The Bacon Free Library Building, built 1880
58 Eliot Street, South Natick, Massachusetts
headquarters of the Natick Historical Society
History of the Bacon Free Library Building and The Natick Historical Society
Located near the banks of the Charles River and at the crossroads of the scenic neighborhood of South Natick, where the Natick Indians first made their Christian settlement and where Harriet Beecher Stowe set her novel Oldtown Folks, the Natick Historical Society is perfectly situated to collect and share local history.
Oliver and Sarah Bacon, longtime residents of South Natick, were the generous patrons who willed part of their estate to Trustees of the Bacon Free Library to build this handsome brick edifice. Sarah had run a lending library from their home, and her widower made sure their legacy would embody their values for the benefit of their community. The building still keeps its original purpose to house a neighborhood library on the upper level--the Bacon Free Library--and a museum and history research center on the lower level--the Natick Historical Society.
The architect was Robert G. Shaw, who practiced only briefly in Boston. He was married to Isabella Hunnewell of Wellesley and that is where the couple spent their summers. The overall cruciform floor plan with a tower is reminiscent of H.H. Richardson's Trinity Church in Boston (1876), while the design details are Renaissance Revival, which add up to a handsome surrounding for this building dedicated to sharing knowledge. The Bacon Free Library Building contributes to The John Eliot Historic District and is listed on the Massachusetts and National Registers of Historic Places.
A decade earlier in 1870, local citizens had formed "The Historical, Natural History and Library Society of South Natick," now called the Natick Historical Society. One of the first Society members was Oliver Bacon. Two of the primary founders were William Edwards (a clothier and amateur collector of natural specimens) and Horatio Alger, Sr. (minister at The Eliot Church and scholar of culture and genealogy). They merged their interests in science and history into a "cabinet of curiosity" of sorts that was first housed in the rooms above William Edwards' store in South Natick and launched a popular lecture series. The first speaker for the Society was Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, D.D., husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe. This promising start was harshly interrupted by a devastating fire in 1872 that wiped out several blocks in South Natick, including the historical society. Starting over in the Merchant's Block, the Society enlarged its collections, especially of natural history specimens from a South American trip by member A.L. Babcock. Several of the birds he gave, along with many others from the Massachusetts region, are still on display at the Natick Historical Society. The group formally incorporated with H.H. Hunnewelll as president in 1873.
Today, the Natick Historical Society carries forth this legacy made by people who loved learning and loved their community. The museum and archives tell many rich stories for visitors to 58 Eliot Street. Walking tours of South Natick, illustrated talks, community events, educational programs for school children and families, changing exhibitions at the Morse Institute Library, and a traveling display kiosk share these stories with the community and with people who appreciate history everywhere.