Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

State Police Museum

Retired due to its awkward braking system, this Indian motorcycle is still considered a beauty.

By Patty Roy

The Massachusetts State Police Museum and Learning Center is chockfull of interesting facts and exhibits related to the agency’s nearly 160 year old history.
It’s housed in an appropriately dignified old building (the Whitinsville Bank Building) and easily found at One Memorial Square  on Whitins Road, off Route 146, Whitinsville.
Learning about the inner workings of this state constabulary, is a fun way to spend a couple of hours or even a casual drop-in, cherry-picking what interests you. Mission, weapons, vehicles, technology, canines and uniforms are all there along with a sweet piece of Norman Rockwell nostalgia that makes for a great selfie.
“We believe we are the oldest state police agency in the country,” said tour guide MSP Sergeant Paul Belanger. “We argue that the Texas Rangers were formed before us, but they did not have police powers and were more like a militia.”
The Massachusetts State Leg islature passed an act to establish the State Police in 1865.
The head of the state police was originally called a constable, a British-sounding word that crops up often in colonial era records. The first appointed Constable of Massachusetts was William Sterling King, a captain of Company K, Thirty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment which suffered devastating casualties at South Mountain and Antietam. He suffered seven bullet wounds at Antietam, and garnered several important promotions in the aftermath.
In 1865, the State Police were really a state detective force, Belanger related. “They were not uniformed or armed,” he said.
Most of the first group of employees at the newly established law enforcement agency were typically Civil War veterans with militia training, Belanger said.
“Their first duties were actually enforcing temperance and liquor laws,” he said. 
That’s because the towns weren’t doing anything about this, such as no liquor sales on Sundays. This was likely due to a lack of manpower on the part of municipalities, he said.
In 1921 Gov. Calvin Coolidge signed the documents that created the State Patrol that eventually became the State Police in the 1930’s, so the agency was moved from being detectives to the State Police Patrol. The pen used in signing is on display in the museum. 
That led to the first recruit training troop. Belanger said he himself was a member of the 60th group training. They are now up to about the mid-80’s, he said.
Col. Alfred F. Foote, the Commanding General of the 26th Infantry Division was named as the first Commissioner of Public Safety. He retired in 1933 and a tique methods of getting around include 1920s snowshoes, a life-size model horse topped by an old saddle and an Indian motorcycle  that was manufactured in Springfield. Those were all methods of getting around in the 1920s for the force. 
It was a time before State Police barracks, where the officers were housed in single family homes across the state.
The State Police also patrolled Boston Harbor in the 20s, a ship’s wheel is on display from that time when the force was looking for untaxed alcohol shipments and also some fishery details.
There’s information on the work State Troopers are responsible for with commercial trucking and enforcement of motor carrier safety regulations.
Lots of Baby Boomer nostalgia is also on hand – from photos of popular Saturday morning television cowboy Rex Trailer – his guns and hat are in the museum - to a reconstruction of the iconic Howard Johnson restaurant counter that was the setting for Norman Rockwell’s  1958 Saturday Evening Post cover. 
Belanger was a fount of information about the creation, process and location of the illustration titled “The Runaway.  It depicts State Trooper Richard Clemens sitting beside youngster Ed Locke on the swivel stools typical for counter service with a white-jacketed soda jerk looking on. Ed Locke (who also appears in two other Rockwell paintings) still shows up at the Museum every December when it hosts a “Runaway Day.”
The technology available to the State Police Force mirrors that of society. Teletype machines from World War II to portable radios not available until the 1980s and eventually the development of electronic or satellite communications that allowed for transmissions between different sectors of law enforcement, so that everyone was aware of what was going on.
An early version of the breathalyzer, one of the first technological attempts to crack down on drinking and driving reveals a machine that was capable of being manipulated to give a false reading – it’s good to know that improvements have been made.
There is a Wall of Remembrance devoted to the State Troopers who died in the line of duty from Patrolman William Mateer who drowned in 1909 while attempting to rescue a man who had fallen through ice to Trooper Tamar Bucci who was killed in 2022 when a tanker truck slammed into her cruiser on I-93 when she was assisting a motorist.
A touching nod to the importance of K-9s to the State Police is the tribute to Frankie, a Belgian Malinois who was shot and killed while apprehending a violent suspect in Fitchburg in 2022.
The State Police is the premiere law enforcement agency in Massachusetts, Belanger said. “There is no competition, there’s no other statewide agency. Coming closely is the game wardens, but they only have a very narrow focus.”
The State Police have athletics dedicated to their causes – the Boston Marathon is one and they also have a boxing team.
Belanger is especially enthusiastic about the Learning Center part of the Museum. 
“A part of our mission is education. We have different levels of programs for different levels of learners,” he said.
There are coloring sheets for the smallest kids, microscopes for looking at fingerprint cards or a single strand of hair for the older ones.
“So you can do kind of the CSI kind of stuff and then we’ll have an expert come in from the department to talk about crime scenes, services, show them things and put them to work,” Belanger said.
There is an initiative to work with high schools, especially ones with criminal justice programs and put on directed programs for them. These programs can include anything from rudiments of policing to border patrol, he said. The State Police Museum is open Tuesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, call 508-839-0001 or email [email protected]