’Lem Dean as the sun of his life set towards its 85th year, which was the end.
’Lem—Son of the John Deans
Thanks to the records of Fred Day, we know that Lemuel Dean was born the son of John Dean the 4th on Mar. 22, 1795. His grandfather, great grandfather and great, great grandfather were all named John Dean. ’Lem was brought into this world of trouble, sin and taxes in the old John Dean homestead which you know as the house where Mr. Thomas U. Mahony lives at 190 Dean street. All that farm at the corner of Pleasant and Dean streets had been worked by the John Deans almost, from the time that the Old Roebuck Post Road made its western boundary—about 1640. The Deans probably settled around 1700.
Lem’s Sister Mary Dean Chickering
Doubtless Lem’s father’s roof sheltered a number of his brothers and sisters. The only one I know of whose reputation equaled ’Lem’s was Mary Dean, his younger sister, born June 14. 1797. She and ’Lem with all the other Dean, Morse and Hawes kids who populated old Tyot, went to the Old Red Brick School House upon the Pleasant street hill. Here Mary later became a famous and much-loved teacher, after she had taught in the Walpole Corners Bubbling Brook> School in West Dedham, Sharon and Walpole Center. All this before she married Dean Chickering at the age of 29. Their home, where Mary lived for 71 years, was the Chickering farm house, now on Walpole street at the head of Hoyle street, where Miss Ida Chickering lives. The only child of Mary and Dean was John Chickering, founder of the Norwood fox-hunting fraternity whose present nestor is Mr. Sam Winslow. “Grandma Chickering” as Mary was affectionately called by hundreds of people, lived to be 100 years and one month old, passing away on July 16, 1897. She was one of Norwood’s few centenarians Mrs. Vesta Gates also living to be 100 years of age.
Lem Had Seven Children
Now, returning to our. hero ’Lem, we can only grope among a few facts. We know he married Julia Ann Morse, who was born in 1819 and who died Dec. 18, 1890 at the age of 81. They had seven children: Charles (1832). Rene Bullard (1834), a second Charles (1837), Lyman (1841), Lewis Ellis (’44), Henry B. (1849) and an infant son The most famous of these was Lyman Dean.
Orthodox Church Steps Out
In 1858, thirty years after the Orthodox Church was built on Abel Everett’s farm which included all the land where the Norwood Press now stands, running down to present Winslow’s station, the Congregationalists must have felt the bubbling yeast of the growing Hook, even ’way down in sleepy Tyot. Because they built a vestibule on the stern, flat front of that edifice, pulled down the high pulpit of their fathers and yanked out the high-backed pews with their buttoned doors which probably had been brought over from the second church building when it was razed on old Dean street, now Lenox avenue, and the corner of Penniman’s lane. They even went modern to the extent of putting in an organ in the choir loft which the vestibule made possible. Mrs. David Fogg, bless her! made two rough sketches of the original and the remodeled church, now owned by the Historical Society. All this is leading up to Lyman Dean’s job as the first organist of the Orthodox church. The hometown boy made good —so good, in fact, that he later went to Providence, R. I. and became the organist of the largest and most influential church in that city. His sister Rene Bullard, married Lewis Johnson, and after her husband’s death, lived many years with Miss Florence Morse, daughter of George Morse, on the top of Morse Hill in South Norwood. You see how this story of Lem Dean keeps whirling around in the little circle which is the settlement of Old Tyot, Lem was a chief character of Old Tyot, more than of the Hook.
Lem Was Tax Collector
At the age of 29, we find Lem as Tax Collector of South Dedham in 1824. I think that it was just about this time that he got the yen to go into the grocery business. Perhaps he came into some money at about this period. For when, in 1828, the tavern of Abel Everett was moved across Washington street to the northwest corner of Chapel street, where its frame still stands, and the Cong, church erected on the old tavern site (replacing the odor of rum with the odor of sanctity), Lem Dean bought the tavern building and moved into it as he new home. According to Mrs. Marcia Winslow, who got her information from Jabez Sumner and Jarvis Fairbanks, both keen-minded old-timers and reliable as to their historical facts, ’Lem Dean started his grocery store, which was the first store in Norwood, in this house on the southwest corner of Chapel and old Washington street. Harr. Fraser has drawn a splendid restoration of this ’Lem Dean house. And I want to apologize to my readers for having mentioned several times that the first store was in the little building which later became T. O. Metcalf first Norwood print shop. According to Mrs. Winslow, Lem built this small store building next to his house, to the south, and moved his grocery store into it. So I was correct in calling it the first store building. But the first store was in the frame which. I am glad to say, is still standing. The Lem Dean store is gone.
’Lem Dean’s Store
“Lem Dean’s Store,” which was probably opened about 1830, became a Tyot institution. Naturally, as the only store in town, it was the daily gathering place of our small citizenry. Here, and at the Tavern down in the Hook, the gossip was swapped and manufactured. Here came the children on errands, with molasses or vinegar jug in hand. Or the whale-oil bottle. Here, according to Mrs. Winslow,” Lem traded in West India goods. That is, he kept on hand a hogshead of rum and one of gin, and one of molasses, and a few spices and a little sugar.” The writers aunt, Carrie Morse Hoyle, who tell, with many a chuckle, how she was sent to Lem Dean’s for groceries and usually found the old yellow cat asleep in the brown-sugar bin. And how ‘Lem, invariably clad in his black Prince Albert and always wearing his black beaver tall hat, would slowly and ponderously wait on her. F. O. Winslow, in an address, remembered how the front of the store always carried a few skunk skins, drying in the sun while tacked to the clapboards. And how ’Lem would take longer than any living man to go into the cellar and draw a jug of molasses. Dr. Ralph Fogg remembers the interior of the store faintly. He says the counter ran right across the room lengthwise, giving a narrow passage between the door and the front of the counter. Behind it on the back wall, there were shelves carrying Tern’s scanty stock of merchandise.
