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Collection Highlight: Boston's Old South Church

by William McCarthy, Reference and Processing Archivist

While the staff of the CLA have been working from home, we have continued to remain engaged with our collections even while separated from them. Please note that the collections highlighted are not available online unless otherwise noted.

Today, I am going to highlight one of our larger, more well-known collections, the Old South Church in Boston, RG0028. The collection first arrived with us in 1976 and we received additional materials in 1982, 1989, 1997 and 2013. The collection has likewise gone through a few different processing iterations, most recently in 2018. With over 57 boxes and 141 volumes, it is one of the library's largest and most significant collections.

Twenty-eight lay members from the First Church in Boston founded the Old South Congregation (originally called the Third Church of Boston) in 1669. In 1670, the congregation met in the Cedar Meetinghouse for the first time and soon became known as South Church since it was in the south end of town. “Old” was added in 1717 to distinguish it from another church being built, which called itself New South. In 1875, construction on a new church for the Old South congregation finished on the corners of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets. This new site has been Old South's home since. A trademark feature of the Old South Church is its campanile, or tower, which can be seen from several Boston neighborhoods. The church continues to thrive today.

The collection is divided into nine series and twenty-three subseries. Our first series focuses on Legal and Building records and includes a Deed of Land from 1669, among other documents related to land ownership. The second series focuses on numerous Organizations affiliated with Old South Church and includes the Maternal Association, Old South Club, Sewing Circle, Temperance Association, and various educational groups. The third series describes the various church records, such as vital statistics, annual reports, letters of admission and membership indexes. This series contains the record book that logs the baptism of Benjamin Franklin (image attached)!


Series four touches on the ministers and deacons of the church and includes notes, sermons, correspondences, and journals. Frederick M. Meek is the minister most represented in this collection with over 300 sermons! The fifth series in the collection covers committee records and pew proprietor records. The sixth series covers material related to Rev. Thomas Prince who bequeathed his literary collection to the church and now resides at the Boston Public Library, it includes correspondences and catalogs. The seventh series of the collection focuses on financial information, mainly that of the treasurer’s records and pew accounts. Series eight is the collection’s smallest and contains photographs and newspaper clippings related to the church. The final collection contains various publications by the church and includes published histories, audio-visual material, published catalogs, bulletins and printed copies of the Old South Record.

As you can see, this collection is filled to the brim with interesting historical information and documents a period of over 350 years! Viewing this collection is a truly fruitful experience and once the library has returned to a normal schedule you should visit!

The legacy finding aid for this collection can be found HERE. If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Stay safe and have a great day!