Bits & Pieces with Rebecca Lavallee: Historic Districts Part 2

April’s Bits & Pieces covered different types of Historic Districts and the various impacts on the homeowner. This month, we are going to look at the history of Historic Districts in Douglas.

In 1986, the Douglas Historic Commission was reactivated. Upon its reactivation, the first order of business was to complete a state requirement to produce a town-wide inventory. Following the guidelines of the Massachusetts Historic Commission, the inventory’s purpose was “…to identify and research all structures over fifty years of age as well as any other areas of historical significance. (burial grounds, monuments, streetscapes, Indian sites, archaeological sites, etc.)” With the help of a professional historical consultant team, this project was completed in 1989 and the full report, Inventory of historic properties in Douglas, Massachusetts, 1989 by John Belding, can be found at the Simon Fairfield Public Library. (A quick side note – along with the works of Lucius Marsh, this report is one of the most referenced items in the archive.)

With the completion of the town-wide inventory, the Historic Commission hoped to set up two distinct Historic Districts:

District I – Old Douglas Center : included the First Congregational Church, the Old Town Common, and the Douglas Center Cemetery.

District II – Downtown Douglas : included the Second Congregational Church, the Simon Fairfield Public Library and the E.N. Jenckes Store.

The initial plan was to create Local Historic Districts. As discussed in the previous article, Local Historic Districts require that a bylaw is passed by two-thirds majority at a town meeting. An informational meeting regarding this bylaw was held in 1990 and was met with negative feedback from the townspeople. Once it was determined that a Local Historic District was unlikely, the Historic Commission moved to create National Register Districts, which do not impose restrictions on homeowners.

As of 1990, the only property in town that was registered was the E.N. Jenckes Store (283 Main Street), which was added to the register in 1987. The store is a single, private building that was originally an early 19th century general store that became a museum and home of the Douglas Historical Society. The following year, the Hayward Mill (26 North Street) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hayward Mill is considered to be a private district of 4 contributing structures. From 1880 until 1946, the Hayward Mill was involved in the woolen industry, with one of its most relevant times being production during World War II. After the closing of the mill, the Mr. Christmas Company owned and used the building for several years. And then in the early 1990s, the complex was developed into apartments that are today known as Hayward Landing.

It wasn’t until 2001 that the Douglas Historic Commission registered their first District, Old Douglas Center. Old Douglas Center is a mix of 60 private and public-local properties that include buildings, burial sites, structures and objects between 1746 and 1951. By registering the Old Douglas Center on the National Register, tax credits for restoration and reuse are now available to income producing properties. It also increases public awareness of this significant piece of Douglas history.

Today, the goal of the Historic Commission is to have Downtown Douglas listed in the National Historic Register. On the next Bits & Pieces, we will look into what that actually entails.