Have you noticed the unique features of your house? Have you
architectural details that do not appear in new houses? The patina
that has endured many decades? The large kitchen that has hosted
family gatherings? The romantic fireplaces that have given warmth
comfort over many winters?
If you think your house is old, how do you determine its age?
If you are
curious, you can discover a lot of information without ever leaving
Wakefield. For the more serious minded -- those who want to find
facts and dates -- it will be necessary to make a trip to Cambridge.
Locally Available Information
Where to you begin? First, go to the Town Clerk's office in Town
In Wakefield, a law was passed in 1911 requiring every man to
pay a poll tax
upon reaching the age of 21. In order to keep track of these
where they lived, each man's name and address were entered into
a book that
came to be known as the Street List. At Town Hall, there is a
for every year since 1911. Some of the early lists are in the
archives, so it could take a few days to find them. To use these
suppose you find that a certain person living at, say 508 Robie
a poll tax in 1921, but 508 Robie Street wasn't listed on the
List. What would you conclude? That the house was built between
1921? Maybe. Maybe not. You wouldn't have proof, but you'd
have a place
to start. And you would have gone back 70 years in time!
During the decade of 1880-1890, the town entered into a contract
Wakefield Water Company to provide water for home use. Up until
each household had to dig its own well for water. At town meeting
the voters agreed to purchase the Wakefield Water Company. And
in 1895, the
Wakefield Sewage Act became the law. People had to start hooking
sewers. The days of cesspools were coming to an end. Right after
turned to the next century, the town purchased another privately
company, and in 1910, the town water and sewer departments were
The Department of Public Works now performs the work of the Water
and has records that show when municipal water and sewer pipes
along your street. Your house might not have been hooked up right
the DPW may have records in its archives that would show the hook-up
In 1890, the first electric light service was made available to
homes and businesses. A year later, the town voted for municipal
lighting. In 1892, the town entered into a contract to provide
gas for the
municipal lights. Wakefield was being transformed into a community
Visit the Wakefield Municipal Light Department Offices on Albion
ask when electric lights were strung along your street. Archival
will also indicate when a gas line was installed under your street.
also find the date when gas and electricity were installed in
The above information is about all that you can find out locally.
information might prove to be all that is needed for a relatively
house. However, if you live in an old house, the resources available
locally don't go back far enough in history to give you a clear
A Comprehensive Search
If you are interested enough to do serious investigation, you
will need to
devote about a half day or so of your time and spend maybe $5
or $10 for
transportation, duplication costs and the like. But you'll have
enjoyable day and learn a lot.
Start your research with your real estate tax bill. On the left
side of the
bill there is a description of your property. The book, page
deed date on the bill refer to the book and page number where
your deed can
be found at the Registry of Deeds in the Middlesex County Court
Cambridge Street in Cambridge, not far from Lechmere. Parking
in the area, but you can take public transportation to the Registry
Once there, go up to the second floor of the Court House to the
Office. It includes a large library with thousands of books,
bearing a number. With the date taken from your property tax
bill, you can
find the proper book and page. That page will show the last recorded
-- to you -- and will reference an earlier book and page, explaining
previous owner bought the house from. Duplicate that page, and
ask for the
previous book. (In some cases, the page will reference a will
the Probate Court, which is right across the hall. ) This process
probably bring you to the house's first owner. Unfortunately,
some of the
earliest records were lost because of incomplete filings and clerical
errors, but you will have made a good start. Good luck with
For further information on researching your house's history, we
recommend looking into a book called House Histories, written
by Sally Light
(Golden Hill Press, 1989). For general information about the
Wakefield: 350 Years by the Lake, available at the Beebe Library.
To return to the Wakefield Historical Commission, click here.
To return to the Wakefield History Page,
To return to the Wakefield Homepage, click here.
For questions, click here.