Beacon Street Diary
The decision to sell 14 Beacon Street was weighty, complicated and historic. The story goes back to 1853, when the American Congregational Association, owner of the building and the library, was first formed. This was a time when denominational identity — and particularly the records of the past — were major issues for Congregationalists. Unlike Presbyterians and Methodists and Episcopalians, they had no central core. Congregationalists were a loose coalition of regionally organized churches, not really a denominational at all.
The ACA was typical of nineteenth-century voluntary societies. It was a small group of ambitious souls who took on two daunting but important tasks: create an archive of historical memory, and build a denominational headquarters. No one else was seeing to either one. Congregational missionary and educational and social service agencies were scattered around Boston and around the country. The records of Congregational history were languishing in church basements (as many still are) or being absorbed into other libraries.
More than half a century later the ACA succeeded. In 1898 the proprietors dedicated a grand new denominational headquarters — Congregational House — sitting at the top of Beacon Hill in Boston. They had raised the money themselves over the course of decades, through hundreds of individual donations, but they did not think small. The library occupied the second floor, an elegant high-ceiling reading room overlooking the famous Granary Burial Ground. The upper floors housed the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the earliest and largest of the Protestant missionary agencies, as well as women’s missionary organizations, educational and social service efforts, and Pilgrim Press with all its enormous machines.
The early years of the twentieth century must have been a heady time in that building. (Local guidebooks described it as a "beehive of benevolent activity".) But it could not last. By the 1970s, most of the denominational agencies had moved out, first to New York City, and then to Cleveland. 14 Beacon Street began to fill with local nonprofit organizations, providing non-luxurious office space a stone's throw from the Massachusetts statehouse.
The library remained, but in shadow. The internet age threatened to end it altogether: why endure the horrors of traffic and parking in downtown Boston when information was available at the press of a computer key?
As many readers of this blog know very well, today the Library and Archives are thriving, fulfilling the historical mission taken up in 1853, thanks in part to that internet world, but also to a hardworking staff and visionary board. From small beginnings — in 2004 one could still hear the ping of typewriters echoing in the usually empty reading room — the library has become a leader in digital preservation. Our massive effort to save and digitize colonial-era church records, the oldest documents in American history, is now supported by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation. The CLA is a vital part of the world of historic preservation and scholarly study, and dedicated to making all of its resources available to the public. It alone preserves the memories of the Congregational churches, from their earliest beginnings to the present.
The ACA owned the building as long as it could. This was our endowment, after all. We treasured the work of our building staff — Carol Doherty, Suchesta Flynn, John Beattie, and David Chroniak — and endeavored to serve tenants as best we could for as long as we could. Ultimately the ACA faced the limitations all nonprofits do, particularly the realization that maintaining downtown Boston real estate was beyond its mission. Small wonder that the ACA board had started debating the sale issue in the 1930s, and with renewed intensity in the 2000s, as 14 Beacon passed its first century mark.
The sale is a moment for celebration, but also sadness. The Congregational Library & Archives has ensured its future: proceeds from the sale will provide adequate, though not lavish, financial resources, and will allow us to concentrate our intellectual resources on building a future instead of managing an edifice. The building will be in better hands, and it will receive the care it deserves. The board chose a new owner who understands the history of the building and its importance in Boston and Beacon Hill. But the future will be different. Many of us, I know, are grieving this change.
I have wondered a lot lately what the founders of the ACA would think about all this, and here's what I've decided: as Congregationalists they would have understood the need to stay institutionally nimble, to keep the apparatus as simple as possible. There were good reasons why Congregational churches were always bare of ornament and the worship service plain and simple. That is the Congregational Way. I believe the founders would rejoice that we are honoring their core mission, to preserve irreplaceable historic documents, and to make sure memories stay clear and relevant.
We are pleased to announce the the availability of two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program.
Brockton, Mass. First Parish Congregational Church
This church was founded as the Fourth Church in the North Precinct of Bridgewater, became the First Parish in the new town of North Bridgewater, and then First Church in Brockton when the town changed its name in 1874. It later went on to merge with other local churches to form Christ Church in Brockton. The records contained in the two volumes that have been digitized are from the early years of First Church, and include information about membership, the governance of the church, and the administration of the parish in which it was located.
This collection contains the early records of First Congregational Church Stoneham, founded in 1729. Included are church records of meeting minutes, vital statistics, and membership rolls; parish and financial records, including salary and capital expenses; and documents created by ministers who served the church, including commonplace and account books from James Osgood, and sermons from an unnamed minister, most likely John Stevens who served in both Stoneham and Haverhill.
Special ThanksNational Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, July 3rd & 4th in observance of Independence Day.
All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Wednesday the 5th.
fireworks over the U.S. fleet in Sasebo, Japan
We hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday weekend.
photograph of sailors, family members and Japanese citizens gathered to watch fireworks on U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan (2005) by U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 1st Class Paul J. Phelps
This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
The books in the Town Histories section tell us more than the stories of towns big and small; they show the history of the book in the nineteenth-century. Prior to 1800, every aspect of book production — papermaking, casting and setting type, printing, and binding — was done by hand. The book world began to experience the effects of the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of steam-powered printing presses around 1800. Papermaking was mechanized at the same time, and wood pulp paper was first used in the mid-nineteenth-century. By the mid-1800s, enormous rolls of paper were fed through steam-powered presses, creating large quantities of books at unprecedented speeds.
