History of the Historical Society
Learn the history behind the Historical Society and how you can utilize its services.
Founded more than 300 years ago, the Town of Norton has a rich history; but so does the organization that records this history.
Norton Historical Society was formerly the No. 3 Schoolhouse. It was built in 1854 and cost $2,000 to build. It was originally located at the intersection of Woodard and S. Worcester Street.
The Historical Society was formed in 1961, just time for the 250th anniversary of Norton. In 1960, a group of citizens met in the high school and appointed postmaster and historian Joseph Yelle as the chairman. By March of that year, Historical Society by-laws were approved and Yelle was made president. The organization bought the schoolhouse soon after, which was being used as a chicken coop at the time.
In 1972, the Historical Society decided the building was out of the way. Over the course of two days, the schoolhouse was moved to its current location at 18 W. Main St.
“They had some different areas where it was quite tight for it,” said longtime member and descendent of Norton’s first settlers, George Yelle. “The roof was pretty well banged up by the time they got it up here.”
The Society had its first open house in its newly restored schoolhouse in 1975. By then, Joe’s cousin, George, had already begun following in his footsteps.
“I got involved probably about the late 60s, I would say. It was definitely after the anniversary,” George said. “I was always interested in history.”
On his own, George was already clipping out Norton newspapers and collecting postcards from all over town. Being the cemetery commissioner, he was especially interested in obituaries. Dating back to 1873, he began writing down the obituaries on index cards. He then moved over to photocopying them. When Yelle became a member of the historical society, all this information came with him.
Alongside George is Ruth Goold, who has been a member of the Historical Society for 40 years and is currently the president of the organization.
Goold taught elementary school for 39 years in Ashland and tried to instill a love of history in her classroom. She has enjoyed learning about history from an early age and became involved with the Historical Society when a friend asked her to be the secretary for the organization.
The Society also has a dedicated group of volunteers including Bruce Seever, Norton High School students and various other residents of Norton. Wheaton College is in charge of the website.
“We encourage high school kids to come in,” George said, noting that they can earn volunteer credit. “It’s a nice place to work and we’re glad to have them.”
The Historical Society keeps records of old houses, genealogy and all of Norton’s news dating back 40 years ago. If you take a trip into the archives, you will find filing cabinets as far as the eye can see, categorized by year and month filled with newspapers.
“The older newspapers are much better than the current newspapers, actually. The ones from the 1800s are in much better condition,” George noted. “It’s something they did to make the newsprint later on that actually causes them to break up and fall apart.”
The carriage house, which is currently being used to store the mounds of Norton artifacts, was supposed to be a museum. Yelle hopes this is still a possibility for the future.
One of the most interesting artifacts at the Historical Society is a pennant commemorating the 250th anniversary celebration of Norton. Right before the 300th anniversary, George and his wife Janet stopped by a yard sale and found a box with numerous items inside. They paid $50 for it and discovered the small flag at very bottom when he brought it home.
“When I found that, I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I said to Janet, ‘We paid $50 for this box, but I would have paid $50 for that pennant,” George said. “It was really fantastic to find that right at our anniversary season.”
Meetings and programs are held 8 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month from September through May, except December. The meetings, which are open to the public, include guest speakers who talk about local history or personal recollections of earlier times and slideshows. Members also do an artifact show and tell from time to time. Education programs are also provided for school groups.
The schoolhouse is open to the public Wednesdays 9 a.m. to noon and 7 to 9 p.m. Memberships are available for $5 for individuals, $8 for families, $25 for supporting and $100 for a lifetime.
For more information call 508-285-7070.