Was Pilfershire the abode of thieves...?

We are very pleased to announce that the Needham History Center has received a grant to assist with the roofing and painting of the Mills House complex. The funding was provided by the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, a program of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, administered through a collaborative arrangement between MassDevelopment and the Mass Cultural Council.

Events This Spring!

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"Haying in the Meadows, Needham, Mass." A color-lithograph postcard, circa 1910.

Location, Location, Location!

“Granted [by the Town of Dedham] to Thomas Metcalfe and to his Heirs and Assigns forever four acres of Swamp, more or less, near Strife Meadow … abutting upon waste land and swamp in part East and South and upon waste swamp north …” [dated 1705].


Wow! Four acres of swamp in Strife Meadow – abutting on even more wasteland and swamp – forever! Who could turn down a sweet offer like that?


Actually, though it sounds like an undesirable property to us, Thomas Metcalfe was actually getting a pretty good deal. Wasteland and swamp were not wooded, so they did not have to be cleared for grazing. Clearing woodland was a slow and laborious process. Metcalfe (and his fellow early-Needhamites) were looking for land on which to graze their cattle, and swampland was practically ready-made pasture. Plus, it was never short of water, and cows need a lot of water.


But where is Strife Meadow? 


Needham’s landmarks were very different in past centuries, when descriptive place names did the job that addresses and street names do now. We have High Rock (though it seemed higher then), the Broad Meadows, Rosemary Meadow (now flooded to make the Lake) and the Great Plain – we still use these names after almost 400 years. But where is Cold Spring, or Dug Hill, or Birch Plain? We will try to avoid getting mired in Pine Swamp Neck. Was Pilfershire the abode of thieves? Wolf Pit Hill sounds dangerous, but Lambstown seems nice and safe; let’s just hope they were not next to each other. 

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Finding these places now is not always easy. Sometimes the name is functional or descriptive and forms a clue, and sometimes tracking down the property owners on the old maps does the trick. It helps if the name stayed in use for a long time, but many of these names changed over time, or just became obsolete. Here are a few that I could identify:


  • Cold Spring was the area near Riverside Street, where Highland Avenue crosses the Charles River. In the mid-19th century, there was a paper mill there, owned by Otis Pettee. Around the turn of the 20th century the mill had become the Saco-Pettee Machine Shop (cotton milling), with a cluster of worker’s houses around it (the current muffler shop site and the businesses across the street, just before the bridge). There was also a boat house onto the river. The area was known as Cold Spring into the early 20th century.
  • The Rocks was the area of Central Avenue where there are extensive rock outcrops – Claxton Field, and especially the area that is now the horse farm; the name was in use by the 18th century. Dug Hill was across the street, near the Pine Street and Starr Ridge intersections.
  • Birch Plain is the section of Great Plain Avenue near the Wellesley line – now Mary Chilton Road and Powder House Circle.
  • Pilfershire is the section of Central Avenue between Great Plain Avenue and Marked Tree Road – wow, the Needham History Center is in Pilfershire!  Dog Corner is right near by – the intersection of Great Plain and Central Avenue. The name is said to derive from the large and noisy packs of hounds kept by the Mills family, who owned several houses at this intersection.
  • Pudding Point was later known as Greendale. We still know Greendale Avenue, but the road basically ran through a section of town with the same name. The Greendale neighborhood encompassed Great Plain Avenue and Greendale Avenue south of Broadmeadow Road.
  • Wolf Pit Hill was just east of where Chestnut Street crosses the Charles, and dates back into the mid-1600s. Massachusetts used to have a large population of gray wolves, and they preyed on livestock. MA established a wolf bounty in 1630 – a reward for every dead wolf. Many towns had wolf pits and wolf traps. The effort was clearly successful, because wolves became extinct in MA by 1840. Wolves are moving back into the area, but there is not yet a stable breeding population.
  • Ox Meadow was also on South Street, the area around Farley Pond and south toward the Charles River. This area is damp and swampy, and subject to seasonal ponds. This is, as mentioned above, perfect wet meadow for cattle grazing – as the name implies. I do note, however, that it is distressingly near to the Wolf Pit; but then, oxen are quite large.
  • The Hundreds was a huge triangle of wooded land, bounded by the current Washington Street and Weston Road in Wellesley. By the mid-1800s, roads and settlement began to encroach and reduce the size of the woodland.
  • The Chestnut Trees was a woodlot east of Forest Street, toward Brookside Road and the area around Sunita Williams School. The name goes back to the 1700s, but even in the 1800s that area was wooded.
  • I have to confess, I still have not located Pine Swamp Neck, Neckfield, or Lambstown. Pine Swamp Neck may be a part of the Pine Swamp, which incorporated the land we now know as the Nike Site and the eastern edge of the Ridge Hill Reservation. 


