Monday, April 24, 2023

Poetry Month at the State Library

April has been designated as National Poetry Month, and there is no shortage of poets found in the Commonwealth! Revisit some of our past blog posts that highlight poetry in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has an impressive literary history, and more than a few well-known poets hail from the Commonwealth. This post highlights Phillis Wheatley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Bishop and more!

This post highlights three collections of poetry found within the library's collection whose common denominator is that they all feature Boston as their subject. Dating from the late 1800s to 2013, the collections present a varied view of the same city.

Here in the Commonwealth, Patriots’ Day is celebrated on the third Monday of April and commemorates the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy. Patriots' Day was first proclaimed as a holiday in 1894 by Governor Frederick Thomas Greenhalge. 

To celebrate both Patriots’ Day and Poetry Month, check out a small album available on our Flickr page with selections from Poems of American Patriotism, 1776-1898, compiled by Frederick Lawrence Knowles and published in 1898. Highlighted poems honor Lexington and Concord, the Boston Tea Party, and Paul Revere.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, April 17, 2023

Greenery and gardens throughout Boston’s history

The sun is shining longer, birds are chirping, and there is a hint of freshness in the air which can only mean one thing: spring is here! While spring officially started on March 20th, you never know what kind of weather we’ll get here in New England. April always has much more of a “spring feeling” and with it comes National Garden Month, as designated by the National Garden Bureau. To honor this month-long spring-focused celebration, we wanted to share a brief history of a few topics related to gardening that might pique your interest, especially this time of year.

For those of you who have been to the State House before, you’ve likely been to Beacon Hill, exploring shops and restaurants while walking over the old cobblestone streets. Did you know there are hidden gardens throughout Beacon Hill? In the 1820s and 1830s, row houses were built in Beacon Hill and behind them were long, narrow yards. These yards, which were strictly functional in those days due to the lack of modern plumbing and other services, were used for the outhouse, trash pits, laundry, and summer cooking. 

Image of garden on
Mt. Vernon St, Beacon Hill
Image of garden on
West Cedar St, Beacon Hill

By the 1920s, a few homeowners were able to transform these backyard functional spaces into areas of enjoyment and in 1929, the Beacon Hill Garden Club was established. Gone were the days of laundry lines, outhouses, and sheds and in their place, flowers started to bloom and greenery took over, as you can see from the following more-modern day images.

Image of garden on West Cedar St, Beacon Hill

The Beacon Hill Garden Club, an organization committed to urban landscaping and education, offers a tour of a handful of these gardens each year. This year’s tour is taking place on Thursday, May 18th with spaces open between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Image courtesy of Beacon Hill Garden Club

Community gardens also have a long history here in Boston and elsewhere, though community gardening started in England during the 1700s. At the time, the countryside was transformed from open, common land to fenced off land owned by commercial farms. Cities were also being built up, with blocks upon blocks of streets containing narrow workers’ housing, and lacking open space or gardens. These rural and urban changes prevented thousands of people from accessing land that they previously depended on for food. As a result of these needs, wealthy landowners were prompted to lease small pieces of their land to farm workers as community gardens. Crafters in cities also banded together to rent land on the outskirts of town so they could plant flowers and vegetables. Around a century later, these two movements merged to create a national policy for the municipal provision of land for the purpose of community gardening.

A similar situation happened in the United States, which brought the community gardening movement overseas from England. The trigger in the US was the economic depression that took place between 1893-1897. At the start of that financial crisis, 491 banks failed. Railroad traffic was impacted over the course of the next year, which caused one-third of railroad companies to go bankrupt. At that point in history, railroads were the nation’s main industry and when they started experiencing bankruptcy, thousands of people lost their jobs. Over the course of the next few years, cities were full of workers without jobs. Cities were also becoming more built up, with skyscrapers and tall tenements replacing houses and smaller downtown buildings. It became more difficult for families to feed themselves due to all of these changes. As a result, owners rented their vacant land to workers so that they could plant potatoes, beans, and other vegetables. Changes like this were happening throughout the country, leading to the rise of community gardens.

Berkeley Community Garden
(Creative Commons)
Community gardening lives on throughout the country, including here in Boston. You can even become part of this long-standing movement! The Trustees is the largest nonprofit owner of community gardens in Boston, managing 56 gardens in the city for a total of 15 acres across eight neighborhoods. For a yearly dues, you can have a plot of land in one of the gardens in Dorchester, East Boston, the Fenway, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Mattapan, Mission Hill, or the South End. If you’re not ready to take the dive to tend to a garden plot or if you’re just visiting the Boston area, entrance to any of those community gardens is free of charge and is open to the public during events and programs.

