- Advocacy Information Center
Government and Organizational Resources
Government Agencies –
City of Boston Departments and Commissions
The Boston Landmarks Commission, along with the local Historic District Commissions, serves as the City’s steward of Boston’s historic buildings, places, and neighborhoods. The BLC and the Historic District Commissions, all headquartered within the Environment Department, provide information and assistance concerning the regulatory process, historic preservation planning, archaeology, sources for historical information, and technical assistance.
The BLC has compiled an extensive Cultural Resource Inventory (CRI), which is a library of survey forms describing properties located throughout the City of Boston. No catalog of these records exists online. Please consult with BLC staff for research assistance. A list of the types of buildings and neighborhoods that are covered in the CRI follows.
Boston-wide Inventories of specific types of buildings
- Archdiocesan Buildings
- Church Closing Survey Forms
- Industrial Survey
- Bay State Road
- Bay Village
- Beacon Hill – North Slope
- Beacon Hill – South Slope
- Beacon Hill – Flat of the Hill
- Boston University Survey
- Boylston Street (Back Bay)
- Central Business District
- Charles Street Signage (Beacon Hill)
- Dorchester – 17th Century Survey
- Dorchester – Meetinghouse Hill
- East Boston
- Fort Point Channel
- Hyde Park
- Jamaica Plain
- Mission Hill
- Mission Hill Triangle
- Newbury Street (Back Bay)
- North End
- South Boston
- St. Botolph
- Stuart Street Corridor (Back Bay)
- Theater District
- Washington Street (South End)
- West Roxbury/Roslindale
Also available at the Boston Landmarks Commission are design review files for Landmarks and Landmark Districts, Article 85 Demolition Delay files, study reports, Landmark petition files and National Register nomination forms. If you would like to view these files, you must call the BLC office and make an appointment with the appropriate staff person. Many study reports are available online at BLC Publications.
For more information about Boston's historic squares and corners, visit http://www.squaresandcorners.com/
One City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201
The BRA is Boston's planning and economic development agency. They work closely with other City departments and organizations on a wide range of planning and development initiatives. Development projects are subject to comment periods and public processes.
Information about the BRA's development review process and projects in the BRA pipeline, organized by neighborhood can be found here.
A list of electronic resources, mostly pertaining to economic and urban planning and dating from 2002-present, can be found here.
The BRA electronic resources include a 2005 Pattern Book of Boston Houses, which is an inventory of common designs and typical characteristics in Boston's residential housing. The book is available for download in PDF format:
Pattern Book of Boston Houses | PDF
The ISD enforces building and housing regulations. Permits for building, modifying, or demolishing a building are submitted to this department. Vacant and foreclosed properties are registered with the ISD, which includes documentation and photographs.
Find copies of forms relating to ISD's work here.
A searchable online database of building permits, permits for electrical or plumbing work, or other changes to buildings can be found on the ISD website.
Prior to 2009, scans of the documents are available; after 2009, the data is stored in a database. If you are able to research the plans on-site, note that each permit is housed in a folder with a bin number. The bin number refers to a plan or blueprint which may be housed in the Boston Public Library's Fine Arts Department. A listing of all code-compliant permits issued within the past 30 days is also available on the ISD website.
201 Rivermoor Street
West Roxbury, MA 02132
The City Archives houses and manages historic City records and documents that are no longer in active use, including photographs, plans, deeds, maps and other documents.
Some finding aids are available here.
A complete PDF guide to the Archives' holdings can be found here.
Assessing Department Records
The department determines the fair cash value and classification of all real and personal property located in the city. The department maintains official maps, property description data, ownership records and assessment, abatement and exemption records.
Other records include the following:
- Real estate, personal estate and poll tax records 1822-1985.
- Scrapbook of advertisements of property auctions and sales 1872.
- Plans circa 1918-1985 (large format plans arranged by ward number and block. Includes the block numbers, street names, plot dimensions, and building footprints.)
- Surveyor plans, arranged by neighborhood, which were drawn circa 1856-1877.
- Collection of aerial photographs of Boston, circa 1980.
Boston Redevelopment Authority Records
The city archives hold 1985 photographs and negatives documenting urban renewal projects, circa 1958-1985. This includes photographs from West End, Government Center, South Cove, Central Business District, Charlestown and other neighborhoods.
Inspectional Services Department Records
The city archives hold certain records from the City's Inspectional Services Department, including the following:
- Building division records
- Building permit files of demolished buildings (takedowns) circa 1919-1987
- Photographs of demolished buildings circa 1950-1990
- Permits and permit log books 1874-1963
- Permit plans circa 1970-1995
- Certificates of use and occupancy 1972-1995
- Special examination reports and photographs 1915-1918 reports of special examinations of buildings in response to complaints of unsafe conditions. Includes photographs of buildings.
