The BH&PS is located at 48 Court Street in an 1828 jail built of granite blocks used as ballast in early Bristol sailing ships. It houses a museum with collections from early Bristol, a research library and a major collection of early Bristol portraits including four by itinerant artist Cephus Thompson. There is a Children’s room containing early dolls, toys and clothes along with doll houses. There is also an 1859 two-tier cell block addition which holds additional displays.
The Bristol Historical Society was founded in 1936 to “promote interest in historical research, stimulate the study of the history of Southern New England, especially the Town of Bristol, and collect and preserve whatever is related thereto.” Prior to housing the collections in the jail building on Court Street, the Society was located at the Rogers Free Library building. In 1957, a disastrous fire at the Library destroyed many of the Society’s treasures and resulted in its lease of the then abandoned Bristol County Jail for use as a museum, library and meeting space.