By Kathie Gow, Hatfield Historical Society
Re-blogged from:

Last Saturday I attended a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester along with some of my Hatfield Historical Museum work associates. I’ve wanted to check the place out for years, so when I saw that History Camp was hosting this tour, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Our tour was given by Jim Moran, AAS Director of Programs and Outreach, who answered all our questions (but sheepishly admitted he didn’t know how to turn on the lights since tours are not usually given on the weekend when AAS is closed.)

Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the AAS is both a learned society of 1,100 members and one of the largest independent research libraries in the country. They hold about 4 million items in Antiquarian Hall , including the first item printed in America in 1640, and, according to Jim, two-thirds of all material printed in this country before 1820! The bulk of their holdings go to 1876 (with some collections into the early 1900s), and all the pre-1820 items have been digitized. Wow.

Jim showed us the printing press on which Isaiah Thomas worked as a boy as an indentured servant, and he held aloft a facsimile of the Massachusetts Spy, a patriot newspaper published by Thomas during the Revolution.

What a fabulous place to do research, with wide empty tables, book cradles and the world of early American print at your fingertips. (I fantasized after leaving of taking an intellectual retreat this summer by renting a room across the street at WPI, and spending my days at AAS, researching local history…) I was also coveting their reading tables and miles of storage shelves (their website says 20 miles?!) – my dream for Hatfield’s Historical Museum includes smaller versions of both.

Tours similar to the one I took happen Wednesdays at 3 pm – also for FREE (though donations are encouraged). Reservations are not needed, but they require advance notice if your group is more than 10. Or, you can read and meet their requirements for doing research there, any day of the week, also for free.

Want to search the online catalog to see what might interest you? Check it out:

My quick search for Hatfield references turned up an early history of Hatfield written in the 1860s, plus some interesting notes: Justus Forward (1730-1814) taught at Hatfield Academy (on Hatfield’s Main St.), likely from 1754 to 1756. Eliza Ann (Washburn) Moen (1826-1853) wrote to her parents about boarding school life in Hatfield in the 1830s or ’40s. (Since Smith Academy wasn’t started until 1872, and Hatfield Academy operated much earlier – in the 1750s-1760s – I wonder what school it was she attended?) Then there was a Hatfield meeting of Hampshire County house joiners and cabinetmakers in March 1796, at which time they set prices for work. I must see all of these!

Here’s another blog post about our tour from a fellow participant, genealogist Beth Finch McCarthy, with more detail:

Oh, and the headline? It was one of the questions on the AAS FAQ page — as some people apparently get them mixed up with an aquarium! Too funny.

To see more photos, check out original post at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s