A successful organization has leaders who bring the goals and objectives of the group to fruition. And so it is with the
Westminster Historical Society. The Society wishes to thank those who have accepted the challenges of holding an office
or working on the many committees. Gratitude especially goes to those who have assumed the presidency of the Historical
Society in the past:
|HISTORY OF WESTMINSTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
When founded on October 25, 1921, the stated purposes of
the Historical Society were to “collect and preserve
manuscripts, letters, books, pamphlets, papers, historical
relics, facts, anecdotes, legends, etc. relating to the history
of Westminster … to locate sites of historical interest… and
… to stimulate research into the local history of the town
and its people.”
Carrie Estabrook, a long
time member of the
Historical Society standing
with a saddle belonging to
General Nelson Miles.
The origin of the Westminster Historical Society is closely tied to the
Forbush Memorial Library. Charles Forbush, who donated the funds
to build the Library in 1901, explained that the upper hall was “designed
for a repository of relics or artifacts suggestive of the early history of
the town and its people.” As people began donating items to this
museum, the accumulating collections needed care, and since this was
not the primary concern of the librarians, the formation of a historical
society was encouraged.
Monthly meetings of the Historical Society have been held regularly except for a few
months during WWII and the years 1962-1972. Meetings were held in the Library,
people’s homes during the 1950s and 1960s, the American Legion Hall and more recently
in the Society’s House at 110 Main Street. In addition, from the very beginning
members enjoyed “pilgrimages by automobile” to other historical societies and private
homes and outings which often included picnics in the spring or summer, and in later
years progressive suppers and trips to historic inns and museums.
Programs in the early days often consisted of historical papers written by members about
buildings, businesses, roads, places, or events in town, and it is these recollections and
stories of old Westminster that have helped us understand what life in this community
was like in those days. Today programs focus on people and events of historical interest
|Early iew of Museum in Forbush Memorial Library
Membership in statewide professional organizations like the Bay State Historical League and Historic Massachusetts and
national groups such as the American Association of State and Local History and local groups such as the North County
Historical Societies has kept the Society abreast of new developments in the field. In 1960, the Westminster Historical
Society was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization in Massachusetts.
|Roger Smith describing tools from
his tool collection
Once formed, the Historical Society immediately took on some important tasks for the Town. In
1922 they voted to compile a record of the Westminster Boys who were in the World War and
they placed a marker on the site of the old Westminster Academy. They also purchased the first
fire engine in Town to ensure its preservation. People conducting genealogical research or
looking for information about famous residents such as General Nelson A. Miles can find help at
the Society. For the 200th Anniversary of Westminster in 1959, the Society produced a
commemorative booklet and then conducted extensive research for the History of Westminster,
published in 1961. Members also began an exhaustive research on all pre-1875 Westminster
homes and submitted this information to the Historical Commission for these homes to be
included in the National Register of Historic Places. The information collected culminated in the
publishing of the award winning book Homestead Heritage of Westminster in 1980.
The Historical Society is committed to preserving the history of
Westminster. Many organizations through the years have donated
their records to the Society for preservation including the Rice Post 69
of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Sons of Veterans, the
Westminster Farmers and Mechanics Association, the Westminster
Farmers Cooperative, the Mineral Club and the Concerned Citizens of
|The Westminster Grange, one of the many organizations
that saved its archives in the Historical Society collections.
Preparing exhibits has been a part of the Society’s outreach to the public.
For 75 years Society members helped maintain the museum on the second
floor of the Library. It was open during summer afternoons on Saturdays,
and often through the fall as well, depending upon the requests and the
availability of volunteers, and also by appointment. Hundreds of people
through the generations enjoyed the exhibits there.
The Historical Society has prepared many exhibits through the years –
using the town hall for exhibits during Yankee Street Fairs, a Digital
Family Day exhibit “100 Years Ago in Westminster” in 1981, the
Wachusett Mountain “Window on Westminster” in 1986, the Gardner
Museum exhibits “Four Towns” and "Historic Treasures," and the
Fitchburg Art Museum “Historic Treasures” exhibit. We also have
prepared displays in cabinets in the Eloranta Room of the Library.
|General Nelson Miles exhibit at the Historical
Society House in 1989.
The Society planted a time capsule for the Town’s 225th Anniversary in
1984, and since 1985 has given scholarships to seniors at Oakmont
Regional High School and savings bonds to students excelling in social
studies at the Elementary School and Middle School. Members put together
floats to promote Westminster in several parades commemorating special
anniversaries in Gardner, Leominster, and Westminster. In 1984 a Society
quilting group completed a “Westminster Quilt,” and after that sponsored
the “Westminster Heritage Quilt Guild.”
|Historical Society float in 225th Anniversary parade
With the revitalization of the Historical Society in 1972, members
began seriously planning for the dream they had for decades - of
having a home of their own to conduct our work in - and therefore
established a House Fund in 1973. Ten years later the opportunity
came. The purchase and renovation of the Miller House for their
headquarters in 1984 was the biggest investment of time and money in
the organization’s history.
