Updated: Aug 22, 2021
According to historian and newspaperman Win Everett, Lem Dean was “one of the most picturesque characters who ever brightened the life of our village.”
Born in 1795 in the John Dean homestead at 190 Dean Street, Lemuel Dean was part of the expansive Dean family. He married Julia Ann Morse around 1830. The couple had seven children: Charles, Rene, Lyman, Lewis, Henry, an unnamed infant, and a second child named Charles.
In 1824, Dean was the tax collector in the village but in 1828, when the Church was preparing to build its second meetinghouse, he bought the tavern on Washington Street that had belonged to Abel Everett, moved it across to the corner of Chapel and opened a general store of sorts. His stock was apparently meagre but he usually had molasses, vinegar, rum, gin, a few spices, and a little sugar. Always dressed in a black suit and tall black beaver hat, Dean was known to move about the store at a snail’s pace. F. O. Winslow recalled that “Lem could take longer than any living man to go into the cellar and draw a jug of molasses.” Even more memorable, Dean “always carried a few skunk skins,” which he hunted, then dried in the sun tacked to the house’s clapboards. The store – and Lem Dean – always had the odor of skunk about them.
In later years, he sold the store and built a house on Lenox Avenue. Still, he would fill a pushcart or sometimes a wheelbarrow with peanuts and skunk skins, and walk the streets of South Dedham selling his odd merchandise. Writing in the1930s, Win Everett says he found a few old-timers who remembered the foul-smelling “little bit of a man” with a round face and high-pitched voice, peddling his wares. He was, they conceded, “a gentle, harmless soul.”
Lemuel Dean died in 1880; his wife, Julia, lived a decade longer and passed away in 1890. They are buried in Old Parish Cemetery, in lot 54, along with five of their children, all of whom died under the age of 7.