A Palace For The People – What’s New at The Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library at Copley Square

An institution that feels as old as the city itself, the Boston Public Library is an icon and is definitely worth a visit on your next trip!

Established in 1848, the BPL was the first large and free municipal library in the United States. At first, the library was housed in a former schoolhouse on Mason Street, but it was clear a larger more suitable building was needed. Architect Charles Follen McKim was commissioned to create something magnificent on Boylston Street, which he surely did.

A Quick History and The Must-Sees of The Boston Public Library

boston public library

Source: Virtual Museum of Public Science

In 1895 the BPL re-opened on Boylston Street and was dubbed a “palace for the people.” There was no other library like it at the time, it was lavishly decorated and featured modern amenities such as a children’s room, central courtyard, rare works, and several galleries.

The BPL has been a place of learning, gathering, and inspiration ever since, and today it features, even more, to explore and experience!

The next major renovation didn’t occur until 1972 when an entire second building was completed by architect Philip Johnson. The Johnson building holds the circulating collection of the general library and also serves as headquarters for the 24 branch libraries of the Boston Public Library system. The McKim and Johnson buildings sit side by side in Copley Square, beckoning visitors to come in and explore their wonders!

In 2016, the Johnson building received a facelift and slight renovation to be more inviting, connected to the McKim building, and reflect the accomplishments of the 21st century.

There’s much to take in at the BPL, with two enormous buildings and over a hundred years of history, the question begs where to begin!?

boston public library

Source: Newsfeed Cafe

No sweat, we’ve visited the BPL countless times, and here are so of our favorite things to do and see while there:

  • Grab a pastry and a coffee or tea from the energetic Newsfeed Cafe, usually the first place people see when entering the Johnson building.
  • Visit one of the most architecturally important rooms in the world – Bates Hall. It features a majestic barrel-arched ceiling enclosed by half domes on each end, English oak bookcases, busts of eminent authors and Bostonians, and a richly carved limestone balcony. You’ll find this room on the second floor of the McKim building.  
  • Admire the beautiful murals that adorn the grand staircase in the McKim building. Painted by the renowned French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, eight stairway murals representing the main disciplines of poetry, philosophy, and science.
  • Gaze in awe at the rare painted murals done by John Singer Sargent on the third floor. World religions in the theme, which was quite an unusual series theme at the time.
  • Watch the legend of King Arthur unfold over 15 mural panels in the Abbey Room. Done by Edwin Austin Abbey, these mural panels are incredible.
  • Relax amidst the aesthetically pleasing surroundings in the courtyard of the McKim building. Yes, there is a beautiful fountain!

Never a place to stay stagnant, the BPL is always bringing in new things to see and has more renovations scheduled over the coming years. Located in Copley Square, not only is the library itself a destination, but it’s situated next to a variety of other Boston icons, such as the Trinity Church.

Want to stay in a hotel central to Boston’s icons and history? Within steps of the BPL? Choose Copley Square Hotel for your Boston stay, and find yourself immersed in the history and charms of Boston’s Back Bay.

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