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Historical Commission Home Page

Appointed by the Mayor

Town of Braintree Planning & Community

1 JFK Memorial Drive

Braintree, MA 02184

Phone: 781-794-8230
Fax: 781-794-8089

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Historic districts present the strongest form of protection for the preservation of historic properties. Historic districts preserve the context of collections of buildings, they encourage interest in local history, and they limit the destruction of historical architectural contributions. According to the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40C historic districts serve three principle purposes: 1) to preserve and protect distinctive characteristics of significant buildings and places, 2) to maintain and improve the setting of those buildings and places, and 3) to encourage new designs compatible with the existing district.

In the United States historic districts did not come about until the 1930s. In 1931 Charleston, South Carolina established an "Old and Historic District" within the city; the first of its kind in America. Some time later, in 1937, the Vieux Carre Commission was created in New Orleans to preserve the French Quarter of the city.

The first historic districts in Massachusetts were the Beacon Hill District and the Historic District of Nantucket, both established in 1955. It was in 1960 that Chapter 40C was established within the MA General Law. This allowed for municipalities to establish local historic districts without special approval of state legislature.

In March of 1974 the Braintree Town Meeting voted into effect the creation of a Historical Commission for the Town. The vote set provisions for three members of the Commission, appointed by the Board of Selectmen. A year later, in 1975 it was voted during a Town Meeting that the membership of the Commission be increased to five. Finally, in 1980, a Town Meeting voted that the Town amend its by-laws to include Article XIIIA, the Historic District By-Law.

This by-law established a historic district in Braintree, to be known as the Braintree Town Center Historic District. This District was to be located in the general vicinity of South Braintree Center. The initial goals of establishing such a district in Braintree were as such: "to promote educational, cultural, economic, and general welfare of the public through preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of the Town of Braintree". The initial proposal for the Historic District included 17 properties in South Braintree Center. What follows is descriptions of each of those properties.

Town Hall (present location)


          In 1857, after the separation of church and town affairs had been made, plans were developed for a new town house that would also house a high school. The location for this new town house was to be at the northern corner of French’s Common, the location where Town Hall stands today. Boston architect John D. Towle was hired to design the building. The building had a wooden frame, a slate roof, and copper gutters.  The Georgian style building was completed and dedicated in 1858. In 1892 the high school was moved out to make room for town offices. A year later the building was wired for electricity. In 1910 $1,500 was spent on a vault to keep town records safe. This was a smart investment, considering that a year later, on July 20th, 1911 the Town Hall was destroyed by a fire that began in the attic. Many town records were saved from the fire, but unfortunately not all were.
          A new Town Hall was immediately planned for construction at the same location. The new building would be designed by E. Edgar Norris and Ingram &Hopkins Associates. The new Georgian style structure was this time build from brick and cast stone, rather than wood. Notable feature of this new building included the grand entrance steps as well as the large stone columns in the front of the building. Offices and meeting rooms occupied both floors and the Hall also boasted a fully equipped auditorium, banquet hall, and smoking room. The building was completed and dedicated in 1913. This building still stands as Braintree’s Town Hall today, at 1 JFK Memorial Dr. The Hall continues to serve as the center for Town affairs.

Water Department Building (Old Thayer Library)


          In 1870 General Sylvanus Thayer proposed to establish a public library within the town. Although they had rejected previous propositions from him, the Town accepted this one. Thayer, along with Asa French and Francis A. Hobart purchased a site for the library from Nathaniel M. Hobart in early 1871. This land was directly adjacent to the newly constructed Town Hall. Thayer personally loaned the town $10,000 to see the project through. Unfortunately Thayer passed away in 1872, but the inheritors of his estate saw the library through to completion. The Victorian style building built in brick and stone was completed in 1874. It was designed by Boston architect Hammet Billings.

Thayer Academy Main Building


            Construction for the Thayer Academy Schoolhouse began in January of 1876. The Board of Trustees for the school held an architectural completion to choose the design. A firm by the name of Hartwell & Swazey won the competition and their design for the schoolhouse was chosen. The exterior of the school was completed by November and by August of 1877 the Academy was poised to open its doors for its first class. Gas lighting, steam heating, up to date plumbing and ventilation systems were included in the construction and concrete was poured between the walls and between the floors to prevent the passage of sound and the spreading of fire. Thayer Academy’s first class was comprised of 26 students, one of which being the son of Asa French.

