Got a Woo Card?

Worcester Historical Museum

Our Past

Founders of Worcester Society of Antiquity
Click here to enlarge

In 1875 America was preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday and people throughout the country were adjusting to the radical changes brought by the end of Reconstruction, the advent of industrialization, new forms of communication and significant influx of new immigrants. The approaching Centennial made people aware of their nation's history for the first time, and historical and patriotic societies were springing up all over the Northeast.

One Lincoln Place
One Lincoln Place

In Worcester, Samuel E. Staples (1822-1902) had his own vision. Staples, a successful grocer and bookkeeper, invited four men who shared his interest in history to meet at his home at One Lincoln Place. The letter he sent to Daniel Seagrave, Richard O'Flynn, John Smith, and Franklin Rice read, in part, "It has been proposed to form a Society for the purpose of increasing an interest in Archaeological Science, and to rescue from oblivion such historical matter as would otherwise be lost..."

Staples' Letter
Click here to enlarge

That afternoon meeting in January 1875 established the society that would become Worcester Historical Museum, Staples' intention was to form a society broad enough to include all lines of historical and archeological inquiry.

Founded as the Worcester Society of Antiquity, the original group of four grew and by 1877 the Society was incorporated with thirty-seven charter members. The first headquarters were rented rooms in the Worcester National Bank Building at 11 Foster Street.

11 Foster Street
Worcester National Bank Building at 11 Foster Street

By the late 1880s, membership had grown to 160, the library boasted 18,000 titles, and they had assembled 3,000 as of yet unpublished pages of local history. With the addition of a large and important collection of books, manuscripts, broadsides, and maps from the library of Rev. George Allen, a reformer and political activist, it became clear the Society needed a larger home.

On the first of October 1889, Stephen Salisbury III, a member and prominent Worcester businessman and philanthropist, donated the land at 39 Salisbury Street and $25,000 towards the construction of a building, "upon the condition that within ten years from the date of this gift, the Worcester Society of Antiquity shall erect... a Brick or Stone Building costing not less than fifteen thousand dollars."

39 Salisbury Street

The new building, a Romanesque Revival-style brick structure, was formally opened on June 28, 1892, and remained the museum's home for the next ninety-six years. In 1919, after years of "fitful and sometimes heated discussion," the members voted to change their name to the Worcester Historical Society.Old Logo

In 1978, after another name change to Worcester Historical Museum, there was a major renovation to the building's galleries, and a new emphasis on changing exhibitions. The museum's mission, which had gradually been growing more focused, was now concentrated exclusively on Worcester history.

30 Elm Street
30 Elm Street

In February 1988, after significant planning and fundraising, the museum moved to larger quarters at 30 Elm Street, in the heart of downtown. The elegant brick building was originally built for the Worcester County Horticultural Society. The new location provided considerably more storage, office, and gallery spaces, and it supports a greater range of programs.

Worcester Historical Museum extends an eager invitation to friends, neighbors, scholars, and history buffs to join our growing membership roster and to help us build a strong constituency as we head toward our second century of public service. WHM also welcomes businesses, industry, and corporations to continue Worcester's corporate tradition of investing in one of Worcester's oldest cultural institutions.

For more information about membership, please contact us at 508-753-8278 or Or, download a membership form.

© 2009 Worcester Historical Museum | Site Map | Search | Contact Us
The City of Worcester