Preserving a legacy: institutional archives at the Bostonian Society

Bostonian Society Charter, 1881

There have been many posts on this blog featuring some of the historical items in our archival collection, but the Society's archives also holds institutional materials. These documents and manuscripts tell the important story of the Bostonian Society, the organization that has cared for and maintained the Old State House since its founding in 1881. I've marked Archives Month this October by installing a display in the Old State House that allows visitors to take a peek into our institutional archives.

Currently on display through the end of the month are a bookplate from the early days of the Society's library, a pamphlet dating from 1882 with information about the Society's history and background, a menu from a celebratory dinner held in 1982 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Society's founding, and the original Bostonian Society charter - which I think is the most notable item on display.

The chartermarks the official incorporation of the Bostonian Society on December 2, 1881 and is the culmination of years of work by devoted Bostonians who were committed to saving the city's historical landscape.  The story begins when John Hancock’s family home on Beacon Hill was demolished in 1863, which served as the rallying call for the need forhistoric preservation in Boston.  Consequently, the Bostonian Antiquarian Club was formed in May 1879 as a way to bring together like-minded gentlemen with an interest in history and antiquities. After functioning for two years as a volunteer club, the group felt they would be better able to advocate for the Old State House before city government if they were an incorporated society. Thus, the Bostonian Society was officially incorporated by the city in 1881 and became the steward of the Old State House, charged with maintaining it so that it would not reach a fate like the Hancock Manor.  The aim of the Society was to prevent the “reckless destruction of monuments of the past” and to provide a location to preserve, store, collect, and display artifacts related to Boston’s history.

Though available for use by researchers, some of our institutional records, like our charter and other founding documents, are over a hundred years old and must be handled carefully. We continue to add to the institutional archives on a regular basis, ensuring that the history of the Bostonian Society is accessible for future generations.  In addition to the documents on display this month, our institutional archives includes the Society's meeting minutes, annual reports, scholarly publications, acquisition ledgers, and exhibit plans. The Old State House itself stands as a testament to the work of the Bostonian Society, but our institutional archives share the stories of all that it has accomplished over the past 135 years.