Southworth Library (Thayer Academy)


            In early 1964 a funds drive was launched to raise money in order to provide the Academy with a much needed library and arts center. Since 1927 the stage area for the top floor auditorium of the main building had been used for library space. The room would eventually fill to capacity. There was no librarian and the collection was mainly managed by the English department. Availability of volumes was very limited.

          Funds for the new library were primarily recognized by two anonymous donations; the first for $75,000 to be used for an art center and the second for $175,000 to be used for the library. The Trustees wasted no time and ground for the library was soon broken. The contemporary style building was designed by Rich & Tucker Associates and it was to be named for Stacy Baxter Southworth, a former Headmaster who was beloved by the Academy.

          The building was completed by March of 1965 and the collection of about 3,000 volumes that were in the auditorium was relocated to the library. Over the years donations were made in the form of books and money and by 1976 the collection had grown to about 125,000 volumes.

          The new art studio and gallery facilitated a new art program, developed primarily by Louise Pennock. That gallery featured work done by students, faculty, and local artists. The gallery became known simply as the Thayer Gallery.

Frothingham Hall (Thayer Academy)


            In the late 1920s it was becoming apparent that a new assembly hall was desperately needed as the main building was becoming inadequate. The main building was getting too small, floors needed replacing, and heating and plumbing systems needed serious updating.

          In 1930 the Board of Trustees authorized the erection of a new building. It was initially planned to be an addition to the rear of the main building, but it was decided that a separate hall would be more practical.

          The new building was speedily built and it was ready for use by November of 1930. The building is named for Trustee Congressman Louis Adams Frothingham. He was the chairman of the funds drive for the new building. Sadly, he passed away in 1928, before the buildings completion.

Memorial Gymnasium (Thayer Academy)


            In 1947, after years of wartime shortages, the Board of Trustees authorized a fund raising program to raise $500,000. The money would serve three purposes: to erect a new gymnasium, to convert the old White Gymnasium into science classrooms, and to establish a retirement fund for the faculty.

          The new Memorial Gymnasium was completed in 1952 and its completion was celebrated along with the 75th anniversary of the Academy’s founding. The brand new gym hosted a reception as well as a dance during the event. The Memorial Gymnasium is dedicated to the men from Thayer who lost their lives fighting in World War II. Today, the Gymnasium is part of the Sawyer Athletic Center.

Glover Building (Thayer Academy)


            The Glover Building was a physical education building constructed in1894. In 1891 Mrs. Sarah White Glover, at the age of 87, inherited the White family wealth. She would unfortunately pass away a year later. Prior to her death she had consulted with Judge French, President of the Board of Trustees, about how best to spend her money for educational purposes. French suggested that she donate to Thayer Academy as the school was in need of a gymnasium.

          Glover obliged and willed the necessary funds to the school. Architects for the building were Hartwell and Richardson of Boston who described the building as a picturesque brick one. The building had a boys’ gymnasium on one si8de and a girls’ on the other side. The middle of the building housed chemistry laboratories. Equipment for the gyms were paid in part by Dr. Sargent of the Sargent School. The chemistry labs were run by Dr. Charles Pitkin. The gymnasiums were dedicated to Deborah P. White and Naaman L. White, Sarah’s siblings, and the laboratories were dedicated to Sarah’s late husband. The White Gymnasiums were converted into more science classrooms and laboratories following the construction of the Memorial Gymnasium.

Site of the First Town House


          The first Town House (before the 1858 Town Hall) was located at the northeast corner of present day Washington and Union Streets. It was constructed in 1929. The Town House served as a town meeting place so that town business could be conducted. Prior to the construction of the Town House, Town meetings were often held at Revered R. S. Storrs Meeting House. The formation of a new Town House indicates the separation of town and church. The location for the Town House was chosen for its close proximity to Asa French’s home, as his house served as the Town’s post office for some time. Asa French also served as the Town Clerk and Treasurer.  The First Town House no longer stands at its original location, as it was relocated to present day Taylor St. It is currently used as private residences.

