Danvers Archival Center
A Brief Guide

The Danvers Archival Center is a department of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers, Massachusetts. The Peabody Institute Library is the town’s public library, established in the mid-nineteenth century through the philanthropy of native son George Peabody (1795-1869). The idea of the Archival Center evolved from a 1970 research paper titled, A Plan for the Development of Danvers’s History, written for a graduate course in historic preservation at Northeastern University by Richard B. Trask. The plan called for the creation of an archival and manuscript center, as well as establishing a Historic District around Centre Street, the further historic development of Glen Magna and the Endicott Estate, etc. The paper was accepted that same year by the Danvers Historical Commission as a Local History Master Plan.

Guide 1

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The idea of a local Archival Center was to collect and place in one central location, protected from fire, atmospheric and insect damage, all the written and printed materials relating to the history of Salem Village and Danvers, Massachusetts. After many months of discussion, a number of citizens and organizations took up the cause and began the process of creating an actual archive. Among the group of people strongly committed in establishing such a “pilot” local research center were: Dr. John L. George, Trustee of the Peabody Institute Library; Daniel J. Toomey, Town Clerk of Danvers; Marshall G. Moore, President of the Danvers Historical Society; Thurl D. Brown, Danvers preservation activist and Danvers Veterans’ Agent; Leonard Nolan, Chairman of the History Department at Danvers High School; Margaret C. Cummings, Chairman of the Danvers Historical Commission; and William H. Clark, Jr., representative of the First Church, Congregational and Danvers High School Audio-Visual Director.

Dedication program on the establishment of the Danvers Archival Center, April 1, 1973

Dedication program on the establishment of the Danvers Archival Center, April 1, 1973

As the process developed, important assistance was given by Dr. Richard Hale, Archivist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and George M. Cunha, Director of the New England Document Conservation Center. Representatives of several major repositories of Danvers historic records agreed that rather than simply continuing to posses historic documents which remained uncatalogued, in potential environmental hazard, and virtually unavailable to the public, they would pool their resources.

At the March 1972 annual Danvers Town Meeting the position of Town Archivist was funded within the Peabody Institute Library department. Several months later an Archivist Selection Committee recommended and the Library Trustees appointed Richard B. Trask as first Town Archivist, whose responsibility it would be to collect, preserve, conserve, and care for the historic materials, as well as act as a resource person for town history matters.

The Archives in the Historical  Society basement 1973

The Archives in the Historical Society basement, 1973

Through the generous cooperation of the Danvers Historical Society, the Archival Center would be initially established and housed in the Society headquarters at 13 Page Street. This brick and concrete building had been designed by local architect Lester S. Couch, built in 1930, and named “Memorial Hall.” The Danvers Historical Society graciously allowed the town the use of the fire-retardant lower level space at no charge, while also absorbing all utility costs. Numerous individuals and organizations gave money and volunteered time to transform this space into an archival room with appropriate floor-covering, new paint, and the installation of bookshelves, new lighting and necessary equipment. The Archival Center began operations in October 1972, and was dedicated in a public ceremony in the meeting hall above on April 1, 1973.

Then in 1981, following Danvers Town Meeting appropriating funds for a major renovation and expansion of the beautiful 1892 Colonial Revival style Peabody Institute Library, the Archival Center was able to move into newly constructed quarters designed specifically for the archival collections at 15 Sylvan Street.

Guide 4On December 5, 1981, the entire contents of the Archival Center was moved by an all-volunteer crew to its new, expanded quarters at the Library. Approximately 2,500 square feet of new construction was created below ground level on the Peabody Avenue side of the Library for Archival Center use. As built, the archive facility includes a spacious Reading Room, a secure Manuscript Storage Room and a 6-hour fire-rated Walk-In Vault. The Archival Center is fire resistant, secure, has its own climate control and security system, and is essentially an independent space within the library complex. The archivist is a department head of the library and was also appointed an Assistant Town Clerk of Danvers in order to have custody of municipal records.


