To travel from one end of South Norwood to the other, basically from Dean Street to Mylod Street, the length is only eight-tenths of a mile (.08), but so much is packed into this area! Over the years, Washington Street has been home to many small businesses, which contributed to the vibrancy of the neighborhood. Many of the buildings along this street had shops on the first floor and apartments on the upper floor(s). Radiating off Washington Street are many side streets. Some of these streets are dead ends, but a few have a cross streets at the end that connects it to a parallel street, making it possible to “go around the block.” These side streets are largely residential. Here one will find rows of triple-decker buildings. All built quickly between 1900 and 1920 in order to accommodate South Norwood’s growing population.
The influx of immigrants settled in this area of Norwood due to the many jobs that were available in the many mills, tanneries, and presses in Norwood. Within walking distance of their homes was the George H. Morrill ink works on Pleasant Street. Mr. Morrill relocated his ink works to Norwood in 1856, which grew to become the second largest ink works in the United States. In 1818, George Bird opened his paper mill on Pleasant Street in Walpole. The Bird family later opened a roofing plant in Norwood adjacent to the paper mill and soon added flooring and many other goods. The Norwood Press and Plimpton Press, along with the Winslow & Smith tanneries, and the rail yard on Lenox Street, provided ample opportunities for employment. Chain immigration provided men and women to work in these industries.
This neighborhood, called the “Flats,” was thickly populated with almost exclusively immigrant residents and remained almost separate from the central business and residential community of Norwood. Much of the housing in South Norwood were triple-decker houses, and most were crowded and not comfortable or safe for the families that lived there. This separation was brought into the glaring spotlight during the Spanish Flu epidemic on 1918 -1919. Of the 101 deaths in Norwood that were attributed to the flu almost all were from the South Norwood district. Many immigrants kept the sick and dead in the apartments not knowing of medical help or were to bury those who had passed away. These families did not know that Norwood’s Highland Cemetery, established in 1888, was the first non-denominational cemetery on the Commonwealth, none of the established churches had cemeteries adjacent as in their countries of origin and they did not know where to bury their dead. When the town officials finally realized the dire straits of these folks, they converted the Civic Center into a makeshift hospital and encouraged the families to bring their sick members there. The Winslow School located across the tracks in the Swedeville section of Norwood operated as housing and schooling for the many orphans that lost parents during this plague. It was after this horrendous epidemic that the town fathers forced the landlords and builders of the houses in the Flats to install bathrooms and other comfort and safety features.
Small mercantile and groceries that served the community also provided income and employment for many of the residents of the South Norwood. The neighborhood was populated by immigrants and diverse ethnic groups with each group having their own markets, and gathering places and houses of worship. Many of these nationalities had their own cooperatives. #1057 Washington St was the Polish Cooperative and further down on the opposite side of Washington St. at #1108 was the Lithuanian Cooperative. It should be noted that the Polish operated shops on one side of Washington and the Lithuanians operated shops on the other side! This simple fact illustrates how these two groups felt about each other. An animosity that created a schism that effected how this neighborhood grew.
Over the 120 years since South Norwood was settled it has been home to many people and small business. Over time, the storefronts have changed hands, and organizations and businesses have come and gone. This changing street-scape illustrates how South Norwood grew to become a tight-knit community that still remains today.
Oolah Avenue to St. James Avenue
St .James Avenue to St. George Avenue
St. George Avenue to Atwood Avenue
Tremont Street to St. Joseph Avenue
St. Joseph Avenue to Mylod Street