Walpole is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States. It is located about south of Downtown Boston and north of Providence, Rhode Island. The population was 24,070 at the 2010 census. Walpole was first settled in 1659 and was considered a part of Dedham until officially incorporated in 1724. The town was named after Sir Robert Walpole, de facto first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Walpole has gained a reputation as a Republican stronghold in Massachusetts.
It started out as a territory that was claimed by the Neponset Native American tribe. The Neponset tribe officially claimed the area that is now Walpole, and some of its surrounding territory in 1635. The town of Dedham was not included in this claim, so they began to negotiate with the Neponset tribe to gain land. In 1636, a deal was made between the town of Dedham and the Neponsets to grant Dedham lands that now comprise the towns of Walpole, Norwood, Westwood, Medfield, Norfolk and Dover as well as Dedham. The land given to Dedham in this deal currently includes parts of 16 different towns.
After the territory was bought from Dedham, the saw mill industry began to rise in the area. The first saw mill in Walpole was built near what is now School Meadow Brook and the Neponset river. It was located in the area that is now the Walpole Town Forest. The mill was built and later owned by Joshua Fisher and Major Eleazer Lusher, two wealthy men of Dedham.
Walpole soon wanted to sever its ties with Dedham, so its residents began to petition at Dedham town meetings to become a completely separate town. The request was granted by the town of Dedham in 1724, and the town was officially named Walpole, after Sir Robert Walpole.
After its incorporation, Walpole had a role in the events leading up to the American Revolutionary War. The citizens agreed that the taxes imposed by the British government were unfair. They sent a representative, Joshua Clapp, to the state meetings at Faneuil Hall in Boston. These meetings were to discuss how Massachusetts was going to keep its residents safe and peaceful during the events of the American Revolutionary War. In 1775, Walpole sent 157 men to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. These men were led by Captain Seth Bullard. In December 1777, a British fleet of ships came into Narragansett Bay and anchored in Newport Harbor in Rhode Island. Walpole sent two groups of minutemen, consisting of 65 men in total, to help with the situation. These men were led by Joshua Clapp, and Oliver Clapp. They stayed in Rhode Island to defend the port for three weeks.
Walpole began to grow after the Revolutionary War. By 1860, the town had 1,935 residents. Starting around this time, several mills began to be built, largely on the Neponset River in order to harness the power of falls. Over the years, these mills grew and mainly manufactured products such as cotton, lumber, and paper in its many mills. The most notable of these was the Bird Company, which comprised a large complex on the river in East Walpole. After the company ceased operations at the site in 1980, most of the buildings were razed over the years; a housing development now occupies a large portion of the old mill site and only a few remnants of the area's former use are still evident. The Neponset River was also used for transport between the close towns of Sharon, Foxborough and Medfield. It was also used as a water supply and for water power. The Norfolk County railroad also connected the town. It was also part of a railroad network that connected Walpole to Boston and New York City. Many churches were formed in Walpole at this time, including Trinitarian, Unitarian and Methodist ones.
The town grew considerably throughout the 1900s, with an increase of over 3,000 by the 1920s. At a town meeting in 1922, local resident Maude R. Greeves said:
In 1929, Harriet Nevins donated $50,000 for the erection of a public building as a memorial for her parents George Blackburn and Nancy H. Blackburn. Her father, a merchant from Bradford, England, had once lived and done business in Walpole. Blackburn Memorial Building (more commonly known as "Blackburn Hall") was designed by the architectural firm of Putnam & Cox Company of Boston, built by the F.J. Tetreault Company of Walpole, and dedicated in 1932. The red brick building, which features a neo-classical façade with whitewashed pillars, is still owned by the Town of Walpole and is used for a variety of activities throughout the year including children's theater production.
In keeping with her reputation as a noted animal lover, Harriet Nevins also left $2500 to fund the construction of a fountain for horses and dogs. The fountain is now dry but still stands on School Street in Walpole opposite the Town Hall.