Collection Policy

Watercolor of Danvers Town Hall by Richard Ellery, ca. 1944

According to our written collection policy: “The Danvers Archival Center is a repository for information relating to the history and development of the geographical area encompassing Salem Village and Danvers, Massachusetts. The Archival Center performs its mission by gathering and collecting flat, informational materials through gifts and purchases, and through permanent deposits in cases where the material is owned by functioning corporate organizations. Among items collected by the Archival Center are books, pamphlets, monographs, manuscripts, broadsides, periodicals, newspapers, maps, architectural drawings, photographs, prints, audio and video tape, films, CDs and microfilms. Also among the Archival Center’s collecting area are occasional works of art in oil, chalk, watercolor, etc.; gravestone estrays; coffin plates; road signs, etc. All these materials are collected and catalogued in order to preserve the history and memory of the community and to make these materials available to the general public, municipal departments, and researchers of present and future generations.”

From a non-existent collection in 1972, our combined collections today make up one of the largest and most important documentary resources of a community of its size in the entire United States. Among materials on permanent deposit are the book and manuscript local history holdings of the Danvers Historical Society and Peabody Institute Library, pre-1920 Town of Danvers municipal records and the records and papers of numerous Danvers churches and town organizations.

Signatures on a 1691 deed deposited by the Danvers Historical Society

Besides retaining, preserving and eventually cataloguing all current and back log records, the Archival Center is committed to continuously upgrading the collection through gifts, deposits and purchases. An Archive Special Fund has been established to accept monetary donations in order to acquire important manuscripts and books relating to our collection areas.

Our combined collections remain, even after decades of operation, an unusual, seldom-found mix of diverse municipal, corporate and private research materials gathered together through the cooperative venture of many diverse, independent organizations that were willing to give up physical custody of the papers for their being properly conserved, preserved, catalogued, stored and accessible.


Collection Areas

DANVERS HISTORY BOOKS. The Danvers History Book Collection is located on shelving units in the Archive Reading Room. Included in this segment of the collection is all manner of printed material relating to the Town of Danvers. Also available are histories of surrounding Essex County communities which have had an impact on Danvers history, including Salem, Beverly, Middleton, Lynn, Wenham and Topsfield. The Archives also includes any Peabody, Massachusetts, histories, as Peabody was part of Danvers until 1855.

Various periodicals devoted to specialized Danvers topics, such as the multi-volume Danvers Historical Society Collections from 1913, and annual reports of the Danvers State Hospital from 1875 to the 1930s, are also here. Official town publications include complete runs of the Statement of the Accounts of Danvers and Danvers Annual Reports from 1845; Valuations of Danvers from 1856; Danvers School Reports from 1839; and Street Poll Lists from 1890. There is a complete run of Holten and Danvers High School yearbooks and “The Holten Magazine,” together with many yearbooks of St. John’s Preparatory School.

Biographies are collected of notable Danvers citizens including John Endecott (1588-1665), Samuel Parris (1653-1720), Israel Putnam (1718-1790), Samuel Holten (1738-1814), Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), George Peabody (1795-1869), William Crowninshield Endicott (1826-1900), and Grenville M. Dodge (1831-1916). Works of fiction by Danvers authors or featuring Danvers locations are also collected.

Augmenting this collection are general reference sets important to local study including Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay; Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts; Essex County Quarterly Court Records and Files, 1636-1686; and the Essex Institute Historical Collections from 1859 to 1993.


THE DR. RICHARD P. ZOLLO WHITTIER COLLECTION. A noted subcategory within our Danvers history books is a large collection of works by and about famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). Whittier resided in Danvers at the Oak Knoll mansion on Summer Street for most of sixteen years. The majority of the Whittier books in our collection have been donated by Whittier scholar, English professor, and Danvers native Dr. Richard P. Zollo. This subcategory, which also includes manuscripts and visual materials housed elsewhere in the Archives, was officially designated in 2005 as the “Dr. Richard P. Zollo Whittier Collection.”


