History of Norfolk County

Early Establishment

The Massachusetts General Court, in 1643, established 4 counties then called shires, to settle legal cases in the county seats of Essex, Norfolk, Middlesex and Suffolk. That first Norfolk County became part of Essex County in 1679 causing the farming towns south and west of Boston to petition the Legislature over a period of several years, for their own county seat in Dedham to avoid going to court in the city.

Boundary Changes

After many years of negotiations that considered various proposals for grouping towns, in 1792 a new Norfolk County was created by cutting it out of Suffolk and leaving only Boston and Chelsea in Suffolk County. The county line to the south followed the old boundary between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies including Hingham and Cohasset as it continued toward the sea. At the north, it encompassed Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, all sections of Boston today, and Brookline to the northwest.

The new Norfolk County was to take effect in July of 1793. Just prior to that date, Hingham and Hull had legislation passed by the General Court, which excluded them from Norfolk citing the difficulty in traveling overland to the county seat in Dedham. They later had second thoughts as to their decision and remained Suffolk only until 1803 when they joined Plymouth County rather than appear indecisive. This left Cohasset still separated from the rest of its county.

Surrounding Cities

1-by-1 Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale and Hyde Park, the latter in 1915, rejoined Suffolk County with a promise of better roads, schools and other services. Brookline then had the option of joining either Suffolk or Middlesex Counties but elected to remain in Norfolk, leaving it detached like Cohasset. Under Massachusetts General Law communities need not be contiguous within a county, which has permitted this unique situation to exist.