Despite their eternal rights of ownership, the Metcalfes no longer live in Strife Meadow. Actually, their rights were not really never-ending – “forever” in 18th century deed parlance meant that they owned the property outright without encumbrances and had all of the land ownership rights recognized by law. They could – and eventually did – sell the land. (Many thanks to Needham resident and Boston College Law Professor Mary Bilder, who provided the definition of “forever” in this historic property context). 


By the 19th century, the Metcalfe’s land took the names of new owners, and Strife Meadow Brook became Dewing Brook, and then Fuller Brook. The Meadow now lies on the Wellesley side of the line, between Washington Street and Dover Road, as the site of the Nehoiden Golf Club.


Most of the names were descriptive – the pine swamp, the wolf pit – and changed as usage changed or as ownership changed. However, I still remain puzzled by a few. I come to Pilfershire every day to work – and I have yet to see bands of thieves. Interestingly, I can’t find an English counterpart, but there was also a Pilfershire in CT – a ghost town that was part of Simsbury in the 1700s and 1800s, apparently abandoned as the result of fires and neighborly altercations. Which brings us back to Strife Meadow. I tried in vain to find a usage that was a variant of the marsh plant “loosestrife,” but I suppose that is still a possibility. Otherwise, I shudder to think of what conflict, what ancient Needham Hatfield-McCoy feud was once memorialized in the name of this place.

Gloria Polizzotti Greis is the Executive Director of the Needham History Center & Museum. For more information, please see our website at www.needhamhistory.org.

Calendar and Events

Visit our Calendar for all our event listings

Pansy Day! April 6, 10am to 3pm, at the Needham History Center. For 41 years and counting, celebrating Spring and Needham's official flower, the Pansy! Plants, baskets and planters will be for sale. And don't miss the annual Heirloom Shop blowout! More information HERE.

Needham2Arlington Community Walk. Steps off from Townsend Green at 9am. Follow in the footsteps of the Needham militia, retracing the route that they took on their way to Lexington on April 19, 1775. Arriving late in the day, they were diverted to Arlington, where they met the retreating British forces for the bloodiest battle of that historic day. The Walk is 12.6 miles long. All registered participants will receive a T-shirt, lunch, and a tour of the historic Jason Russell House, where the battle took place. The Russell House is now the home of the Arlington Historical Society. It is located at 7 Jason Street in Arlington, MA. Registration is required to participate, and the fee is $30. Information, registration form, and tickets available HERE.

PLEASE NOTE: The Needham2Arlington Walk is a community event. In keeping with the nonprofit status of the Needham History Center and the Arlington Historical Society, and at the request of the Police Departments of the towns we will be crossing, there will be no political or partisan activity at this event. This includes wearing uniforms (historic or current), carrying signs or banners, or any other form of representation. Participants who do not abide by this restriction will not be allowed to participate and their fee will be refunded.

Spring into Springtime! May 11, 7:00 - 10:00 pm, at the Needham History Center. Celebrate the start of spring at Spring into Springtime! A fun-filled evening fundraiser to support the educational and community programs of the Needham History Center & Museum. Under a tent on our beautiful lawn, enjoy fabulous food from local food trucks, scrumptious desserts, bid on spectacular gift baskets, and dance to the sounds of the upbeat local band The Tear DownsTickets are $85 per person. Spring into Springtime is our largest fundraiser this year. We hope you can join us and be a part of this exciting event in support of the Needham History Center!

