Wellesley Historical Society seeks to fund History Center

The Wellesley Historical Society is celebrating a $200K Mass Cultural Council and Mass Development matching grant to help it create a Wellesley History Center—the challenge now is to secure matching funds.

The non-profit Historical Society purchased the Stanwood House at 323 Washington St., in 2012, and has paid off the mortgage in recent years. Now it seeks to transform the building into a true center worthy of the society’s collection and a place where the public can learn about the town’s history.

The building, which would store collections in the basement as well as second and third floors, was designated a single building historic district in 2020. The first floor would be for public access to displays and information.

The society’s collection is currently crammed into The Tollhouse building, formerly known as the Dadmun-McNamara House, at 299 Washington St. The collection includes paintings, photos, maps, textiles, plus loads of mounted butterflies.

“So far, we have raised $1.5 million, with the matching grant, to acquire the property, pay off the mortgage, and start work on the Wellesley History Center,” said Peter Mongeau, President of the Society, in a statement. “We still have to raise an additional $200,000 to match the Mass Cultural Council grant which will bring us to a total of $1.7 million for the Wellesley History Center. We are so excited that we are getting close.”

Society reps last week met with the Wellesley Community Preservation Committee to make a pitch for funding it could use to match the grant, plus a lot more. The CPC makes recommendations to Town Meeting on how to use funds raised through a property tax surcharge and a state match.

Mongeau told the CPC that the society’s overall project will cost $2.2M-plus, so it still needs $727K, which it hopes it might get from the CPC ($200K of that would match the grant).

CPC-eligible expenses outlined by the Historical Society include a collections storage area in the basement, a climate control system, a security system, and exterior rehabilitation, including handicap access.

CPC members raised various questions about the request, focusing on its size and whether certain elements are truly eligible under Community Preservation Act rules  There was also a question about whether there is still any consideration of adding an elevator to the building, as has been discussed in years past (the addition would cost millions of dollars, so for now it is off the table even though there is a perfect place to locate it).

The CPC’s decision will boil down to a couple of things, Committee Chair Barbara McMahon said. “$737,000 is a lot of money for a CPA grant from the Wellesley CPC… The other part is, is it an allowable use of our historic resources,” she said.

Funds for historic projects from the Wellesley CPC in recent years have mostly been in either the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. The last Historical Society win at CPC was $36,000 in 2018 for an archival project. Other CPA grants for historical purposes in recent years have included those for a Fells Branch Library roof project and restoration of historic atlases used by the Planning Department.

“We understand it’s a lot of money,” Mongeau told the CPC. “However, we think this has a great public use now and into the future.”

Before the CPC makes a recommendation, it will consult with town counsel and an historic preservation consultant, and the town’s Historical Commission will need to weigh in.

CPC Vice Chair Allan Port said toward the end of the meeting that it’s possible the Committee will recommend not giving the Historical Society the full amount of what it’s requesting. “You may have to do some more fundraising,” he said.

To which Historical Society Treasurer Bill Mordan quickly reacted: “We’re always fundraising.”


Caption: Rendering showing the Wellesley History Center sporting new paint colors. The new paint ispart of the work to be competed to transform 323 Washington Street into the Wellesley History Center.
Rendering from Wellesley Historical Society showing a new paint job that would be part of the work to be competed to transform 323 Washington St., into the Wellesley History Center.

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