Dedham, Massachusetts

Dedham is a town in and the county seat of Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Settled in 1635 by people from Roxbury and Watertown, Dedham was incorporated in 1636. When the town was incorporated, the residents wanted to name it Contentment. The Massachusetts General Court overruled them and named the town after Dedham, Essex in England, where some of the original inhabitants were born.

Dedham is home to the Fairbanks House, the oldest surviving timber-frame house in the U.S., scientifically dated to 1637. In 1643, Dedham authorized the first taxpayer-funded public school, “the seed of American education.” Its first teacher, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, was paid 20 pounds annually to instruct the youth of the community. Descendants of these students would become presidents of Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard.

The first man-made canal in North America, Mother Brook, was created in Dedham in 1639. It linked the Charles River to the Neponset River. Although both are slow-moving rivers, they lie at different elevations. The difference in elevation made the canal’s current swift enough to power several local mills. Dedham pottery is a cherished class of antiques, characterized by a distinctive crackle glaze, blue-and-white color scheme and animal motif. Dedham is sometimes called the “mother of towns” because 14 present-day communities were included within its original broad borders.

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