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Massachusetts Historical Resources in the State Library

The State Library’s holdings include an extensive and unique collection of Massachusetts historical, cultural, and legislative material. These resources include rare books, manuscripts, images, broadsides, scrapbooks, and souvenirs.

Overview of Print Collections

Among the most noteworthy items are Governor Bradford’s manuscript “Of Plimoth Plantation,” a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence, manuscript journals of the House and Senate, the medal presented to Senator Sumner by the government of Haiti, and the Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell Papers. The Library has produced a video highlighting some of the treasures in its collection.

Rare Books
The State Library's collection of rare books is especially strong in Massachusetts and New England history, politics, law, and biography. It includes a comprehensive selection of early printings of Massachusetts laws, legislative documents and journals, and other state documents.

Manuscript Materials
In addition to the Bradford manuscript, the library holds manuscript collections of a number of state commissions and committees, individuals, and local companies, as well as papers of state legislators. The Library also holds scrapbooks on a variety of events, topics, and individuals -- from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy -- dating from 1850 to 1985. Guides to some of the manuscript collections are available in the Library’s digital repository.

Broadsides
These documents were typically posted on walls for a variety of purposes including governmental communications, political elections and memorials, odes, and addresses. Most of this collection contains materials from the late 18th to mid-19thcenturies and documents events surrounding the American Revolution and the Civil War. Approximately 100 of these broadsides are available in the Library’s digital repository.

 

Additional Resources for Overview of Print Collections

Historical Newspaper Collections

The State Library has a large selection of historic newspapers covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. This collection primarily focuses on newspapers from Massachusetts. 

Additional Resources for Historical Newspaper Collections

Maps, Atlases and Plans Collections

The State Library has a sizable collection of more than 3,400 historical maps, 430 atlases, and 2,500 plans. These materials are housed in the Library’s Special Collections Department in room 55 of the State House. Some of the State Library’s maps and atlases have been digitized and are available in the Library’s digital repository.

Maps and Atlases

The Library’s map collection covers most Massachusetts communities and is particularly strong in 19th- and 20th-century commercial publications, bird's-eye views, and maps of the city of Boston.  

The Library’s real estate atlases and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, both in hard copy and on microfilm, are among the most highly used items in the Special Collections department. Originally created for the fire insurance industry for risk assessment purposes, Sanborn maps contain highly detailed information on such building features as size and shape, construction details, roof type, occupancy, street addresses, and often date of construction. The maps in the collection date from the 1860s to roughly 1990.

The historical map collection also includes panoramic maps (or bird's-eye views), railroad maps and profiles, county atlases, current and historical topographic maps, and printed maps issued by Massachusetts state agencies.

The Library also has a collection of legislative redistricting maps, which detail district changes from the 19th century to the current day.  A few of these redistricting maps have been digitized and are available in the Library’s digital repository.

Plans

Plans of the State House make up the bulk of the collection of architectural plans, which date from 1850 to 1995. Diagrams, floor plans, details, technical drawings, and landscape plans document the structural and physical changes to the State House as well as to the state office building at One Ashburton Place. A few plans of other state buildings and structures, including the Massachusetts Zoological Society, Nashua River Reservoir, and Conway and Shelburne bridges, also exist.

The Library also holds a collection of about 2,500 plans of the State House and One Ashburton Place. For more information about these plans, contact the Special Collections Department.

Additional Resources for Maps, Atlases and Plans Collections

Visual Image Collections

Many of the Library’s image collections center on the State House, including its construction and history, and on legislators and other political figures. These include a sizeable collection of photographs of state legislators between the 1850s and the early 20th century. The Library also has photographs of about 8,500 World War I soldiers from Massachusetts.

In addition to these photograph collections, the Library has a substantial collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and pamphlets about the State House and Massachusetts political figures known as the Burrill File.

Additional Resources for Visual Image Collections

Souvenir Materials

The Library holds approximately sixty souvenir collections, which include posters, programs, calendars, postage stamps, puzzles, mugs, t-shirts, and other artifacts. The items were produced primarily to commemorate a significant event, such as the anniversary of a town's Tfounding, or to promote the work of a state agency or civic group. Included within the souvenir collection is a group of materials from programs and events held specifically in the State House.

Additional Resources for Souvenir Materials

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