A Brief History of Wrentham

Wrentham's history begins with the name Wollomonopoag, given by the Indian tribes living here, meaning "place of shells." It is a reference to Lakes Pearl and Archer being a food source, and thus, a place to live. Archaeologists reveal that there have been over 8000 years of Indian habitation in this area. The White Man era begins, however, on Sept. 3, 1635 and Sept. 8, 1636 when Dedham was established and defined, and Wollomonopoag was included within the limits of the Town of Dedham.

It wasn't until 1662 that this land was actually purchased from Philip Sachem (King Philip) of the Wampanoag tribe. The purchasers, all from Dedham, were a group of investors known as The Proprietors of Wollomonopoag. They then divided 600 acres out of the center of this roughly 36 square mile area for a settlement. The layout was for a group of home sites clustered around an area of open fields near to the 2 natural lakes and the river draining them, a perfect mill site. This land was among the best Southern New England had to offer, well drained with a gravel base, ideal for building and farming, and surrounded by meadows, high rocky hills and forests. The boundaries were the Stop River to the East, Charles River to the North, the towns of Dorchester to the Southeast, Rehoboth South and other Dedham land to the West. The boundary with what became Rhode Island was not very clear. This original layout became the present day South, East, Franklin, Taunton, Park, May, Shears and Emerald Sts. These areas were soon built on, with a few added sites in the present Town of Norfolk, and the Town of Wrentham was incorporated in 1673. Wrentham was named after Wrentham, England, (Wrenthams Hamlet), where John Thurston and some other settlers were from. The town was abandoned 3 years later due to the war with King Philip, and legend has it that all but 2 houses were burned quickly thereafter, luckily with no loss of life. Most of these families returned within 4 years and rebuilt. One who didn't was Daniel Makiah, believed killed in battle at Woodcock's Garrison. His house lot at Stoney Brook was then assigned to John Blake, whose descendants played a massive role in the development of our area. As settlers returned and more came the Town expanded, and by 1700 the West Wrentham, Franklin and Plainville areas were settled, and grew rapidly.

The 18th Century was the time of growth for Wrentham. The school system was first established in 1701, with a one-room school house on Bank St. serving 54 families. By 1719 there were 4 schools in different parts of Town, and, by 1737, 11 school districts serving over 200 families. The Western part of Town grew so rapidly that in 1737 a separate parish was established which became the town of Franklin in 1778. Likewise in that same year the Town of Foxboro was set off, being land that was once Dorchester, having been set off to Wrentham in 1753. From 1719 on these few Dorchester families worshipped, were educated, and lived as Wrentham people because they were so far detached from their own town Center. Common, or undivided land, was no more, as the Proprietors divided up amongst themselves all remaining land, with some landholders amassing over 300 acres in Town by this method. A black slave belonging to Francis Nicholson, named Cesar Chelor earned his freedom in 1753 by way of his talent as a craftsman of wood planes, possibly being the first free black tradesman in the colonies. A Baptist Church was organized in West Wrentham, a new church in North Wrentham, and the first Roman Catholic services all started in this century. Wrentham Center became a busy Town center with shops, taverns and other businesses clustered around the central meetinghouse. The biggest event ever to happen in Wrentham was in December 1782 when General Rochambeau's French Army marched through Town on their way from Yorktown to Boston, camping out where King Philip Regional High School is now.

Wrentham matured in the 19th Century with the coming of the Wrentham-Walpole Turnpike and the Roebuck Tavern of David Fisher, and a school for higher education, Day's Academy. Major businesses at this time were Rhodes Sheldon's boatbuilding, Bennett's woodworking at Wampum Corner, Brown's Straw Shop on Common St., various textile mills and the beginning of the Weber Duck Farm and other poultry businesses. Norfolk became a separate town (with a railroad station) in 1870 and Plainville also, in 1906. The end of this century brought the railroad to Wrentham Center, which transformed life here forever. At last, Wrentham citizens could board a passenger train and commute to work in the city, and prominent people began moving in, as well as city residents riding out and vacationing at our resort lakes, many of whom would buy lake lots and build camps. A commuting newspaper reporter and Wrentham resident, Joseph Edgar Chamberlain, brought to Town Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 1896, who became internationally famous as a deaf and blind author and her teacher. Helen and Anne bought a farm on East St. in 1905 and remained here for over a decade, during which time Helen wrote 3 books. They then sold it to Jordan Marsh Co. to use as an employee's vacation resort. In 1907 The Commonwealth of Massachusetts bought a series of farms off Emerald St., some of them original 1662 house lots, to form the Wrentham State School, a home for the mentally challenged wards of the State, which continues in operation to this day. Two forests were also purchased by Massachusetts to keep as woodland. Major industries at this time were Winter Brothers Tap and Die on Kendrick St. which, after WW2, sold to Crosby Ashton Valve and Gauge. That company manufactured equipment for oil drilling and nuclear power plants. For a short time, U. S. Route 1 went right through Wrentham Center, but was re-routed to the old Boston-Providence Pike because Wrentham Center became too congested with auto and truck traffic. Today's traffic jams in the Center are minor compared to those of the 1920's. Rt. 1  became a major tourist highway, connecting Maine to Florida. Wrentham's portion quickly became dotted with restaurants, gas stations, frankfurter stands and tourist cabins. By the 1950's most farms closed down and Wrentham morphed into a suburban bedroom community serving the needs of urban workers. With the advent of Routes 95 and 495 major commerce and industry are now only a short drive away, but the cost being the loss of Wrentham as a small and close-knit farming community which it was for close to 300 years.

Over 300 years, many Wrentham people moved away and helped settle other areas, becoming prominent citizens elsewhere. There is a Wrentham in Canada, and there was almost a New Wrentham in Maine and Oregon as well. Wrentham men and women proudly served and in some cases, died, in all wars to this date, as is evident on a tour through any of our cemeteries. Natives of this town, as citizens of other towns later in life, became pioneers, religious leaders, business innovators, patriots and educators and more. Wrentham people crossed the Delaware with The Continental Army, served on Ulysees S. Grant's Staff, sailed off to war on the U. S. S. Constitution and helped escaping slaves through the Underground Railroad. We also authored books, advanced farming, became judges and legislators and served the human race in many other ways. This small Massachusetts town has contributed much to the world and will continue to do the same as its fifth century progresses.