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The Lock-Up and The "Tramp Keeper"

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Benjamin D. Guild (1827-1889)

Benjamin D. Guild was born on October 25, 1827. His parents were Nathanial Guild (1795-1872), a farmer, and Sybil Hewins Guild (1794-1862), who had been married on October 2, 1820 in Wrentham. Nathanial’s father (Benjamin’s grandfather) was Abner Guild who founded the tannery that eventually became the Winslow tannery. Nathanial and Sybil Guild had seven children.

Benjamin Guild, the couple’s third child and third son, never married. He spent time at the Taunton Hospital in the 1870s, but, in 1879, apparently found his calling when the Town of Norwood built its first municipal building: a “lock-up” for tramps.

The arrival of the railroad was advantageous to industries in South Dedham but it also brought problems. One of these was transients who “rode the rails” from town to town and often depended on charity or petty larceny to sustain themselves. As part of their Support to the Poor, towns were required to provide food and lodging for these transients.

In 1876, only a few years after Norwood had become an independent town, the annual report stated: “The excess on the Poor is due largely to the increased number of Tramps, which now have to be put up at the hotel. The selectmen would recommend that the town take some action in regard to the matter, so that it will not cost as much in the future.” In 1876, the town cared for 1372 transients; in 1877, the number rose to 2843. In 1879, the town appropriated $1250 to build a Lock-up to house the tramps.

From 1879 until his death, Benjamin Guild became the “Tramp Keeper.” Each annual report mentions sums for the board and clothing of Guild, sometimes called “General” and other times “Major-General” Guild. In 1889, the report noted, “Ben Guild has cared for 2936 tramps during the year.”

When Benjamin D. Guild died on September 10, 1889, of a hemorrhage due to tuberculosis, the Norwood Advertiser and Review wrote: “The town has lost a unique citizen and faithful official and a member of one of the old-time honored families. ‘Major General’ Guild, as he was called by those who were familiar with his military precision and dispatch, although he never engaged more than a civilian’s honor, performed well all his duties in that direction. Ever since the establishment of the town ‘lock-up’ in 1879, he has had entire charge, conducting its affairs in a manner highly satisfactory to the town fathers.”

Benjamin Guild, 62, was survived by two brothers, Nathaniel and Ezra. He was buried in the family plot at Old Parish Cemetery.

In 1903, steel cells were added to the Lock-Up to hold prisoners awaiting transportation to court; the building housed prisoners for some 85 years. Later in the 20th century, the building was the site of the Youth Coordinator’s office. Today, the Lock-Up still stands behind the town hall.

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Love reading these bios and learning about structures and buildings that I’ve walked by a thousand times!! Great town history. Thank you.

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