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Needham Heights.

Known today as Needham Heights, this Victorian residential and industrial district long contained large numbers of English framework knitters. These people came from the East Midland counties of Leicester, Nottingham, and Derbyshire, and were perhaps the largest group of knitters north of Philadelphia. In 1853 Jonathan Avery of Newton bought a farm here, which he subdivided into house lots that he sold into the 1860s, specifically to émigrés like Samuel Beless, a framework knitter from Loughborough who built a simple Italianate house at 110 Greendale Avenue. In 1875 a dozen shops contained 60 stocking frames; soon knitting sustained 1,500 people in this village in ten hand shops and four steam-powered factories. By 1890 there were thirty-two hosiery firms here, although only twelve frame shops and seven factories remained in 1900.

The most successful of these émigré artisans was William Carter (1830–1918), who began framework knitting here in 1865. Among the first here to adopt steam power, he pioneered direct sales for brand name union suits in 1899. Best known for children's wear in recent decades, the business left family hands in 1983, and the postwar factory complex (100 West Street) was reused for elderly housing. From 1867 to 1897 frame workers in the Albion Cricket Club played on the Hillside Avenue field (now devoted to soccer), donated by William Carter after he married Avery's widow. In 1876 the town's leading hosiers also combined funds to build a Methodist church (twice replaced by later buildings), the traditional religious faith of these working-class families. William Carter's son Horace, treasurer of the family company, built a large Queen Anne home (790 Highland Avenue) in the 1890s; his brother William, the company's second president, “Colonial Revivalized” and enlarged the Beless house after 1894.

As in Alexander Lynes's now defunct factory (315 Hunnewell Street) begun in 1865–1870, many English-born hosiers kept hand frames for specialty work. Unlike other New England towns where the old technology disappeared in the 1880s, independent hand shops continued to be built behind many Highlandville homes up to World War I. The William Gorse Co., pioneers in knitting elastic bandages and hosiery, only moved their hand frames out of the family's tiny “factory” behind their home (341–343 Hunnewell Avenue) in 1925.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Highlandville", [Needham, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 526-527.

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