DANVERS HISTORY PAMPHLETS. While our bound history volumes are available on the shelves of the Archive Reading Room, our pamphlet collection is stored in individual folders located in the Manuscript Storage Room and available on request. These items are typically wrapper or paper covered. They include imprints from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries concerning numerous historical, informational, religious, governmental, and political subjects. Represented in our collections are local sermons, eulogies, almanacs, governmental reports, constitutions & bylaws, memorials, addresses, poetry, soft-cover cookbooks, genealogical and biographical articles, souvenir and anniversary booklets, rules and regulations, etc.



GENEALOGY. While the Archival Center is not a genealogical library and does not attempt to gather an all-encompassing collection of family histories, it does endeavor to acquire genealogies that relate to important Danvers families. Among those represented are the very large Putnam family, and independent volumes representing the Porter, Tapley, Peabody, Fowler, Preston, Southwick, Marsh, Proctor and other families. A very helpful resource for both genealogy and history is the three-volume set by Sidney Perley published in the 1920s and titled The History of Salem, Massachusetts. 1626-1716.

Reference volumes for genealogical research include a large collection of printed vital records of birth, death and marriage up to 1850 representing most Massachusetts communities. Military references include the multi-volume sets Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolution, and Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Civil War. Other helpful genealogical sets include The Essex Antiquarian from 1897-1909; and the New England Historical and Genealogical Register dating from 1847. Also of aid to the genealogical researcher are the town manuscript vital records dating from 1752 to about 1917.


WITCHCRAFT MATERIALS. This nationally significant collection is named “The Ellerton J. Brehaut Witchcraft Collection” in honor of Mr. Brehaut, a book collector, dealer and antiquarian who lived at the 17th century Daniel Rea house off Locust Street, and who donated his collection of witchcraft volumes to the Peabody Institute Library in 1960. The Brehaut Witchcraft Collection is perhaps the most complete collection of printed materials relating to the world famous 1692 witchcraft delusion which began and festered in Salem Village (present-day Danvers).

The Archival Center attempts to continue to acquire any and all old or new publications which describe or interpret Salem witchcraft in particular and New England witchcraft in general. The collection also includes histories of English and some continental witchcraft of the pre-19th century, biographies of persons involved in witchcraft history, as well as fiction works that use the Salem witchcraft as its subject or location. The major thrust of the collection is, however, concerned with Salem Village and the witchcraft events of 1692. All editions and variations of Salem witchcraft subject imprints, as well as ephemeral and non-scholarly publications, are considered appropriate to collect.

The collection includes originals or copies of all the early imprints relating to the Salem Village witchcraft hysteria, as well as a number of seventeenth-century English volumes on the subject. Early, rare volumes concerning Salem and New England include: Increase Mather’s 1684 An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences; Cotton Mather’s 1693 Wonders of the Invisible World; Robert Calef’s 1700 More Wonders of the Invisible World; John Hale’s 1702 A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft; Deodat Lawson’s 1693 A Brief and True Narrative; Increase Mather’s 1693 Cases of Conscience; Charles Upham’s 1834 Lectures and 1867 Salem Witchcraft. Also sought are the most recently published non-fiction, fiction and children’s literature on the subject and many of the books that were owned and used by witchcraft scholars.

Printed transcriptions of the witchcraft documents include W. E. Woodward’s 1864 Records; a typescript copy of the 1938 WPA Salem Witchcraft Papers; the three- volume 1977 reprint The Salem Witchcraft Papers edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum; Richard Trask’s 1992 The Devil Hath Been Raised; and the 2009 Bernard Rosenthal et. al. comprehensive Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. The last two volumes mentioned were produced using the facilities of the Danvers Archival Center. Augmenting the imprint collection are various manuscript and audio-visual materials, including records of the First Church of Danvers, Congregational.


BROADSIDES. For our definition, a broadside is an individual sheet of paper, usually of a fairly large format, which is printed on one side only. A broadside usually contains contemporary public information about a specific event and is often issued by a governmental agency or for notification of social events.

Broadsides tend to be quite ephemeral in nature due to their often being posted outdoors or in public spaces and with a time limit on their newsworthiness. Our collection includes a significant number of Revolutionary War broadsides sent to the town and preserved for over two centuries.