- Street numbering records 1898-1972 includes building department copies of notices of changes in street numbering sent by the public works department and street number logs from 1898-1946, 1951-1958 and 1964-1970.
Government Agencies – County and State
Edward Brooke Court House
24 New Chardon Street
Boston, MA 02114
The Registry of Deeds is responsible for recording all documents relative to real estate including deeds, mortgages, releases, and liens in the cities and towns of Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop. Assessor plans detailing lot divisions are available online. To locate a plan follow these steps:
- Determine the ward the property is located in.
Wards are listed on the Registry's website. A more detailed listing of wards by street name is available in the form of a large PDF.
- Visit this website. Click on the ward number, click on the street name of the property to download a file that shows the breakdown of streets.
- The plan numbers are in the right-hand column. Return to the Suffolk Country Registry of Deeds site for your ward, and click on the corresponding plan number on the bottom of the page.
Historic Atlases of Boston are available for download on the Registry's website.
Under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the MHC consists of seventeen appointed Commissioners who serve to protect the Commonwealth's historic and archaeological resources.
The MHC's collections are stored within the Massachusetts State Archives.
A summary guide to the MHC's holdings online can be found in this pdf.
The State Register of Historic Places, a listing of all properties in the state that are landmarked nationally or locally, is available for purchase from the State Bookstore.
Inventory of the Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth
MHC inventory forms are compiled in the Inventory of the Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth, which is broader in scope than the State Register of Historic Places. MHC inventory forms are used to record data relating to the historical and cultural significance of properties whether or not they are listed in the State Register. Listing in the Inventory does not have any bearing over a property's eligibility for landmarking or listing in the State or National Register. These inventory records are held at the MHC office and available to the public, or searchable online through the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).
The MHC has copies of National Register Nomination and Inventory Forms.
24 Beacon Street
State House, Room 341
Boston, MA 02133
Established in 1826 and housed at the State House on Beacon Street, the State Library of Massachusetts has continuously collected materials that reflect Massachusetts' government, culture and history. The holdings of the Special Collections department comprise rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, newspapers, tax valuations, architectural drawings, prints and photographs, including extensive material about the construction of the State House and the Alexander Parris Digital Project. The collection is particularly strong in nineteenth and twentieth-century city directories, maps, and atlases.
Non-Governmental Archives, Libraries, and Historical Societies – Boston
700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
Note: Some of the Library's Special Collections will soon be moved to a new facility at 201 Rivermoor Street, West Roxbury. This building will be shared with the Boston City Archives and the Boston Redevelopment Authority Archives, making it a center for researching Boston's buildings.
Boston City Records
Records before 1822 are accessed through Rare Books & Manuscripts. This material includes tax assessor's records from 1789, City Clerk files starting in 1629 and early manuscript records of Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury.
- 1822 and after
Records after 1822 are accessed through the Book Delivery Desk of the Research Library Stacks. The records cover the period 1896-1967 with street listings available up to 1942.
Boston Architecture Reference File
A reference librarian will provide an inquiry form for you to fill out. Properties are filed by address; however, addresses may have changed through the years. On each card is a list of references to a wide variety of sources such as articles, photographs, architectural plans.
Boston Pictorial Archive
These files are located in the Print Department and include a collection of photographs, lithographs, engravings and other media of Boston subjects including buildings, street scenes, parks and events from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. The bulk of the collection spans the years from 1860 to 1930.
Boston Picture File
These files are located in the Fine Arts Department and contain photographs and clippings describing Boston buildings, parks, monuments, streets, etc. Material in this file has been indexed in the Boston Architecture Reference File. A postcard collection of about 1,500 items depicting Boston buildings is also part of this pictorial archive.
206 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02109-1773
The Bostonian Society is a 128-year-old institution dedicated to preserving Boston's history. They maintain the Old State House Museum and a collection of archival materials related to the history of Boston. Access to the library is $10 for non-members and free for members, but the catalog is available publicly online.
The Bostonian Society highlights the history of buildings in the City of Boston with their historical markers program. An inventory of the markers by neighborhood includes descriptions and information about the landmark status of the sites.
The BAHS maintains a website rich in information about the Brighton and Allston neighborhoods of Boston, including digitized photographs and street histories.