Central Fire Station


           Around 1872 the Town of Braintree created its own fire department. Fire houses were built on Franklin St. and on Hollis Ave. In 1877 bells were purchased for both of these houses, which became known as the North and South Braintree Fire Houses. After the First World War Braintree began to modernize its fire department, purchasing new engines and motorizing others. In 1931 the Central Fire Station was built in the Town Center. The neo-federal style building was designed by Charles G. Loring. It is this building, located at 9 Union Place, which is included within the Town Center Historic District. Notably, the bell from the Hollis Ave. Fire House is now mounted in front of the Central Fire Station. The Station is still functional and the bell serves as a memorial to all Braintree firefighters.

The French House


           The French House, or the Asa French House, as it is sometimes called, is one of the oldest houses in Braintree. The original house was built by Thomas French in 1699. Much of the house was rebuilt in 1820 and the property remained within the French family until the 1970s. The Braintree Town Center grew around this house, which served as the Town’s first post office in 1825. It was during this time that the house’s most famous occupant, Asa French, lived there. Asa French was the Town Clerk as well as the Treasurer. The French’s would remain one of the most prominent families in Braintree. Little of the original structure of the house, besides the chimney, still stands. The house was donated to Thayer Academy in 1976 and then in 1999 the Academy turned it over to the Braintree Historical Society.

Sylvanus Thayer Birthplace


            Perhaps the most celebrated property within the Local Historic District is the birthplace of General Sylvanus Thayer; commonly referred to as the Thayer House.  Sylvanus Thayer is most notable for his contributions to West Point Military Academy during his time there as superintendent, from 1817 to 1833. Under his supervision the school became the first engineering school in the country. 

          The saltbox style farmhouse was built in 1720 by Nathaniel Thayer. The house originally stood on the other side of Washington Street, where the Thayer Academy soccer fields currently are. In 1957 the house and property surrounding it was purchased by Walworth Manufacturing. The company planned to build a multimillion dollar industrial complex on the site. Recognizing the historical importance of the house, the manufacturing company turned the house over to the Braintree Historical Society on the conditions that the Society relocated the house.  The house was relocated in 1960 to its current location across from Town Hall and it was painstakingly restored to its 1785 appearance; the year that Sylvanus was born.

Gilbert L. Bean Barn Museum and Mary Bean Cunningham Historical Resource Center


          In 1975 the Braintree Historical Society erected a colonial style barn as a complimentary addition to the Sylvanus Thayer Birthplace. The post and beam construction of the barn is consistent with that of early American structures of its style. Although it is commonly referred to as simply “the Barn”, the structure’s official name is the Gilbert L. Bean Barn Museum. The Barn houses artifacts that would typically appear in colonial America.

          In 1995 the BHS completed an addition to the Barn, called the Mary Bean Cunningham Historical Resource Center. The main level of this building contains two museum galleries featuring early American furniture, artwork, and military artifacts. The lower level houses the Research Center, which contains genealogical information on many prominent Braintree families as well as a large collection of military records and artifacts from those who served from Braintree.  As of recently, the upper level contains a functional 1888 marine steam engine that was built at the site of the Fore River Engine Company, East Braintree, MA, founded by Thomas Watson, the co-inventor of the telephone. The upper room has been appropriately renamed the Thomas A. Watson Memorial Room.

          Currently, the facility is only open periodically and during rare, Society sponsored events.

The Oak Tree


          The only property within the Local Historic District that is not, nor ever was a human built structure is the old Oak Tree. The Tree is very large and picturesque. It is sometimes called the “Majestic” Oak Tree. The Tree holds a claim to witnessing the entire history of Braintree, making it at least 375 years old, although it is likely older than that. The Tree stands as a town landmark in the center of Gilbert L. Bean Circle.

Thayer Public Library


          In 1953 the Old Thayer Library’s collection was outgrowing its facilities. To combat the problem the Town acquired land across from Town Hall to build a new library. This building would become the new Thayer Public Library while the old facility would begin to be used by the Town Water Department.

