Norfolk County Massachusetts, 1890

Norfolk County was one of the original four counties (Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Norfolk) into which the Colony of Massachusetts Bay was divided on May 10th, 1643. It comprised the towns of Haverhill, Salisbury, Hampton, Exeter, Dover, and Portsmouth. The four towns last mentioned being included in New Hampshire by the separation of the latter from Massachusetts in 1680, the two remaining were, on February 4, 1680, annexed to Essex County; and the original Norfolk County thereby became extinct.

An act incorporating a new Norfolk County in a new location was signed by Governor Hancock, March 26, 1793. By this act Suffolk County lost 22 towns and a district, taken to constitute Norfolk County. These were Bellingham, Braintree, Brookline, Cohasset, Dedham, Dorchester, Dover (then a district), Foxborough, Franklin, Hingham, Hull, Medfield, Medway, Milton, Needham, Quincy, Randolph, Roxbury, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, Weymouth and Wrentham. At the June session of the legislature of the same year, the towns of Hingham and Hull were set back to Suffolk County, where they remained until their incorporation into Plymouth County. Weymouth was the oldest of these towns, having been settled in 1622; being the second settlement of white men in New England of which there exists any distinct record.

Since the year of its incorporation the following important changes have taken place within the county : Canton set off from Stoughton in 1797; part of Dorchester annexed to Boston, 1804; part of Dorchester annexed to Quincy, 1814; Thompson's Island set off from Dorchester and annexed to Boston, 1834; Dover (previously a district) incorporated as a town, 1836; Roxbury chartered as a city, 1846; West Roxbury set off from the city of Roxbury, 1851; part of Dorchester annexed to Boston, 1855; Roxbury annexed to Boston, 1868; Dorchester annexed to Boston, 1870; Norfolk set off from Wrentham, Franklin, Medway and Walpole, 1870; part of Brookline annexed to Boston, 1870; Norwood set off from Dedham and Walpole, 1872; Holbrook set off from Randolph, 1872; West Roxbury annexed to Boston, 1874; part of Needham set off to form Wellesley, 1881; part of Medway set off to form Millis, 1885; and part of Stoughton set off to form Avon, 1888. The county, as now constituted, contains one city Quincy and twenty-six towns, whose names are as follows : Avon, Bellingham, Braintree, Brookline, Canton, Cohasset, Dedham, Dover, Foxborough, Franklin, Holbrook, Hyde Park, Medfield, Medway. Millis, Milton, Needham, Norfolk, Norwood, Randolph, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, Wellesley, Weymouth and Wrentham. Dedham is the shire town.

Norfolk County is divided between the 2nd, 3rd, and 9th Congressional districts. It is in the 1st and 2nd Council districts, has two State senators, excluding Cohasset, which is included in the 1st Plymouth Senatorial District; and it is entitled to 13 representatives in the General Court, aside from Cohasset, which is classed with Hingham and Hull, of Plymouth County.

Norfolk County is bounded on the northwest by Middlesex, on the northeast by Suffolk, by Worcester County on the west, by Plymouth and Bristol counties on the southeast, and by the State of Rhode Island on the southwest. It is some 33 miles from northeast to southwest, and an average of about 16 miles in width, northwest to southeast. The northwestern side is extremely irregular, but the southern is a straight line for nearly its entire length. The area is nearly 526 square miles; the assessed land is 234,880 acres; and there are 66,667 acres of woodland. The number of dwelling-houses is 20,523. The farms number 2,648, and their aggregate product in the last census year was valued at $2,639,313. There were 1,172 manufacturing establishments, the aggregate of whose product was $28,824,100. The valuation of the county in 1888 was $120,473,309. The population in 1860 was 100,950; in 1865 it had increased to 116,306; in 1870 it had fallen off to 80,443; in 1875 it had taken an upward turn to 88,321; in 1880, it was 96,507; in 1885, it had reached 102,142; when the number of legal voters was 24,086.

This county has 201 public school buildings, valued, with appurtenances, at $1,151,216. There are also 14 private schools, having 18 buildings and other school property to the value of $901,218. Included in this number are one female college and five academies. There are 28 weekly newspapers; 38 secular libraries, containing 197,313 books, and 104 religious (church and Sunday school) libraries, containing 47,687 books. The various denominations are divided into 139 churches.

The Boston and Albany Railroad passes through an angle at the north; while the Old Colony Railroad traverses every town but one in the county. The principal streams are the Charles and Neponset rivers; the first of which winds, through the entire length of the county, and the last drains the central section, both emptying into Boston Harbor. The county has about twelve miles of sea-coast. The land-surface is uneven, but with no elevations of remarkable height. The highest are the Blue Hills, in the eastern part of the county, one peak of which has an altitude of 635 feet above the sea. The geological structure of the county is sienite and conglomerate, together with much undetermined rock. The soil in some parts is very fertile, and yields large returns to the husbandman. Although extensively engaged in manufacturing boots and shoes, woollen, cotton, straw, paper, and iron goods, the majority of the inhabitants are devoted to agriculture.

The first actual outrage of King Philip's War is said to have been the shooting of a white man in Dedham woods, in this county. Medfield, Weymouth, Milton, Medway and Wrentham suffered severely, either by attacks within their borders, or by loss of soldiers sent out against the savage foe. A large number of men from this county were in the Canadian expedition of 1690, in the attack on the Spanish West Indian settlement in 1741, in the Louisburg expedition in 1745, and in subsequent French wars. On the 10th of August, 1774, "a county congress" met at the Doty Tavern, in Canton (a building recently standing at the base of Blue Hill), in which Joseph Warren participated. On the 6th of September, 1774, the county convention assembled at the house of Richard Woodward, in Dedham, every town and district in the county being represented. By adjournment, the convention again met on Friday, September 9th, at the house of Daniel Vose (recently standing) in Milton, where the famous Suffolk Resolves were unanimously adopted, said to contain a complete declaration of war against Great Britain. Men from Dedham and other towns of this county participated in the discomfiture of the British expedition against Lexington and Concord, and rendered effective and important service throughout the war; and in the war of 1812, and also in the war of the Rebellion, the county was proportionately and honorably represented.

The first canal in this country was cut at Dedham in 1639; and the first railroad in America was constructed in Quincy in 1826. The first water-mill in New England (and probably in the country) was built on the Neponset River, at the Lower Mills in Dorchester, in 1634; and the first powder-mill was built at the same place, in 1675. Also in Milton, were built the first slitting-mill, in 1710; the first paper-mill, in 1728; and the first chocolate mill, in 1765. The first iron-forge was erected at Quincy in 1643. The manufacture of glass and quarrying of granite were both commenced in the same town in 1752; and here, too, in 1789 was launched the ship "Massachusetts," then the largest vessel ever constructed in the country. At Canton, in 1801, Paul Revere established the first copper works in New England, if not in America.

[The original John Adams and John Quincy Adams homestead, Quincy]

Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, pp. 82-85