Library and Archives

More than a 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 of manuscripts, photography, and more.

In abundance and variety, photographs outrank all other forms of information. The more than 400,000 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.

Remarkable Collections

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

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  • 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.

Visit the Library and Archives

Every year hundreds of researchers visit the Library and Archives to study New England history

Appointments must be made in advance by calling 617-994-5909 or emailing Archives@HistoricNewEngland.org. The Library and Archives is open for appointments Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., as well as on the first Saturdays of April, May, June, October, November, and December.

The Library and Archives is located at Otis House, 141 Cambridge Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Otis House is at the foot of Beacon Hill, next to the Old West Church. Enter through the gateway on Cambridge Street and dial 5909 on the call box next to the door. Historic New England members receive reciprocal benefits with the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, which holds extensive archival collections.

FAQ’s

When is the Library and Archives open?: The Library and Archives is open by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 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. You enter through the gateway on Cambridge Street and dial 5909 on the call box next to the door.

Is the Library and Archives accessible to people in wheelchairs? Yes.

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? Call 617-994-5946 or email Archives@HistoricNewEngland.org. Our mailing address is:

Library and Archives
Historic New England
141 Cambridge Street
Boston, Mass. 02114-2702

Is parking available? 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? 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.

Please describe 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 are:

  • Architecture – including the building trades and interior decoration
  • Domestic, social, and material Life
  • Landscape – urban, rural, and domestic
  • Agriculture
  • Business and industry
  • Antiquarianism and collecting
  • Decorative arts
  • Photography
  • Advertising and other promotional matter
  • 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 contains rich resources on each property. Our staff is ready to answer your questions about our houses, farms, and other structures.

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.

Are there guidelines for handling of materials? Yes. We request that you use pencils, and not pens, in the Library and Archives. To protect fragile materials, we ask that you wear cotton gloves while handling some items. We do not allow food or drinks 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. The use of cameras is allowed in certain circumstances with prior approval. All copying devices are prohibited.

Can I photocopy items in your collections? Depending on the physical condition of items, staff members can make photocopies at the rate of $.25 per copy and $.50 for copies larger than 8 x 10 inches.

Can I obtain copies of photographs in the Library and Archives? Yes. We state the details of the process on our Reproductions page. You can also order copy prints of a selection of our photographs at our online shop.

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.

Can I submit a reference inquiry by email or is there an online question form? You can send your inquiry to us by email. You can also submit your question by telephone or postal mail. We process requests in the order in which we receive them. We ask that you describe your research interests as specifically as possible and that you include a brief description of your project.

I cannot visit the Library and Archives. Do you provide research services? For detailed inquiries that require us to spend more than thirty minutes of research and preparation, we charge a fee of $25/hour.

Do you provide access to online research databases? No.

Do you have secure lockers for my belongings? Yes.

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:

More to Explore

Browse thousands of archival records in Collections Access.

Learn More

Shop for books that feature Historic New England collections.

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

Learn More