Needham is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States. A suburb of Boston, its population was 28,886 at the 2010 census. It is home to the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, an engineering school.
Needham was first settled in 1680 with the purchase of a tract of land measuring by from Chief Nehoiden for the sum of 10 pounds, of land, and 40 shillings worth of corn. It was officially incorporated in 1711. Originally part of the Dedham Grant, Needham split from Dedham and was named after the village of Needham Market in Suffolk, England, a neighbor of the English town of Dedham. By the 1770s settlers in the western part of the town who had to travel a long distance to the meeting house on what is now Central Avenue sought to form a second parish in the town. Opposition to this desire created conflict, and in 1774 a mysterious fire destroyed the extant meeting house. Some time afterwards the West Parish was formed.
In 1857 the City of Boston began a project to fill in the Back Bay with landfill by filling the tidewater flats of the Charles River. The fill to reclaim the bay from the water was obtained from Needham, Massachusetts from the area of present day Route 128. The firm of Goss and Munson, railroad contractors, built 6 miles of railroad from Needham and their 35-car trains made 16 trips a day to Back Bay. The filling of present-day Back Bay was completed by 1882; filling reached Kenmore Square in 1890, and finished in the Fens in 1900. The project was the largest of a number of land reclamation projects, beginning in 1820, which, over the course of time, more than doubled the size of the original Boston peninsula.
In the late 1860s William Emerson Baker moved to Needham. A notably wealthy man due to his having improved the mechanical sewing machine, Baker assembled a parcel of land exceeding and named it Ridge Hill Farm. He built two man made lakes on his property, including Sabrina lake near present day Locust Lane. Baker turned part of his property into an amusement park with exotic animals, subterranean tunnels, trick floors and mirrors. In 1888 he built a sizable hotel, near the intersection of present day Whitman Road and Charles River Street, called the Hotel Wellesley which had a capacity of over 300 guests. The hotel burned to the ground on 19 December 1891.
In 1881 the West Parish was separately incorporated as the town of Wellesley. The following year, Needham and Wellesley high schools began playing an annual football game on Thanksgiving, now the second-longest running high school football rivalry in the United States (and longest such contest on Thanksgiving). Also the longest running public high school rivalry.
In 1891, George Walker, Boston owner of a lithograph company, and Gustavos Gordon, scientist, formed Walker-Gordon Laboratories to develop processes for the prevention of contamination of milk and to answer the call by enlightened physicians for better babies' milk formulas. This plant was located in the Charles River Village section of Needham with another large facility in New Jersey. The scientific dairy production facilities of the Walker-Gordon Dairy Farm were widely advertised and utilized modern advancements in the handling of milk products.
With the loss of the West Parish to Wellesley, the town lost its town hall and plans to build a new one began in 1902 with the selection of a building committee. The cornerstone was laid by the Grand Lodge of Masons on 2 September 1902 and the building was dedicated on 22 December 1903. The total cost for the hall was $57,500 including furnishings. Because it was located on the town common, the cost did not include land as none was purchased. In 2011, the town hall was extensively refurbished and expanded. In the process, the second-floor meeting hall was restored to its original function and beauty.
Needham's population grew by over 50 percent during the 1930s.