Visiting the Massachusetts State Archives

Earlier this week I traveled to the Massachusetts State Archives to assist an acquaintance from the West Coast in his Civil War research.  The Archives is located at Columbia Point in Boston, next to the JFK Library and not far from the UMass Boston Campus.  While I’d been there before, it was always by car.  This time my journey was entirely by public transportation.  In the planning stages, the trip seemed complicated but in execution it was simple, so I decided to share the logistics here.

The first leg of my trip began at Lowell’s Gallagher Terminal where I caught the very crowded 7:18 am commuter rail train to Boston.  The train rolled to a stop precisely at its 8:05 arrival time although it took a few minutes to exit because of the crowd.  From there it was a short walk to the North Station MBTA station where I boarded an Orange Line subway train at 8:15 am.  I stayed on the Orange Line for just a few stops, exiting that train at Downtown Crossing.  There, I switched to a Red Line train bound for Braintree.  Five stops later I was at the JFK/UMass Boston T station.  I had planned to walk from there to the Archives, a distance I estimated to be nearly a half-mile, but when I got of the train there were no street signs or other landmarks visible to help me establish my direction of travel.  What was very prominent was a big sign that said “Free Shuttle Bus to JFK Library & State Archives” so when that bus pulled up a few minutes later, I boarded it and was deposited at the front door of the Archives five minutes later.

The Archives houses the Commonwealth Museum which currently has an exhibition of many of our state’s founding documents including the original charter for Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1629.  The largest portion of the Archives, however, is devoted to the storage and study of important (and very old) documents.  A central research room is available to the public, but you must first register by showing a photo ID and obtaining a personalized visitor’s badge.  Bags, food and drink and pens of any type are banned from the research room.  All you may bring inside are pencils, paper (or a laptop computer).  Besides the original paper documents there is an abundant and diverse supply of microfilm.  An index of the Archives’s holdings is available on its website.

For me, this trip was mostly an orientation visit.  I found the State Archives easy to get to from Lowell via public transportation.  I also found the staff of the Archives to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable.  It’s well worth a visit.