The Natick Historical Society was founded in 1870 as "The Historical, Natural History and Library Society of South Natick." Among the founders were William Edwards, a clothier and amateur collector of natural specimens, and Horatio Alger, Sr., minister at The Eliot Church and a scholar of culture and genealogy. The Society’s founders merged their interests in science and history to create a "cabinet of curiosity" that was housed in the rooms above William Edwards' store in South Natick, and they launched a popular lecture series. The first speaker for the Society was Prof. Calvin E. Stowe, D.D., husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
This promising start was harshly interrupted by a devastating fire in 1872 that wiped out several blocks in South Natick, including the Society's collections. Starting over in the Merchant's Block, the Society enlarged its collections, especially the natural history specimens, from a South American trip by member A. L. Babcock. Some of the birds he gave, along with many others from the Massachusetts region, remain in the Society’s collections. The group formally incorporated with H. H. Hunnewell as president in 1873.
Oliver and Sarah Bacon, longtime residents of South Natick, willed part of their estate to Trustees of the Bacon Free Library to fund the handsome brick building that has housed the Natick History Museum and the Bacon Free Library since 1881. The architect was Robert G. Shaw, who practiced only briefly in Boston. The Bacon Free Library Building contributes to The John Eliot Historic District and is listed on the Massachusetts and National Registers of Historic Places.
The land on which the Bacon Free Library building stands, overlooking the Charles River, is part of the burial ground of the Algonquian people who settled in Natick as Christian “praying Indians” in 1651 and in following decades. Some of their graves were destroyed during construction of the building, and again when the intersection of Eliot and Pleasant Streets was enlarged. The Natick Historical Society held some of the contents of these graves until the 1990s, when they were repatriated according to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).