“Mephitis” Lem’s Middle Name
So, with one exception, we can think of Norwood’s first store as little different from a multitude of other little country .cross-roads emporiums. The exception was the presence in Lem’s life of Mephitis mephitica. According to all accounts and traditions, “Mephitis” was Lem’s middle name. If your Latin is a bit rusty, I will remind you that it means “skunk.” As long as I can remember, one couldn’t mention Lem to any old timer without the conversation turning in a trice to the odor of skunk around Lem Dean’s store and the store-keeper’s person. As the deer hunters say, he was always “high.”
The Skunk King
I guess, from a boy, Lem had hunted skunks for pleasure and profit. What a fox is to Sam Winslow, a skunk was to Lem. They were his avocation and part of his vocation. He hunted when unceasingly, shot them in vast quantities and bought their skins whenever he could, up to his dying day. No one knows how much money he made out of skunk pelts. But, for those times, it must have been considerable.
Larrabee Owns Lem’s Skunk Gun
The only relic which I know of belonging originally to Lem, with the exception of the frame of his house on Chapel street, is the muzzle-loading rifle with which Lem slaughtered his skunks. It is a prized, and justly, possession of Mr. Fred Larrabee of East Walpole. A handsome gun it is, too. A long barrel and a well-kept and proportioned stock distinguishes it. Probably it was what was called a squirrel rifle. I wonder if it would be indelicate to suggest to Mr. Larrabee that some time or other the Norwood Historical Society would be proud and glad to hang Lem Dean’s skunk gun on its walls, with Mr. Larrabee’s name suitably engraved on it is the giver or loaner. The society certainly should have one memento of Norwood’s first storekeeper. And nothing would be more characteristic of Lem than his gun.
Lem Sold Out Store
When Lem gave up his store I do not exactly know. It existed I am sure well into the ’60s. More dignified and enterprising men, such as Jabez Boyden, with the second store on the site of the present Universalist church; Fisher Gay, his successor, then Mr. Gay and l. W. Bigelow in the Wheelock Block, and, a little, later Mr. Wheelock —all had come into the competition. People, even the Deans, the Morses and the Winslows—to mention a few of Lem’s best customers, began to seek sweeter-smelling trading posts down in the Hook. Eventually, as he grew older, Lem sold out. There is probably an account of that historic event written somewhere. Has anyone got it? Doubtless it was an auction—store and stock.
Builds New House
Lem, despite his idiosyncrasies, was a thrifty and crafty man. He had made and saved money. When he sold out, he built a new house. It is still standing right opposite the office of the Whittemore Coal Company on Lenox avenue. Here he passed his declining years and here he and his wife both died.
John Morse Sketches Lem
I started this with a little figure marching down Time’s corridor. I will close with the same figure, this time sketched for me by Mr. John Morse, son of John E. Morse, now of South Yarmouth but once a Norwood boy who knew and remembers Lem better than anyone else I have talked to.
Lem Was a Little Man
“Lem Dean was a little bit of a man. He was thin in his old age, when I saw him, but he might have been quite stocky when he was younger. His face was round and rosy and he had little, squinty eyes which Reminded you of a pig. When he spoke, he always puckered them up. His voice was high and piping.
“One of his oddities was that he invariably, winter and summer, wore a tight, black Prince Albert suit, with tails, and a high hat made of black beaver. It was a funny little sky-piece —like the typical tall kelly of Uncle Sam, but smaller. His shirt was usually white, or I might say, had been white. And he wore a bow tie with ends which draped down artistically.
Starts on Collection Trip
“In my boyhood the sight of Lem Dean starting his daily trip to East Walpole down Washington Street past our house was a common one. He has a green push cart usually, although sometimes he used a large wheelbarrow. When he started out on a selling and collection campaign, this cart would be fairly full of peanuts. And he would pass me, for instance, he would pucker up his eyes and yell in that high squeaky voice, “Little boy! Want some PeaNUTS?” It always went up on the “nuts.”
“I never bought any. And it wasn’t because I did not have the penny. If you watched Lem toddle down the street, you would see his eyes were on the ground. Pretty soon he would come to a place in the road when an ox or a cow had visibly passed. Lem would stop his cart, take a little shovel which was strapped on its side, and carefully transfer the souvenir of tl:e ox into a hole which he had dug among the peanuts on one side of the load. Thus he would wander along collecting until he came to the house of someone whom he knew shot skunks. Here he would, perhaps, buy a skin or two of freshly killed skunk, and add these to the collection in his cart. So, if he had a lucky day and sold all his peanuts, which, I suppose, he figured were just as good as cellophane-wrapped by their shells, he would return past our house late in the afternoon with a nice load of skunk skins and manure I suppose he used the latter in his garden. But he might have needed it for tanning the skins.
“Yes,” said the descendant of Ezra Morse, the original settler of Norwood, “there was only one ’Lem Dean thank goodness! But he was a gentle, harmless soul. And gave us many a much-needed laugh.”
December 3, 1935 – The Norwood Messenger
By WIN EVERETT