Hand-bookbinding slowed down book production, and this problem was solved when starch-filled bookcloth was introduced in the 1820s. The bookcloth was glued to boards. These covers, or "cases", were made separately from the pages, or text block, which were then glued into the cases. Publishers stamped multi-colored and gold- or silver-colored decorations onto these bindings using metal dies.
|The Isles of Shoals. An Historical Sketch by John Scribner Jenness, published by Hurd and Houghton, New York, 1873|
The Theology section also includes one book with an extraordinary publisher's binding.
|Future Punishment; or Does Death End Probation? Materialism, Immortality of the Soul; Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism, Universalism or Restorationsim; Optimism or Eternal Hope; Probationism and Purgatory. By the Rev’d William Cochrane, D.D., published by Bradley, Garretson & Co., Brantford, Ontario, 1886|
"Deluxe" bindings mimicked fine leather volumes bound by hand, using inexpensive leathers and false bands across the spine. It can be difficult to determine whether a book has false bands without taking the book apart and destroying the binding. The book pictured below may be one of these nineteenth-century deluxe bindings.
|Two Hundred Years Ago; or, A Brief History of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge, with Notices of Some of the Early Settlers written by S.S.S. Published by Otis Clapp, Boston, 1859|
Many books also contained multi-colored illustrations created by chromolithography, a color-printing technique developed by the French in the 1820s where colors are applied on top of each other to create a multi-colored image.
|This lithograph is pasted to the front cover of: World’s Columbian Exposition 1893 Chicago: Catalogue of the Russian Section published by the Imperial Russian Commission, Ministry of Finances, St. Petersburg, 1893|
Stereotyping and electrotyping were two popular printing techniques in the nineteenth-century. A stereotype plate is created by pressing papier-mâché onto set type. The dried papier-mâché forms a mold into which type metal is poured, and the result is a metal plate that contains all of the text for one page of a book. Once a printer had created stereotype plates (or stereos) for all of the pages of a book, he could free the type set by hand and use it to set the pages of other books. In the future, when he wanted to reprint a book, he could use the stereos — whereas in the past, he would have had to reset all of the pages by hand. Electrotype plates are created using water, metal salts, and electricity. The electricity is applied to a solution in which metal has been placed, causing the metal to spread over the surface of a mold, taking its shape. Like stereos, electrotype plates each contain an entire page of text. Needless to say, the use of stereos and electrotype plates sped up the process of printing.
|The City of Cincinnati. A Summary of the Attractions, Advantages, Institutions and Internal Improvements, with a Statement of Its Public Charites by George E. Stevens, published by Geo. S. Blanchard & Co., Cincinnati, 1869||Walks and Rides in the Country Round About Boston Covering Thirty-Six Cities and Towns, Parks and Public Reservations, Within a Radius of Twelve Miles from the State House by Edwin M. Bacon, Published for the Appalachian Mountain Club by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1897|
Walks and Rides in the Country Round About Boston has a unique binding feature: pockets in the front and back covers. These pockets contain four lithographed maps.
For decades, the mechanization of typesetting eluded printers and publishers. The linotype machine, which cast one line of type in a single slug, was invented in the 1880s, and it further sped up the printing process. Today, most typesetting is done by computer; only fine press publishers continue the tradition of setting type and printing by hand.
In the nineteenth-century, publishers added advertisements to their books. These ads range in size from single leaves to pamphlet-sized advertising supplements, and they were glued ("tipped") or bound into books. One book in the Special Topics in Theology section contains both tipped-in and bound-in advertisements.
|Heaven Our Home. We Have No Saviour But Jesus, and No Home But Heaven by the Author of "Meet for Heaven," "Life in Heaven," "Christ's Transfiguration" published by William P. Nimmo, Edinburgh, 1871|
The nineteenth-century was an era of faster and cheaper book production, and its legacy can be seen today in any bookstore or library: shelves of books printed on wood pulp paper with cased-in bindings.
Check out the collection page for more information.
Special ThanksCouncil on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.
Our reading room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 5th for our board's annual meeting.
Staff will be in the office to answer questions by phone or by email, and all of our online resources will still be available as usual.
Our friend Marnie Warner donated the material she had collected while she was active establishing the original Open and Affirming policy that was proposed and accepted by the United Church of Christ in 1985. Prior to the ONA collection's public availability here, Marnie volunteered many long hours to help sort out and arrange and clarify the boxes and files. Her insider's perspective was and is always appreciated.
The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, May 29th in observance of Memorial Day.
All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have questions for the staff, please send an email or leave a voicemail, and we'll get back to you when we return to the office on Tuesday.
image of historical American flags courtesy of PBS.org
Don't miss this exploration of early American religious song, illustrated with live performances. Reserve your seat today.
From William Billings to Lowell Mason
Join choral ensemble Norumbega Harmony for a noontime concert exploring the musical and cultural transformation of Congregational sacred music from the Revolutionary Era's stark psalm tunes and lively fuging tunes, pioneered by William Billings of Boston (1746-1800), to the European Romantic melodies and harmonies of the city's great music educator and church composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872).
Wednesday, May 10th
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Learn more about Norumbega Harmony on their website.
As an archivist, I will occasionally make site visits for potential new collections. While chances are good that I will be the one to eventually organize the records, there's no guarantee that the work will divide that way, with intern projects and more than one archivist on staff. However, when I went to Connecticut to visit the Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree about two years ago, I hoped that I would be the one who would organize her records. The reason why I felt so strongly about this collection is that it represents a side of our collection that I'm always eager to expand upon: that of recent history and a continuation of lesser heard voices. Rev. Crabtree has spent her life and career championing feminism and striving to even the playing field. She attended college during the height of the cultural movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A self-described trouble-maker who questioned authority and the status-quo, Crabtree became a member of the United Church of Christ's Executive Council by the age of 27.
The guide to this collection is now available on our website. We strongly encourage researchers to review this and to make an appointment before visiting.