Thursday, March 15, 2012

Find Old MA House Photos in the Forbes Collection

The Varnum House in Lowell from the Forbes Collection
at the American Antiquarian Society
Harriette Merrifield Forbes (1856-1951) is better known by taphophiles for her photographic documentation of gravestone carvings than she is for her interest in architecture. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a collection of old house and structure photographs that she had taken between the 1890s and the 1930s.

Known as the Forbes Collection, it is housed at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The collection includes 800 negatives of 575 structures, mostly houses, from Middlesex and Worcester Counties in Massachusetts from the 17th and 18th centuries. The photos capture early New England vernacular architecture.  There is a geographic place index, name index as well as a subject index. It is not clear to me (short of counting the links) as to whether whole collection is viewable from the index or not. Additionally, the photos are viewable one by one, with no links going from one photo to the next. So expect to do a lot of forward arrow and back arrow clicking if you want to browse the collection.

If you live in either Middlesex or Worcester County and your house dates no later than the 18th century then you should check this valuable resource for early 19th century photos of your home.  Visit the Forbes architecture collection online and if you have any further questions about the collection please contact the American Antiquarian Society.


  1. Nice information. I'm going there soon and I can check this out on top of my already overflowing list of things to do whilst I'm there!

  2. Must be Kismet...I am reading one of her books right NOW. Her storytelling is as beautifully detailed and emotive as her incredible photographs.

    (The Hundredth Town: Glimpses of Life in Westborough 1717-1817. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill,1889.)