Off the bookshelf: a look at a favorite item from the library

April 12-18 is National Library Week! The library at the Bostonian Society was founded in 1881, and since then we have collected, preserved, and made accessible for research a wide range of materials relating to Boston. Highlights of our library collection include sources on Boston and New England history, colonial history and the American Revolution, city directories, and Massachusetts Revolutionary War military records. We actively acquire recent publications, but some of the books in our collection date to the early 1800s.

F73.3.T54 title page
I use our library collection to help researchers on-site and with reference questions that are sent to me. From all of the time that I spend back in the stacks, I've found that I have a few favorite library items. I love our almanacs, many dating to the late 1700s, and I use our run of Boston city directories, dating from 1789 through the 1980s, on a frequent basis. My favorite source in the library, though, is Annie H. Thwing's The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston, 1630 - 1822.

Annie Thwing (1851-1940) was an author and historian. In addition to her research into Boston's streets and built environment, she also wrote a re-telling of the children's book Chicken Little with illustrations by Nelly Littlehale Umbstaetter.  And while I don't use Chicken Little for reference very often, I do often find myself reaching for The Crooked and Narrow Streets. The streets of Boston have changed a good deal over the last 385 years, and I frequently receive reference questions about the history of specific streets, some of which are no longer in existence. Thwing's book is one of my go-to sources for these questions, as it give a history of the street, an idea of its physical location, and information about the individuals who lived in or owned property on the street. This source also helps us to imagine the colonial streets that our Revolutionary Characters would have walked down, and the people they would have encountered along the way.

Spurred on by a desire to know where her ancestors lived, Thwing researched early Boston's streets and inhabitants by using a number of resources, including deeds, probate, church, and town records, and diaries. All of this information was indexed on 125,000 catalog cards, that were later donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society, before they were published as The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston. The MHS also has a collection of the Thwing Family Papers.

Celebrate National Library Week by finding some great sources at your local library, or by searching our catalog to find some in our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager