At their meeting this Thursday, 3/24, the Board of Selectmen will be asked to support a proposal to establish a study committee to look into the possibility of creating a Local Historic District (LHD) covering the town center of Bolton. Such a district would require both town and state approval. An LHD is different than the National Register Historic District designation that we now enjoy in that the local district provides more effective ways under local control to help protect historic character; this is in part because the LHD recognizes the vulnerability as well as the importance of architectural heritage. An LHD provides a process for review of changes to exterior features and supports the development of historic district design guidelines that could mesh with the town-wide commercial design guidelines that are now being considered by the Planning Board. You can read more about the differences between a Local Historic District and a National Register Historic District here in this brochure.
[UPDATE: To see a map of the National Register District with the major historic resources marked and described, click here.]
To be clear, the request before the Selectmen on Thursday is only to establish the study committee, not to actually endorse the formation of an LHD at this time. The study committee should have broad representation and will follow a carefully defined process (see chart here) of review and input before taking any recommendations before a town meeting, and the study itself will likely take some months to complete.
This is not a new idea. The creation of a Local Historic District for the town center was recommended in the Preservation Plan for the Town of Bolton, MA (1998), the Town of Bolton Master Plan (approved by town meeting in 2006), the Massachusetts Heritage Landscape Inventory Program (2006), and it has been on the radar of our own Historical Commission for a long time. I can’t deny that the prospect of large-scale commercial intrusion in the historic town center has recently made following up on these recommendations a higher priority.
There are over 200 Local Historic Districts in Massachusetts (full list here). Many of the most beautiful small town centers you will find in the Commonwealth are that way precisely because they’ve been protected by measures like this. Among the small town (under 10,000) Local Historic Districts are these: Ashby, Boxford, Boylston, Carlisle, Chatham, Cohasset, Deerfield, Eastham, Edgartown, Granby, Great Barrington, Groton, Halifax, Hamilton, Harvard, Lenox, Lincoln, Montague, Nantucket, Orleans, Petersham, Plympton, Provincetown, Rochester, Rockport, Rowley, Royalston, Sheffield, Sherborn, Shirley, Tisbury, Topsfield, Townsend, Wenham, Winchendon. We’d be in fine company.
I strongly support establishing this study committee.