Friday, February 25, 2011

Can Social Media Save This House?

A Beautiful Federal period house in Massachusetts is under severe threat of being demolished if it can't be moved to a different location.  The owner is willing to sell it for $1 but it needs to be moved.  Times of economic hardship are the worst for trying to save our heritage.  Will we lose yet another old house?

The circa 1780s 
structure “was once 
one of the most magnificent dwellings in Federalist era Dudley,” the Historical Commission reported.

We are hoping that through the use of social media that perhaps we can reach enough people to find that one right person who is willing and capable of taking on this project and rescue the house.

History in Brief

Year Built: c. 1780
Location: Dudley, Massachusetts
Significant/Original Owner: The Reverend Abiel Williams, minister in Dudley for 32 years

You can see more photos of this house in the Preservation Massachusetts photostream on Flickr.

The Preservation Massachusetts website contains an article entitled "The End is Near for  Rev. Williams House" which it considers "as one of the state’s Most Endangered Resource."

The Historical Commission in the Town of Dudley has worked hard to find someone willing to take the house but so far no one has stepped forward to take on the project.  The 12-month demolition delay expired in November 2010 but as of right now the house is still standing.  If a benefactor is not soon found the house will surely be demolished.

More information about the house appeared in an article in TelegramTowns.

A plea to help this house also appears on the Evolving Critic blog. If you have a blog and feel strongly enough about trying to help save this house, please consider writing a blog post to help get the word out.

If you or someone you know can step in and help save this house please contact the Town of Dudley, MA, Historical Commission.

Photo Caption: The Abiel Williams House, Dudley, MA. Copyright: Preservation Massachusetts

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Historic Maps of Belmont, MA

Finding maps of your town is one of the most helpful activities when researching the history of your house.  Maps can help fill in the gaps when you run into trouble with your deed research.  Many old maps contain the names of the resident or property owner on them.  This could be just what you need to break through an obstacle in your research.

Belmont, Massachusetts

Belmont is not really a very old town as far as Massachusetts towns go.  Belmont was incorporated in 1859 from the much older towns of West Cambridge, Watertown and Waltham. That means that maps of Belmont are available from 1859 to the present.  For earlier maps of what is now Belmont you will have to identify which town your house was originally located in and then seek out historical maps of that town.

Ancestry has 4 maps (in multiple files) of Belmont in its Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 collection. is a paid subscription site but you can access the maps for free by using the computers at the Belmont Public Library.

Belmont Assessor Plans, 1931
Belmont, 1875 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps
Belmont, 1889 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps
Belmont, 1900 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps were created by insurance companies to be able to calculate fire risk.  They never intended for them to be used by historical researchers.  But the Sanborn maps are some of the most helpful in learning about houses over a period of time. These maps are available both in print form and in a database.  The Waltham Public Library is the closest library in the Minuteman Library Network that still maintains this database.

The years available for the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Belmont are 1905, 1910, 1915, 1922, 1931, 1931-1949 (incomplete).

Other Options

You can even find maps embedded in history slide presentations, like this one about Belmont by Jane Sherwin (2009).  The map on slide two shows a Belmont Soil Map from the US Deptartment of Agriculture. I'm sure you could find the map in another location but the audio interpretation presented here is very helpful in understanding Belmont.

The Town of Belmont has an online Zoning Map from 1944 that displays the usage of town land.

Unfortunately I didn't find any maps of Belmont in the Panoramic Maps Collection on the Library of Congress site, nor in the BPL online Map Collection, The Massachusetts Historical Society Map Collection or the Old Maps of New England website.

Belmont maps are also in numerous historical books about the town.  You can find a complete list of Belmont books on the Belmont Library website.

Photo Caption: Detail of 1875 Belmont Map,, Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Next Stop - The Belmont Public Library

The New England House Historian is on the road again - this time to Belmont, Massachusetts.  Learn how to research your Middlesex County historic home.  Discover how to do research using an archival trail of records such as deeds, maps and censuses.    It is free and open to the public.

"Researching The History of Your House"

Presented by the

Time: 7:00 pm EST
Date: Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Location: The Belmont Public Library, 336 Concord Avenue, Belmont, Massachusetts

See my website for my complete lecture schedule.

I hope to see you there!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Capture History as it Happens

You many think that the history of your house is something that happened in the past. In fact, the history of your old house continues to grow with every passing year and you are becoming a part of it.

Why not try to capture historic moments as they happen? Record them with your digital camera so that you (and future owners) will have a permanent record of the event.

This winter parts of New England have been pounded with record snowfall. Many towns are struggling to find a place to put all the snow. Historic homes are completely surrounded by white fluffy stuff. Many have picturesque yet dangerous icicles hanging from the eaves.

Get outside and photograph the snow just after the storms hit. But be careful! Walkways and driveways can be slippery.

Historic House Photo Project

After capturing the historic snowfall consider taking three more photos of your house this year in the height of spring, summer and fall. Then purchase a four-photo frame and display the seasons of your house proudly on your wall all year long.