from the Public Works Department Photographs collection
105 State Street, Boston from the Public Works Department Photographs collection

Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons!  Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark.  Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.

On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection.  Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns.  What gives?  In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth.  There are two of them.

Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself.  My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.

So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth.  Enjoy!

Boston Public Library

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 3 items added to existing collection

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 285 items added to existing collection

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Prints, Drawings, and Paintings – 577 items

Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection
Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection


Cape Cod Community College

Cape Cod Association Collection, 1851-1969 – 80 items


City of Boston Archives

20 collections – 3,750 records harvested


Historic Newton

Historic Newton Early Photograph Collection – 279 items



Plan of Greenwich from the  Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection
Plan of Greenwich from the Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection

Massachusetts Archives

Town plans, 1794 – 403 items


Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Laws, Regulations and Commerce Collection – 3 items

NCCHP Museum Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Business Correspondence Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Employee Collection – 7 items

Trade Catalog Collection – 4 items


Town of Rockport

Rockport Town Clerk, Street, Roads and Maps – 228 items


University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

53 collections – 26,759 records re-harvested


Written by Patricia Feeley, Interlibrary Loan Librarian, Boston Public Library

The handwritten caption on this photo states, “Taken Ropepull day Sept. 18, 1895″.  I don’t know if these mostly cheerful, mostly young men are rope pullers (tug of warriors?) or spectators.  The University of Massachusetts at Amherst simply calls it, “Rope pull, undated”.

I was originally looking at the many photos of rope pulls/tugs of war (tug of wars?) in the Digital Commonwealth collection.  UMass/ Amherst, Springfield College and Clark University all contributed photos.  Concentrating on the variety at UMass/Amherst, you’ll find photos showing teams already in the campus pond, digging in on the shore and gathered triumphantly wreathed in the hard-won rope.   But then I saw this one:

 Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst Photograph Collection

It shows us a near pyramid of men in a field.  Take a closer look. They are sitting on hay bales.  There is nothing other than the caption to indicate this is a team (or teams) of rope pullers or spectators.  What it does show is hats, hats and more hats.  There are top hats, stove pipe hats, bowlers, scally caps and hats I don’t even have names for.  About the only style I can’t find is the currently ubiquitous baseball cap.  The man without a hat is the exception.  A couple of especially dandy students even have walking sticks.

In the third row, far left, a young man holds a small flag with the number 97 on it.  I like to think he, if not most of this crowd, was from the Class of 1897.  One person who was not is in the second row, about 5 in from the right, wearing a Lord Fauntleroy collar.  I doubt he was on the rope pull that day.  Some college fashion, however, is timeless.  Look closely at the front, far right side.  You’ll see a few students in school sweatshirts.  Back in the day, of course, UMass was Massachusetts Agricultural College, hence the MAC shirts.

So, if your favorite college student is constantly outfitted in baseball cap and sweatshirt, he (or she) is simply following a long tradition.  Take a photo of him and his friends – hay bales optional.  In 100 years, it may deserve a closer look.

If you have a favorite photo as deserving of A Closer Look as this merry bunch, please let us know.  Send your Closer Look or a link to your photo to