Chelmsford Historical Society
Historical Society History

storageA.jpg The Chelmsford Historical Society, which was formed in 1930, is dedicated to preserving the historical heritage of the community. It is made up of a president, a board of directors and many members. Over the years, the Society's collection of artifacts from the life of the town has grown steadily with collectibles from all periods of Chelmsford's growth, the contemporary as well as the early days. The collection was originally displayed in the Adams Library and was subsequently displaced to the 1802 Schoolhouse when the library needed room for expansion. The growing collection quickly outgrew the cramped quarters and some items were stored in member's attics. There was a need for a permanent home where the Society's accessions would be on display for townspeople and visitors.

byamhousefrontA.jpg The problem was solved when Mr. & Mrs. Albert Murray offered their residence to the Society. The Barrett-Byam Homestead was built on a site originally occupied by James Parker prior to 1663, who was one of the original twenty-nine signers of the petition for the land that was incorporated as Chelmsford. Details of early construction of the existing c. 1740 dwelling are still visible in the attic, indicating that the house was first built as a saltbox design.

smokechamberA.jpg The house was constructed around a central chimney opening into five fireplaces which provided heat for the rooms. Both the chimney base and foundations are of native granite. The brick fireplaces were later rebuilt and "Rumfordized" in the early 19th century for better heating and two Dutch ovens relocated beside the fireplaces for safety and accessibility. There was access through the paneling below the front stairs to a space inside the chimney structure for maintenance and the smoking of meats.

To provide protection from Indian raids, the cellar was small and windowless, and there were inside shutters, often called Indian shutters, covering the small-paned windows. There would have been two bedrooms at the front of the house with a loft above, and a long room across the back divided into a kitchen or keeping room and a borning room.

When James Parker moved to Groton in 1663 because of religious differences, the house with its 52 acres of land was conveyed to Thomas Barrett and his son, and appears on a 1673 sketch of Robin's Hill area. The property remained in the Barrett family until 1773 when it was conveyed to Dr. Jonas Marshall and then around 1800 to Henry and Relief Byam. stonestepsA.jpg

The house was enlarged, probably during the mid to late 1800's while owned by the Byams.  The roof line was changed and rear rooms added on the second floor. There has since been extensive renovations, much of it done by the Murrays.  the early framing has been cased, paneling refinished and extended, supports rebuilt, the back stairs reversed. The building is a good example of a farmhouse which expanded periodically to meet the growing needs of its occupants.

The Barrett-Byam Homestead now houses the Chelmsford Historical Society with its extensive collection of glass, china, kitchenware, toys, clothes, farm equipment, diaries and military artifacts. It is used as a teaching resource for the local school system and offers a valuable source of genealogical information for researchers.

The exhibits offer visitors a chance to view the large permanent collections in the seven rooms of the Homestead, the Country Store in the upper barn and the Watts-Stevens Center in the lower barn. Click here to take a tour of the old homestead.

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