The Boston Athenaeum-Boston’s Little Known Crown Jewel

Today, I have a special treat to share with you.

Now, some of you definitely know about the Boston Athenaeum. (please visit their website here.) I know this because before moving here, several of you mentioned that it is a:

1. must-see place in Boston


2. I will love it.

The answer is:

1. Yes!


2. Yes!


So, what is the Boston Athenaeum? Does it have anything to do with Athens, Greece?


The Boston Antheneum is a library with a collection of over 500,000 books. But, not only that, there are hundreds of pieces of fine art, furniture, sculpture.

And, yes, some exquisite mid-19th-century classical architecture.


balcony view - quiet roomMy favorite room at the Boston Athenaeum, which you’ll be seeing more of in a bit.

The Boston Atheneum is located on Beacon Street, just a smidgey past the Massachusetts Golden domed statehouse. And, near the northeast corner of Boston Common. This makes it extremely convenient to visit Beacon Hill, the Boston Common, or the Public Garden.


Using the most direct route, the walk is just under one mile from my home.


This morning, I went on a tour of the Boston Athenaeum that was organized through the Beacon Hill Women’s Forum. Originally, I was only on the wait-list. However, two days ago, I got word that a spot opened up for me. Hooray! I was super-excited because about a month ago, I went there with my darling friend and cracker-jack realtor, Wendy Oleksiak, to hear a lecture. While we only saw a small portion of the building, what we saw was exquisite.

The Boston Atheneum was started in 1807, but not in its present location, completed in 1849. Like today, it was a library, art gallery, and thriving cultural center for culture-minded Bostonians.

Today, there are numerous reading rooms and areas for the public and some for members only.


So, guess who their newest member is?


Yes, I joined after the tour. As a member, I have a free run of the place. Plus, I can bring guests, gratis and attend lectures and other events.


So, Laurel… Does that mean if I’m in Boston, and I want to visit the Boston Athenaeum if I suck up to you, first, you’ll get me in for free?


I can’t promise, but it’s worth a try. And, no, you don’t have to suck up to me. All I ever hope for is that people be kind. Anyway, I plan to hang out here at least once a week.

And, yes, you’re about to see why the Boston Athenaeum is this classical girl’s home away from home and source of infinite inspiration.

Mind you. I took about 300 photographs today while trying to also not be (too) rude on the tour. In truth, I do miss a bit of the tour but still managed to run around, take pics and listen simultaneously.


Boston Athenaeum - Library 1st floor

Adjacent to the reception area on the first floor of the Boston Athenaeum is the first library. Most if not all of the floors have a catwalk, and some have balconies at either end.

Off of this room is a staircase and an elevator to the other floors, of which there are five floors, plus a basement level.


However, the original structure had only three floors.


The fourth and fifth floors were added in 1914 when the building was completely renovated.


Boston Athenaeum 1st floor

The large arched doorway leads to a large room which I believe was once used only to display sculpture.


main hall-Boston Athenaeum

There are still many pieces of classical sculpture. However, this is the room I sat in when I attended a lecture early in February 2022.


Sculpture hall Boston Athanaeum

Gorgeous architecture, huge windows, beautiful art.


Granary burying ground - old cemetary Boston Athenaeum

And, quiet neighbors (!) at the Granary burying ground on the property behind the Athenaeum. I understand that there are some big names in history buried here.


George Washington bust

One of them is not George Washington. However, George’s image figures heavily at the Athenaeum in the form of sculptures, paintings, and furniture, too!


Boston Athenaeum - sculpture

I don’t know the name of this sculpture, but I find it interesting.


art Boston Athenaeum Annie Adams Fields - John Singer Sargent

There are two paintings by John Singer-Sargent at the Athenaeum, and this is one of them. Portrait of Annie Adams Fields.


member's reading room Boston Athanaeum

I took this image during the tour of Albert Gordon’s Reading Room. This is a quiet members-only room. Later on, after I joined, I got to go in and see the gorgeous art in here close up.


outside March 2022 - Boston Athanaeum

It was a misty day in Boston, as you can see. I love how the clouds soften the skyscrapers in the background.


George Washington Bookcase - trustee's room

We actually began the tour out of order because there was a meeting at 10:30, and we would not have been able to see the room. This is an oval room with large windows and apricot-painted walls on the fourth floor.

This is the trustees’ room. In the middle is a large table, and the bookcase above is a replica of one George Washington had.

There are also two paintings of him flanking the bookcase.


Art Trustee's room Boston Athenaeum

I love this elegant vignette.


Antique Rug

I’m not sure where this antique rug was. It might’ve been in the trustee’s room; not sure.


Elegant woman -Boston Athenaeum

This is another gorgeous painting in the trustee’s room at the Boston Athenaeum. I’m sorry, but I forgot to note who painted this lovely lady.


4th floor library -Boston Athenaeum

Outside the trustee’s room is this lovely library at the Boston Athenaeum.


Boston Athenaeum Beacon Hill Women's Forum Tour March 2022

Boston Athenaeum Beacon Hill Women’s Forum Tour March 2022

Above are some of the women on the tour with me. I apologize. I don’t remember if this is the third or second floor.


Roman Bust

Throughout the entire library are 100s of pieces of art and sculpture, such as this classic Roman bust.


Bust Boston Athenaeum

Another beautiful bust. These are replicas of other statues.


Boston Athenaeum- library catwalk

Another view of the same library.


Spiral staircase Boston Athenaeum

Everyone admired the charming iron spiral staircase.

Speaking of staircases, even though I haven’t been talking about it, things are moving, albeit slowly, regarding my renovation. However, I don’t have any concrete news to share at this point.


We finished off at the basement level, which did not look like a basement.


Actually, it was a former theater. And, since the ceilings were extra high, they put down a floor about ten feet from the ceiling. However, they left the columns, which look strangely thick since they are essentially “cut” in half.


Basement statue -Boston Athenaeum

I do love this sculpture above of a woman cutting her hair. I did take the front view, but since her back is so lovely, this is the image you’re getting. :]


Ceiling detail and lights basement Boston Athenaeum

The basement features these gorgeous hand-painted ceilings.

Earlier in the tour, we went up to the fifth-floor quiet reading room library.


quiet reading room entrance

However, in the few minutes between when we were told we needed to be quiet and landing there, Laurel completely forgot. It wasn’t that I was talking.


Boston Athenaeum - quiet room

Unfortunately, I let out an audible gasp when I first saw this exquisite architectural gem. Everyone whisper-giggled when I just-as-quickly realized my mistake and covered my mouth in wide-eyed horror. I’m sure it happens frequently. This room is heaven on earth.


Sadly, we only had about five minutes in this room at the Boston Athenaeum.


So, after purchasing my membership, I hightailed it back up here for more images.


Boston Athenaeum - quiet reading room


Boston Athanaeum 5th floor


catwalk view - Boston Athenaeum

And, yes, I walked up one of those tiny staircases which are nowhere near “up to code.” (The treads are barely over 8″ and code is 10″.) However, I walked along the catwalk and took more images from up there.


5th floor quiet reading room


I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of the Boston Athenaeum and will consider checking it out if you come to visit Boston.


I’m pretty sure my information is accurate; however, if anyone finds anything which isn’t, please let me know, and I’ll make the change. In addition to full memberships, you can also get a day pass to use the facilities. And, of course, you can always attend the lectures for a small fee.

For more info about the Boston Athenaeum please go here.

Also, please follow the Boston Athenaeum on Instagram here.

You can also find the Beacon Hill Women’s Forum on Instagram.(You might find me in a few of the images)



PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES.

In addition, the Serena and Lily 20% off sale ends March 22nd. So, if interested, please hurry with your orders.


44 Responses

  1. you have captured a wonderful virtual tour! so many treasures, so little time. I live in r.i. so have been to Boston many times; you can. bet this is my next trip! thank you.

  2. Thanks for sharing your visit to the Athenaeum. I would love to visit just to see the art and architecture. This is exquisite!

    Sara Jane
    Charleston, SC

  3. Oh, I love the Atheneum! And you have captured its most glorious glories so well. Thank you for this, Laurel!

  4. Thank you for sharing. I visit Boston every June and have never been to the Boston Anthenaeum. Going to plan a visit this summer.

  5. So inspiring and yes, I would be hanging there weekly too! We have a similar private library in Cincinnati called The Mercantile Library. It is such a beautiful space with 80k+ books, fancy marble statues and busts, high-ceilings, lectures etc. Check out their insta accout and website
    I have gifted single memberships to a few of my younger friends as that was the way I was introduced to it too.

  6. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at the Boston Athenaeum! It’s absolutely breathtaking. I remember sitting in that red leather chair and never wanting to get up. Thanks so much for the lovely tour–I hope to see it in person again sometime…

  7. WOW! Simpy wonderful library. Thank you so much for all the lovely pictures. I’d be gasping too.

  8. So happy for you, Laurel. You are integrating yourself into your new home in great ways. You’re a Bean now!

  9. I was trying to read a book on Tiny Houses, but gave up after deciding that the angular, boxy structures just weren’t ” Laurel-y” enough!

    Then I treated myself to your blog post I stead…what a treat! My husband and I are ready to become members, and visit the Athenaeum as soon as we can. He treated me to the Birmingham Public Library this past summer as anniversary treat, and the murals by Ezra Winter were delightful. So many hidden gems in libraries! I new bucket list will be “Libraries I Want to Visit.” I remember going to work with my dad in high school, and while he worked at Piper Jaffrey in St. Paul, I went and did my homework in the James J. Hill Reference Library. Such fun!

    Thanks for another great treat, Laurel!

  10. Incredible architecture! I now want to see the Athenaeum in person. I realized that I last time I toured Boston was in 2002! Time for another visit, don’t you think?

  11. What memories! I used to go study there occasionally when I was a college student. So peaceful, so beautiful.

  12. Oh Laurel that was fabulous! I am bringing my sleeping bag and never leaving the building. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely, lovely library.

  13. Out of curiosity, the shades of blue paint stand out to me in many of your photos. Any sense as to why they chose this color to carry through? And, is it the same blue on each floor?

  14. Laurel, what a gift for us to be exposed to this fantastic space. And what a wonderful gift to you, the membership is. You are a motivation for me, new to my city/state to get out there, see things and meet people! Thank you…

  15. How nice to see photos of the Athenaeum again; thanks for sharing these, Laurel! I spent many hours there when in grad school in the late ’80s. During the Christmas season, the classical busts up on the top floor reading room used to have red fabric bows tied around their necks– charming! I hope the Athenaeum still does that. Be sure to visit at Christmas to see!

  16. Four or five years ago I visited Boston for a week (I really needed a month or more). Unfortunately I didn’t see this beautiful building, but on a macabre note I did spend an hour in the graveyard. LOL

  17. OMG the light fixtures! Works of art in their own right. I am very intrigued by the flooring. It looks like wood but I could not see planks or seams. Large scale parquet? Thanks for a lovely Sunday morning.

  18. Oh Laurel! I understand your excitement! I got to tour a local french chateau called The Carolands that I’d wanted to see for 30 years! It was in ruins for decades and then a family purchased it and spent $40m to get it back on it’s feet. And now they are they doing tours! I waited weeks to be picked in the lottery. I drooled and teared up by the deep beauty inside, especially in the butlers pantry and library. Thanks for sharing this beauty with us!

  19. Wonderful post Laurel…I am in Charleston, where the Charleston Library Society predates that of the Boston Atheneum. But I’m originally from Providence, where the Providence Atheneum is located, close to the Rhode Island School of Design. Great day trip for you!

  20. Fantastic tour Laurel. Thank you for sharing it. Follow your blog and absolutely love your decor and design philosophy.


  21. The pictures are lovely! I am so glad you are enjoying living in Boston. It suits you well! Please keep posting pictures of your Boston life so that we can live it vicariously!

  22. What a treat to be so near to! Thank you for sharing, something for my bucket list on my next trip to Bean Town. I think the duo statues could be Adam and Eve? I am enthralled by Singer’s split background of Ms. Adams-Field…I will now be looking at paintings of the era with new eyes. Which makes me wonder if the other portrait of the unknown woman might not be Singer as well.

  23. My daughter is at Harvard and neither of us had known about this architectural gem! Thanks for sharing! I am in 10th year of renovating our historic home and currently planning a library loft area. This phenomenal post is giving me way too many ideas! A visit is now on our list for next Boston trip!

  24. Thank you so much for sharing this gem. We have been to Boston many times to watch our nephew who pitches for the Red Sox. I always try to fill the downtime with local history and museums. I have never heard of this one. Will for sure put it on the list when we travel from Texas.

  25. I love the picture of the woman in the trustee room. So charming. There’s just something about a beautiful portrait. I have a copy of the Girl With Pearl Earring in my entrance. She’s elusive but then, not really.

    The portrait you shared evokes that same feeling.
    Thank you for diversion this week.

  26. Awesome way to spend time this morning , touring that gorgeous library through your eyes.
    I have recently become aware of another collection of art, manuscripts that I have never heard of- The Morgan Library and Museum in NYC. I read the book, The Personal Librarian, that tells the story of JPMorgan’s assistant who helped create this collection which is on Madison Avenue.
    How many times did I pass this building and was never aware of what was housed so close by.
    There are treasures everywhere, but we need to be educated to there whereabouts. I now have two places to put on my wish list- one in Boston, thanks to you and one in NYC.
    Did you ever visit the Morgan Museum?

  27. Thanks for the beautiful photographs. For many years my husband and I gifted a membership to the Athenaeum to his mother. Now seeing it for the first time, all I can say is WOW!

  28. Good morning,
    Thank you for the tour. They don’t make them like they used to that’s for sure. What a beautiful place!

  29. Hi Laurel! Thank you for a beautiful post! I love seeing Boston through your lens. I’m guessing that sculpture is Adam and Eve. See the apple near his foot?

  30. What a treasure. Your photograph of the sculpture (could they be Adam and Eve?) in front of the window is a piece of art itself. The glow of a light, the mist hovering in the graveyard, the couple in despair…well done.

  31. What a gem! The architecture is so rich, and many of the furniture pieces are so unique.

    One thing I love about the Athenaeum is their online access to digital records. As a genealogy hobbyist, it’s a great resource for Boston city directories in the 19th and early 20th centuries (when my Irish ancestors were living in Boston). So you can enjoy some aspects from afar (in my case, the South Shore..).

  32. My 70th birthday trip will be to Boston this July. Never been there and am excited. Wonder how many days I need to see the sights. What do you think?

  33. What a stunning place! I love all the exquisite oriental rugs everywhere.

    How could you not become a member? Of course you did!

    Loved all the art. Thanks for the tour!

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