Townspeople were supportive of this venture and contributed
generously. The Lions Club donated the chairs for the meeting room,
Aubuchon Hardware paint and supplies, the Rotary Club trees for the
front yard, Monty Tech the handicapped access ramp and railing, and
Mass Electric Co. house improvements through their employee’s
Citizenship Grants Program.
|Miller House, 110 Main Street, in 1984
The Noble family gave $1,000 for the completion
of the Exhibit Room, and Julie Zlotnik bequeathed
the Society $1,000 which was used for
improvements. And for several years Nancy
Sampson of Tobacco Shed Pottery has shared
the profits of her beautiful and unique pottery
that is sold in the Gift Shop for the House Fund.
I Other groups volunteered as well:
the National Honor Society at
Oakmont Regional High School,
various Girl Scout troops, and the
Elementary School fifth graders
who endeared themselves with their
delightful assistance at the Historical
Society luncheons. And, to Vaito
Eloranta, the Society is most
indebted for his bequest which
allowed it to “burn the mortgage”
and freed the members to devote
their fundraising efforts to other
activities to be of service to this
|Paying off the mortgage for the Miller House was an
ambitious undertaking but was accomplished in half the time
because of gifts of all sizes from many people.
The Historical Society enjoys a special relationship
with the Westminster Elementary School. Rita
Daley and Irene Mattila conducted walking tours for
classes. In 1982 the Society supported Betsy
Hannula’s writing of a curriculum for the fifth
grades at Westminster Elementary on “Life in
Westminster in 1800.” An integral part of that
curriculum for fifteen years was an all-day
experience in Colonial Cooking at the House for
every fifth grade child. It was marvelously
successful, and was often recalled by the
youngsters as one of the best things they did in
school. With the overhaul of the curriculum
frameworks in Massachusetts the study of the
Colonial period was moved to the third grades.
It is with great appreciation that the
Society remembers the hundreds of
people who supported the efforts of
the Historical Society during this
critical time - in particular Wilho
Aalto and Edward Hannula in
renovation work at the house and
Gary Streeter for other assistance.
|Lempi Aalto, Evelyn Lapierre,
Irene Kamila and Lili Marble
outside, cleaned the windows at
the new Society headquarters in
|The Society conducts a modified fireplace cooking demonstration as
part of the annual third grade Colonial Day.
|Colonial Cooking with fifth graders in 1984
Fundraising has been a necessity with the responsibilities of
owning a house added to the expenses of preservation and
conservation work. The Summer Luncheons were an
important source of revenue from 1986 to 1997. Society
members held bake sales for Memorial Day parades in years
past and at the Annual Town Meeting and at the Christmas
Open Houses for years.
|Pie Sale Committee in 1992
It was because of efforts of the Westminster Historical Society that the Westminster Historical Commission was formed.
In 1973, the Society requested that the Selectmen place the formation of a historical commission on the Town Warrant.
The Society has worked closely with the Westminster Historical Commission since it was formed in 1974, and several
members of the Society were charter members. The Commission and Society share common goals, with the Town’s
responsibility for preservation clearly outlined in Commonwealth legislation. With only seven members on the Commission,
the bulk of the preservation and conservation work continues to be done by members of the Historical Society.
|Making baskets at the popular craft workshops
The care of artifacts is the biggest responsibility of a historical society. In the past 35 years the Society has invested time
and money in training and education and purchasing archivally safe storage materials so that volunteers learn how to
professionally preserve and conserve the collections. The first curators appointed in 1972 were Robert and Alberta Denton,
who worked tirelessly with a committee to identify and catalog hundreds of artifacts that were in the Museum. Ruth
Gorman was a meticulous cataloger with Tom Malloy as an able assistant. Irene Mattila and Rita Daly were curators for a
number of years, taking advantage of their skills and experience as librarians, with Joan Keena assisting. Betsy Hannula
took on the job of Curator in 1984, bringing an educational background in the field to the task.
|Elaine Lawrence, president of the Society, cleaned the dog
tread mill which was moved from the basement of the Library
to the third floor of the Town Hall in 1976.
In addition, an annual Town Wide Yard Sale
is sponsored and a September Flea Market
is held with items donated by townspeople
specifically for the sale. Craft workshops
at the House were very popular for many
years. The Society also celebrates historic
preservation and our heritage with house
and garden tours. The sale of
Westminster-related items in our Gift Shop
also continues to be an important source of
is an important
An accurate inventory of all items in the collections has been a
major goal of the Society since 1984. In 1999 the Society
purchased computers and museum software so that all records
could be put into a searchable database. This is an extensive
cataloguing process that once completed will make the collections
accessible on-line. Having all the collections easily accessible was
still difficult. Even with the renovation of the Society’s house at
110 Main Street, we quickly realized that we did not have enough
space to store the collections and conduct programs. Work
continues on the cataloging, depending entirely upon volunteers.
Many large artifacts that had been stored in the basement of the
Library had been moved to the third floor of the Town Hall, and
then later to the Azarian barn. In 1996 all the artifacts were
removed from the Library Museum and stored during the Library
renovation. Since the completion of the Library renovation, work
has continued on identifying and cataloging all the artifacts – both in
the Historical Society collections and the town - that had once been
in a number of places throughout town.