The Main Building
The Society could not have been more fortunate. Its new home was in fact designed and built by prominent architect Elias Carter in 1836, and to this day is one of just a few Greek Revival houses of quality in New England open to the public. Carter’s work is renowned throughout the region – other residences and houses of worship bearing his imprimatur are rare and highly prized.
Incredibly, most of the original detailing in the Barre Historical Society’s Carter house has been retained. Originally, the central portion of the columned house was flanked on each side by one-storey wings. Around the turn of the 20th century, a second-storey room was added on the South side, and rooms were added to the rear of the structure as the 1900s progressed.
Elias Carter built the house for Spencer Field, a well-to-do local merchant and partner in the Woods & Field store that neighbored the home to the South. Mr. Field lived in the house until the late 1850s, when financial difficulties forced him to leave Barre.
Field’s ownership passed to Ezekial Bullard, who moved into the residence with his family just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. This was a family of inventors. While living there, Ezekial invented an improved butter churn, the Bullard hay tedder, improved the harrow and patented a hay rake to ease to labors of farmers. The family was also known for its work improving the form and function of firearms. His son, James Herbert Bullard, invented a loom for processing palm leaves. Palm-leaf hats and Shaker hoods were an important cottage industry to Barre.
A series of owners and tenants followed. Judge John L. Smith acquired the property in the early 20th century, when structural changes converted the building into apartments for two families. Arthur Winters purchased the property in 1954, restoring the building to a single-family residence, which is how it appeared in 1962 when it was purchased by the Barre Historical Society.
The house had one close call. In November of 1956, the neighboring Williams Block (home of the original Woods & Fields store) was destroyed by fire. The southerly wall of the Winters home was just a few feet away from the raging inferno – and thanks to the efficiency of the Barre Fire Department, the future home of the Barre Historical Society was saved – though certain clapboards were blackened in the process.
The Heritage Center
The imposing Federal-style mansion was recently acquired by the Barre Historical Society from its previous owner and neighboring institution, Fidelity Bank, based in Leominster. The Center joins the Society’s other two existing structures -- its 1830 Greek Revival headquarters building and a museum comprised of three exhibit galleries and the Steven M. Brewer Archive -- to form a compound at the very center of this traditional New England community for the preservation and interpretation of local history.
The purchase of the former Tatman House was the result of an unprecedented collaborative financial effort between the Barre Historical Society, the Barre Village Improvement Society, the First Parish Church of Barre, the Rice Family Foundation and Fidelity Bank.
Barre Historical Society President W. Robert Bentley served as Master of Ceremonies for the dedication event.
Fidelity Bank President Edward Manzi expressed the bank’s appreciation for the satisfactory conveyance of the historic property from one proud Barre institution to another. He emphasized the enduring partnership of the two neighbors, the preservation of a significant historical asset, and the opportunity the occasion represented for continuing education about – and for – the community both the bank and the Society serve.
The idea of expanding the Society’s physical capacity dates back nine years, when the need for more space to house and preserve its expanding collections reached a critical stage. At that time, thought was given to acquiring the former Black Tavern on James Street (which has since become the victim of fire and demolition). This acquisition soon revealed itself to be impractical, both in terms of cost and what would be needed to refurbish and restore the old tavern.
The problem of storage and expansion remained – with no solution in sight. The Society was facing the very real possibility of having Barre’s history stop at a given point – beyond which there would be neither the room nor the ability to accept donations of artifacts beyond a certain date. That conundrum remained until the Tatman House, located right next door to the Society, was listed for sale by Fidelity Bank nearly two years ago.
Thus began a period of practical discussions and creative financial planning. The Society entered into deliberations with the partners who shared in the triumph of the renamed Heritage Center’s dedication – the Barre Village Improvement Society, the First Parish Church of Barre, the Rice Family Foundation and Fidelity Bank. Each group came forward in equal measure, in the spirit of cooperation, to realize their common goal.
At the dedication ceremony, W. Robert Bentley, who is also the Treasurer of the First Parish Church of Barre, chronicled the history of the house of worship from its beginnings on Barre Common in 1749 to its demise and destruction in 1969. He noted that, for the first time in nearly half a century, the church once again has a place on Barre Common.
Lester Paquin spoke about the Barre Village Improvement Society, which was founded in 1896 “… for the purpose of construction, repairing and maintaining sidewalks and crossings in the public streets, planting and protecting shade trees by the roadsides, ornamenting and caring for public grounds and parks, … and preserving natural scenery, curiosities and places of historic interest ….” He said that last phrase of the Society’s mission statement resulted in the Heritage Center’s dedication, and a permanent first-time home for the Village Improvement Society on the Common it preserves and protects.
Gerard Gariepy, a Rice family descendant, delivered remarks on behalf of the Rice Family Foundation, recounting the history of the Rices in Massachusetts in general and in Barre in particular. One of the town’s founding families, its members have served for generations in all manner of public and corporate life. The generous and substantial donation made by the family toward the acquisition of the Heritage Center was the cornerstone of the effort to purchase the building, and ensures that the family’s legacy will continue.
One important and incredible fact about the creation of the Heritage Center is that five distinct and prestigious organizations have come together in an effort to save an historic property and re-purpose it for the challenges and opportunities of a new century. This level of cooperation and faith in a common goal is unprecedented in this community. Like the Heritage Center itself, this collaboration is historic as well.