Isolated from surrounding communities by the meandering Charles River, Needham, incorporated in 1711 from lands originally part of the Dedham grant of 1636, developed slowly until after the Civil War. Although bridges were built in the seventeenth century across the Charles River to Newton on the east and to Dover on the west, only scattered farms followed in the Great Plain area. Modest industrial development occurred at mills on the Charles, especially paper milling. The Charles River Railroad (1853) fueled real estate speculation until 1873, especially the development of middle-class housing in Great Plain Village and the arrival of a group of English knitters in the Highlandville (ND1; Needham Heights) area. The association of Needham with the hosiery industry began at this time and continued into the twentieth century. The development of automobile highways from the 1930s on has brought Needham into the orbit of Boston commuter residential development.
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