          In 1997 the building was razed and modernized to the one that stands today. The newer, modern looking building was designed by William Roger Greeley and today the Library contains over 125,000 items.

French’s Common


          In the 1850’s a man by the name of Josiah French willed an amount of land to the Town of Braintree. His will stated that the land “be used and occupied by the said Town as a common or common field for companies and buildings for Town of public business, but no private dwelling houses or buildings whatever to be placed on said premises, but to be forever French’s Common…” To this day French’s Common has been used only for acceptable purposes as outlined in French’s will.

          Town Hall stands on the northern edge of the Common and for decades the field has been used for baseball games and other recreational activities. The Common remains the center for baseball activity in Braintree. The iron archway entrance to the field was constructed in 1880, designed by Smith and Lovett. The field also served as drilling grounds for the Braintree Guards Association during World War I.

Site of Arnold Tavern


          Arnold Tavern was one of the most popular taverns in town. Built around 1800, the tavern served as a stagecoach stop and a social and business center for the town. The Tavern was located at the northern corner of Washington St. and Central Ave. The site is currently occupied by the Thayer Academy Center for the Arts.

          The name of the tavern comes from Ralph Arnold, who purchased the property from Abraham Hobart in 1810. So central was the Tavern to Town affairs that the location of the first Town House (1829) was chosen with its close proximity to Arnold Tavern in mind. It was undoubtedly the most important tavern in Braintree. The Tavern stood as a private residence until the early 1900s.

Monument Mall


          The grassy strip of land that sits in front of Town Hall is often known as Monument Mall. The area showcases monuments dedicated to the citizens of Braintree who served in American Wars—beginning with the Civil War and progressing all the way to include the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

          The Civil War monument, the first within the “Mall”, was designed by J & H Billings of Boston. It was dedicated on June 17th, 1874

          The Mall is also home to a 100 year time capsule to be opened in 2076. The Time Capsule Cairn, which is an above ground time capsule, housed in steel and stone, contains hundreds of pieces of bi-centennial American memorabilia.


          In early 2012 the Braintree Historical Commission proposed that the Town Center Historic District be enlarged by including two new properties. In 1980 the properties in question were privately owned and the owners declined to be included within the District. Since then, one property has fallen under the ownership of the Braintree Historical Society while the other is owned by the Town itself. As of recently, these two properties were added to the Historic District as the proposal to add them was successful. The two properties are as follows:

Gallivan House


            The Gallivan House sits between the French House and the Thayer House on Washington Street, across from Town Hall. The house was constructed in 1931 and was the residence of Dr. John J. Gallivan, a prominent physician in the area. The brick home is in the classic neo-colonial style with a large front center entrance.

          Dr. Gallivan was a prominent native of Braintree and his career was very well rounded. He was a WWI veteran; he served the staff of the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth as well as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton. He also served as the Assistant Medical Examiner for Norfolk County.

          Dr. Gallivan practiced medicine on the first floor of his home while he and his family lived on the second floor. The house remained within the Gallivan family until the 1960s when it was acquired by a dentist for use as a dental practice. In 2005 the house was purchased by the Braintree Historical Society and it is still awaiting interior and exterior renovations.

Mary S. Bean Park


            The Mary S. Bean Park is a plot of land that was into a small leveled park by the Town in 1974. The park includes two small stone memorial benches, a pathway that circles a boulder in the center of the park, as well as assorted trees and plant life. The park was originally part of the French House property. In 1966 the French property was split into two lots, the French House lot and the park lot. The French House would be purchased by Thayer Academy and subsequently given to the Braintree Historical Society. The second lot remained under the ownership of the French family until 1972, when it was acquired by Mary S. Bean. Bean further divided this lot. One portion of the lot became the land that the Gilbert L. Bean Barn Museum and the Mary Bean Cunningham Historical Resource Center resides on. The other portion became the park lot. Mary S. Bean would go on to sell the Barn Museum and Resource Center to the Historical Society for $1.00 and would sell the park to the Town for $1.00. The park was laid out by the Town afterwards and for a time it was maintained by the Town’s Gardeners’ Guild, but currently the park is in desperate need of maintenance.