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Haverhill Historical Society

Haverhill Historical SocietyThe Haverhill Historical Society, located at 240 Water Street in Haverhill, Massachusetts, occupies an outstanding site in the city’s historic landscape, including a rare early tenant house, an impressive Federal mansion, and a tiny shoe shop. Funding from the Massachusetts Historical Commission allowed students in the Preservation Studies Program to provide modern research to this small city historical society.

The Preservation Studies Program course AM 753 Documenting Historic Buildings introduces first year students to the modern methods of field examination and documentary research used to understand historic resources. Taught by Claire Dempsey, course lectures focus on building in wood and masonry; common building forms and styles; map, title, probate and biographical research; and recording through photography and measured field drawings. Students had the opportunity to apply the skills covered in these lectures in the research undertaken at the Haverhill Historical Society. Each student in the class tackled a variety of tasks, including a close examination and description of the buildings’ fabric, measuring and photographing them, and conducting historical research on the property. A report summarizing this research was presented to the Haverhill Historical Society.

Although its property now includes only about an acre and a half, for nearly three centuries it was the core of an important town farm and estate. The property was long associated with the prominent Saltonstall family, and although the main house from this period is gone, a small house of the early 18th century seems to have been a tenant house for this farmstead. Early in the 19th century the property was sold and a large brick and frame double house was constructed, a fine example of the housing chosen by local elites during the prosperous Federal period. This house was expanded in 1888 by Duncan heirs with a large rear service ell, adapting it to the needs of later generations. In 1903, one Duncan heir donated the property to the newly formed Haverhill Historical Society to serve as its headquarters. The Society added to the Duncan House in 1918 and later in the 1980s, providing extensive exhibition space. In 1958 the Society added the Hunkins Shoe Shop to their property, an important remnant of a feature critical to understanding a shoe-manufacturing town. The site provides a variety of buildings for examination, covering several types and periods of construction.