It’s important to know the difference between a historical society and a commission. Once you get past the fact that they both begin with “Westminster Historical” everyone needs to be aware of the third word in the title, and therein lies the difference.
A commission is an official town body, an agent of local government. Commissions are set up according to the laws of the Commonwealth under Chapter 40, Section 8 and members are appointed by the Selectmen, and like other town bodies are sworn in by the Town Clerk to serve three year terms. The law requires a minimum of three people and a maximum of 7 to be on a commission. The commission’s meetings must be publically posted. The commission’s budget is provided by taxpayers through town meeting vote. The law requires a historical commission to conduct research on places of historical or architectural value, to cooperate with the State Archaeologist in conducting surveys and reporting on sites, to coordinate with other preservation organizations, and to keep accurate records or its actions. The law also enables a local commission to do other things like prepare and distribute publications, make recommendations to the selectmen, enter into contracts, and essentially develop an effective local program for preservation that is based on the needs and desires of our community.
A historical society on the other hand is a group of people joined together by a common interest in history. It can be any size. It develops its own mission. It usually has officers, committee members and dozens of volunteers conducting a variety of programs and fundraisers. Its budget is provided by member dues, program income, grants, an annual appeal, and fundraisers.
In Westminster, the Historical Society has about 230 members. It has a 15-member board of directors which meets monthly.
There are about 80 persons who volunteer on about a dozen committees. The Society owns its own building at 110 Main Street and meets on the first Tuesday of each month. These are meetings on a variety of topics, all of which relate to Westminster’s history. The Society’s mission is to save and share the history of Westminster, and in order to do that the most important task we’ve been working on for the past twenty years has been to catalog all the artifacts in the collections at the Society, the Library, the Town Hall, and the Azarian barn.
So you can see that the Commission and the Society each has a place in a town; each has a purpose for the good of the town, and you will often see them working together because of their common interest. I hope this has been helpful in making one aware of the difference between the two. Just remember, the first two words are necessarily the same – after all they’re both in Westminster and they’re both concerned with history. It’s the third word that’s the important one.