WHERE WE LIVE
6:16 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

Where We Live: Medfield

Medfield, shown in October 2012, has a Mayberry-like feel — but new housing may strain its resources.
Medfield has a Mayberry-like feel — but new housing may strain its resources.
Credit Greater Boston / WGBH

Lord's Department Store is the symbolic heart of downtown Medfield. You can go there to buy greeting cards, or Medfield memorabilia, or a one-dollar ham-and-pickle sandwich at the lunch counter in the back. In a big-box age, Lord's is a throwback — a term that applies to Medfield as a whole.

"It's really a small town," said Jim Feeney, a small businessman who owns a lighting store in town. "I know it sounds corny — you're within 495 and the whole bit — but there's a strong sense of community here."

When Feeney heard WGBH was visiting Lord's, he showed up unannounced to tout his hometown. And he wasn't the only one. 

A Country Feel

"I just fell in love with this town," said Norman Gray, who moved here more than 50 years ago and runs a local landscaping business. "It still has a small-town feel to it, a country feel. ... I've been having my coffee in the morning in this particular location probably for 50 years."

Around the corner from Lord's, at the Medfield Historical Society, town historian Richard DeSorgher said the pride on display at Lord's is reflected in an unusually strong civic culture. 

"There's an incredible amount of people that volunteer," DeSorgher said. "Whether it's town government, or through the schools, there are all kinds of events people organize. It's a very close-knit community of giving to the town, which I just think makes it very, very special. It's just a great place."

But it's also a place that's wrestling with change. Two big housing developments — including one at the old Medfield State Hospital grounds — could dramatically increase the town's population and strain its treasured school system.

Boffo for Brown?

Medfield's anxiety about those changes and its embrace of small-town culture could help Scott Brown here as he seeks re-election to the US Senate. Two years ago, Brown crushed Martha Coakley here, 63 percent to 37 percent.

Some of that margin may have been attributable to the fact that Brown used to represent Medfield in the state Legislature. But there may also be a natural affinity between Medfield's Mayberry-esque feel and the small-town-everyman persona that Brown has embraced. Most of the people we met at Lord's certainly seemed to be big Brown fans.

"I voted for Scott Brown when Massachusetts did its thing a couple of years ago," Gray said. "I think he's a wonderful family man. And I plan to vote for him again."

But Warren might do better here than many people expect. Nearly two thirds of Medfield residents are independent voters — and in the past several presidential elections, the town has voted for the Democrat. (Medfield also voted for Deval Patrick during his first run for governor, but backed Charlie Baker by a wide margin four years later.)

Susan Bernstein is Warren's Medfield town coordinator. She said the Warren campaign was taking the town seriously. 

"She has great field operation in place, where we're going out every weekend to canvas," Bernstein said. "Phone banks all through the week. We're doing visibilities — trying to do visibilities — where we're standing there with her signs a couple of nights a week."

Bernstein doesn't expect Warren to beat Brown in Medfield. But she thinks a 50-50 split is a possibility. If that happens, she says, women's issues will be pivotal.

"Elizabeth stands up for the women," Bernstein said. "She'll vote for equal pay; she'll vote to protect Planned Parenthood; she'll vote for our right to contraceptives. And [these issues] are playing very well in Medfield."

Conservative — Except When They're Not

For his part, DeSorgher believes that Medfield is more complicated than it seems. Voters prize community and fiscal discipline — but also education and the environment.

"There's a battle, I think, between those two forces sometimes," he said. "And that's why we have so many people here who don't necessarily follow the party line — but look at the individual."

That's a trait that both Brown and Warren hope works in their favor on Election Day.

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