A postcard showing the Norwood House

The current Town Square, or Common, was envisioned by George Willet to be a central business district framed by the Town Hall and the Theater. He undertook the huge effort to turn this area into a modern downtown during the early 1900’s. Originally called “The Hook,” it got its unusual name from the large iron hook outside the Norwood Tavern/Hotel/ Norwood House. It is where stagecoaches and wagons stopped on their way to Roslindale. They would get fresh horses, stay overnight, or just have “refreshments.”  It was originally just a small house called the Old Tavern, run by Paul Ellis and Lewis Rhodes. Over time additions were added and the tavern became a hotel called Norwood House. The building stood approximately where the “Protectors of the American Way” statue is on the common today, on the corner of Nahatan and Washington Streets. It was taken over by R.D. Hartshorn and was known for a while as Hartshorn’s Hotel. Hartshorn ran a livery stable behind the Norwood House that provided fresh horses.

While it was owned by Hartshorn that the Murder Suicide happened.  A man named Dr. Marsten had hired half of the tavern rooms upstairs as a sanatorium.  There are two versions of the story, but in both versions, the end result is the same. Dr. Marsten had a wife and daughter. His wife was insane and becoming worse. In version one, she overheard her husband and his good friend Rev George Hill discussing admitting her to an asylum. Asylums were not good places back then, or now. She waited, faking sleep until her husband was asleep, and shot him. She then went to the nurse’s room but found it locked, then to her daughter’s room and shot her daughter and herself.  The second version is that she was insanely jealous of a female patient of her husband. After trying the patients’ door and finding it locked, she shot her daughter, then her husband, and threw herself across his bed and shot herself. Whichever one was true, it was the first murder/suicide in South Dedham.

1923 Sanborn Fire map, showing the common area before it was constructed.

George Willett purchased the land that was known as The Hook with an eye to creating a town common and a commercial district.  Willett served as chairman of the town planning commission from 1912 until 1923 and implemented the creation of the Town Center. He moved the Village Hall, and Tiot Tavern. He bought the buildings on Market Street and demolished them, extended it to Cemetery Way and created Central Street. He laid out the plan for the Town Common as the center of the new downtown, and mapped out sites for the Town Hall, Theater, and blocks along Washington Street, to enable stores and churches to be built.


The Gazebo at Christmas time (photo courtesy of Eric Hurwitz)

The original town square did not have the gazebo. It had a large pine tree situated where the gazebo now stands The Walter Dempsey memorial Gazebo was erected in 1993… Mr. Dempsey was a selectman in Norwood for many years.

Protectors of the American Way statue:

Protectors of the America Way statute (Source: MACRIS database)

In 1988 a local businessman Frank Simoni, wanted to do something for the town. He commissioned Robert Shure of Woburn to design the “Protectors of the American Way” statue that sits at the corner where the Hartshorn tavern previously stood. Engraved on the base is “The Price of freedom is eternal Vigilance.

Armed Forces Memorial and flagpole:

A black granite marker with a white granite insert memorial stone flanked by carved stone swords & laurel wreaths was placed to honor the men and women from Norwood who served in the armed forces. It appears this monument replaced a larger monument, “The Roll of Honor,” which was moved into the town hall.

Roll of Honor (Norwood Historical Society collection)

The Roll of Honor: On May 12, 1943, the town of Norwood dedicated a large triptych bronze plaque that contained a list of the Norwood’s men and women who served in the armed forces during the Second World War. Today, those bronze plaques can be seen in Memorial Hall in the Town Hall building.

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