George Henry Morse House: Why Morse Matters
By Toni M. Eosco, Norwood Historical Commission & Representative on the Morse House Subcommittee
Norwood is fortunate to own an historic treasure – the simple but gracious Italianate home of George Henry Morse, located at 1285 Washington St., in South Norwood. This May marks a unique 50th Anniversary for this local treasure as it was at the May 10, 1973, Special Town Meeting that town meeting members accepted the home on its approximate two-thirds acre parcel for only $1 as offered by the Bird family by a unanimous standing vote. (The property had been placed in a Bird family real estate holding company called The Home Building Company, Inc. of Walpole.) In 1975, the deed was recorded in Norfolk County. Also, in 1975, the seven-member Norwood Historical Commission (NHC) was established by Special Town Meeting with its aegis stemming from Chapter 40, Section 8D of the Massachusetts General Laws. The NHC has been advocating for this house and property for decades as our mission requires.
George Henry Morse was held in high esteem by his community. He served Norwood in various capacities, from the beginning of Norwood’s incorporation in 1872, as an Assessor, Selectman, Fire Chief, Surveyor of Highways....the list is impressive. He was a husband, father, farmer, auctioneer, musician, an Orient Lodge Mason, and a member of the Congregational Church. In his elder years, George sold much of his massive property holdings in 1913 to Walpole neighbor and businessman, Charles Sumner Bird. In the sale, George reserved a parcel of land to build a home for himself and his daughter, Ellen Florence. This is 1319 Washington St., the address of record when he died. He and his family are buried in Old Parish Cemetery. Sixty years later, the home was offered back to Norwood by the Bird family – a generous and respectful story of two prominent families.
George Henry Morse (1834-1917) is a direct descendant of Samuel Morse, one of the original English puritan settlers of Dedham. He arrived in 1635 with family members on the ship “INCREASE.” He served two years as selectman in Dedham. Descendants of Samuel Morse include an impressive list of civic leaders, successful businessmen, and philanthropists. Samuel’s grandson, zealous mill owner Ezra Morse, possesses the title of Norwood’s earliest settler who built his saltbox home circa 1678 on the present site of George Henry Morse’s home. Two centuries later, George Henry Morse built his home circa 1868 as a substantial addition to Ezra’s house, demolishing much of the older home that had been lived in by successive generations of Morses. His daughter, Ellen Florence, substantiated this account with great details.
Because the Morse ancestor line relates back to the founding of the “Mother Town” of Dedham, learning about George Henry Morse and his ancestors also helps us learn much about the early founding of nearby towns, as well as about the years before Norwood was founded. We also learn how the Morses shaped Norwood’s southernmost borderlines. When you read about the difficult and varied issues that early settlers dealt with, it enhances our understanding of the society values of their time, and how society moved forward and evolved to our present day. We learn what worked well and what did not.
It has taken 50 years, but Norwood is currently taking a formal positive stand on the Morse House. After a year of meetings of the Morse House Subcommittee, several action items resulted. May marks the convening month of Annual and Special Town Meetings. This spring, there will be two Community Preservation Act funding articles related to the Morse House. The first article is a request for funds to hire a professional to assist with the application for the National Register of Historic Places of the George Henry Morse House. The only municipal building on the National Historic Register in Norwood is the Town Hall. (The private non-profit, Norwood Historical Society, owns and operates the Fred Holland Day House which is on the National Historic Register.) The second article requests community preservation funds to do some much needed rehabilitation work on the house. Town meeting members can make an ‘historic vote’ again by voting in favor of these two articles.
The Morse property unites all residents of Norwood because we all share its history. We are all making history here – whether you have lived here for six months, one year, or for decades. There will be a presentation by NHC on the Morse property in the Simoni Room at the Morrill Memorial Library on Wednesday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. If you miss it, look for replays on Norwood Community Media.