Needham ushered in its fourth century as a town in grand style on Saturday, Nov. 5, with the rededication of the newly renovated marked by a town-wide sing and a formal cornerstone ceremony led by the Grand Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts.
‘Circled by a Circling River’
The program kicked off around 3:00 p.m. with a sing-a-long led by musician Nick Page. Page had been commissioned to write a song for the 300th anniversity of Needham's founding, on Nov. 6, 1711, and he unveiled the song on Nov. 5, aided by the Needham Elementary Honors Chorus, the Needham Middle School Treble Choir and a crowd of community members gathered at the steps of the Town Hall.
After warming everyone up with a few songs and accompanying hand movements, Page presented his original Needham 300 song, “Circled by a Circling River,” and explained the inspiration behind it.
“I wrote this song asking myself, if I were to bury a time capsule, what would the message be? And the words that I wrote were that we are strong, we love our children and we cherish freedom. That became the message,” Page said. “Then I thought about 300 years ago, what were they thinking, and they were probably thinking, ‘We are strong. We love our children. We cherish freedom.’ So it’s an eternal message.”
That message made up the chorus to the song, which also referenced the “circling river” of the nearby Charles and spoke of Needham’s history from the Algonquin who fished that circling river to the farms, railroads, highways and modern traditions.
Ringing in a New Century
After the song, Selectman Moe Handel, Master of Ceremonies, gave the welcome address, and Needham 300 Town Criers Chris Gerstel and Ed Gagnon rang bells signifying the beginning of the rededication ceremony.
Handel gave a brief history of the Paul Revere bell, which hangs in the tower of the and would ring in celebration of the town’s 300th birthday.
“Needham was founded in 1711, and in honor of that first centennial, the First Parish Church purchased a 960-pound bell made by the Paul Revere Company some nine years before his death,” Handel said. “That bell was installed in the First Parish Church, which at that time was in Needham’s original downtown next to the cemetery. And so the bell rang as Needham celebrated its 100th birthday.
“When the church was rebuilt in 1836, the bell was transferred to the new tower of the new church, which replaced the 1774 building that was at the same site. When the railroad came to Needham, the center of town was established in this location, and in 1879, the church and the bell were moved to the corner of Great Plain and Dedham avenues, where they are today. In 1911, the Paul Revere bell was rung in celebration of the second centennial of the town.
“Now we are gathered here and this time when the Paul Revere bell rings it will mark our third centennial and the beginning of our fourth.”
The Marching Band, under the direction of Gerard Gagnon, then played the National Anthem.
Freemasons Commemorate Cornerstone Laying
As a large part of the rededication ceremony, members of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Massachusetts, led by Grand Master Richard Stewart, commemorated the laying of the Town Hall’s original cornerstone in 1902.
As one Lodge member explained: “The traditions of Freemasonry originated with stonemasons, who built the great pyramids in Egypt and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. We stonemasons of ancient time would place the first stone on the building in the northeast corner in a ceremony filled with symbolic rites. Modern builders have continued this tradition in the construction of today’s buildings, and modern Freemasons continue a tradition of the symbolic laying of the cornerstone in buildings throughout the free world.”
After introductions and a prayer, one Lodge member read a list of documents that would be contained within the cornerstone, which included:
• From the Assessors’ Office—information on tax assistance programs
• From the Assistant Town Manager/Director of Finance—a Town Hall project financing plan
• From the — a Senior Center brochure, SHINE program brochure, transportation services brochure and June 2010 COMPASS newsletter
• From the —a key-ring-style library card, library brochure, Minuteman Library Network guide to accessing your online account, a museum passes brochure and a June 2011 Library Notes newsletter
• From Needham’s of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons—an abstract of the rededication of the laying of the cornerstone of Needham Town Hall dated Nov. 5, 2011 and a booklet with a brief history of the lodge
• From the Park and Recreation Department—a “Rockin’ 300” tattoo, Silly Bandz and a 2011 summer brochure
• From the Office of Public Health—a “Prevent, Promote and Protect” brochure
• From the Town Clerk’s Office—a 2010 street list and a fiscal year 2010 Town of Needham Report
• From the Treasurer’s Office—Information on the Recycling and Transfer Station, and application for an RTS sticker and the last 2011 RTS sticker No. 113000
• From the Office of Youth Services—a Youth Services brochure,a winter and spring proram brochure for 2010-11 and an online registration form
• From the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen—the summary findings of the 2010 National Citizens Survey, a book titled “Pre-demolition Photographs of the Needham Town Hall,” the Town of Needham regulations for the sale of alcoholic beverages, pictures of Moe, Jerry, John and Kate with the 1901 time capsule, a list of contents of the 1901 time capsule, a list of the contents of the sealed envelopes contained in the 1901 time capsule, assorted around town photographs, a CD containing the 2010 annual report, a Louise Condon town map, a 2011 Needham telephone book and a letter to future Needhamites.
As part of the ceremony, the three principal officers of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts displayed their three “jewels,” which were original tools of the trades, declaring the new cornerstone to be “square, level and plumb.”
The ceremony was held over a glass-encased piece of history—the George Washington Inaugural Bible upon which U.S. President George Washington took his oath of office in 1789.
Attending the ceremony on Nov. 5 were several representatives from Needham Market in Sussex, England—the namesake for Needham, MA. Visiting from England were Needham Market Mayor and Mayoress Martin and Dawn Spurling, former mayor and councilor Ray Darnell and former councilor Ian Mason and his wife Christine, all of who were named honorary citizens of Needham, MA, according to Handel.
Spurling said a few words at the ceremony, as did several state and local officials including Massachusetts Sen. Richard Ross, Massachusetts Rep. Denise Garlick, , Dedham Selectman Jim MacDonald and Permanent Public Building Committee chairman George Kent, who announced that the Town Hall had come in “on time” and “under budget”—to cheers from the crowd.
Selectman Jim Healy then recognized many past and present officials who have served Needham over the years, Selectman Jerry Wasserman announced the official rededication of the building and Selectman Dan Matthews announced the dedication of the James Hugh Powers Hall on the second floor of the Town Hall, where the would be held the following day.
The ceremony concluded with the NHS Marching Band playing "America the Beautiful."