And again this year, we have a concert ticket raffle! This year you have a choice of three options, and the winner can choose the concert of their choice! The concerts are The Rolling Stones, Zac Bryan, or Pink. Raffle Tickets are $25 each. Sales are limited to 500 tickets. The winner will be chosen at Spring into Springtime, but you do not have to be present to win. The winner will be notified no later than 12pm on May 12.

Gala tickets, raffle tickets, and concert and event information HERE.

Really Fun Party!

Concert Ticket Raffle!

Don't Miss It!

Spring into Springtime is our annual fundraising gala in support of our community and education programs. Under a tent on our beautiful lawn, enjoy fabulous food from local food trucks, scrumptious desserts, bid on spectacular gift baskets, and dance to the sounds of the upbeat local band The Tear DownsTickets are $85 per person.

And again this year, we have a concert ticket raffle! This year you have a choice of three options, and the winner can choose the concert of their choice. 

  • The Rolling Stones at Gillette Stadium, on May 30th at 7:30 pm
  • Zac Bryan at Gillette Stadium, on June 26th at 7:00 pm
  • Pink at Gillette Stadium, on August 21st at 6:30 pm

Raffle Tickets are $25 each. The winner gets a PAIR of concert tickets. Sales are limited to 500 tickets. The winner will be chosen at Spring into Springtime, but you do not have to be present to win. The winner will be notified no later than 12:00 pm on May 12.

Spring into Springtime is our largest fundraiser this year. We hope you can join us and be a part of this exciting event in support of the Needham History Center!

May 11, 7 - 10 pm, at the Needham History Center

Tickets and more Information HERE

We thank our Silver-level Sponsors

for helping to make this event possible:

Tobin Beaudet Schools . Avita of Needham . David and Janet Drake

Jonathan Davis, DMD . Moe and Elizabeth Handel . Eastern Bank

Eaton Funeral Homes . Needham General Store . Copley Motorcars

One Wingate Way . Needham Golf Club Charities . Boston Private Nursing

Read All About It!

The Thursday News is posted every week on our website, www.needhamhistory.org (scroll down to Current Newsletter).  An archive of previous weeks' stories is there as well.

Community Events

Other events of interest, from around town and beyond

Plugged In Band Program hosts its free First Annual Dirty Water Music Festival featuring four bands, dancing, lite fare, dessert, and cash bar! Saturday, April 6th, from 7:00-11:00 pm at Needham’s Town Hall, 1471 Highland Avenue. This party and celebration will benefit Plugged In’s scholarship and inclusion program. Last year, the program awarded $56,670 in partial or full scholarships to 31 students. For over 20 years, plugged in has given young people the opportunity to belong to a welcoming, supportive musical community. Admission is FREE with Advance Registration, and $10 at the Door. 21+ Only. Information and registration HERE.

The Needham Concert Society presents The Power of Three at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, at Carter Memorial UMC in Needham. Three accomplished musicians perform three string trio masterpieces, including the powerful and energetic Beethoven C-minor trio, the playful and lighthearted Françaix C-major trio, and the sublimely elegant Mozart E-flat divertimento--a program that showcases the brilliance and versatility of the string trio. For info and tickets, visit www.needhamconcertsociety.org.

Dedham Choral Society presents Light's Living Spring: Celestial Music for Chorus and Orchestra. Friday, April 12 at 8:00 pm at the Holy Name Church, 1689 Centre Street, West Roxbury. Featuring Sunrise Mass (Ola Gjeilo) and Illuminare (Elaine Hagenberg). For tickets and information, see www.dedhamchoral.org

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We thank our Corporate Sponsors 

for their generous and ongoing support!


Lead Sponsor - The Needham Bank 

Exhibits Sponsor - Beth Israel Deaconess - Needham

Program Sponsor - North Hill 

Gold Sponsor - NC Wyeth Foundation and Reading Libraries

Louise Condon Realty . MA Cultural Council

Dedham Savings . MA Humanities . Petrini Corporation

The Needham Women's Club . Vita Needle Company

Bluefrog Plumbing and Drain

The Needham History Center & Museum

781-455-8860 / www.needhamhistory.org