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Peabody & Stearns architectural drawings

Call Number: MS.SC.0017

Scope and Contents

The Peabody & Stearns architectural drawings contains materials related to the architectural commissions undertaken by the Peabody & Stearns architectural firm, including commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical projects in New England and beyond. The collection comprises materials representing 575 commissions, from approximately 1837 to 1960, and includes the following formats: architectural plans, drawings, and blueprints. The collection contains a variety of material types, including linen, cloth paper, heavy paper, vellum, and tracing paper.

Dates for some of the projects fall outside the active years of the firm. One project, the United States Custom House, has materials dated to 1837, which presumably represents source materials the firm used when designing the addition of the tower to the original building. Materials dated after 1917 are from projects worked on by the successive firm Appleton & Stearns, formed by W. Cornell Appleton, and Stearns’ son, Frank Stearns.


  • 1837 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Materials in this collection are fragile, require special handling, and some may be inaccessible due to condition. All material in this collection requires staff review prior to access. Contact Special Collections for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Peabody & Stearns (Boston, Mass.)

Robert Swain Peabody (1845-1917) and John Goddard Stearns founded the Peabody & Stearns architectural firm in 1870 in Boston, MA. The partners complimented each other with Peabody taking on the design and Stearns the administration of building operations. Peabody’s designs took on many different styles and evolved over the course of his career and spanned from Victorian Gothic to Neo-Renaissance, often combining design styles, which produced unique results. The firm remained active until 1917 when both partners passed away within days of each other.

Despite the relatively short existence of the firm, it undertook over 575 commissions. The firm designed commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical buildings primarily in New England. Some of their best-known designs include the Custom House tower in Boston, the Providence Railroad Station, the Simmons College Building, Matthews Hall and Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard University, and the Exchange Office Building in Boston, where the firm had its offices. Peabody & Stearns also undertook a number of private estates in Lenox, MA and Newport, RI.


1454 Items

Language of Materials



This collection consists of architectural drawings by Peabody & Stearns, a Boston-based architectural firm active 1870-1917. Included are architectural plans, drawings, and blueprints representing 575 commissions for commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical buildings in New England and beyond, that span the years 1837-1960.


The collection is arranged geographically into series by state name, with separate series for Canadian and unidentified commissions. Within each series, projects are arranged by commission numbers that were assigned by BPL staff.

Custodial History

The successor firm to Peabody & Stearns - Appleton and Stearns - took custody of the architectural drawings after both partners passed in 1917. W. Cornell Appleton stored the drawings in the building at 61-62 Chatham Street, Boston, but stopped paying the rent for the space upon his retirement in 1966. Soon thereafter, Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) took over the building and staff discovered the abandoned drawings. At this time, both BRA and BPL expressed interest in transferring the drawings to the library as they had already been exposed to adverse storage conditions for years and many drawings had taken on significant damage. However, the drawings remained in the building until a fire circa 1968. After the fire, during which the drawings were further damaged by smoke, water, and melted asphaltam, BPL staff moved the drawings to the former Nike site on Long Island in Boston Harbor, which was used by the library as a storage facility, where they withstood further environmental damage. In the early 1970s, some of the drawings were moved to the basement of the Parker Hill library branch in Roxbury for researcher access. Sinclair Hitchings, Keeper of Prints, moved the remaining drawings on Long Island to the Central library branch in 1973, and soon thereafter also moved the Parker Hill branch drawings to Central.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, approximately 1968-1972.

Related Materials

Henry Wheaton Papers, 1786-1899 (Ms. 2010.033), Brown University, Providence.

Processing Information

This collection is minimally processed. In 2023, Archivist Margaret Peachy converted an existing collection inventory into a finding aid and added collection level description. The pre-existing inventory listed each architectural project (commission) represented in the collection and included commission numbers, building names, addresses, alternative names, clients, project histories, and project phases. This information was transferred to the Scope and Contents note for each commission, using a structured formula. “Unidentified” is used to indicate blank fields from the original inventory. Peachy derived extent information for each commission from the inventory’s count of rolls but did not confirm extents against the physical materials. No physical processing took place at the time of finding aid creation.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Guide to Peabody & Stearns architectural drawings
Margaret Peachy
2023 December
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

About this library

Part of the Boston Public Library Archives & Special Collections Repository

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Boston MA 02116 United States