NEWSPAPERS. Newspapers are another sub-category of printed materials. Collected newspapers generally fall into two categories: (1) multiple issue runs of newspapers created locally and reporting on news of Danvers and area communities and (2) single issues of regional and national newspapers, newsmagazines and illustrated newspapers in which a Danvers person or subject is featured, such as the death of John Greenleaf Whittier or a Danvers visit of George Peabody.

Due to the fragility of newsprint, especially after the Civil War, we attempt to place most of our newspaper runs on positive 35mm microfilm for patron use and copying. Among the newspapers represented in our collections are: The Essex Gazette (1768-1775); The Danvers Courier (1845-1849); The Wizard & South Danvers Wizard (1859-1868), which covers what is now Peabody; The Danvers Mirror (1875-1877 with gaps and 1878-1923); and The Danvers Herald (1924-present).



Among several special book collections owned by the Danvers Historical Society and put on deposit with the Danvers Archival Center in 1972 is a compact but important collection of Anti-Slavery literature. The Parker Pillsbury Anti-Slavery Collection of books and pamphlets is chiefly from the library of Parker Pillsbury (1809-1898). Pillsbury was born in Wenham, Massachusetts, and became a minister and important advocate for the abolition of slavery and for the rights of women. Following Pillsbury’s death, much of his library was given to the Danvers Historical Society. Included as presentation copies in this collection are: Narratives of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1848); Selections from the Writings and Speeches of William Lloyd Garrison (1852); and Parker Pillsbury’s Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostle (1883).

The collection includes about 70 bound volumes and 110 pamphlets, most in wrappers. Though there is a copy of the 1773 volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phyllis Wheatley, most of the items are from the period of the 1830s to 1890s, with a few dating to the eighteen-teens and twenties. Though the collection is small in number, it includes many important and hard-to-find items.




“Ephemera” are typically small, single items, pamphlets, sheets, etc., often originally meant for only temporary use. They are very revealing point-in-time bits of history. Ephemeral items generally do not warrant individual cataloguing within the archival collection. Much of our ephemera collection is stored within acid-free folders under appropriate subject headings such as “Endecott Pear Tree” or “Liberty Tree Mall” and placed in vertical file cabinets. In order for ephemera to be collected by us the material has to have been either produced in Danvers or about Danvers events or people.

Ephemera includes such items as programs, invitations, dance cards, pocket calendars, ration books, hand bills, rewards of merit, calling cards, postcard notices, advertisements, letterheads, seed packages, trade cards, newsclippings, calling cards, High School football programs and billheads.


A page from the First Church of Salem Village Ministers’ Record Book, 1689

Among our oldest handwritten records is the manuscript volume Salem Village Records of Transactions dating from the establishment of Salem Village as a Parish of Salem in 1672. The more than 600 volumes and 100,000 manuscripts in our Town of Danvers Municipal Records Collection include Town Meeting, tax, and valuation record books dating from our establishment as the District of Danvers 1752. We also preserve Town of Danvers birth, death and marriage records, as well as records of the Fire Department, School Department, Board of Selectmen, Town Clerk, Town Treasurer, Overseer of the Poor, Police Department, Electric Light Department, Peabody Institute Library, Assessors, and Highway Department, together with military records beginning in the 18th century. Non-municipal manuscripts within our collection include personal papers representing letters, account books, daybooks, journals, diaries, deeds, wills and inventories dating from as early as the seventeenth century. Many organizational records are on permanent deposit from Danvers churches including the First Church, Maple Street, Baptist, Universalist, Unitarian, Methodist, and Episcopal Churches. Also on deposit are the significant manuscript collections of the Danvers Historical Society, as well as a great variety of other manuscript materials, including from various organizations such as the Danvers Womens’ Association, Danvers Art Association, Female Watchers’ Society, and business records including Creese and Cook, F. M. Spofford, the Danvers Iron Works, etc.



