Boston Public Library Historic Photographs on Flickr

Birthplace of John Adams, Quincy, Mass., taken 1929 by Leon Abdalian, originally uploaded by Boston Public Library.

We’ve become spoiled, and a little jaded, perhaps, by great resources like HABS and the New York Public Library’s on-line image collections but there’s a huge amount of newly digitized historic material still being put on the web. Yesterday, the Boston Public Library posted a fabulous collection of historic photographs on Flickr that deserves attention from architectural historians and others. It includes 781 photographs by Leon Abdalian, an Armenian immigrant who photographed sites in and around Boston between the 1910s and early 1950s. It includes a number of wintry landscape views but most images show significant buildings in the region, including the old and new Massachusetts State houses, Faneuil Hall, Richardson’s Trinity Church, and many many others. For anyone interested in the early architecture of eastern Massachusetts, or the colonial revival in New England, they are a marvelous resource.

At the moment, the images are well captioned but not tagged. It would be fantastic to have them geo-tagged, as well, but having them available digitally is a great start.

I’d love to know more about Abdalian himself, and the circumstances of these photographs. His day job was, apparently, driving a trolley but was he paid to make these expensive glass-plate negatives? If he was a hobbyist, shooting what was of interest, how did he choose his subjects? The buildings in the collection include some of the oldest in the Massachusetts Bay area, though he also recorded some sites that seem to have been of greater historical than architectural interest, like Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace.

It’s worth noting, as well, that the photographs in the collection are predominantly of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century buildings. There are very few images of contemporary architecture, which presumably reflects Abdalian’s preferences but perhaps also says something about the building culture of Boston in the first half of the twentieth century. The few early 20th-century buildings in the collection are predominantly Beaux-Arts civic structures. There is also a very nice series of religious buildings, including Old South Church and Temple Israel Synagogue in Boston, and a series of public monuments.

After you’ve looked over the Abdalian images, don’t miss the BPL’s Boston Stereographs collection.

2 thoughts on “Boston Public Library Historic Photographs on Flickr

  1. Leon Abdalian had photographs published in all the Boston newspapers and at least once in the National Geographic. He is perhaps best known for the series of photographs of historic buildings he made in 1930 for the Boston Daily Record. The newspaper hired Abdalian as the “Photographer of Historic Shrines” and published a series of his photographs of historic monuments and buildings in celebration of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary, 1630 – 1930.

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