Located in the 1831 former Walpole Academy building, the Walpole Heritage Museum is focused on preserving and displaying local historical artifacts, photographs and documents. It is also home to the Walpole Historical Society whose volunteers are the curators and docents at the museum. The Walpole Academy was a private school, and later, a public high school prior to being purchased by the historical society in 1950. The museum now offers rotating exhibits and numerous community events at the former academy building. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
The town of Walpole was incorporated in 1756 and named after British politician, Sir Robert Walpole. It became a frontier fort along the Connecticut River, protecting those to the east from Native Americans. By 1771 its population had grown to over 500 and it later became a stage and teaming center along the turnpike that connected Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont to the west.
In 1825, local citizens formed a private school called the Walpole Academy. Six years later, it is thought the academy contracted with local master builder, Aaron Prentiss Howland, to design and construct their educational building. The all-wood building was built in the Greek revival style with neoclassical elements. It features a large portico with four Doric columns that support a large triangular pediment with semi-circular fan. Atop the structure sits an octagonal cupola with cornice and a domed cap. The building is also covered in flash and clapboard siding and features 6-over-6 windows. A rear addition was added later.
The building, which also hosted the Walpole Lyceum, became a public secondary school in 1853 and served that purpose for almost a century. A new school was built in 1950 and the Walpole Historical Society acquired the property the same year. The society, which formed in 1930, transformed the old school into their headquarters and the Walpole Heritage Museum. The former academy building has served that purpose for over 70 years. During that time, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 due to its architectural style, longevity, and role as a center of learning and enlightenment to Walpole and the larger area. The 2001 Conservation Assessment Survey Report by the Institute of Museum Services referred to the former school building as “…an architectural monument of real significance to the community and state.”
The Heritage Museum focuses on, but is not limited to, clothing, fashion and garments of the local area. It offers rotating exhibits and artifacts. Previous exhibits have included, “The Art and Industry of Fabric and Needlecraft in Walpole,” “When They Were Young: Children’s Clothing, 1800-1960,” “Walpole’s Louisa May Alcott,” (who penned “Under the Lilacs” after visiting Walpole), and “Life in the Valley, 1919.” The museum also hosts various special events throughout the year, to include its annual Christmas in September, Summer Festival and Holiday Reception, as well as town meetings, a speakers series, antique appraisals, and genealogy workshops. Please call or visit their website for current exhibits and events calendar.