A portion of the first printed map of the Town of Danvers, 1832

Manuscript map by Eleazer Putnam showing what is now Glen Magna and the Endicott Estate, 1816

For the purpose of this guide, “Maps” will be defined as a representation on a flat surface of the whole or part of an area of land. Included in this definition are maps of the entire town of Danvers and its various villages and sections, as well as plans of portions of streets, geographical features and plot plans of multiple and single lots of land.

Our map collection includes both manuscript and printed maps relating to the Town of Danvers or smaller geographical areas within the community. The first town wide map of Danvers dates to 1832, with a more detailed map published in 1852. County atlases including sheets on Danvers include those published by Beers (1872), Walker (1884) and Richards (1897). The Archives also has several series of Sanborn Insurance Maps dating between 1887 and 1958, which sheets spotlight the built-up portions of Danvers.




Partial elevation of the door under the portico at Glen Magna, Little Browne and Moore, 1893

Architectural Records is yet another collecting area of the Archival Center. Frequently referred to as “plans,” these drawings were created by architects to assist in the visualization and building of all manner of structures. Both mechanical drawings skills and artistic pursuits are incorporated into architectural records. Included are sheets representing Danvers projects delineated by Little, Browne & Moore of the late 19th and early 20th century, and Robert D. Farley of the late 20th century. We also have a full collection of Danvers architectural plans of historic structures undertaken in the 1930s as part of the Historic American Building Survey.


Danvers Square looking down Maple Street towards High Street, 1890s

Ferrotype portrait of Private Alonzo A. Rackliff, ca. 1864

English Mezzotint of Major General Israel Putnam, 1775

For our purposes a “photograph” is a visual image which was originally produced on a sensitized surface by the action of radiant energy, including photo-chemical and digital images. Our photographic collection includes Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Ferrotypes, albumen prints, and glass plate negatives. The term “picture” encompasses all visual representations made by human hands including woodcuts, copper and steel engravings, and original works of art such as fine art prints, oils, chalk, watercolor, etc. Also collected are audio-visual media such as films, videotapes, DVDs and CDs. Main subject categories for photographs and pictures include: (1) Streets – filed to include streetscapes and buildings arranged by current street address; and (2) People – filed by last names. Other separate photograph collection categories include: Peabody Institute Library, Danvers State Hospital, Schools, Endicott Estate, Churches, Celebrations, Fire Department, etc.

Santa Claus arriving in Danvers Square aboard Engine 1,1948


THE ROBERT G. OSGOOD POSTCARD COLLECTION. A subcategory within our Danvers photographic collection are postcards published beginning in the 1890s. These cards, meant as souvenirs, or to be sent through the U.S mail containing brief messages, include colored and black & white images of Danvers historic sites, businesses, and institutions. In 2015 Danvers native Robert G. Osgood donated some 600 items which were added to our postcard collection. This subcategory has been officially designated as the “Robert G. Osgood Postcard Collection.”

Access to the Collections

An oil-on-ivory miniature portrait of Dr Samuel Holten, ca. 1790s

All are welcome to use our collections, with certain restrictions placed on fragile, rare or deposit-restricted items. Walk-ins are welcome to use any of the thousands of book resources we have within our Archive Reading Room. The Archive collection, however, is a reference collection and must be used in the Archives during regular scheduled hours. Patrons are encouraged, especially if they want to do manuscript research, to telephone and speak directly with the archivist to confirm times of operations during any particular week, for if the archivist is unavailable for any reason, there is generally no coverage. The main Peabody Institute Library book collection located in other parts of the building does have a number of local history (F74) and witchcraft (BF1500) books that can be borrowed for home use.

Except for a small collection of printed volumes on Danvers history set aside for copying purposes, photocopying of Archive material is not allowed, though pre-arranged digital photography is a possible option. For use of any manuscript or rare materials, a patron must fill out a request for use and present a valid means of identification. With rare or fragile items the archivist is the final arbiter for determining limits of use. Our goal is to make the Archive collections available to researchers, while at the same time continuing to preserve these historical assets for their availability to future generations.

Lithograph from a sketch by Winslow Homer of the reception parade for George Peabody through Danversport, 1856

Online beginning August 2013

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