Historians pitching new future for Weaver House

May 7, 2018

Tucked away behind UMass Dartmouth dorm buildings is a hidden sign of Dartmouth’s colonial past a group of historians and preservationists hope to bring to light: The Joseph Weaver House.

The Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society devoted its entire May 6 lecture to discussing the house’s history and a recently formed collaborative group between the organization, the university, and several other organizations to look for ways to reuse the neglected building.

The house is believed to have been built between 1793 and 1798, narrowed down based on a marriage record and a newspaper ad identifying Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Weaver as living in the house. Weaver bought it in 1805.

It’s had several other owners since then, and a modern upgrade in around the 1940s, but has been largely untouched since the state purchased the land to build the university in the 1960s.

As the university is in the midst of its master planning process, Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society President Bob Harding reached out to master planning vice chancellor Michael Hayes to discuss the possibility of including a new use for the building in the plan.

There is still many unanswered questions about the house, however. At the top of this list: the possibility it might not even be the original Weaver house. Harding said he recently discovered a penciled in notation on a state historical commission database indicating the building suffered a fire in the late 19th century.

No other evidence exists to verify that, however, and on a recent tour of the building several in the audience noted the building displayed no evidence of a fire. Harding said he plans to scour fire and other records to see if that is true, and to determine if the structure was replaced entirely due to the fire.

Even if it’s not the original house, however, Harding said the house should still be preserved, as it’s as much as preserving Weaver’s legacy as well.

Weaver -- born in Fall River in 1758 -- joined the American army when he was 18 years old, and was drafted and discharged on small missions and assignments multiple times up through 1778. His grandson was a Civil War veteran.

“I don’t think it will change anything,” Harding said. “We still want to honor the man and his service.”

After reiterating the history of the building, Harding turned it over to attendees - both on the committee and the public - to swap ideas about how to proceed and what exactly to do: a renovation, or a restoration.

A renovation could be expensive to bring the building up to modern standards, and a restoration would require a whole process of examining the building and deciding when to restore to, audience members noted.

Suggestions for potential uses were also offered, from a student center, to housing for visiting lecturers, or a component of a new public history program.

Harding said the next step is meeting with the committee to firm up details and formalize a plan.