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Library and Archives

Nearly 2 million records documenting the cultural and architectural history of New England

The vast collections of Historic New England’s Library and Archives provide important documentation for New England’s cultural and architectural history. Its holdings include photographs, architectural drawings, manuscripts, ephemera, prints and engravings, artwork, and books. Visit Collections Access to explore Historic New England’s online collection, or request a reproduction.

In abundance and variety, photographs outrank all other forms of information. The more than 450,000 images are arranged by specific medium, including extensive collections of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes-de-visite, stereographic views, albums, postcards, and standard prints. They record buildings, domestic interiors, commercial interiors, streetscapes, landscapes, people at work, relaxing and at play, and modes of transportation. Many of New England’s leading nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers are represented. The Library and Archives also holds the institutional archives of Historic New England. Essential to the understanding of the mission and purpose of the organization and the passion and commitment of its founder, William Sumner Appleton, these records are also valuable for researching the history of the preservation movement in the United States.

Visit the Library and Archives

Otis House, 141 Cambridge Street, B0ston, MA 02114

NOTE: Due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), we are not accepting in-person appointments at the Library and Archives until further notice. Please feel free to contact our staff at the email address and telephone number below for remote assistance. Learn more about how Historic New England is responding to coronavirus.

FAQs

  • When is the Library and Archives open? The Library and Archives is open for scheduled appointments Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., as well as on the first Saturdays of April, May, June, October, November, and December. We are closed on most major holidays.
  • Where is the Library and Archives located? The Library and Archives is located on the ground level of Otis House at 141 Cambridge Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Otis House stands at the foot of Beacon Hill, next to the Old West Church. Please enter through the gateway on Cambridge Street and press #2 to enter for your scheduled appointment.
  • Are all archival materials stored in Boston? No, a sizable portion of the archival collection is housed at the Haverhill Regional Office. As a result, additional time will be required to arrange an appointment in Haverhill or to transport materials to Boston for viewing. Decisions will be made depending on the size and fragility of the collection and staffing resources.
  • Is the Library and Archives accessible to people in wheelchairs? Yes, with notice.
  • How do I get to the Library and Archives? The Library and Archives is a short walk from several MBTA stations: Charles/MGH on the Red Line of the subway, Bowdoin Square on the Blue Line, and Government Center and North Station on the Green Line. Get directions on Google Maps.
  • How do I contact you? Email [email protected] or call 617-994-5909. Our mailing address is: Library and Archives Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston, Mass. 02114-2702
  • Is parking available? Historic New England does not provide parking, however, there is limited street parking. Nearby garages include Charles River Plaza, Boston Common Garage, and Government Center Garage.
  • I am not a member of Historic New England. Can I use the Library and Archives? Absolutely! We are open to the public by appointment. The general admittance fee is $5, and the student fee is $3. Admission is free to Historic New England members.
  • What is the geographic scope, date range, and subject coverage of your collections. The geographic scope of the Library and Archives covers the six states of New England: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The majority of the collections date from the late eighteenth century through the twentieth century. We collect materials to support the mission of Historic New England. The principle collection areas include:
    • Architecture – including the building trades and interior decoration
    • Domestic, social, and material Life
    • Landscape – urban, rural, and domestic
    • Agriculture
    • Business and industry
    • Decorative arts
    • Photography
    • Ephemera
    • Transportation
    • Travel and tourism
    • Preservation movement in the United States
    • History of Historic New England, its collections, and historic house museums
  • How can I find information about Historic New England properties? Visit the Homes, Farms, and Landscapes page to find information about Historic New England’s museum properties. The Library and Archives also contains resources on each property.
  • Can I do genealogical research at Historic New England? Yes, but our resources are limited in this area.
  • How do I donate my material? We appreciate all offers of gifts to the Library and Archives. We ask that you contact us to discuss potential donations.
  • Do I need to arrange an appointment for my research visit? Yes, we ask that you contact us to schedule an appointment and to discuss your research interests so that we can best meet your needs and ensure that the materials you are interested in researching are located onsite for your visit.
  • Are there guidelines for handling of materials? Yes. We request that you use pencils, rather than pens, in the Library and Archives. To protect fragile materials, we ask you allow the staff to handle some oversized materials for you. Gloves are provided and must be worn when working with photographs. No food or drinks are allowed in the Library and Archives.
  • Can I take your materials out of the Library and Archives? Can I request your holdings through inter-library loan? The Library and Archives is not a lending library and does not participate in inter-library loan.
  • Can I use a computer or camera in the Library and Archives? Computers are permitted in the Library and Archives. Cellphones and cameras are also allowed with approval upon visitor registration. All other copying devices are prohibited.
  • Can I obtain reproductions of photographs or other materials in the Library and Archives? Can I make copies of items in your collections? Please see our Reproductions page for information and fee schedules related to reproductions. Please note that condition of the original, volume of requests, and copyright restrictions may all impact the ability to reproduce materials.
  • Can I search for your materials and see images of these resources on the web? Yes. You can search for and discover thousands of photographs, hundreds of architectural drawings, numerous pieces of ephemera, many manuscript collections, and the majority of our books in our Collections Access database. Please note that not all items in the collection are digitized to date; if you see a gray icon for Historic New England, that signifies that the original is in the collection, but not yet digitized.
  • How can I submit a reference inquiry to you? Please send your inquiry by email, phone, or postal mail. We process requests in the order in which we receive them and depending on volume and staffing, answers can take approximately two weeks. When submitting an inquiry, please describe your research interests as specifically as possible and share any links or GUSN numbers if you found something via the Collections Access Portal that interests you.
  • I cannot visit the Library and Archives. Do you provide research services? Staff is able to provide free research regarding the collection for up to thirty minutes. After that, researchers must schedule an appointment to conduct their research in person. For researchers unable to travel to Boston, the Library and Archives may be able to provide remote research services for a fee. Contact us to discuss your research question and needs directly.
  • Do you provide access to online research databases? No.
  • Do you have secure lockers for my belongings? No, though materials may be stored in the Library and Archives reading room.
  • Can you suggest local institutions that have materials related to your collections?
  • Can you suggest hotels that are convenient to your location? Several hotels are close to Otis House:

Remarkable Collections

Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive

Known as the master of the Cape Cod house, Royal Barry Wills founded one of New England's most influential architecture firms. Learn More

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  • Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive

    Known as the master of the Cape Cod house, Royal Barry Wills founded one of New England's most influential architecture firms. Learn More

  • Nathaniel L. Stebbins Collection

    2,500 original negatives and 6,000 original prints depict recreational sailing vessels and commercial vessels from the 1880s to c. 1922. Learn More

  • Boston Transit Archive

    Boston was the first city in North America to build a subway. The city left us a dazzling photographic record of the monumental undertaking.

  • Verner Reed Photographic Collection

    As a photographer for Life magazine, Verner Reed produced images that reflect the character of notable figures in the news. Learn More

  • Jewett Family Papers

    Author Sarah Orne Jewett was a prolific writer of letters to family members and friends in the Boston literary circle of the late nineteenth century.

  • Original Art Collection

    Approximately 1,000 drawings, paintings, sketches, and illustrations in mainly ink, pen, pencil, and watercolor, dating from the 1820s to the 1930s.

  • Edwin Whitefield Graphic Collection

    English painter and teacher Edwin Whitefield sketched hundreds of historic houses in New England to capture them before they were lost.

More to Explore

Browse thousands of archival records in Collections Access.

Learn More

Learn about Historic New England's book series.

Learn More

Visit the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History to explore more New England archives.

Learn More