Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2017 Preservation Award Winners
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Photo of The Norfolk House, Dedham

Norfolk House, Dedham

Adaptive Reuse & Rehabilitation & Restoration

Built in 1801 as a two-story, Federal-style, single-family home, the Norfolk House was converted into a tavern soon after the completion of the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike in 1805. Its location on the turnpike and across the street from the Norfolk County Courthouse made the tavern not only a favorite stopping-off point for the many daily coach passengers travelling south through Dedham from Boston, but also a gathering place for local politicians engaged in the business of running Norfolk County. The tavern continued operation until 1866, although business gradually tapered off after the opening of the Dedham Branch Railroad in 1834 and the decline in stage travel; the growing influence of the mid-century temperance movement was also a factor in the tavern’s loss of business. Subsequently, St. Mary’s School and Asylum used the building as an orphanage until 1879. Following this, the building served as offices and as rental apartments, slowly falling into a state of disrepair. In 1905, the building was converted back into single-family use and restored under the supervision of architect Frank Chouteau Brown, an important preservation advocate and practitioner. The Norfolk continued as a single-family home into the early 21st century, although it was only sporadically and partially occupied.

Over time, the Norfolk House had expanded from its original floor plan. In 1820, three bays were added to the north end of the main block, another bay and large ell were put onto the rear elevation, and a third story was added. During the 1905 conversion, an additional bay with a covered porch and arcade was added to the rear ell.

The recent rehabilitation using state and federal tax credits focused on retaining important and distinctive historic features while transforming the single-family home into six apartments, to meet the current neighborhood’s needs. The exterior entryways and windows underwent extensive rehabilitation. Entry work included repairing the two east entry doors, installing a patio in the footprint of a non-extant front porch, and rehabilitating the south entryway into the main entrance. Historic wood windows were repaired and reinstalled, as were historic paneled and louvered shutters. In order to meet code requirements, a new egress was tucked into the northern elbow between the main block and the ell, and a clapboard vestibule was added to allow for rear egress from the main house and basement. When the project began, the interior retained ornamental detail from the 1905 rehabilitation; the features restored in the new apartments included historic wood trim, surrounds, fireplaces, doors, door hardware, and a domed ceiling, giving the units an elegant and unique feel.

The rehabilitation process was not without its challenges. Severe structural deficiencies found during construction meant that the entire support structure for the main block and rear ell needed to be replaced. Another challenge resulted from a two-alarm attic fire caused by the embers from the structural work. Fortunately, the fire was contained in the attic, with little damage extending to the historic fabric of the lower floors. Either of these challenges could have ended the rehabilitation, and the successful completion of this project reflects considerable perseverance and sensitivity. After more than fifteen years of vacancy, there was certainly a possibility that the Norfolk House would be lost. Restored and rehabilitated, the Norfolk House will now continue to play an important role in Dedham’s architectural and cultural history into the future.

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