14 May 2018

The Peabody Essex Museum's Phillips Library collections: a timeline from 1799 to 2018

Inside the Phillips Library in Salem, Massachusetts, 1885
One of the oldest research libraries in the country, Phillips Library contains more than 400,000 rare books and 117,000 square feet of manuscripts, original papers, photographic images, and prints from Salem and Essex county, Massachusetts, to places around the world. It's probably best known as the repository for the 1692 Salem witch trials documents; letters and manuscripts from Nathaniel Hawthorne and his literary circle; plus ships' logs and maritime journals documenting travels to the Far East. 

Of particular interest are local family histories and town records, military records, original genealogical papers, newspapers and city directories, charts and maps, business and social records, papers of notable Americans, works of regional authors, broadsides and ephemera, publications from literary and historical societies, art and architecture books, history books, and materials related to its museum collections.

For more than 200 years, the Phillips Library collection has been an integral part of Salem. The timeline, below, shows how the Phillips Library started and grewand where it's headed next.

1799 East India Marine Society founded for creating a library on navigation and seafaring topics and collecting curiosities from native cultures of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.

1821 Essex Historical Society founded.

1833 Essex County Natural History Society founded.

1848 Essex Institute formed by the union of the Essex Historical Society and Essex County Natural History Society; focus on literary, historical, and scientific pursuits; museum library, historic houses, educational programs, scholarly publications.

1857 Plummer Hall built for Salem Athenaeum with money provided in the 1845 will of Caroline Plummer; Essex Institute rented rooms at Plummer Hall for library and collections.

1867-1868 Peabody Academy of Science formed with the purchase of the East India Marine Hall along with the historic and ethnological collections of East India Marine Society. Essex Institute permanently transferred its natural history collections, originally collected by the Essex County Natural History Society, to the Peabody Academy. The Peabody Academy permanently transferred its historical collections to the Essex Institute, which concentrated its focus on local history, genealogy, and art.

1885 Essex Institute acquired the Daland house for the Phillips Library.

1905 Essex Institute bought Plummer Hall from Salem Athenaeum.

1915 Peabody Academy of Science changed its name to Peabody Museum of Salem, with its focus on maritime history of New England, Pacific and Japanese ethnology, and natural history of Essex county.

1972 National Register of Historic Places approves formation of the Essex Institute Historic District formed within the bounds of the Armory, Essex Street, Washington Square West, and Brown Street.

1992 Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) founded through consolidation of Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute. Within a few years, PEM changed its focus to become an arts and culture museum.   

1997 PEM’s Phillips Library closed for “massive restoration project, including climate control and modern archival storage” (closed 9 months).

2004 reduced hours and limited access to Phillips Library after laying off all but one librarian. At the same time, PEM said it would put “part of its 400,000 volumes and 2 million manuscript papers on the Internet.” Already 26,000 records had been scanned.

2011 Phillips Library is closed during “preservation and renovation work on Plummer Hall and Daland House (expected completion 2013)” (closed 19 months). During part of the closure, PEM exhibited 35 rare items as part of its Unbound, Highlights from the Phillips Library at PEM exhibit. 

2013 Phillips Library collection moved to temporary collection center in Peabody, with limited access to the library's resources. 

2015 PEM announced “$20 million renovation and improvement of PEM’s Phillips Library....housed in two noted 1850s architectural treasures, the John Tucker Daland House and Plummer Hall, both of which are being renovated by Schwartz/Silver Architects.” Part of the funds were used to digitally catalog the collections in PhilCat.

2017 Peabody Essex Museum purchased building in Rowley for its new Collections Center.

2018 Phillips Library moved to Collections Center in Rowley (closed Sept. 2017 to mid-June 2018)