A. History of the Museum

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.

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 in January 1875. 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…”

WHM Founders (January 23, 1875)
Founders of the Worcester Society of Antiquity – 1875

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.

First Sign for the Worcester Society of Antiquity

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the late 1880s, membership had grown to 160, the library boasted 18,000 titles, and they had assembled 3,000 as of yet unpublished pages of local history.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.”

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.

WHS 39 Salisbury
Worcester Historical Society at 39 Salisbury St

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.

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 at 30 Elm St 

B. Our Mission

Worcester Historical Museum is a unique organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting Worcester’s history in all time periods and subject areas for all audiences.

C. Our Values

The Worcester Historical Museum:

  • Believes history and Museums occupy a vital place in the community.
  • Promotes and upholds the highest professional practices and ethical values in its work within the community.
  • Is dedicated to the collection, preservation and interpretation of Worcester’s history in all time periods and subject areas
  • Recognizes the diversity of cultures in our community.
  • Believes that on-going communication with members and the community on issues relevant to the role of history is essential.

D. Our Vision

To be a recognized leader in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge about the history of Worcester Massachusetts as it impacts the region, state, nation, and the world. Worcester Historical Museum strives:

  1. To collaborate with diverse communities to explore and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Worcester and surrounding communities.
  2. To be a premier historical research institution that embraces the voices and cultures of all peoples of Worcester and surrounding regions throughout time.
  3. To practice and promote the highest professional standards in collecting, preserving, researching, interpreting and sharing objects and information.