THE DRACUT HISTORICAL SOCIETY
1660 Lakeview Ave
Dracut, MA 01826-3325
(978) 957-1701

    The Dracut Historical Society has its roots in the Dracut Public Library that was established by Town Meeting vote in March of 1900. The Library was housed on the second floor of the Town Office, which was originally the Dracut Center School. One of the five trustees was Rose E. Peabody. It was through her initiative that the museum now in the care of the Historical Society had its beginning.

    In an effort to stimulate interest in the Library and to arouse an appreciation of the rich heritage of Dracut’s earlier days, residents were invited to loan family relics and curios for display in the Library rooms. The response was generous and many articles saved from old barns and kitchens were received. Without doubt the museum served as a repository for the “white elephants” of the community such as a collection of stuffed birds and animals that has ceased to be household treasures. But these extraneous contributions were off set by gifts of old scrapbooks, early documents and family records.

    In 1923 the Library was moved into its new quarters, which you probably know as the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library. The little museum, left behind at the Town Office. was almost forgotten until an interest was revived by the Historical Society.

    John Alfred Bailey moved from Lowell to Dracut when he was 74 years old and lived in the Town less than four years. They were not wasted. He had long been active in fraternal and historical organizations and was the secretary of the Lowell Historical Society. Mr. Bailey traced his ancestry back to the early pioneers of the Merrimack Valley which prompted a life long interest in the history of the area. He now turned his attention to Dracut.

    He soon discovered the neglected museum at the Town Office and at once began to sort and catalog the contents. This led him to further research. During the following years, he

Compiled the scattered records of the First Parish of Dracut from 1711 to 1820,

Prepared a similar collection of the records of the Proprietors of Dracut from 1714 to 1730,

Produced a third volume containing copies of the deeds and other documents of several generations of the Colburn and Varnum families, the early settlers of Dracut.

Many of these documents had never been recorded.

    He explored Dracut thoroughly, making friends and gathering information about the early families of each section. His engaging personality and unbounded enthusiasm served him well in arousing interest in the founding of a local historical society. The Dracut churches and secular organizations promoted the idea and the Lowell newspapers and radio station gave generous publicity to the proposal. He called for a meeting of all interested parties and the Society was formally organized on June 25, 1928. John Bailey was elected as the first president and the Society embarked on a busy first year.

    The first concern of the Society was for the preservation of the museum at the Town Office. Through the Town Meeting, the Town relinquished its claim to the “antiques and curios” to the Historical Society as well as providing the sum of $200.00 to renovate the museum rooms. The money was never used since, later that year the Town required the space for another purpose. The museum found a home in the basement rooms of the library, which remained the quarters of the Historical Society for more than thirty years.

    The Society remained active by sponsoring a memorial to be placed on the Collinsville’s Greene to the Dracut Veterans of the Civil and Spanish American Wars. It was dedicated in July of 1929. The Old Varnum Garrison House, the house in Dracut, which had been constructed as a refuge in time of trouble, had been torn down in 1887. Some of the original lumber was found to be available. Mr. Bailey was instrumental in obtaining this lumber, some of which was fashioned into a scale model of the original structure. It is on display in the Museum. The site of the old Garrison House on Riverside Street though in Dracut for over 200 years is in Lowell due to the annexation of 1874. The Society petitioned Lowell and a marker was unveiled in November of 1929.

    The society was accepted as a member of the Bay State League in 1934. After a serious illness, Mr. Bailey curtailed his activities and relocated to another town.

    Continuing with its efforts the Society researched and reported on many phases of Dracut history. Papers were prepared on:

    In 1938 the Society participated in the observation of the anniversary of the U.S. Mail Service when it sponsored a cachet for a special Air Mail Dispatch on May 20 of that year from the Collinsville Post Office. These cachets are extremely collectable today.

    In the early fifties the society was relatively inactive. Then in 1956, Arthur W. Colburn, prominent in town and state government was the moving force in reactivating the Society. In December of 1957 the Society went on the air to present the history of Dracut on radio station WCAP. The project fostered much community spirit. Many who participated in the programs were descendants of the original settlers whom they portrayed. The transcript of the program has been used several times and is as pertinent today as it was then.

    Calamity struck the Society in the form of a faulty drain, which flooded the society rooms. In the emergency the Selectmen offered the use of the vacant Oliver J. Colburn house at the school complex on Lakeview Avenue. The museum contents were rapidly moved over. Although the house was dilapidated, it was quite appropriate to the needs of the Society. Since things worked out well the town leased the building to the Society. The Society, in order to keeps things legal, was incorporated and the lease was signed I may of 1964.

    Meanwhile cleaning, repairing and redecorating of the house was imperative. Small work parties were assigned to each of the 16 rooms. With the exception of painting and repair of the exterior and the renewal of the electrical wiring, all renovations were performed by the membership. This included new ceilings, repair of plaster, painting and papering, repair of the display cabinets and curtains for 33 windows. All of the artifacts and curios had to be cleaned, restored and arranged in the appropriate areas. In October of 1965 the Society had the formal opening of an attractive and comfortable farmhouse museum. Over 500 people visited that one Sunday afternoon.

    To this day the Society has been host to innumerable school children, to Boy and Girl Scouts, to other town organizations and to neighboring historical societies and other small groups such as the Knights of Columbus, Rotary, Garden Club, to name a few.

    The Society is open on Sunday afternoons from September through May. But arrangements can be made for groups to visit at their convenience.

    The Society has approximately 150 members at this time. We meet once a month for a presentation of historical interest or other subjects, as appropriate. We hope that you might want to share with us any interest you might have in the history of Dracut. Come and visit. If you need assistance in any research project related to the town, we are more than willing to help. Come over and tour the facility, we would be more than glad to show you around.

    THE HISTORY OF THE LAND AND STRUCTURE

    The land was part of an original purchase by Oliver J. Colburn which comprised acreage from Primerose Hill to the Merrimack river. He built a one-story farm house and associated outbuildings for his son on the site in 1790. The farm flourished and remained in the family. As the son’s family grew the house needed to be enlarged. It was raised and a new first story was built and the old first story became the second floor. Circa 1900, a plague of hoof and mouth disease bankrupted the Colburn family. The land was auctioned to the Richardson family.

    Around 1946, Bud Balch and Charley Reedes rented the land and started a local airport. It was called Rebal Airport. Piper cubs flew in and out and the local Civil Air Patrol trainned there. In 1950, the business was not as profitable as projected. The airport was closed and both men became commercial pilots.

    The barn was struck by lightning during a violent electrical storm and burned down in1959. The main house though it sustained some minor damage was saved. One of the volunteer fireman was at his wedding reception, but he answered the call.

    In 1980, an extension was built, which is now the meeting room. In 1994, harmony Hall was moved from its location on the corner of Mammoth and Lakeview Avenues and attached to the meeting room addition. Work is presently in progress to refurbish it and provide the Society with additional space for community use.