Monday, August 21, 2017

History and Fun Facts about Beacon Hill


Massachusetts State House
As most people know, the Massachusetts State House is located on Beacon Hill, which is an historic neighborhood in the city of Boston.  It was named after a wooden beacon that once stood on the hill to warn residents of an attack or a fire.  Beacon Hill is approximately one-half to three-quarters of a mile square, has 9,100 residents, and is bounded by Cambridge Street on the north, Somerset Street on the east, Beacon Street on the south, and Storrow Drive on the west. The State House with its gilded dome is Beacon Hill’s most prominent landmark and was built on land that once belonged to John Hancock.

Trimount, Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Hill was originally one of three hills that existed in an area that was called Trimountain or Trimount; the two other hills were Mount Vernon and Pemberton Hillsometimes called Corn Hill.  Today’s Tremont Street comes from this original name of Trimount.  During the time the State House was being constructed (1795-1798), Harrison Gray Otis, Jonathan Mason and others started The Mount Vernon Proprietors group with the purpose of developing the area around the building; partners of the group also included Charles Bulfinch, Hepzibah Swan, and William Scollay.  About 19 acres of land was purchased by the group in 1795, most of it from painter John Singleton Copley; four years later in 1799 the hills were leveled.

Harrison Otis Gray house
on Mt. Vernon Street, Beacon Hill
Mansions were built on the newly created Mt. Vernon Street, and the 2nd Harrison Gray Otis House at 85 Mt. Vernon Street is a rare surviving example from this time period.

Another notable place on Beacon Hill is The Museum of African American History, which is located in what was once the first African Meeting House.  It was built in 1806 for the congregation of the African Baptist Church and was the first black church in Boston and is the oldest existing African-American church building in the United States.  It was a synagogue for the Anshei Lubavitch congregation from 1898–1972 and then was sold to become the Museum.  

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, August 14, 2017

Table Gossip


Celebrity news in newspapers is nothing new.  Recently I was looking in the Boston Globe issue of July 18, 1886 and found a section of the paper called “Table gossip.” This section of the paper tells us what certain people, including some socially prominent people, are up to, as well as what some businesses are doing.

One entry tells us that “Julia Ward Howe addressed the Womans’ Auxillary Conference at Newport, on Tuesday afternoon on “How to Widen the Sympathies of Woman.”” Also “Miss Louisa Alcott, Mrs. Celia Thaxter and Mrs. Ole Bull with Whittier, the poet, have made an interesting group at the Appledore the past week.  Mr. Whittier believes it will be the last visit he makes to the island". Doing a little internet research I found out that Appledore House was a hotel owned by the family of poet, artist and naturalist Celia Thaxter (1835-1894). She had soirees in the summer where she invited well known artists friends.  The American impressionist painter Childe Hassam was also a frequent visitor.  He painted hundreds of seascapes on the Isles of Shoals where Appledore is located.  Isles of Shoals are a group of islands near Kittery, Maine.  It appears that Mr. Whittier is so famous he does not need a first name.  He is John Greenleaf Whittier.

Some businesses used the column that week to make announcements, including that Jordan Marsh opened a store on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor, that the State House is getting carpeting, and that parasols are marked down in William H. Zinn’s store.  You can even get some fashion news.  Sunshades (another name for parasols) in ecru etamine (an off white color) are the fashionable parasols for the summer.



Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian


Monday, August 7, 2017

Dighton Rock and its Portuguese-American Legacy

Immigrants from Portuguese-speaking countries have long chosen New England as their home. According to the 2010 census, Massachusetts has the third-largest number of residents with ancestry from Portugal, behind only Rhode Island and California, and New England has the highest density of Portuguese immigrants in the United States. The first wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants came in the 1800s from Portugal, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands, many of them whalers, fishermen, and factory workers. However, there is evidence that a small number of Portuguese immigrants came to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket during Massachusetts’ colonial period (New England Historical Society), while others are convinced that the Portuguese were the first European pilgrims to set foot in Massachusetts in the 1500s.

This belief is centered around Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder originally embedded in the Taunton River covered in petroglyphs and curious markings that have sparked interest in its origins since 1680. At that time, Reverend John Danforth made a drawing of these markings, which was published in part by Reverend Cotton Mather in his book The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated (1689). Since then, scholars from around the world have puzzled over the rock’s meaning, with theories that assign the carvings to Native American, ancient Phoenician, Norse, and Chinese origins.

