On January 27, 1843, concerned Dorchester residents met at the Deacon Ebenezer Clapp House on Sumner Street, and founded what was to be known as the "Dorchester Historical and Antiquarian Society." The success of the Society was insured through the incorporation by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1855. The primary activity of the organization concerned lectures on local history, but of lasting importance was the accomplishment of a vast amount of primary publishing. The Society published the following: Memoirs of Roger Clapp(1844), James Blake's Annals (1846), Richard Mother's Journal, and as a major capstone, The History of Dorchester (1859). However following the Civil War, interest in the Society declined. The group disbanded in the late 1880's with its substantial collections being deposited by William Blake Trask in the care of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
In 1891, with a reawakened interest in local affairs by many of the old families, in conjunction with new "streetcar suburb" residents, the Society was reorganized. The innovative ways of the Society were evident in a By-Law proposal that "women should be admitted upon equal terms with men," a move which not only lent a liberal and humanistic aspect toward historic preservation, but doubled the organization's membership.
In 1893, the Society was again chartered, with a membership dedicated to promoting, collecting and publishing the history of Dorchester, not only as a town, but as a part of Boston. Dorchester had progressively taken on the aspects of a "streetcar suburb" culminating with its annexation to the city of Boston on January 3, 1870.
Without official headquarters since 1843, the Society was offered the James Blake House by the City of Boston in 1895. This structure stood on property which had recently been acquired by the City of Boston for eventual use as a vast greenhouse complex. The Society, assisted by the Blake family, raised $1,000 to match the donation of the City of Boston, to move the Blake House to Richardson Park, just east of Edward Everett Square.
The relocation of the house marked one of the first preservation efforts in America on the basis of architectural merit of the house, rather than simply for its historical association. The structure, though not at the time of its moving, is now the oldest in Boston and more importantly the only representative example of West country framing in America. After the house was moved, the Society began its restoration under the direction of the noted architect Charles Hodgdon. Hodgdon restored the Blake House employing concepts architects of the late nineteenth century held as to how a seventeenth century house would have appeared. Though not an absolutely precise historic or architecturally accurate restoration, the house continues to be a widespread source of interest, generating community pride in the early merits and customs of Dorchester.
In 1904, the Society incorporated "Dorchester Day" which commemorated the settlement of Dorchester in 1630. An annual event, Dorchester Day is a tableau of community events, highlighted by such activities as the Landing Day Observance, the great Dorchester Day Parade, and as a grand finale, the Community Banquet.
After many years of meeting in the Blake House, and later in the Dorchester Court House which provided additional meeting and exhibit space, the Society was in need of a larger house or building in which to exhibit the vast Dorchester collections.
In 1945, the Society acquired the William Clapp House, the home of a member Frank L. Clapp, great-grandson of William Clapp. Built in 1806, the house is a fine example of a country neoclassical mansion. Mr. Clapp remained in the house as a caretaker of the forty odd acre estate until his death in 1953. The purchase of the Clapp Estate, comprised of the mansion, the Lemuel Clap House (c. 1710, 1765), a carriage house and two barns (one now demolished) was made possible through the generous trust fund of the late Emma M.E. Reed, wife of the late Judge George M. Reed of the Dorchester District Court. Since acquiring the two Clapp Houses, the Society's efforts to catalog and interpret Dorchester history and architecture have been greatly facilitated through substantial collections in the Robinson-Lehane Library.
Today the Society draws members from every section of Dorchester and beyond, forming a group dedicated to preserving the town's history and insuring that, for future generations, that sense and awareness of the past will be secure. Through the many years of its existence the Dorchester Historical Society has remained committed to these ideals and encourages and welcomes your interest and participation.