One of the most beautiful of the seven villages in the Town of Barnstable, Centerville’s roots go back to the 17th century, when it was called "Chequaquet", meaning “pleasant harbor,” or "village by the sea" by the local Wampanoag Indians. The area of land that Chequaquet occupied was part of a much larger tract purchased in 1648 from the Wampanoags by Myles Standish for two brass kettles and some fencing.
The early 18th century settlers first built their homes around Lake Wequaquet and took advantage of its fertile soil, fresh water and fish. In the early 19th century Chequaquet experienced dramatic expansion and growth. The first post office was established in 1834 and the village’s name was changed to 'Centreville.' The village was aptly named for its central location in the Town of Barnstable; as such, it held an important position in the town, serving as a crossroads and a meeting place.
In the early 19th century, a variety of businesses sprang up which made Centerville (after the spelling of 'Centreville' was changed) almost completely self-sufficient. In addition to a general store, there was a hotel, a physician, a cigar maker, a taxidermist, wheelwrights, masons, sea captains, merchants, an apothecary, leather makers and blacksmiths. Whether they were tillers of the soil or toilers on the sea, they made the 1840's through the 1860's the heyday of Centerville’s economic development. The salt, maritime, and cranberry industries provided the economic backbone.
In the 1820's and 1830's the maritime trade established itself as a dominant force in Centerville. Settlement patterns shifted away from the lake, moving south towards the harbor. From 1815-1860 Centerville ships and their shipmasters attained great renown for their seafaring ability and financial acumen. One of the most famous sea captains to hail from Centerville was Josiah Richardson who set records sailing Donald Mackay's clipper ships. Around the time of the Civil War, the maritime economy began to decline and individual enterprise as well as the growth of tourism in the late 19th century replaced it as the driving economic force.
To this day, Centerville retains much of its 19th century charm. Main Street is lined with sea captains' homes; the 1856 Country Store and the 1834 post office still stand. Across the street from the historical museum is the elementary school built in 1880 for $1700; a stone's throw away is the South Congregational Church, originally built in 1717. At the other end of Main Street is the original watering trough marking the crossroads and forming a backdrop for a second monument to the Civil War that was built in the Commonwealth in 1866.
In the late 1940's a group of residents from the village began to collect and share artifacts from Centerville’s treasured history. In 1952, they officially established themselves as the Centerville Historical Society. In 1955, when resident Mary Lincoln died, her circa-1854 home was donated to the society and the museum was born. For over fifty years the Centerville Historical Museum has been collecting artifacts of Centerville and Cape Cod resulting in one of the finest collections on Cape Cod.