January 25, 2017

A New Lease for the Old State House

Bostonian Society President Executive Director Brian W J
LeMay at the lease signing with Gregory Rooney, Commissioner
of the City of Boston Property Management Department.
In a move that will help protect and advance the historic landmark and museum, the City of Boston and the Bostonian Society signed a new lease for the Old State House, located at 206 Washington Street in Boston. The 25-year lease entrusts the Bostonian Society with the preservation, maintenance, and interpretation of the oldest surviving public building in Boston.

Recognized as a National Historic Landmark and a part of the Boston National Historical Park, the Old State House originally served as the seat of Britain’s colonial government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, it was at the center of events in Boston that produced the foundational American ideals of self-governance. Following the Revolution, the building became the first capitol of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and later, the first City Hall of the City of Boston.

“Part of what makes Boston so special is our rich history and ties to the earliest days of our nation's founding, which is recognized by the thousands of visitors who come to our City every year to visit historic sites such as the original Massachusetts State House," said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "I am proud to continue our long-standing partnership with the Bostonian Society, who for the last century have been responsible for the preservation of and maintenance of the Old State House. In Boston, we are incredibly fortunate to live among some of the nation's oldest and most treasured landmarks, and we will continue to preserve them with the utmost care and attention.”

“We are exceptionally grateful to Mayor Walsh for his commitment to Boston’s historical and cultural institutions, and we are honored by the trust the City has placed in us for the stewardship of this remarkable old building,” said Bostonian Society President and Executive Director Brian W. J. LeMay. “There is still much to be done to return it to a condition worthy of its status as a national treasure, and to explain properly why it is one of the most historically significant places in the country.”

The non-profit Bostonian Society was established in 1881 to oversee the first restoration of the Old State House after a proposal had been made to demolish the building. The City of Boston and the Bostonian Society have long held joint responsibility for the building’s maintenance and repair. The relationship is a unique one in Boston’s historic district, giving ownership of the site to the City and care of the site to a private non-profit.

Michael Creasey, General Superintendent of the National Parks of Boston, said, “When Boston National Historical Park was established in 1974, it was a pioneer in its approach to public/private cooperation and sharing of authorities, responsibilities, and costs. The park includes the Old State House and seven other sites in Boston that let us reflect on the heroic acts that led to personal freedom, civil, and human rights.  Today what was pioneered in Boston has a name—partnering—and is exemplified by this new lease between the City of Boston and the Bostonian Society to protect the landmark, carry its historical significance into the future, and bring it a renewed sense of promise.”

The previous 20-year lease on the building ended in 2014 and was followed by a series of extensions. The new lease gives the Bostonian Society full responsibility and authority to insure and preserve the facility, and provides greater latitude for the Society to seek funding and support for its care and interpretation.

“We are proud to be a longstanding supporter of the Bostonian Society and its mission to preserve and celebrate Boston’s incredible history,” said Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. “So we are delighted to learn that it has reached agreement with the city of Boston on the stewardship of the Old State House, ensuring this iconic building will be there for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”

Please direct all press inquiries to the Bostonian Society's Marketing and Communications Manager, Stephen Libby, at stephen@bostonhistory.org

By Stephen Libby, Marketing and Communications Manager

January 20, 2017

Coming soon: new special tours!

Here at the Bostonian Society, our educators are hard at work on new specialty tours that will debut in the Old State House over the next few weeks!

 Jennifer Guerin prepares for a new tour.
In addition to our daily talks about the history of the Old State House and the Boston Massacre, Education Associates (EAs) also present specialty tours and talks on various topics related to Boston in the 18th century.  Over the past few years, many of our EAs have written and produced their own tours on topics that are of particular interest to them, such as the Royal Governors of Massachusetts, Women in 18th century Boston, Colonial Food and more. Two new tours are in the works and will debut in the museum in the next few weeks:

Popular songs in the American Revolution
By Jennifer Guerin
A tour that will focus on three of the most popular songs from the American Revolutionary period: William Billings’ “Chester”,  John Dickinson’s “The Liberty Song” , and “Yankee Doodle”.  This tour will discuss the history behind these pieces of music and will take a look at why these songs became so popular.

By Robin Donovan
A tour that will follow the history of tea in Boston and how tea influenced the outcomes and decisions in Boston during the American Revolution. This tour will include an up close look at three types of tea popular in 18th century Boston and tea-related pieces of our collection.

Our special tours are given daily at 3:00pm - keep an eye out for these new tours!

By Katie Drescher, Museum Education Manager

January 9, 2017

An Adams Family Autograph

New year, new document!  This week, I rotated out the document that is on display for patrons and visitors to our library. When trying to decide which item to feature, I went through boxes of materials in our Document Collection (MS0119) looking for inspiration to strike.  I repeatedly came across items that were either described as an autograph letter, or just as an autograph. From these, I selected a letter written by Abigail Adams to her son Thomas Boylston Adams and his wife Anne (Harrod) in 1806. At the time, all three were living south of Boston, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Abigail Adams letter, MS0119/DC921.1806
Our holdings include just the last page of the letter, where Abigail comments on daily mundanities, such as washing for "Mr. Adams" and asking whether or not specific items need to be sent from one household to the other. The fondness that Abigail felt for her children is evident in the closing of her letter, as she writes, “my love to your sister, your affectionate, Mother Abigail Adams.”

As previously mentioned, this item is described in our catalog as an autograph letter. The term autograph refers not just to the signature of a famous person, but also to a document that was written entirely by the hand of the signer (rather than a document that has been type written or dictated and then signed).  In some instances, the full context of the letter is lost if only the page that included the signature was saved, as is the case with our letter from Abigail to her son and daughter-in-law.

Letter from Wightman to
Fogg (MS0119/DC921.1875)
Autograph collections of notable citizens are often found in historical societies and libraries. Abigail's partial letter is just one of many autographs in our collection; among others, we also have the signatures of Josiah Quincy, Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, and Edwin Booth. Sometimes these signatures are found on the last page of a letter, but they are also frequently found on a slip of paper that just includes the signature, and maybe a quote. Autograph collecting has its roots in Ancient Greece, and a resurgence of the hobby occurred among the leisure class in Europe in the the 1700s. The trend made its way to America in the early 1800s, where it grew in popularity throughout the century. We can speculate that many of the Society's earliest members were autograph collectors, and that is likely how some of these items came to our collection. To complement these autographs, our archives also includes a letter from 1875 where Joseph M. Wightman writes to Dr. John S.H. Fogg  to report on his efforts to acquire autographs for him. Click here to read a transcription of that letter.

I'll close with a reminder that if there is a notable figure that you're curious about, you can always search our catalog or send me an email to see if we have their autograph in our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager