The BH&PS is located today at 48 Court Street in an 1828 jail built of granite blocks reportedly used as ballast in early Bristol sailing ships. It was founded in 1936 to promote the history of the town of Bristol and it first housed its collections in the Rogers Free Library on Hope Street. After a disastrous fire in 1957, the Society salvaged what it had left from the fire and leased the then abandoned Bristol County Jail for use as a museum, a library, and a meeting space.
By 1972, the Society changed its name to the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society to reflect its concern with preservation. The next year it was able to buy the jail from the State of Rhode Island. Restoration of the two-tier cell block for a display area was assisted by matching funds from the National Park Service.
In 1976, the Society placed historic plaques on more than one hundred buildings as part of the American Bicentennial Celebration and to make officials and the citizens aware of the need to preserve Bristol. In a follow-up, the Society was instrumental to the formation of historic district zoning in 1987 for part of the downtown area of Bristol.
The Library contains more than 1800 books and documents of regional and local historical interest, extensive genealogical materials, deeds, diaries, ships’ journals, tax records and census lists. The Collections include a large holding of photographs, objects, and portraits.
During the week, the Society is visited by local residents and university students as well as by people from around the world doing genealogical, deed and other research.
The Society has also been instrumental in the formation of four other museums: The Bristol Art Museum (1962), the Coggeshall Farm and Museum (1968), the Friends of Linden Place (1990) and the Bristol State House Museum (1996).
The mission of the Society is to stimulate interest in the history of Bristol, Rhode Island, through education, research, and the collection and preservation of historic objects.
The Bristol Historical & Preservation Society is a 501(c)(3) Organization.
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