The Historic House Plaque Program

Sample of a Belmont Historic Plaque which can now be obtained for any qualifying house in Belmont.

In the fall of 2013 the Belmont Historical Society established a Historic House Plaque Program to raise the awareness and appreciation of historic structures in the town. Living in and maintaining a historic house provides an important link to the past, and this program was designed to encourage property owners to share information about the unique architectural features of their property with the community. The fundamental objective is to preserve and celebrate the rich heritage found throughout Belmont. Belmont’s “Town of Homes” distinction is supported by the diversity of architectural styles that make up the mainly residential landscape. Within its borders Belmont still boasts three properties which date from the 1600’s, a half dozen or so built in the 1700’s and even more which were built around the time of the town’s incorporation in 1859 through to the mid-1900’s. All over town one can find notable examples of almost every architectural style including houses of the Federal period 1780-1830, Greek and Gothic revival 1830-1870, Second Empire 1855-1875, Bungalow and Craftsman 1910-1920, and even several of the modern International style 1940-1960.

The Historic House Plaque Program is not competitive in the sense that there is no limit to the number of plaques that can be awarded so long as each property meets the criteria established below. Also, the Historic House Plaque Program does not impose any restrictions on what the property owner can do with the property in the future. The requirements for obtaining a plaque are the following:

(1) The property must be at least 50 years old.

(2) The property must have retained the integrity of the original design and construction. Additions or alterations do not necessarily exclude a property unless the structure no longer retains the significant elements of its original style. Questions about the historic integrity of modifications or additions will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

(3) There must be a clear and complete chain of title tracing the property from its original construction to the present day.

The Belmont Historical Society awards Historic House Plaques each year at its holiday program in December and at its annual meeting in May. The first plaques were awarded in May 2014, and the following properties have received plaques so far:

Abraham Hill House, 388 Pleasant Street, built ca. 1693
Josiah Shattuck House, 981 Concord Avenue, built in 1744
Samuel Orlando Mead Carriage House, 346 Concord Avenue, built ca. 1840
Henry Frost Farmhouse, 307 Pleasant Street, built in 1845
Albert Higgins House, 30 Somerset Street, built ca. 1850
William Flagg Homer House, 661 Pleasant Street, built in 1853
Reverend Daniel Butler House, 36 Sycamore Street, built ca. 1853
Mary Anne Perry “Widow” Brown House, 81 Clark Street, built in 1856
Daniel House, 93 School Street, built in 1895
Amos Taylor House, 117 School Street, built in 1895
Bartlett House, 90 School Street, built in 1896
All Saints Church, 69 Common Street, built in 1896
Underwood Greenhouses, 20 School Street, built in 1898 and 1910
Viola E. McNeil House, 36 Harriet Avenue, built in 1922
Tobey-Packard House, 26 Tobey Road, built in 1930

The next set of plaques will be presented at the Society’s annual holiday meeting in December 2017.

The Application Process

Applications for a Historic House Plaque may be submitted at any time. Property owners should complete and submit an application form together with the following supporting material:

(1) Evidence that the property meets the three criteria stated earlier. (Scroll down this page to find more information on how to trace the history of a specific property.)

(2) Current photographs (prints or digital image files) of the front and side elevations of the property.

The completed applications should be mailed to:

Belmont Historical Society
336 Concord Avenue
Belmont, MA 02478

After the application has been approved, the property owner must submit a check payable to the Belmont Historical Society for the appropriate fee:

Members of the Belmont Historical Society: $100
Non-Members: $125 (this includes a one-year membership in the Society)
Property owners with existing historic plaques who desire a replacement: $75

Once the application is approved and the fee has been paid, the property owner can choose between two different sizes of the rectangular plaques and two different background colors (white or cream). The historic markers (crafted by Ould Colony Artisans in Wiscasset, ME) come complete with mounting hardware and directions for mounting and placement on the building which is the responsibility of the property owner.