Drawing of the carvings as made by John Danforth in 1680

In the early 20th century, Edmund Burke Delabarre of Brown University introduced a new theory that tied Dighton Rock to a 15th century Portuguese explorer who never made it home. Miguel Corte-Real set out to explore the western Atlantic and had previously made it to the Coast of Labrador with his brother Gaspar. At the end of the 1500 expedition, Miguel was sent back to Portugal and Gaspar stayed behind, never to be seen again. In 1502, Miguel set out on a second expedition to find his brother, and he too disappeared. Historian Delabarre believed that the stone was marked by Miguel Corte-Real, whose voyages had brought him along the coast of North American to what is now Taunton. According to his research, Delabarre believes that the rocks states, “Miguel Cortereal. 1511. By the Will of God, leader of the natives of India in this place” in Latin followed by the Portuguese coat of arms.

Pictures of the inscriptions taken and outlined by Edmund
Burke Delabarre and published in the Bulletin of the Society
for the Preservation of New England Antiquities

(https://bark.cwmars.org/eg/opac/record/3472533?locg=111) 

Members of the Massachusetts Portuguese communities were instantly captivated with this theory. The Miguel Corte Real Memorial Society, formed in the 1950s, claimed Dighton Rock and fought the Department of Natural Resources, ordering them to surrender the rock to the historical society. These two organizations would continue to clash throughout the mid-1950s. First, the historical society had acquired about 50 acres of land near Dighton Rock to create a park in 1952, but a year before the Massachusetts Legislature had expropriated the same land for a state park. Later, these two organizations clashed again regarding how the rock should be preserved: the Department of Natural Resources wanted to remove the boulder to higher ground, while the historical society wished to build a coffer-dam around its original location in the Taunton River. Today, Dighton Rock is housed inside a small museum at Dighton Rock State Park.

Maritime historian and Harvard professor Samuel  Eliot Morrison refuted the Corte Real theory in his book Portuguese Voyages to American in the Fifteenth Century and later in a Letter to the Editor in the Boston Herald, in which he wrote that “It is, of course, possible that Miguel Cortereal visited these coasts in the early 16th century, and it is very gratifying to our Portuguese citizens to feel that one of their heroes was here more than a century before the Pilgrim Fathers. But there are a good many arguments against accepting Professor Delabarre’s interpretation as authentic.” To this day, there is no definitive theory regarding the origin of the petroglyphs on Dighton Rock, though many Portuguese-Americans remain convinced that it is an important part of Portuguese maritime history and American history in general.

Further Reading:




Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Asked and You Answered! Now We Try to Answer You!


A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out our State Library user survey back in the spring—we really appreciate your insightful feedback and suggestions.  And what are we going to do to meet your needs and answer your burning questions? Read on!

To start, we did have a few revelations:

  • 30% of survey respondents said they visited the library in person more than “rarely”
  • 40% of survey respondents said they visited the library’s website more than “rarely”
  • 24% of survey respondents said they visit the library’s DSpace digital repository more than “rarely”
  • 83% of survey respondents are not followers of the library’s accounts on social media

Clearly we have our work cut out for us to spread the word about our collections and services to you out there--wherever you may be.  Okay—so how can we improve?  First, let’s take a look at the five most popular reasons users actually come to the library in person:

  • to do legislative or legal research
  • to attend library programs
  • to have a quiet place to study, read, or just relax
  • to view library exhibits
  • to do historical or genealogical research

The most popular reason—legislative or legal research—has been traditionally the most requested service at the State Library, and we are working on getting more of the items needed to do legislative history digitized and available on our DSpace repository. The Acts are already available, and the Resolves are digitized and will be coming soon.  In the meantime, you can see our Resolves volumes in the State Library's Internet Archive collections. The final editing of the digitized Legislative Documents collection (the “as filed” House and Senate Bills) will be completed and loaded in their entirety to DSpace we hope by the end of 2017.  Also, the historical House and Senate Journals have been digitized as well and will soon be added to our DSpace repository.

Our popular, monthly lunch-time “Author Talks” series will resume after the summer on Tuesday, Sept. 12 with author Larry Tye on his book Bobby Kennedy: the Making of a Liberal Icon, so please plan on returning for these great library programs as this will be only the first of an exciting lineup of interesting books and authors! We are also planning a “Library Treasures” tour for September and a genealogy research program in November to showcase the library’s collections in these areas. So, how do you find out about these programs? They are always promoted on our website or please sign up for our email announcement list. Did you also know that we have a group for Friends of the State Library? If you want to join the Friends or receive the Friends’ monthly newsletter, NEWSBrief, just email us.

