Facebook

A Brief History of Norfolk

Home  >  About  >  History of Norfolk

The area that is now Norfolk was explored by settlers as early as 1632. It would take a number of years before a successful settlement had begun but by 1667 five individuals stayed and presumably built homes. Others settled in the Lake Pearl area of Wrentham. An earlier settlement had been attempted. When or where these first homes were built in Norfolk remain unknown and it is reported that the initial group had returned to Dedham after a short period.

With the area now growing and becoming more self sufficient, residents to this area sought independence from Dedham. In 1673 the General Court granted them their own town under the name of Wrentham. Only a couple of years later would the area be engulfed in King Philip's War. In the Spring of 1676 all the settlers abandoned their homes and retreated to Dedham. The Indians burned every house in Wrentham but two, fearing they were infected with smallpox. The war came to an end by 1677 with nearly a dozen towns destroyed and an estimated six hundred people killed.

Those that fled during the war had begun returning to Wrentham within a year. The rebuilding process had begun and by 1694 a number of mills were in operation or being planned. Norfolk sits on what was at the time known as North Wrentham and by the 1740s the population had grown substantially. In 1795 and the immediate years following, a large group moved from Wrentham to North Wrentham. Much of the population shift revolved around a religious dispute between ministers. This brought about the building of a meetinghouse and was constructed on the top of the town hill. (This building became the town hall in 1870 but unfortunately burned down in 1922).

Panoramic view of the "town hill" crica 1850s
Panoramic view of the "town hill" crica 1850s

The 1800s saw an explosion of factories, job opportunities and an increase in population. The first railroad line into town, operated by the Norfolk County Railroad, opened in 1848. By the 1860s, North Wrentham had grown to a point where it was practically functioning as its own town. With its own meetinghouse, stores, schools, post offices, railroad depots and factories residents felt it was time to break away from North Wrentham and establish an independent town.

On October 18, 1869, residents petitioned the General Court for independence and on February 23, 1870, North Wrentham and sections of Franklin, Walpole and Medway were organized into the town known today as Norfolk. At the time, its population was 1,124 and covered 9,000 acres of land.

— adapted from the book "Early Norfolk Revisited" by Frederick L. Wells. ©1970 Town of Norfolk

You can explore more about the history of our town through the Norfolk Timeline Project brought to you by the Norfolk Historical Commission.