The Wakefield Historical Society …
Looking Backward Since 1890
*The year was 1890 and Wakefield had changed dramatically and rapidly. Large industries had transformed the sleepy farming village into a bustling factory town, bringing progress and growth, at the cost of its original character and charm.
In reaction, the Wakefield Historical Society was founded. “There are many good people in this bustling age,” the founders wrote, “who think it a waste of time and effort to search for anything of value among the moldy and forgotten things of the past.” The Society’s mission was “to rescue from oblivion ancient records, documents, portraits, implements, relics, photographs, etc. having to do with the early and later years of the town’s life; and to foster local interest in the town, and its earlier history.”
The town embraced the new organization. It was immediately offered space in the original Wakefield Town Hall. A Town Meeting article allocated the princely sum of $25 to help furnish the new quarters. That space was quickly outgrown, however, and over the next hundred years, temporary homes included:
- The Richardson Building on Main Street
- The Beebe Memorial Library, where a corner of the basement was originally planned as a permanent Museum space. (Until the Library needed the space.)
- The Lafayette Building, originally the Town’s High School. (Until the building was re-designated as the Town Hall, and needed the space.)
- The basement of the Greenwood School (Until the School Department needed the space).
- The chapel at the Lakeside Cemetery (Which, it must be admitted, lacked a certain appeal as a museum.)
- A corner of the basement of the old state Armory, being recycled into the Americal Civic Center under the stewardship of the Board of Public Works.
With the restoration of the West Ward School as the Wakefield History Museum in 2010, the Society’s collection has found its latest — and best — home.
Since its inception, the Wakefield Historical Society has been true to its mission of preserving artifacts and objects relating to Wakefield’s history. At present, the collection includes literally millions of objects: paintings, portraits, documents, photographs, drawings, printed materials, maps, clothing, arrowheads, uniforms, bottles, hardware, china, glassware, furnishings and oddities of all kinds. A special focus is on images of the town’s past, from photographs, slides and glass plate negatives to the paintings of Franklin Poole, a nineteenth century artist who documented local scenes. Another special focus is on a collection of wicker and rattan created at the Wakefield Rattan and Heywood-Wakefield factories.
With the bulk of the collection stored upstairs, the ground floor is the museum’s exhibit hall. Changing exhibits allow the Society to cycle its collections. Past exhibits have included “The Evolution of Main Street” and “South Reading and the War of the Rebellion.” At present a special exhibit highlights “Wakefield’s First Responders: the Police and Fire Departments,” “Wakefield’s Veterans, a retrospective,” and the present exhibit, “Wakefield Wicker.” Plans for 2017 could include “Looking Backward: 19th century South Reading,” featuring the paintings of Franklin Poole.
The Society plans special programs, welcomes school groups and visitors, and assists researchers exploring town or family history. A rich variety of publications have been generated, including histories of the town and its buildings and walking tour brochures. The Society has recently embraced the 21st century: a state-of-the-art computer was donated, museum software has been purchased, and volunteers have begun the painstaking task of cataloguing and digitizing the collections.
Our present task is creating digitizing tours of the town so that they can be walked using a cellphone or mobile device, or enjoyed using a computer. At present, three tours have been created: Prospect and Church Street, a Lakeside Tour and a Walking Tour of Downtown Wakefield. (All are viewable on our site located here. (https://wakefieldhistory.wordpress.com)
Join us by sending a check for the modest annual membership dues to the Wakefield Historical Society, Post Office Box 1902, Wakefield, MA 01880. The Wakefield Historical Society is a 501 (c) 3 organization; all contributions are tax deductible.