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Wheelwrights of South Dedham

A wheelwright was a craftsman who built or repaired wooden wheels .The word is the combination of "wheel" and the word "wright", (which comesfrom the Old English word "wryhta", meaning a worker or shaper of wood).

These tradesmen made wheels for carts, wagons, coaches and often the belt-drives of steam powered machinery. Some also made the wheels, and often the frames, for spinning wheels. Most wheels were made from wood, but other materials have been used, such as bone and horn, for decorative or other purposes.

Although the overall appearance of the wheel barely changed over centuries, subtle changes to the design made a massive improvement to the strength of the wheel, at the same time reducing its weight. Vehicles then became more efficient to build and use.

During the second half of the 19th century, the use of pre-manufactured iron hubs and other factory-made wood, iron and rubber wheel parts became increasingly common. These manufacturing processes eventually made the village wheelwright obsolete.

In South Dedham, later Norwood, there were a number of wheelwrights. Among them are five men who were interred in Old Parish Cemetery: Ezra Morse, Moses Rhodes, Charles Rhodes, Bennett Pilley, and Marshall Brooks..

Ezra Morse (1791-1873) lot 103 Ezra Morse was born on July 1, 1791, the son of Seth Morse Jr. (1753-1801) and Mary Dean Morse (1754-1842). On January 29, 1815, he married Sally Baker (1791-1880) of Dedham. The couple had seven children: Charles Edwin, Cynthia, Osborn, Sidney, Reuben, Howard, and Alvin H. Morse. At various times Ezra worked as a farmer and yeoman to support his family. He also learned the trade of wheelwright. Ezra Morse died on January 27, 1873 of pleurisy fever and his wife, Sally Baker Morse, died three years later on December 16, 1880 of old age.

Moses Rhodes (1801-1882) lot 25 Moses Rhodes was born in 1801 to Moses Rhodes and Lavina Littlefield Rhodes. On May 13, 1824, Moses married Nancy Keith. She was the daughter of John and Prudence Keith and had been born in Walpole. Moses and Nancy had seven children: Harriot, Elizabeth, Harrison, Ellen, George, Charles, and Mary. Moses Rhodes made his living as a wheelwright, spending his life making and repairing primarily wooden wheels for his neighbors in South Dedham. Nancy Keith Rhodes died on March 17, 1857 of sciatic rheumatism. She was 54. On August 20, 1857, Moses Rhodes married Mary H. W. Smith Gay, whose parents were Robert and Mary Smith. This was the second marriage for each. Moses Rhodes died on January 25, 1882. The cause of his death was paralysis. He was 80 years old.

Charles E. Rhodes (1838-1866) lot 25

The son of Moses and his first wife Nancy Keith, Charles E. Rhodes was born in 1838. Like his father, he worked as a wheelwright in the village of South Dedham. Unlike his father, Charles never saw Tiot incorporate as the town of Norwood in 1872. Charles Rhodes died on August 3, 1866, predeceasing his father by more than a decade. Charles was 28 when he died of phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis). He never married. He is interred in the family lot. The family’s last name is variously spelled Rhodes, Rhoads, and Rhoades. It is engraved on the gravestone of Moses Rhodes as RHODES. Thus, that spelling was used for this account.

Bennett Pilley (1829-1906) lot 77

Bennett Pilley was born on May 3, 1829 in Maine. He married Mary A. Curtis, also from Maine, in 1855. The couple had 3 children: Albert (1858-1859), Ellie Augusta (1859-1910) and Walter C. (1869-1873). Only one lived into adulthood. A wheelwright and carriage maker, Pilley came to South Dedham before 1870. He was employed at the Railroad Car Shops by 1880. His name appears in the Norwood Business Directory as a wheelwright in 1890. The family lived at 135 Vernon Street. Bennett Pilley died on March 27, 1906 of cardiac pneumonia. (Although the death certificate says 1906, his gravestone has his date of death as 1907.) His widow, Mary, continued to live at 135 Vernon Street until her death in 1913.

The home on the right was the 1913 home of Bennett and Mary Pilley as it appears today.

Marshall Brooks (1847-1927) lot 96/97 Marshall E. Brooks was born on October 4, 1847 in Nova Scotia, Canada. He emigrated with his wife, Amelia S. Angus (1852-1876). Marshall and Amelia had several children including Frank, Ella Mary, and Violet. Amelia Brooks died on January 24, 1876 of consumption (tuberculosis) at the age of 24. Marshall Brooks later married Isabel Ross (1850-1922). Their children included Marion, Edith, and Lee. While living in South Dedham, and later, Norwood, Brooks was employed as a wheelwright. He likely found work at a local carriage shop – such as that of J. W. Roby on Railroad Avenue -- or at the railroad car shops, which also employed wheelwrights. Perhaps seeing his trade slide into obsolescence, by the 1900 Census, Marshall Brooks was listed as a piano manufacturer in Boston. Marshall Brooks retired and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to be with his son. He died on August 27, 1927.

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