Peeking Into the Past

  • Visit North Central

Have you ever wondered what life was like in New England a hundred — or two hundred, or three hundred — years ago?

Here’s some good news: You can take a step back in time right here in Johnny Appleseed Country. Nearly every city and town has a building dedicated to the preservation of the community’s past.

Pass through the doors of local historical society buildings, and you’ll find yourself steeped in the region’s history. From Civil War uniforms and Fire Department “hand tubs” to old-time household utensils, the nooks and crannies of these buildings are packed with bits and pieces of the past.

Not surprisingly, the artifacts reflect heavily on the history of the specific community. In Winchendon, the Murdock-Whitney House offers a delightful trip into the town’s heyday as a toy manufacturing center. The Gardner Museum spotlights the city’s furniture-producing heritage, along with a working silver-making shop and the works of local silversmiths.

But the historical societies in Johnny’s backyard aren’t just guardians of dusty, musty attics. These active groups help to keep the area’s history — and interest in it — alive.

The Phillipston Historical Society recently moved its building — lock, stock and every piece of paper! — a half-mile down the street. The move will allowed the society to put the former church on a solid new foundation and create a more comfortable environment.

And even the grounds are being put to use! If you swing by on July 19, you can get a hands-on lesson on how our forebears did their daily chores, when the society presents its second annual antique tractor and small engine show. Watch grain mills and other essential implements that were considered luxuries in their day!

The Gardner Museum regularly presents programs highlighting tales of the city’s past, including spotlights on the area’s immigrants.

The Reed Homestead in Townsend is truly a step back through a time machine. Occupied by five generations of the Reed family before becoming home of the Townsend Historical Society, the house holds the artifacts of daily life long ago.

In Templeton, the Narragansett Historical Society’s welcome to visitors on Saturday afternoons in summer often includes a relaxing tea in the garden. And on June 25, the society will spotlight the bell tower clock — now restored and working for the first time in decades! — that was removed from the First Baptist Church in Baldwinville before the church was demolished last year. That presentation, at 7 pm at the Grange hall, is sure to bring back memories for local residents.

Of course, visitors looking for information on their ancestors — or even a peek at their parents’ high school yearbooks — will find plenty of material to study.

Turn back the pages of history with a visit to a storehouse of local memorabilia, large and small. Most of the area’s society buildings are open limited hours, so it’s good to call ahead before planning your visit. You can find a directory of local historical societies our website.