A resource room at the Brighton Public Library contains:
- BAHS research files
- Allston Brighton Citizen Item newspaper microfilm (1887-1943)
- Federal census data (1810–1880)
- Local Fire Department records
- Volumes of Historical Brighton: An Illustrated History of Brighton and Its Citizens
The BAHS maintains a local history museum, open for free to the public from noon to 4 pm, Tuesday through Friday. It is located at the Veronica Smith Senior Center, 20 Chestnut Hill Avenue, Brighton. The phone number is (617) 573-1236.
Discover Roxbury's programs celebrate Roxbury's history by developing interest in and knowledge of the neighborhood's nearly four centuries of architecture, cultural heritage, and social movements.
The Dorchester Historical Society maintains three historical properties in Dorchester: The James Blake House (1661), The William Clapp House (1806), and the Lemuel Clapp House (1633, rebuilt 1767). A collection of research materials that draws deeply on the collection of the Dorchester Historical Society is available online. The site also includes many resources of value to architectural researchers:
- Architectural inventory of Dorchester by street
- Detailed histories of historic properties
- Church inventory
- Historical maps
- Town and street histories
P.O. Box 302924
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0053
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society is an independent historical society that presents walking tours and online exhibits about the history of Jamaica Plain. An informative website contains a guide to researching the history of property in Jamaica Plain, as well as articles, a bibliography, and scans of graphic arts material, including maps.
Non-Governmental Archives, Libraries, and Historical Societies –
State, Regional, and National
The collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, an independent research library, includes early records, mainly manuscripts, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from Colonial times up through about the Civil War.
Useful collections include maps and historic atlases of Boston and surrounding towns from 1725-1958; George Lamb's Series of plans of Boston showing existing ways and owners of property, 1630-1635 and 1640-1645, and individual building plans.
141 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
HNE owns and manages thirty-six properties throughout New England, including twenty in Massachusetts. They create programs, events, and lectures that educate about the history of New England and publish guidelines and white papers concerning architectural preservation. A Library and Archives collection includes photographs, architectural drawings, manuscripts, ephemera, prints and engravings, artwork, and books. HNE's website provides access to their extensive digitized collections of architectural drawings, photography, records collections, commercial and industrial buildings, Historic New England properties, houses, and public and religious buildings.
The NEHGS library is one of the nation's leading research centers for genealogists. It houses millions of documents, manuscripts, records, books, microfilms, photographs, artifacts, diaries, letters, bibles, journals, photographs and unpublished genealogies, and other items that preserve and reveal our history. The website features nearly 3,000 unique searchable databases containing information on over 113 million names. A good source for information about building owners and occupants.
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
The AAS is a national research library with a large collection of manuscripts and newspapers. Boston maps, atlases, and directories can assist in building and genealogical research. Records of Boston businesses and residents can be found within the collection, as well as design books by renowned American architects, architectural drawings, lithographs, engravings, periodicals, and photographs of buildings of many types.
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540
The American Memory Project at the Library of Congress is a searchable online database of material about American history and culture, including photographs of Boston's street scenes. The Prints and Drawings Division contains images from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), all of which have been digitized. Other visual collections include architectural, design, and engineering drawings and extensive photographic documentation of American buildings and interior design, cityscapes and landscapes. Many images are in the public domain.
The National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-6399
The National Archives is the federal repository for Census data, military records, and other documents related to the federal government. Especially helpful for genealogical research, the Archives have a smattering of architectural drawings and photographs. Survey maps and detailed information is available about properties that are either owned by the Federal government or projects that received money from the Federal government.
The Otis House
141 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
The Boston Preservation Alliance is a nonprofit organization that protects and improves the quality of Boston's distinct architectural heritage. Through advocacy and education, we bring people and organizations together to influence the future of Boston's historic buildings, landscapes and communities.
In addition to the resources of the Advocacy Information Center, the Alliance has valuable resources for the public on certain areas of interest, including the following:
- Campus Heritage
- Modern Buildings
- Religious Properties
- Sustainable Preservation
An independent non-profit that owns and manages several rehabilitated buildings in Boston. HBI invests in preservation projects and connects projects with sources of funding. Beyond financial support, HBI provides technical assistance and advice about historic preservation.
The Landmark Building
34 Main Street Extension
Plymouth, MA 02360
Preservation Massachusetts is a non-profit organization dedicated to education, advocacy, and support to preserve historic buildings in Massachusetts. Their website contains a resource guide, containing lists of consultants and publications to assist historic homeowners or preservation advocates.
1785 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036-2117
7 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 4th Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02109
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a national independent non-profit organization that works to preserve communities, landscapes, and buildings. The NTHP provides assistance for homeowners and promotes responsible development. The resource section of their site is a key for anyone looking for funding, training, or information about historic preservation.