Old Town Hall Bookstore

Wheaton’s bookstore, the old Town Hall, was presented to the town of Norton by Harriet Augusta Newcomb in 1882 as a tribute to her father, Nathaniel Newcomb. She hired a prominent New Bedford architectural firm, Caleb Hammond & Son, to design the building. Many of this firm’s buildings may be found in central New Bedford.

Nathaniel Newcomb (1797-1876) was born in Norton and attended the local common schools. When he was 17, he entered the employ of his brother-in-law in a cotton mill. At the age of 25, he purchased a cotton mill on the Canoe River that manufactured yarn, thread, wadding and batting.  Although the factory burned in 1831, Newcomb rebuilt it in 1832.

The old Town Hall was also used as a community center. Over the years, movies, minstrel shows, dances, wedding receptions, plays, grammar school graduation exercises and basketball games were held in the hall. The first movie ever shown at the Town Hall was 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney.

By 1947, the Town Hall had fallen into disrepair, with falling plaster and non-functioning utilities. In the center of the dirt-floored basement was an eight-foot-tall pile of refuse, including the remains of a grand piano. The town finally upgraded the heating and plumbing in 1948. In 1949, for the first time, the offices of the town clerk, treasurer and collector were gathered in the Town Hall (instead of in the officers’ homes).

At the end of the 1970s, the town moved its offices to the renovated gymnasium of the former House in the Pines, and the old building fell into neglect.

The College purchased the old Town Hall from Norton in 1982. Using the building for storage while it sought a developer, the College finally sold it to Douglas A. King Builders, Inc. in 1986. Commercial renters included a laundromat in the basement, a fast-food restaurant on the main floor, and a small apartment in the attic, but none of the businesses proved successful.

Wheaton repurchased the structure in 1990, renovated the interior, and added an elevator tower. “The Old Town Hall Bookstore at Wheaton College” opened in 1992, serving the college and the community.