Updated: Dec 1, 2022
First Congregational Church on the Longmeadow Town Green
When my husband and I first drove north on Longmeadow Street, we were drawn to the well-maintained antique homes and boulevard-like appearance of the street. By the time we reached the north end of town, we were intrigued enough by the physical beauty of the town to stop at Stearns & Yerrall to make an appointment with a realtor. The built environment and expansive vistas that caught our attention were not an accident; they were intentionally created and maintained by the Town of Longmeadow.
Longmeadow residents have been actively preserving it’s history for a long time. Longmeadow is fortunate to have so many older houses still standing; they are here today only because many early residents of Longmeadow valued and maintained their homes. As the town evolved and new streets and community buildings were required, residences which were standing in the way of development needed to either be relocated or torn down. To preserve these homes, residents moved them to new locations. For example, the Storrs House Museum was moved to its current location in 1932 when the Richard Salter Storrs Library was built. When Center School and Center School Annex were built in the 1920’s, existing homes on the property were moved to new locations. When the streetcar was installed on Longmeadow Street in the 1890’s, the Thomas Hale house had to be moved; it is now at 37 Birnie Road. For information on moving homes in Longmeadow, see Houses on the Move.
Residents of Longmeadow, many of whom were farmers, valued and wanted to preserve the town’s rural and agrarian aesthetic. In the 1800’s, most of the commercial enterprises and community buildings in the west village were located on the Green and neighboring Chandler Avenue. A beautification push to enhance the appearance of the west village and “restore” the Green to an open, green expanse began in the 1830’s. Shops located on the Green were given 40-year leases which were not renewed. By 1898, all commercial activity had been cleared from the Green.
The sanctuary of First Congregational Church, which was also located on the Green, was moved to its current location in 1874.
As part of this beautification movement, the Longmeadow Street Improvement Association was founded in 1876.
In 1899, interest in the history of Longmeadow spurred residents to organize the Longmeadow Historical Society. Now a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, the Longmeadow Historical Society operates and maintains the Storrs House Museum, curates and preserves extensive town archives, images, and artifacts, and serves as a resource for persons interested in Longmeadow history. Our archive of early town documents has provided researchers with the opportunity to re-evaluate existing narratives of Longmeadow's history, updating them to respond to today's queries. For 40 years, the Longmeadow Historical Society ran Long Meddowe Days, a history-celebrating community fair held on the Green. For more details on the founding of the Longmeadow Historical Society, please see Our History.
Springfield Republican, June 3, 1899
Over the years, Historical Society members have led town preservation efforts. For example, in the 1930s, ten volumes of the diary of Rev. Stephen Williams were transcribed as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). When WPA funds were fully expended and the project had not yet been completed, Historical Society members stepped in and finished the job. Rev. Stephen Williams, the first pastor of First Church, had kept a daily diary for the 66 years of his pastorate. The 4,000 page transcription, as well as the original handwritten diary, have been digitized and can be accessed through the Storrs Library website.
Oral histories of town residents have been preserved through at least two projects:
In the 1970s, Historical District Commissioners and Historical Society members audio-taped interviews of former selectmen, librarians, school headmistresses, and other long-time residents.
About 10 years ago, former Selectwoman Kathy Grady and Longmeadow Community TV created Living History, a series of video interviews of long-time Longmeadow residents. These interviews can be viewed at Living History.
One of the most important Longmeadow preservation efforts was the establishment of “The Green” historic district in 1973. A Massachusetts Local Historic District, it is governed by the Longmeadow Historic District Commission. In 1982, “The Green” also became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012, "The Green" district was expanded and six neighboring houses were added.
Longmeadow Historic District "The Green"
In 1994, the “Longmeadow Street – North Historic District” was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike "The Green", The “North Historic District” is not also a Massachusetts Local Historic District, so the Historic District Commission is not responsible for it.
“Longmeadow Street – North Historic District”
As Longmeadow developed away from the Green, the town worked to preserve the aesthetic of open space in other parts of the town through the establishment of parks.
Public water works land containing Cooley Brook, along with 70 acres of its watershed, became parkland in 1934 and, when Laurel Street divided the parcel, Bliss and Laurel Parks were formed.
1910 Map Section of Longmeadow
Turner Park was formed later. In 1964, the town began a 10-year plan to purchase the parcels of land which now comprise the park.
The Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge, while not town property, created additional preserved open space in Longmeadow. Owned and maintained by the Allen Bird Club and The Nature Conservancy, it became a National Natural Landmark in 1972. As of 2016, ownership of this land has begun to transfer to the National Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Silivio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.
Today, in addition to the Longmeadow Historical Society, there are four town boards which help to preserve the historic character of Longmeadow. These organizations are often confused, but they have different responsibilities in the town. Links to the town boards can be found at www.longmeadowma.org
The Historic District Commission was the earliest of these town boards. It is currently responsible for preserving the historic nature of "The Green" Historic District. It approves or denies certificates of appropriateness for any exterior alterations to a property in the Historic District that are visible from a public view.
In 1987, the Historic District Commission commissioned Longmeadow, Massachusetts: A Plan for Historic Preservation. Upon receiving the recommendations of this plan, the Historic District Commission realized that the town's preservation needs were far too large in scope for one commission. Based on that realization, the Select Board created the Historical Commission in 1988. Irregularities in the 1988 creation of the Historical Commission were rectified at the 2021 fall Town Meeting. The Longmeadow Historical Commission is now formally established under Mass. G.L. c. 40, sect. 8(d).
The Historical Commission’s mission is to identify, preserve, and educate the Town of Longmeadow about its unique historical heritage. Board members work in an advisory capacity to other town commissions and boards to ensure that historic preservation is considered in planning for future community development.
The Community Preservation Committee was established in 2006 when Longmeadow adopted the Community Preservation Act. Through an annual grant process, the CPC awards funds that support historic preservation, open space, recreation, and affordable housing.
The Building Demolition Committee was established in 2007 when Longmeadow passed the Demolition Delay Bylaw. Demolition of the Born House, a beloved older home in town, inspired a community grassroots movement which culminated in the enactment of the bylaw. The Demolition Delay Bylaw applies only to structures built before 1901; the list of properties impacted can be found on the Historical Commission website. If a demolition permit is requested for one of these structures, the Building Demolition Committee will determine if the permit can be issued.
We welcome you to join us in our efforts to preserve our town’s history for future generations. Support the Longmeadow Historical Society and attend our programs and activities, apply for an appointment to a town board, and learn more about Longmeadow's long history.
Longmeadow, Massachusetts: A Plan for Historic Preservation
1870 Map of Longmeadow
Bliss and Laurel Parks Master Landscape Plan
Springfield Republican, June 3, 1899
Springfield Republican, October 25, 1876
1988 Longmeadow Annual Report
Thanks to Tim Casey
Contributed by Elizabeth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member Originally published January 20, 2022