In 1892 James F.D. Garfield, publisher of the Fitchburg Sentinel, gathered together several important men of his time to found the Fitchburg Historical Society. They pledged to encourage a “love of research and collect and preserve such material … as may be useful to the future historian and interesting to the public.” Very soon, the collections were becoming more than they could store at several locations.
In August of 1910, Garfield called a meeting of Historical Society board members and announced that he would donate a piece of land at the corner of Grove and Vine Streets for the purpose of erecting a building for a permanent home for the Society. The proposition was accepted and with solicitation of funds from members and friends near and far, they raised more than $10,000 within the year. Letters from contributors are still in the Society’s archives.
They hired the most prominent architects of the time in Fitchburg – Henry M. Francis and Sons – to design the building. H.M. Francis himself had died in 1908, and his two sons Frederick and Albert, who had joined the firm in 1902, carried on the business in the same styles which made their father famous. The expectation was that the home of the Society would be equal to the grand civic buildings in this area of downtown Fitchburg – the Post Office, the Armory, Christ Church, and the Registry of Deeds. And grand it was.
Laying the cornerstone of the Society Building – August 5, 1911
A local contractor, John Dudley Littlehale was chosen to build the Society headquarters. The cornerstone for the building was laid in a grand ceremony held on August 5, 1911. The Society headquarters took several months to complete. In March 1912 all artifacts and documents were placed in the new building and on May 20 the first meeting was held. The formal dedication was held on June 4, 1912.
The Fitchburg Historical Society’s magnificent building at 50 Grove Street is in the Georgian style. Inside, solid oak doors and woodwork—two feet tall ceiling moldings and an elegant coved ceiling on the second floor show old world craftsmanship.
The Society houses more than 200,000 items related to the history of Fitchburg. Included in the archives are original Sentinel newspapers from 1838 to 1976, city directories, photographs, scrapbooks, manuscripts, family genealogies, postcards, files on industries in the City, and books and pamphlets on Fitchburg’s history from the 1700s to the present. In addition there is an extensive Civil War collection and a collection on the railroad. The Research Library is open to the public.
The Society also has a remarkable collection of artifacts which tell the story of Fitchburg—early iron hearth cooking tools, the first printing press of the Fitchburg Sentinel, machines illustrating the strong industrial heritage of the City, a stellar collection of early paintings, and clothing representing many decades in Fitchburg.
Volunteers are cataloging the collection using a searchable database, which is accessible at our web site. Volunteers can match up their interest and skills with many tasks that are available.
The Fitchburg Historical Society works with the Fitchburg public schools and area private schools. The Society offers hands-on lessons in the classrooms, after-school and vacation activities, and teacher training in using primary source materials in curriculum.
The Society also conducts monthly programs to which the public is invited. They often feature topics close to the heart of Fitchburg residents— architecture, the history of local organizations, participation of residents in past wars, or the holiday traditions of our many ethnic groups.
The annual house tour highlights the rich and beautiful architecture found in abundance throughout the City.
A comprehensive strategic plan completed in 2001 pointed out a need to find a building better suited our needs in order to continue collecting and preserving the history of Fitchburg and conducting programs for students and the general public. The Historical Society is now in the final stages of renovation and upgrading our building located at 781 Main Street.