The Founding of Attleboro:
Two well known, retired Attleboro High School history teachers, Victor Bonneville and Paula Sollitto explain the origins and history of Attleboro in their book, Images of America: Attleboro. For the purpose of this article, only a few of the dates and historical events included in their book, surrounding the origins of Attleboro have been extracted.
- 1661: “On April 8, 1661, Capt. Thomas Willettt, on behalf of some English settlers, purchased a large tract of land from Wamsutta, a chief of the Wampanoag Indians. Known as “The North Purchase,” the land would be part of Rehoboth for the next 33 years.”
- 1694 “As the number of settlers increased, the North Purchase was incorporated into a new township, 1694, by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts. As some of the settlers in the new township came from Attleborough, England, they, following a common practice throughout England’s colonies named their settlement “Attleborough.” The newly created township would include present-day North Attleborough as well as Attleboro.”
- 1887 “The final separation of what was now being called “East Village” from “West Village” would not be done without much debate, concern and soul searching by the people of Attleborough. Finally, in 1887, by a narrow margin, the town of Attleborough voted to separate into North Attleborough (West Village) and Attleborough (East Village).”
- 1914 “The change of the spelling of Attleborough took place in 1914, when Attleborough received its city charter from the state legislature and became the City of Attleboro (a much more modern and dynamic spelling, which reflected the citizens’ view of themselves and their community).”
Attleboro's First Mayor and His Mansion:
Attleboro’s first mayor, the Honorable Harold E. Sweet, son of Joseph Lyman Sweet and Florence Haywood Sweet was elected in 1915. He lived in the mansion at 80 North Main St., next to the Attleboro Public Library, which he had constructed in the Colonial Revival Style at the turn of the Twentieth Century. He lived there with his wife Gertrude and their children Haywood Edward and Marian Hunton Sweet.
The 14-room mansion contained an eleborate front staircase, a sun porch, living, dining, music, billiard, smoking, dressing, three bath and three bedrooms as well as quarters for two maids. The grounds included a greenhouse, a garage and an ornamental fishpond.
Next door to the Sweet Mansion is the Attleboro Public Library at 74 North Main Street. It was built on land donated by the mayor's father, Joseph Lyman Sweet in 1902. In 1933 when Mayor Sweet's father passed away the library was designated the "Joseph Lyman Sweet Memorial."
Mayor Sweet, like his father before him was among Attleboro’s most civic-minded residents. He donated the land for what is now the Hayward Field and also the beautiful rose stain glass window to Attleboro’s St. John’s Church, both still enjoyed today. He made financial contributions for scholarships to his alma maters Attleboro High School and Tufts University.
He was both a successful jewelry manufacturer and a shareholder in the R.F. Simmons Company. He was the president and director of the First National Bank of Attleboro. In addition he served on the Attleboro School Committee for nine years and was the president of the Attleboro Chamber of Commerce.
After a successful first term, Sweet was uncontested in his run for a second term as mayor. His total service as mayor was from 1915-1918.
Mayor Harold Sweet and his wife lived in the mansion until 1957 when he moved into a smaller house, which he built at 8 Hayward St. He sold the mansion to Doctor Fiore Rullo and his wife Mary.
Dr. Rullo's medical practice was operated out of a building located diagonally behind the Sweet Mansion.
Memories of the Third Owner of the Sweet House, Barry Corbett:
"Harold Sweet fully funded the expense of my Uncle Herb Corbett's medical degree at Tufts," Barry Corbett said. "My uncle wasn't the only one. He funded the education of several Attleboro students at Tufts."
"This all meant something to me," he added. "Buying the house was like bringing the story full circle."
Corbett said Sweet was quite an individual.
"I think he was somehow the one who encouraged Doctor Rullo to come to town," he said. "I marveled everyday at the workmanship of the building, however, the day for the building to be used as a private home had passed.
Corbett said that the real value of the building, because of its location, was as a professional office building.
He recalled the windows of the house were all curved panes which were quite expensive and unique at that time. The side sun porch was added to the 1907 house in 1913.
"I believe that the porch cost $13,000 to build."
Corbett housed his insurance agency on the first floor and he rented the second floor to local lawyers, James Lewis, James Cassidy, Dennis Bissio and John Dolan.
Corbett sold the house at the same time he sold his insurance agency. "I believe it is one of the most beautiful properties in Attleboro. It's a shame that the cost of oil and its antiquated heating system made the price of heating the property exorbitant."
The City Takes Possession of the Mansion:
Sweet sold the house to the Rullo family in 1957. The Rullos sold the house in 1975 to Corbett who in turn sold it in 1978 to Roger Ferris and Michael Hull.
The city took possession of the house in 1979. The city intended to use the mansion as a children’s library and for the library’s administrative offices. This plan, however, never did come to fruition, but the city has maintained ownership of the building to this day.
In 1985, the Attleboro Historical Commission applied for the mansion's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Sweet Mansion Today:
The Attleboro Literacy Center has occupied the city-owned building since 1988. The Center is an important and valuable resource for the Attleboro community and surrounding cities and towns. Offerings there include high school equivalency (GED) programs, citizenship and English for speakers of other languages programs, academic one-on- one tutoring, and children programs.
“We are very happy to be here, the building works well for the community," Director of The Attleboro Literacy Center, Joan Ricci said of the house. "Our students, tutors and volunteers all feel comfortable here.”
“The interior of the house is in good condition but we have a critical need for repair and paint for the exterior,” she added.
Mayor Kevin Dumas agreed with Ricci.
“I support saving the integrity of the house," he said. "I have visited the house several times and the craftsmanship of the woodworking, stain glass, mosaic tiles in the entryway and sliding pocket doors are all beautiful.
"In fact about four years ago, the city made repairs, rebuilding the two chimneys at the Sweet Mansion," he added.
Dumas explained that before he can present a proposal for painting the house to the Attleboro City Council, bids need to go out for repairing the exterior rotted woodwork. Although the house is city owned, the house is under the purview of the Attleboro Library Board of Directors.
“I understand that the board has given approval to make use of a trust fund to make the repairs," Dumas said. "Now bids must be solicited for that work. I will be ecstatic when the exterior repair is completed so we can move forward with painting.”
Sadly, as Corbett said, "Properties like the Sweet Mansion have a life expectancy as a residence. They no longer are places to raise children due to the busy location and costs involved in maintaining these houses."
Check back tomorrow to read Thursday's Passport for a Little Bit of Paradise.