Image from State Library 
Digital Repository
Of course, we can’t talk about gardens in the Boston area without talking about the Boston Public Garden. Established in 1837, the Boston Public Garden was America’s first public botanical garden.Did you know it was established two-hundred years after Boston Common? The Common was America’s first public park. It served as a practical space with walkways made so that people could cross town. The Public Garden, however, was decorative. It was (and still is) filled with flowers, greenery, and paths made for wandering and enjoying the outdoors. You’ll also find fountains, monuments, and of course the swan boats! This year the swan boats take to the water on April 15th! Click here for more information.

Image circa 1935-1955, courtesy
of Digital Commonwealth
Boston Public Garden, May 2005

Boston Public Garden, May 2018

With spring in the air and National Garden Month upon us, we hope you can get out and enjoy all that New England, and especially Boston, has to offer this time of year!

Works consulted:

Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Happy Spring - Meadowlarks Have Landed in the Library!

Spring is in the air in the northeast, and one of the markers of the change of seasons are the bird songs that you might hear outside your window! One of those could be that of the meadowlark (plate 136). Four are shown here in their nest, among the yellow-flowered gerardia. From the Audubon field-guide, we learned that males defend their nest by singing.

Click here to hear the meadowlark's call, provided by the American Bird Conservancy, and visit us through May 9 to see the print on display!

Monday, April 10, 2023

Special Speaker Event: Carmen Ortiz

The State Library Author Talks Series is honored to host a special speaker event with former U.S. District Attorney, Carmen Ortiz. From 2009-2017, Ortiz served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, leading an office of over 200 attorneys throughout Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. During her extensive career as a trial lawyer and investigator, Ortiz has directed many civil and criminal cases, including the high-profile investigations against Whitey Bulger and the Boston Marathon bomber. 

To commemorate the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Ortiz will speak on her experience leading the prosecution against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Carmen Ortiz is currently a Partner at Anderson & Kreiger. Read more about her career and achievements here.

We hope you can join us for this special event as we honor the 10th anniversary of the bombings. The event is free and open to all. Assisted listening devices will be made available upon request. Can’t make it in person? View the livestream on our YouTube channel.

Please send any questions to: For more information on the State Library Author Talks series, visit our site:

Thursday, April 6, 2023

State Library Newsletter – April Issue

Curious about what's going on at the State Library this month? Wonder no more, and check out our April newsletter! It's full of information about our new books, new events, new displays, and more. Pictured here is a preview, but the full issue can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.

Monday, April 3, 2023

On Display at the State Library

This month, we’re sharing a 19th century broadside from our collection that pertains to track work and commuting to and from Boston - a topic that continues to dominate local news today! Commuters taking the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in and out of the city are currently experiencing a slower ride because of “slow zones” and track inspections on most of its lines. In track news of a different sort, in 1888, residents in Quincy were notified that they might soon find it easier to get into the city - the item we’re sharing is a notice that was issued calling for a Quincy town meeting to hear proposals for the laying of tracks and use of motive power of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company. 

Much like how the MBTA currently holds public meetings, on January 17, 1888 a notice was issued by the Selectmen of Quincy to inform the general public of an upcoming town hall meeting to discuss the petition of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company for the construction of a track from Neponset Bridge to the intersection of Hancock and Squantum Streets. At the town meeting, they were also scheduled to hear about the petition of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company to use motive power (i.e. powered by water or steam) on its tracks as authorized by the General Laws of the Commonwealth. Readers familiar with Quincy will recognize many of the street names listed on the notice: Hancock Street, Granite Street, and Willard Street, to name a few. 

But does this proposed track relate at all to the current MBTA track? The short answer is yes, the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company is an early relative of today’s MBTA. In 1900, it was sold to the Brockton Street Railway Company, whose name was changed to the Old Colony Street Railway Company in 1901 - this is not to be confused with the Old Colony Railroad, which was a major railroad system in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Old Colony Street Railway Company then merged with the Boston and Northern Street Railway Company and formed the Bay State Street Railway Company, which operated in Boston and as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Rhode Island. In 1919, Bay State was absorbed into the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, which was then acquired by the MBTA in 1968. In the eighty years that passed from the issuance of this notice to the MBTA acquisition, these tracks changed ownership a number of times. 

Visit us through April 25 to see this notice on display in our main reading room. And if you attend a public MBTA meeting now, you can rest assured in the knowledge the Boston area residents have been contending with public transportation for quite some time! You can also keep up to date on all things MBTA by checking out the resources in our digital repository. Here you’ll find copies of annual reports, “week in reviews and lookaheads” for each subway line, and more.  

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian