The Old South Church at 14 Beacon Street

June 24, 2024
Kate Silfen, Church Historian

A visit to the Congregational Library & Archives at 14 Beacon Street in Boston is a must for anyone interested in early American religious life and history. Founded by the American Congregational Association in 1853, the library first housed 56 volumes. Since then, the library has grown to include a collection of 225,000 volumes and manuscripts that document the 400+ year history of the Congregational Churches in the United States. The library also collects contemporary books that shed light on the cultural forces that shaped Congregationalism across the country and around the world.

The staff at the Congregational Library have long been stewards of the documents that tell the 355-year story of the Old South Church in Boston. Among Old South’s early treasures, you will find a record of Benjamin Franklin’s baptism at the Old South Church and a copy of Mary Norton’s deed that gifted our first members with the land that housed our first house of worship. You will find transcribed copies of Reverend Jacob Manning’s letters to the Boston Journal (a nineteenth-century newspaper) that described his daily life as a chaplain in the Union Army. You will also be able to read a well-preserved journal that he kept during the Civil War. Our archives have Deacon Samuel Johnson’s story of our move to Copley Square in 1875. You can learn more about Old South’s archives by exploring the library’s superb finding aid or by emailing the reference staff at the library (

No description of the Congregational Library & Archives’ treasures would be complete without mentioning New England’s Hidden Histories, a Congregational Library & Archives project. New England’s Hidden Histories is a growing digital collection of archives from the early history of New England’s Congregational Churches. You can explore these remarkable collections online. There are digitized copies of early Old South records and handwritten correspondence from our ministers.

Among the treasures housed in Old South's archives, I find the sermons of our past ministers to be the most profound and meaningful. These include the sermons of the Reverend George Angier Gordon (1884-1927), the Reverend Russell Henry Stafford (1927-1945), and the Reverend Frederick Meek (1946-1973). The Reverend George Angier Gordon helped define a more progressive theology for Old South and New England Congregationalism. Russell Henry Stafford shaped our modern church structure and shepherded our congregation through the Great Depression and World War II.  Frederick Meek was instrumental in forming the United Church of Christ and preached against segregation and the Vietnam War. Reading these sermons will give you a colorful picture of the social issues that helped define the late-19th and mid-20th centuries.

The Congregational Library & Archives is newly renovated and open to visitors by appointment who want to explore their collections and learn more about early Congregational life. The beautiful reading room is a peaceful place to study. It overlooks Boston‘s Granary Burying Ground, where several of our early pastors have found eternal rest. You can schedule an appointment to visit the reading room and view the collections by reaching out to the staff via email at In addition to paying a visit to the library, you can enjoy the CLA’s rich offering of online educational programs. I hope you will visit the Congregational Library & Archives and immerse yourself in Old South’s storied past!