Note: the history of the Weston Historical Society proper begins further down.
The Weston Historical Society collections include a broad range of objects and documents relating to Weston history. To understand the make-up of the present WHS collection, it is necessary to understand the history and relationships between the Weston Historical Committee (1931-1968), the Weston Historical Society (founded 1963), and the Weston Historical Commission (founded 1968), as well as the history of the Jones House/Josiah Smith Tavern, where the society has been allowed the use of several rooms for display and office space since its inception.
Founding of the Weston Historical Committee
The Weston Historical Committee was founded in 1931 as a town committee by a vote of Town Meeting. The original members were Gertrude Fiske, Chairman, Alice E. Jones, Secretary, and Edward P. Ripley. All were members of old Weston families. Fiske was a noted artist and Ripley was the brother of local historian Emma Ripley. The initial purpose of the committee was to arrange for exercises held in connection with the dedication of the Massachusetts George Washington Memorial Highway. These exercises were held June 10, 1932 at the Burgoyne Elm.
Beginnings of the Weston Historical Committee Collection
The committee’s report in the 1932 Town Report noted that “The Historical Committee will be glad to take charge of any articles or papers of historic interest that my be sent to them, and are hoping eventually to have a permanent place for exhibiting such things.” At a meeting of the committee in 1933 it was suggested that a collection be made of pictures or photographs of the old houses of Weston. The committee offered to make photographic reproductions if the owner of the photograph did not wish to donate it.
By 1934, collecting efforts had expanded to include taking photographs, receiving “gifts of historic interest” with “the promise of some choice articles” and encouraging donations of old documents. The committee searched for a safe and suitable place for storing and exhibiting these items. The 1935 report notes that “It has been suggested that there be formed a Town Historical Society and it is hoped that enough interest in this will develop in the town to make this possible in the near future.”
The Weston Historical Committee and the Fiske Law Office
The 1936 report discusses the prospect of using the front section of the Fiske Law Office, since the Cemetery Commission was using only the ell. The committee expected to ask the town for $500 to repair the building and purchase display cases. By 1937, the Fiske Law Office had become the committee’s headquarters, serving as a place to keep and exhibit a small but growing collection.
Reports from 1938 to 1950 often include descriptions of gifts to the committee, for example, a “priceless” manuscript diary by Judith Greenleaf, wife of Enoch Greenleaf, (1938), a safe formerly owned by Charles A. Cutting of Wayland (1939), a photograph of Hanna Gowen taken from a daguerreotype (1940), a manuscript diary written in 1845 by Mrs. Frederick Bush of Weston, and a model of the old Unitarian Church (1941).
Miss Alice Jones, one of the original members of the committee, died December 22, 1947. She was replaced by Henry Patterson, described as “recently appointed Town Historian.” In 1949, the committee reported that they had put all the collections in storage “as we have had to leave the Isaac Fiske Office,“ adding “We hope to have a permanent place some day as we have many articles of great interest and of value.” The committee continued to accept items into the collection. The 1950 report notes that the collection was in storage at the Case house.
The Weston Historical Committee Moves to the Jones House
In 1950, the second Jones sister, Ellen, died, and the Jones house was willed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA). For the next 33 years the building was leased back to the town. Beginning in 1953, the historical committee was housed in the Jones House (also known by its appropriate historical name, the Josiah Smith Tavern), where the collections were displayed in several rooms.
In the years from 1956 to 1967, Town Reports do not include historical committee reports. Membership in the three-person committee slowly changed. Gertrude Fiske, long-time chairman, died in 1961 and Emma Ripley (who had replaced her brother Edward) died in 1962. From 1963 to 1967, the three members of the Historical Committee were Henry W. Patterson, Chairman, J. Kenneth Bennett, and Elizabeth C. Kenney. Brenton Dickson III replaced Patterson in 1968.
1963 marked the 250th Anniversary of the town’s incorporation, and a special town committee worked from mid-1962 through the actual celebration, which took place from May 30 to June 2, 1963. The 250th Anniversary Committee planned or coordinated more than 60 events.
As a direct outgrowth of the anniversary, the Weston Historical Society was incorporated in December 1963 as a private non-profit organization. In the Town Report of 1963, the Selectman’s report notes the hard work of the 250th Anniversary Committee and the formation of the WHS (p. 25).
The three-member Weston Historical Committee continued as an official committee of the town but as was true for some years previously, the Town Reports contain no record of their activities and they do not appear to have been very active. Three historical committee members or former members, Ken Bennett, Henry W. Patterson, and Brenton H. Dickson III, were on the first Board of Directors of the Weston Historical Society. Alice Fraser held the post of “curator.”
From the beginning, the headquarters of the WHS was the Jones House/Josiah Smith Tavern. The Weston Historical Society Bulletin of October, 1964, reports that “Visitors are received from 2 to 4 pm [on Wednesdays] by hostesses, who are glad to supply information about the objects of historical interest displayed in this building....”
Weston Historical Society and the Fiske Law Office
In the January, 1966 issue of the society’s Bulletin, the WHS president, Harold G. Travis, reported that the Board of Selectman had reached an informal agreement to give care and custody of the Isaac Fiske Law Office to the WHS. Travis noted that this would be the “official headquarters” of the society and “records will be set up as a reference library, and displays of papers, pictures and other items of historic value are contemplated in this charming setting.” While archives and records would be at this new office, the “priceless heirlooms of Weston” would continue to be on display at the Jones House.
The WHS and Selectman signed an agreement that April which gave the society official care of the law office. In addition to making building repairs and improvements, the society acquired furniture for the house that is still part of the WHS collection; for example, the two hand-carved oak chairs reportedly from the study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Meanwhile, Curator Alice Fraser and other volunteers kept the Jones House/JST open on Wednesday afternoons and, in October 1966, installed a costume display in three of the rooms. In 1967, Mrs. Fraser organized a display of members’ collections of china and pewter. Restoration of the Isaac Fiske Law Office was completed by 1970. Subsequent bulletins mention Wednesday open hours at the Jones House/JST but not at the law office, although the law office is still referred to occasionally as the society’s headquarters.
Bulletins printed about 1980 refer to the need to maintain the Fiske Law Office garden, but there is no indication that the Fiske Law Office ever supplanted the Jones House/JST as a location for the collections. In the 1990s, the society requested that the town resume responsibility for the law office, and any remaining contents were moved back to the Jones House/JST.
Establishment of the Weston Historical Commission
At a Special Town Meeting in December, 1968, the town voted to abolish the Weston Historical Committee, which had existed since 1931, and establish a five-member Weston Historical Commission (1968 TR, p. 194) to serve as the town’s official body for administration of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
From its inception, the commission focused on the historic buildings of the town. The Special Town Meeting vote of 1968 included a provision to “transfer to the custody of the historical commission ... all property of the Town now in the custody of the historical committee.” Four of the five original members of the WHC were actively involved in the Weston Historical Society: Brenton H. Dickson III, Erlund Field, Vera Laska, and Homer C. Lucas.
SPNEA sells the Josiah Smith Tavern to the Town
In 1983, SPNEA sold the Josiah Smith Tavern to the town, with preservation restrictions. (The town purchased the building for $48,542 and received endowment funds of $97,084.) In 1984, the Weston Historical Commission reported in the Town Report that it had its first quarters, a room in the JST, and that “The Historical Society has kindly lent us old chairs and pictures” (p.42). The society continued to use two first-floor rooms for its displays and archives and, by the 1990s if not before, it was using one of the second floor rooms as well as attic space for storage.