Beacon Street Blog

September 21, 2017

On the final day of summer, we are pleased to bring you this guest post from our most recent archival intern.

This past summer I traveled through time at the Congregational Library & Archives. They gave me the opportunity of professional growth through hands-on learning that allowed my mind's eye to witness the human and financial cost of war, and discover personal stories of victims and survivors.  This was possible through processing the records from the American Committee for Relief in the Near East.

booklets on Armenia in the ACRNE collection

Another stop in the timeline of history brought me to the second half of the 1900s, where the activities of the Bay State Congregational Women's Fellowship allowed my mind to wonder through the changes in our country and culture.

I must confess, processing these two collections set my mind into writer's gear, where both learning history and creating narratives formed the perfect combination of inspiration and motivation to continue working in archives. I saw the world of possibilities each archival collection offers for interdisciplinary studies and research.

Now that the fall semester is starting we are sharing with classmates our internship experiences and I find myself recalling the fulfillment I felt during this internship. I thank the CLA and its archivists for this amazing experience.

—Maria Leighton
summer 2017 archival intern

September 13, 2017

We are excited to announce the the availability of two new collections in our New England's Hidden Histories program. Both are from towns close to us here in eastern Massachusetts.


Hopkinton, Mass. First Congregational Church

The Church of Christ in Hopkinton first gathered on September 2, 1724. The church began with 14 members and by the end of the first ministry, the church had 376 members. The First Parish of Hopkinton was organized in 1827, and The Church of Christ of Hopkinton was incorporated in 1895 and reincorporated in 1928.

The church's first meeting house was raised in December of 1725. In 1731 the church voted to observe the Cambridge Platform of Church Discipline, which meant adopting a congregational form of governance. In 1829 the meeting house was sold, and a new church building was built. However, this building was destroyed by a fire in 1882. A new edifice was built in the same location and dedicated in 1883. This building was also destroyed by a hurricane in 1938. The fourth building was constructed in the same location in 1939. On October 2, 1994 the congregation voted to leave the United Church of Christ denomination due to theological differences. In 1997, the current church building was constructed in order to accommodate expanding membership. In September 2011 the name of the church was officially changed to Faith Community Church. They are still active today. More information can be found on their website.

Included in these records are confessions of faith; church meeting minutes; reports; and lists of marriages, baptisms, deaths, and dismissions.


Pembroke, Mass. First Church

The earliest history of the First Church in Pembroke can be traced to the early 18th century. The First Church in Pembroke was organized October 22, 1712 and its first minister, Daniel Lewis, was ordained December 3, 1712. Under Lewis the parish flourished and in 1727 a larger, meeting house was built. The third meeting house was erected by the end of 1837. It continues today as a vibrant congregation.

These records document the early history and life of the church, including membership lists, administrative and financial records, and church correspondence.


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National 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.

September 1, 2017

The Congregational Library & Archives will be closed on Monday, September 4th in observance of Labor 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.

August 18, 2017

Our reading room will be briefly closed to the public on Tuesday, August 22nd from noon to 1:00 pm, for a staff event.

All of our online resources will be available as usual. If you have a question for the staff during that time, please leave a voicemail or send an email, and we will get back to you later in the day. If you are planning to visit us in person on that day, please take this into account.

August 2, 2017

Yesterday, August 1, 2017, was the final day. 14 Beacon Street, the historic home of the American Congregational churches, took on a new owner, Faros Properties. It will remain an office building and the Congregational Library & Archives will continue on in its accustomed space — but now as one tenant among many, no longer the landlord.

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.

-Peggy Bendroth

August 2, 2017

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.

For more information about the larger Christ Church Brockton collection, see the archival finding aid, or go straight to the collection page and start reading.


Stoneham, Mass. First Congregational Church

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.

For further information about the full collection, please consult the finding aid, or go directly to the collection page.


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National 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.

June 30, 2017

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
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.

June 9, 2017

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.


-Clarissa Yingling

June 8, 2017

The General Association of Connecticut (now the Connecticut Conference, UCC) was assembled from a number of county-level ministerial associations and church consociations. In partnership with the present conference leadership, we have digitized dozens of volumes of their earliest records. They contain meeting minutes, committee reports, membership lists, rules and recommendations for ordinations of ministers, as well as discussions of various matters of doctrine.

Check out the collection page for more information.


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the Council 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.

June 2, 2017

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.