Herbert M. Plimpton was born in Walpole and trained as a compositor, pressman and binder in a time when book making was largely a labor intensive process completed by hand.
In 1882 Herbert and his brother Howard founded the Plimpton Press in Boston with around 25 employees. Hebert was an advocate of using machinery in the book manufacturing process to reduce labor costs and save time long before the rest of the industry. The Plimpton Press is credited as being the first plant in the world to use folding machines, cover making machines, modern sewing machines, and the first rounding and backing machines. They also invented the first gathering machine.
Plimpton himself had been trained as a compositor and press-man, although his talent was truly in the line of book -binding, which he learned in New York City.
The Norwood Business Association convinced Plimpton to move his press work and binding operations to Norwood in 1897. He selected a piece of land on the East side of the railroad tracks between Lenox and Nahatan St. The location was so successful he closed the Boston plant in 1904, added an addition to his Norwood plant and moved the rest of his business to Norwood. The new annex was dedicated on December 21, 1904 in a grand ceremony. All of his employees, town officers, many townspeople and a number of prominent publishers who were customers of the Plimpton Press attended the informal gathering which served almost as an introduction of his workforce to the town and his customers. Howard died in 1899, and in 1904 Herbert renamed the company H.M. Plimpton & Company. In 1913, he incorporated the business as the Plimpton Press.
Plimpton was active in town affairs and joined the Norwood Business Association. In September of 1918, the influenza outbreak was beginning to spread through town and Plimpton was one of six leading citizens chosen for an Epidemic Committee and was named it’s chairman. He married Frances Winslow, daughter of George S. Winslow and niece of Francis O. Winslow, former partners in the Winslow Brothers tannery. He was one of the wealthiest and most influential men in town. The Press held social events, promoted local sports teams and published a company newsletter for many years.
In 1920 the bindery part of the plant was capable of producing 50,000 volumes a day and by 1936 the press employed over 600 men and women. At the height of it’s production capabilities in the 1950’s, the plant work force had doubled to over 1200 employees and profits were high. It was considered one of the best places to work in the entire town and it was common for workers to stay employed there for 20 to 30 years.
Like the competing press in town, the Norwood Press, the Plimpton Press began by producing school textbooks. Eventually to offset the seasonal nature of textbook printing, the press expanded into religious books, fiction and deluxe editions of classic novels.
The Plimpton Press was purchased by McCall Printing Company of New York in 1964. In 1970 New York based investing firm Murray Traub Acquiring Corp bought the Press before eventually closing it in October of 1973.
By the 1990’s, the site was used as warehouse space for various companies including a moving and storage company.
In 2014, a proposal for a development would have placed 238 units at the Plimpton Press site, with a total of 50 condos and 188 apartments. There would have been around 10,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the buildings, and Lenox Street would have been reopened. Norwood Town Meeting members voted 93-70 in favor of the project but it fell short of the required two-thirds majority for zoning changes and the developers backed out.
Instead, a new developer, Avalon Bay, came in with a 40B proposal. According to their website, Avalon Norwood will offer one-, two-, and three- bedroom apartments and townhomes for lease.
Demolition of Building #3 and #4 began on May 7, 2018. Buildings 1 and 2 are scheduled for demolition starting in July.
For photos of the demolition and new construction at the Plimpton site, click here.