Notable People of Wrentham
As part of Wrentham’s 350th anniversary celebration in 2023, the committee planning next year’s events has asked residents to submit memories of significant people in the town’s history. Following is a submission the anniversary committee shared with Local Town Pages.
Col. Rhodes Sheldon
Born July 21, 1786, in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Col. Rhodes Sheldon came to the west end of Wrentham in 1823. He was first married to Prusha Inman, in September 1808 in Cumberland, RI; she died in early 1849. He married his second wife, Catherine H. (Morse) Tilton, who was the daughter of John and Mary Morse, in November 1851 in Ashland, MA. His children included Stephen Sheldon (1808–1826), Huldah Sheldon Grant (1810–1835), Marietta Sheldon Wellman (1812–1890), Nathaniel Sheldon (1814–1884), George Sheldon (1817–1894), Orin Sheldon (1820–1893), and William T. Sheldon (1823–1855).
A farmer by occupation, early on he developed skills in carpentry and began to build small boats. The availability of excellent boat-building materials (such as cedar trees), along with his increased expertise, prompted him to start the Sheldon Boat Works, which he located on the north side of West Street, along the stream. The market for these boats was limited in Wrentham so Sheldon began to carry and cart them to Boston for sale.
Before long, the Sheldon craft were in demand, and he employed several local men as assistants. He also built some homes for his neighbors and his employees and became so well established and so highly regarded, that the area in which he worked and operated his business became known as Sheldonville, and the village has retained that name to this day.
In fact, the “Long House” at 1085-91 West Street was built as a boardinghouse for the boat factory workers from the Sheldon Boat Works Shop, which was located across the street. It probably also housed some workers from Alfred Nash’s boat shop, located downstream from Sheldon’s and on the south side of West Street as noted by the sign in the photograph of Long House. Nash had been a salesman for the Sheldon Boat Works, and eventually he and others built boats to use on the lakes in town.
Col. Sheldon’s sons inherited the Sheldon Boat Works business and expanded it. George Sheldon, along with others in the Sheldon family, carried on the boat-building business after the death of its founder in 1867. Before the end of the century, George and his son were manufacturing boats and had a store in Sheldonville and another in Boston. The Sheldon family continued the business into the twentieth century.
Col. Sheldon and many family members are buried in the Sheldonville Cemetery in Wrentham on Burnt Swamp Road, right off West Street.
Compiled by Paula Kowalewski Sullivan from various sources, including “Wrentham, 1673-1973: A History” by Jordan D. Fiore (1973); the “Images of America” series volume on Wrentham (1999) by C. Gordon “Gog” Woodhams and Earle T. Stewart; and online sources such as “Find A Grave.”