Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum
20 Chestnut Hill Ave
Brighton, MA

Boston Globe Article on the Grand Opening

New museum with old stuff from B to A

By Will Kilburn, Globe Correspondent  |  February 25, 2007

Move over Museum of Science and Institute of Contemporary Art.

There's a new museum in town -- all about Allston and Brighton.

If you thought local history began and ended with the Freedom Trail, you're in for surprises at the Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum , whose opening this weekend was timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Brighton's split from Cambridge.

Less than a year ago, the Brighton Allston Historical Society had planned to have a one-time exhibition of A-B lore to highlight the bicentennial. Then, after making a presentation last spring to the management of the Veronica Smith Senior Center, the society was offered a permanent home there in two basement rooms.

After months of renovation by contractors, dozens of volunteers were enlisted to clean and paint the space, followed by the task of pulling thousands of items out of basements, attics, and backyards, and deciding which to put on display.

"For a historian, the idea of being around at the birth of a museum is very exciting," said Maureen Melton , who has worked as a staff archivist at the Museum of Fine Arts for 20 years. With the Brighton Allston venture, "it's much more up close and personal. No one's getting paid, and it's a labor of love for everyone. People want to come here and do whatever they can."

And there has been plenty to do, whether it's polishing the brass on display cases donated by the MFA and Harvard, scanning and enlarging old photographs, or determining the origins of an ornate, silver-plated pitcher from 1867 that was dropped off by a Brighton resident recently. The pitcher's arrival widened the eyes of historian Bill Marchione , society president and author of several books on the neighborhood, who was able to determine it was from a hotel that once stood where the district Police Station is now.

Such items, he said, are a key addition to the museum's collection, which consists mainly of photos, maps, and paintings.

"The Historical Society never really had any room to display stuff, so we never set out to accumulate a lot of three-dimensional objects," he explained. "We had lots of pictures, pamphlets, booklets, stuff of that nature, but we needed more three-dimensional objects. That's been one of our goals over the past several months."

In addition to local volunteers who helped prepare the space, and others who will serve as museum guides, a number of local institutions have jumped at the opportunity to help out. The Archdiocese of Boston has lent hats once worn by Cardinals Medeiros and Cushing; WGBH has contributed 1950's-era radio equipment; and Harvard has provided ticket stubs and photos of Harvard Stadium, including one of a staging of "Agamemnon" on the 20-yard line.

The museum will include both a permanent collection in the front room and a smaller, rotating display in a back room.

This second room will initially hold items related to Brighton's many decades as the regional center of the cattle industry, but will be changed every eight months or so, said Marchione, possibly including more modern themes such as the neighborhood's contributions to rock 'n' roll.

The front room will take the long view, with displays outlining the neighborhood's early years as Little Cambridge, how it functioned as the "western gateway" to Boston, its time as a center for agriculture and industry, and its many institutions of religion, medicine, and higher education.

While some of that history has been all but erased, one of the leaders of the museum effort said, traces of all those eras still remain, and by learning about the past people will be able to get a better sense of the present.

"Hopefully people will put things in context of why Brighton-Allston is the way it is, why certain things work the way they do," said planning committee chairman John Quatrale , a city planner for Boston who has consulted on several other local museum projects. "A lot of it is related to its past history -- the people who lived there, the occupations that they had, the businesses that were here, the fact that it was part of Cambridge at one point, all that stuff all relates."

The Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum, in the Veronica Smith Senior Center, 20 Chestnut Hill Ave. in Brighton, is open noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and alternating Saturdays.