If there are any questions about the application process or the eligibility of a specific property, please contact us at belmonthistory1859@nullgmail.com or call us at (617) 993-2878.

Tracing the History of a Property

Establishing a clear and complete history of a property from its original construction to the present day is a key requirement for the Historic House Plaque Program. This requires finding the chain of title (the sequence of owners and the dates of title transfers) and the dates of any significant changes to the property or its use. At the time of the first Historic House Plaque awards in 2014, Joe Cornish, an architectural historian, former President of the Belmont Historical Society, and one of the leaders in establishing the Historic House Plaque Program, gave a talk about how to trace the history of Belmont property. That comprehensive overview and tutorial is available as a 23-minute video that you can view. The video is available through the courtesy of the Belmont Media Center. You may view that video by clicking here. More information about some of the resources discussed in the video follows.

Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Massachusetts Historical Commission was established by the state legislature in 1963 to identify, evaluate, and protect important historical and archaeological assets of the Commonwealth. One of the important resources that the Commission created is the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), an online searchable database of information on historic properties and areas in the Commonwealth that is available at http://mhc-macris.net/

MACRIS is a good place to begin research on a Belmont property since it currently includes 735 Belmont properties and structures for which historical research has already been done. (Not all of the 735 Belmont properties in the database are private residences; some are town buildings and institutional facilities.) To see a static summary report of those 735 properties (sorted by street), click here. Eleven of the Belmont properties that have already been awarded a Historic House Plaque are included in the MACRIS database; click here to see a slideshow of those properties with the photographs that are part of the MACRIS records. Each of the properties in the MACRIS database has a unique Inventory Number (BLM.XXX). Some (but not all) of the MACRIS records include a report (“Form B”) that gives detailed information about the history of the property. Click here to see the “Form B” report for BLM.120, the Widow Brown Cottage which has a Belmont Historic House Plaque. If your property is included in the printout report of 735 Belmont properties, go to the online MACRIS database to find out what information is already available on your property.

If a property is included in the MACRIS database with a Form B report (indicated by the “INV” marker in the online MACRIS search results), that is all that is needed for the Historic House Plaque application. Otherwise, you will need to establish a chain of title that is typically done through the Registry of Deeds.

Massachusetts Land Records. The Massachusetts Registry of Deeds has an online system (masslandrecords.com) that permits electronic searches of deeds. Belmont is included in the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds that is accessible at www.masslandrecords.com/MiddlesexSouth. The home page of that website provides some useful information on how to use the masslandrecords.com database and the various types of searches that can be made. The most effective search procedure is to use the Registry book and page numbers for the deed history of the property of interest. The book and page number for the current deed is usually stamped on the deed itself. It is also included on the quarterly real estate tax bill that the property owner receives from the town. With that as a starting point, you can work your way back to the deed of the previous owner and the date that it was transferred. Continue the sequential search until the previous deed was for the land with no building on it. Click here to see an example of a chain of title for a property. The essential elements are (a) the date of each change of ownership, (b) the names of the parties to the ownership transfer, and (c) the Registry book and page number with the record of the deed transfer.

Unfortunately, the masslandrecords.com online database only goes back to 1900. For earlier history, you will need to visit the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds office at 208 Cambridge Street in Cambridge (telephone 617-679-6300) that is open from 8:00a.m. to 3:45p.m. on weekdays and continue the search the old-fashioned way – by using the physical Registry record books.

Other Sources. There are several publications about Belmont that may be helpful in researching specific property. They are described on our Publications page. The most useful book may be Belmont: The Architecture and Development of The Town of Homes. This book is the report of the 1982 architectural and historic survey of Belmont conducted by a team from Boston University under the sponsorship of the Belmont Historic District Commission. Unfortunately, that book is out of print, but copies of it and the other books mentioned are available for review and research in the Belmont Historical Society’s collection in the Claflin Room of the Belmont Public Library.