Dedham is home to the Fairbanks House, the oldest surviving timber-frame house in the United States, scientifically dated to 1637. On January 1, 1643, by unanimous vote, Dedham authorized the first taxpayer-funded public school, “the seed of American education.” Its first schoolmaster, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, a Clare College graduate, was paid 20 pounds annually to instruct the youth of the community. Descendants of these students would become presidents of Dartmouth College, Yale University and Harvard University.
The first man-made canal in North America, Mother Brook, was created in Dedham in 1639. It linked the Charles River to the Neponset River. Although both are slow-moving rivers, they are at different elevations. The difference in elevation made the canal’s current swift enough to power several local mills.
In 1818, though citizens were still taxed for the support of ministers and other “public teachers of religion”, Dedham set a precedent toward the separation of church and state. Residents of the town selected a minister different than that chosen by the church members; the selection by residents was confirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court. This decision increased support for the disestablishment of the Congregational churches.
In 1921, the historic Sacco and Vanzetti trial was held in the Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham.