Text by David Allen Lambert; video by Jeffrey Pickette
The Stoughton Historical Society is home to countless artifacts and primary source documents that help to preserve the rich history of this town—everything from stone Indian arrowheads to Civil War diaries and letters to combat boots produced right here in worn by paratroopers in World War II to aerial images of Stoughton from the 1950s.
But the building (also home to the Old Stoughton Musical Society), and plot of land, located at the corner of Park and Pleasant Streets is a historical artifact in its own right.
This beautiful brick building, known as the The Lucius Clapp Memorial Building, was the home of the Stoughton Public Library from 1904-1969, and was constructed on the site of earlier buildings.
The first structure was a schoolhouse built in 1768. This school was the first in town to offer free textbooks to scholars. Sometime before 1799 this structure was moved, and may still stand in South Stoughton. A plaque commemorating this school is on the current structure.
The next structure to stand on this site was known as the Capen Tavern (also Capen’s Hall). Two brothers, Abraham and Benjamin Capen, owned this building located at the corner of Park and Pleasant Streets. This three-story Federal tavern was built in 1799, and torn down circa 1865. Similar structures can still be seen today on High Street in Newburyport, MA.
An early photograph taken from Pleasant Street (perhaps by photographer Orange Venner) shows the only image of Capen Hall, which was torn down in the early 1860's.
In this photograph, posted in the media gallery, part of the porch on Capen's Tavern can be seen in the far right corner. The structure immediately behind the porch appears to be a stable or a barn. During the Civil War this structure was used for barracks for soldiers.
After the tavern was torn down, the Atherton family acquired the lot.
Then, this empty corner lot became of interest to the town of Stoughton. In 1903 the land was purchased for $6,800 from the Atherton family to construct Stoughton’s new library.
Architect Walter Atherton designed the new library, with George Monk overseeing the construction of the building.
The new building was dedicated on June 17, 1904. The population of Stoughton at that time was 5,442. The library had a collection of 9,214 volumes. The town was charged $1,076 for books purchased in 1904.
This library served the town of Stoughton and was also home to the Stoughton Historical Society from its opening.
A room in the basement was set aside for the exclusive use to preserve the town’s archives of treasures from the past. But, as the library and the Stoughton Historical Society grew, both were meeting limits on their space.
By 1969 the Historical Society was interested in acquiring the entire building. And, in 1969, the library moved to its current location at the corner of Park and Walnut Streets,
I first came to the Stoughton Historical Society in December of 1980. I felt as if I stepped back in time with the rich collections of images and artifacts on display.
The building on the corner of Park and Pleasant is more than just an old library building – it is truly a time capsule of the collective memory of old Stoughton. I encourage you to visit this hidden gem in the center of your hometown.
Stoughton Historical Society
- Address: 6 Park St., Stoughton
- Phone: (781) 344-5456
- Hours: Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Thursdays, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.