NORTHBOROUGH – These reincarnated antique columns are to recognize owners of historic buildings who appreciate old buildings and have invested in successful reuse projects. With creativity, historic properties can be kept away from the wrecking ball. Today’s property at 52 Main Street was originally built as a Baptist church and was transformed into the home of the Northborough Historical Society.
The Baptist Society was formed in Northborough in 1827, in the midst of a liberal/conservative religious schism. The establishment of the Baptist Society was the first time an alternative religious order was organized in Northborough. For 81 years, Northborough’s sole religious congregation had been the Church of Christ established in 1746. The minister for the Church of Christ congregation was also the town minister, with his salary being paid by the local government. In those days there was no separation of church and state.
The formation of the Northborough Baptist Society was controversial and had a large influence on the community. For starters, members of the Baptist Society did not want their town taxes to pay the salary for a minister in a congregation they did not belong to. Reverend Kent stated in his 1921 book “Northborough History” that “This new religious movement was one of the most revolutionary events that had ever taken place in town … it aroused a spirit of antagonism which permeated the whole community.”
Their first church building was built in 1828 at the corner of Main and School Streets in what was the garden area of Mr. Samuel Fisher whose wife was a practicing Baptist. The current building was built in 1860 on the same corner lot. The Baptists were known for speaking out against slavery, alcohol consumption and other social issues of the day. The original steeple was destroyed in the hurricane of 1938. With membership waning, the Baptist congregation merged with the Evangelical congregation across the street and formed the Trinity Church in 1948. The current building was then used as the Trinity Chapel until it was sold to the Historical Society in 1960 for $8500.
The Baptist minister from 1903 to 1910 was Reverend Charles Stanley Pease, a founding member of the Northborough Historical Society. He would be very pleased that the Historical Society has found a home in his old church building.
Paul Derosier, a member of the Historical Society property committee, mentioned that the building is very well built and a perfect fit for the society needs. The main floor, which was previously used for religious services, became the museum and the lower level became the meeting room and kitchen. The building allowed the society to increase the number and range of activities while also having space to display their many acquisitions. Activities such as monthly programs, auctions, community meals, fashion shows, concerts, flea markets, and educational outreach to the schools could all be conducted within their own building. As an example, the fishermen’s breakfast on April 25, 1975, served 430 people! The front lawn displays the original steeple bell (1859), a time capsule from 1966 and the original flag pole from the Hudson Street School (1895).
As with any antique building, there are always maintenance issues. The society has invested in upgrades by adding a sprinkler system and an addition to house their archives. With Community Preservation Act funding support, they improved handicapped accessibility, made repairs to the pipe organ, had the exterior façade repainted and installed shutters to replicate an earlier exterior.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
As with any non-profit organization, it is always in need of donations to support its projects and programs. A future project would be to enable handicapped access into the museum.
Donations to the society can be made through the website.
Thank you, Northborough Historical Society members, for preserving a piece of Northborough history for the community.