Boston Libraries, private and public – 8-22-16

Took a special tour of the Boston Athenaeum, a private library founded in 1807, now at 10 Beacon St near the State House. It houses impressive collections of books, maps, manuscripts, art and sculpture. The public can visit the first floor, but the upper floors are for members (or guided tours) only.

Next door to the Athenaeum is the home of the American Congregational Society dedicated “to the lasting ideals of those first Congregationalists to settle on American shores.” The plaques above the doors depict 4 of those ideals:


Rule of Law – signing the Mayflower Compact

Education for Leadership - funding Harvard 1636

Education for Leadership – funding Harvard 1636


Worship according to Conscience – first Sabbath 1620


Community Witness – Apostle Eliot teaching the Indians


So easy to get distracted by Boston sights. Into the Athenaeum’s first floor:

overlooking Old Granary Burial Ground

overlooking Old Granary Burial Ground

This tour is limited to 10, since the elevator we take to the 5th floor fits 11 including our guide. This the top floor’s Silence Room. We’re allowed to peek in.


There’s a small kitchen outside the Silence room, and that opens onto a balcony overlooking the Old Granary Burial Ground and looking up at the new Millenium Tower.

We walk down the curving staircase to the 4th floor:


Here we find a model for the George Washington statue in the Public Garden:


This floor houses historic collections, including these old wooden bookcases packed with the personal library of General Henry Knox (former bookseller who brought the cannons in winter from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights 1776). This is just one of 4-5 similar cases filled with his books:


This floor’s oval Trustees room has paintings and a curved bookcase housing part of Washington’s library from Mount Vernon:

This is the King’s Chapel collection, the oldest surviving Colonial library in Boston, from the 1690s:


From here, we entered the stacks, walking on glass floor panels that are open to the lower levels in the stacks:

This is the Periodicals section on the 2nd floor, with sculpture, a lovely spiral staircase, and more:

One of the exhibits on this floor currently displays books signed by their owners, like John Adams (signature top right):


and George Washington:


First floor looking out on the Old Granary – that obelisk is the back of the monument to Ben Franklin’s parents:


Next stop is down in the basement, where the high-ceilinged former theater was cut horizontally into two low-ceiling floors. The upper basement has the tops of the Ionic columns, and Tiffany-painted ceilings:

Here’s the old hand-written card catalogue:


The Athenaeum has a small but sweet round children’s room with a solar system ceiling light/sculpture:

That was the end of the formal tour, so we spent a little more time exploring the art on the first floor:


Polly Thayer's self-portrait

Polly Thayer’s self-portrait

One library isn’t enough, of course. We walked across the Boston Common, where the playground frog is dressed in USA Olympics regalia:


Across the Public Garden where the plantings are tropical and fragrant:


Walked down the Commonwealth Avenue mall to Dartmouth Street up to the Boston Public Library to see the newly renovated Johnson addition from 1972. While it retains the granite exterior that matches the old Beaux Arts McKim Building, the Johnson Building is now a riot of glass and color, and meeting rooms, works stations, computer labs, and art:

The Children’s Room and Teen Room:

We wandered through the stacks – then headed to the McKim building for some classic art and design, and John Singer Sargent’s murals:


and the courtyard fountain by night:


Boston libraries, public and private, old and new. Always something exciting to see, even if you never open a book!








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