Today the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society houses a research library which contains more than 1800 books and documents of regional and local historical interest, extensive genealogical materials, deeds, ships’ journals, tax records and census lists. The Society’s museum collections include a major collection of early Bristol portraits including four by itinerant artist Cephus Thompson.
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.
By 1972 the Society changed its name to the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society to reflect its concern with preservation. In 1976, the Society placed historic plaques on more than one hundred buildings as part of the American Bicentennial Celebration and to make officials and the citizens aware of the need to preserve Bristol through passage of the historic district zoning which was enacted in 1987 for part of the downtown area of Bristol.
The Society is very active with monthly meetings throughout the year with lectures and presentations from local historians, architects, preservationists, university professors, museum experts and writers.