We are thrilled that you love our “newly refreshed” and welcoming space after the extensive top to bottom renovations that were completed in 2015. Thank you for just coming in to read or meet with colleagues and please don’t forget that library staff is always available to help you and answer any questions you may have. By the way, check out our fun photo album showing how things have changed over the last hundred years in the State Library space! Be sure to view our latest exhibit before you leave as we always have something interesting right outside our main entrance in room 341 of the State House. In case you didn’t know, we also host our exhibits “virtually” on flickr for those of you who can’t make it into Boston and want to check them out.

We are very proud of our extensive historical and genealogical collections here at the library and glad that you like them too!  We frequently highlight the most unusual, quirky and/or the most curious items in our library staff blog posts so you can also “discover” them along with library staff.  One of our most treasured holdings is William Bradford’s manuscript, Of Plimoth Plantation from 1630—you can read about its restoration and conservation by the Northeast Document Conservation Center, and you can “see” it for yourself digitally in our DSpace repository.

We are working on digitizing more and more of our unique, non-copyrighted, historical and genealogical collections, especially historical maps and Massachusetts city and town annual reports and directories which were particularly singled out by survey participants. We highlight our extensive holdings of genealogical resources in this informative brochure. Coming soon to DSpace we will have the entire digitized collections of the Massachusetts Public Documents which contain the historical annual reports of state agencies and commissions. We have also reformatted and digitized our finding aids for library manuscript and former legislators’ papers collections.

And what are the five most popular ways that users make use of the library’s collections and resources both in-person and remotely?

  • using the library's website and/or online catalog
  • performing onsite research
  • using digitized materials contained in the library's DSpace digital repository 
  • using the library's databases and electronic journals
  • finding digitized collections from search engine results that link to library resources

The overwhelming majority of you took the time to comment positively on the library and library staff and just want more of what we are doing already—more digitized items, more programs, and more promotion and outreach. We want you to know who we are and what we do! In that spirit, we are working on more “how-tos” and guides for our library resources and redesigning our library homepage on the new mass.gov, which will be launching later this year. Thank you again for all your support!

State Library of Massachusetts


Monday, July 24, 2017

Collection Now Available: Denise Provost papers on legislation concerning gender identity and nondiscrimination


Now available is a collection level record which includes a link to a longer finding aid.

A collection of papers from Denise Provost (Manuscripts Collection 165) is now available for research in the Special Collections Department of the State Library.  First elected in 2006, Denise Provost is the representative for the 27th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The collection of papers concerns her work on the Transgender Public Accommodations bill that was passed in 2016. The Transgender Public Accommodations bill was created to close a loophole in the 2012 Transgender Equal Rights Act that allowed for transgender people to be discriminated against in public accommodations like restaurants.

The papers include meeting materials of the Steering Committee working to pass the Transgender Public Accommodations bill. Included are the meeting notes and the names of local businesses they approached for support. Also included in the collection are documents related to a legislation briefing held for members of the House of Representatives in July 2015 regarding transgender rights and the Transgender Public Accommodations bill.

Of note in the collection are documents sent to Denise Provost from various organizations around Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts Family Institute and Freedom Massachusetts.  Organizations sent documents voicing their support or opposition of the bill to Denise Provost.

Also in the collection are documents Denise Provost used for research, including Massachusetts city ordinances, state laws, pamphlets, publications, as well as state guidelines on nondiscrimination. Denise Provost also collected newspaper clippings from local and national papers. These clippings document the discussion of transgender rights in the United States and more specifically Massachusetts from 2008-2017.  

Ariel Barnes
Special Collections Intern

Monday, July 17, 2017

Massachusetts Buildings That Once Housed Public Records

The State Library invites you to view our newest collection of photographs in Flickr! This collection comprises 182 black and white historic photographs of municipal buildings that once housed public records from various Massachusetts counties, cities, and towns. All of the photographs were taken between 1899 and 1905 by Robert Thaxter Swan, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Records at that time.

"City Hall and Public Library building, New Bedford, Mar. 4, 1902"

These photographs were pasted into a scrapbook, which was given the title Buildings in which Public Records are kept in Counties, Cities, and Towns in Massachusetts. Each photograph in the scrapbook is accompanied by a handwritten caption, which has been transcribed and included in the description for each image in Flickr. From Acton to Yarmouth, 102 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns (plus one New Hampshire city, Nashua) are represented in this collection.

"Town Clerk's house, Hamilton, safe in the porch, May 29, 1900"

"Vault intact, records slightly smoked, Hopkinton, Mar. 19, 1900"

This scrapbook is housed in the State Library's Special Collections Department in Room 55 of the Massachusetts State House and is available for viewing Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian