The New York Historical Society's Library
 

 
THE New- York Historical Society is one of the oldest in the city, its organization dating back to the early days of the republic. On November 20, 1804, Egbert Benson, De Witt Clinton, Rev. Drs. William Linn, Samuel Miller, John N. Abeel, John M. Mason, Dr.David Hosack, Anthony Bleecker, Samuel Bayard, Peter G. Stuyvesant, and John Pintard, eleven well-known and influential citizens, met by appointment in the picture-room of the City Hall and agreed to organize a society the principal design of which should be to collect and preserve materials relating to the natural, civil, or ecclesiastical history of the United States in general and of the State of New York in particular. It was further agreed that this organization should be called the New York Historical Society.

Active measures were at once taken to secure books, manuscripts, statistics, newspapers, pictures, antiquities, medals, coins, and specimens in natural history, thus commencing in a comprehensive manner the formation of a library and museum for the preservation of materials relating to American history and science. Attention was called through the press to the importance of cherishing public records and private papers, and their value to the student in elucidating the history of the State and country was impressed upon the public mind. Special committees were formed in the various departments to further the progress of this important work. All were quite successful in their efforts, and the material thus gathered formed the nucleus of the magnificent collection of which to-day the society may be justly proud. As the popular interest in studies of this character increased, many of these special committees developed into separate societies, who charged themselves with promoting more fully their respective objects ; and several of these outgrowths of this society as the parent stock are in a flourishing condition at the present time.

The chief purpose of the institution, to collect and preserve materials relating to the history of New- York, has been faithfully pursued. Previous to its organization no attempt had been made to gather or secure documents and records of the highest interest, which, chiefly through ignorance of their importance, had been neglected or cast aside as useless. But one history of New-York, that of Justice Smith, coming down only to the year 1756, had been printed. Through the exertions of the society material was gathered at home and abroad and made available to the student, so that the details of our colonial history are now familiar. The society has issued thirty volumes of its " Collections and Proceedings," besides a large number of historical papers and addresses in pamphlet form. Its example has been closely followed by county or town organizations throughout the State, and to-day a large city in the United States without its historical or antiquarian society is a rare exception.

After occupying rooms in different locations, in the old City Hall from 1804 to 1809, the Government House from 1809 to 1816, the New cal papers and addresses in pamphlet form. Its example has been closely followed by county or town organizations throughout the State, and to-day a large city in the United States without its historical or antiquarian society is a rare exception.

After occupying rooms in different locations, in the old City Hall from 1804 to 1809, the Government House from 1809 to 1816, the New York Institution from 1816 to 1832, Remsen's building in Broadway from 1832 to 1837, the Stuyvesant Institute from 1837 to 1841, the New York University from 1841 to 1857, and after overcoming many serious and almost fatal obstacles to its progress, the society celebrated its fifty-third anniversary by taking possession of its present edifice.

The library now contains about one hundred thousand volumes of reference, and large collections of scarce pamphlets, maps, newspapers, and manuscripts of especial value to the historical student. Steady accessions are being received to its extensive collections of works relating to early American history, the colonial period, and that of the Revolution, and in the department of genealogy, enlarged by the generous York Institution from 1816 to 1832, Remsen's building in Broadway from 1832 to 1837, the Stuyvesant Institute from 1837 to 1841, the New York University from 1841 to 1857, and after overcoming many serious and almost fatal obstacles to its progress, the society celebrated its fifty-third anniversary by taking possession of its present edifice.
The library now contains about one hundred thousand volumes of reference, and large collections of scarce pamphlets, maps, newspapers, and manuscripts of especial value to the historical student. Steady accessions are being received to its extensive collections of works relating to early American history, the colonial period, and that of the Revolution, and in the department of genealogy, enlarged by the generous bequest of the late Stephen Whitney Phoenix of his comprehensive library, with a munificent fund for its maintenance and increase, the society's collection seems likely to continue unrivaled in the whole country.

The manuscript-room of the society is filled with documentary treasures, the most of which constitute important material for publication. Among the principal collections are the Golden papers, extending through our colonial period from 1720 to 1776; the Gates, Steuben, Stirling, Duer, and Lamb papers, relating to the Revolutionary period, and the Gallatin papers, illustrating the early history of the republic. In the department of antiquities the larger collections consist of the celebrated Abbott collection of Egyptian antiquities, purchased for the institution in 1859 ; the Nineveh sculptures, presented by the late James Lenox in 1857 ; and a considerable collection, made through many years, of relics of the American aborigines. The department will bear comparison in interest and value with many celebrated European cabinets.  The gallery of art now embraces, in addition to the society's early collection of paintings and sculpture, the largest and most important gallery of historical portraits in the country ; together with the collection, transferred to the society in 1858, of the New- York Gallery of Fine Arts, including the Reed collection ; the pictures belonging to the American Art Union at its dissolution ; the original water-colors, four hundred and seventy-four in number, prepared by Audubon for his great work on natural history ; the famous Bryan gallery of old masters, presented to the society by the late Thomas J. Bryan in 1857 ; and the extensive Durr collection, selected and presented by the executors of the late Louis Durr, in accordance with the terms of
his will, in 1881.

The number of paintings is now eight hundred and thirty-five, and it has sixty-three pieces of sculpture, forming the largest and most valuable of the permanent collections yet exhibited on this continent. The New-York gallery and Reed collection contain many celebrated works of early American artists, while the noble collections of Bryan and Durr, including a great variety of subjects and artists, are especially valuable to the student of art in tracing the development and progress of painting during the long and important period from the fourteenth to the close of the seventeenth century. Most of these extensive collections have been benefactions. The names of the public-spirited men who made them will be remembered and honored by the society while it lasts, and by an intelligent community impressed with the high purposes for which it was founded.

From the earliest days of its history, its officers and members have been among the distinguished sons of New York. Statesmen, scholars, and merchants have been identified for three generations with its literary transactions and its endeavors to accumulate material for the instruction and cultivation of the people. Its list of presidents from its foundation to the present time, representing many honored names in the social and political annals of the city, is here given, and includes Egbert Benson, Gouveraeur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Dr. David Hosack, James Kent, Morgan Lewis, Peter G. Stuyvesant, Peter A. Jay, Albert Gallatin, Luther Bradish, Thomas De Witt, D. D.,Frederic De Peyster, Hamilton Fish, Augustus Schell, Benjamin H. Field, and John A. King. The irresistible tendency to move up town affected the Historical Society in the same ratio as it influenced other societies, churches, and private residences, and through the liberality of the friends of the society funds were raised, and in June, 1891, a site costing $286,500 was purchased on Eighth Avenue (Central Park, west), consisting of ten city lots, with a frontage of 204 feet on the avenue and a depth of 125 feet on Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh streets respectively.

The site selected for the future home of the society is an admirable one ; facing Central Park on the east, and Manhattan Square on the north, the position of the proposed building will guarantee safety from fire and abundance of air and light. The transverse roads through Central Park and the new methods of rapid transit will insure its convenience of access, while its proximity to the Museum of Natural History will ere long make it a center of attraction to members, students, and visitors generally.


 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The New York Historical Society's Library
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Memorial History of the City of New York From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892 Edited by James Grant Wilson Volume IV; New York History Company 1893
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