Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of the administrative and financial records of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, an association of property owners in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood. Included are loose papers and bound volumes of correspondence, deeds, meeting minutes, treasurer's accounts, and printed material.
The Proprietors of Louisburg Square are an association of property owners located in Louisburg Square, an area of Boston's Beacon Hill between Pinckney and Mt. Vernon Sts. Originally pasture acreage referred to as the Copley tract, the land was purchased from John Singleton Copley by the Mt. Vernon Proprietors, consisting of Jonathan Mason, Harrison Gray Otis, Benjamin Joy, and Henry Jackson. The area was divided into lots owned by several proprietors, and an 1826 partition deed indicates a plan for the Square's jointly owned central park space and parallel streets.
Though development of the Square's lots was planned in the late 1820s, building did not begin until 1834 and continued through the 1840s. By 1844, all of the square's Greek revival houses, including several designed by architect Charles Bulfinch, had been constructed. At that time, twenty eight lot owners signed the Proprietors Indenture and Articles of Agreement, which ensured current and subsequent homeowners would act as stewards of the shared land; this is considered the earliest example of a homeowner association in America. In order to maintain common land, the agreement established the Committee of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, whose first action was to guide the enlargement of the jointly owned central park for the use of all residents. The Committee's later agreements further delineated the elected roles of clerk, treasurer, and chairman, and outlined the procedures for majority approval of activities and the annual assessment of fees due to proprietors.
The Committee held meetings; collected annual assessments; determined the allotment of funds for hiring staff and contracting organizations to ensure the Square's upkeep and security; and planned, approved, and carried out projects for the improvement of the Square's shared space and roads. Aside from regular landscaping work involving the maintenance of the Square's lawn and trees and the brief establishment of a separate Garden committee for ornamental plants, major changes to the Square include the construction of an enclosing iron fence, as well as the 1850 addition of statues of Aristides the Just and Christopher Columbus. The committee, through majority vote of proprietors at meetings, also approved changes in policy, including a 1852 vote to exclude children from the Square's park.
Over time, the Square's buildings have not only seen changes in residents and ownership but in layout, as many of the Square's original single homes have been split into separate apartment units. Use of buildings have also changed to suit the needs of institutions, most notably the 1888 conversion of No. 17 Louisburg Square from a private residence into St. Margaret's Convent, home to the Sisters of the Society of St. Margaret. Notable residents of Louisburg Square have included novelist and Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells, A. Bronson Alcott, novelist Louisa M. Alcott, and, more recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and novelist Robin Cook.
Griswold, Gabrielle. "The Story of Louisburg Square." 1950.
Jacoby, Ernest. "Notes in Regard to the Statues of Louisburg Square." 1963.
McKenzie, Evan. Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government. Hew Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Snell, Charles W. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Beacon Hill Historic District." Division of History, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, 1970. Accessed 28 November 2016. http://architecturaltrust.org/~architec/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Report_NR_Beacon_Hill.pdf
Winkley, Hobart William. "Annals of Louisburgh Square." 1920.
This collection contains records of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square in Boston, including correspondence, proprietors' records, treasurer's records, and scrapbooks. Correspondence is primarily between members of the executive committee of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square and other organizations and individuals, and is largely administrative, focusing on plans for improvements, repair, and general upkeep of the Square's streets and landscaping. Proprietors' records pertain to the history, meetings, and policies of the Proprietors, including deeds and agreements; meeting announcements, minutes, and powers of attorney; lists of proprietors' information and payment status; records related to the regulation and enforcement of private parking; historical accounts of the Square and its statues; articles and illustrations related to Louisburg Square and its residents; and blueprints of the Square. Materials collected by long-time resident Horace Morison include historical sketches, poems, and printed material related to the history of the Square. Financial records, kept by the various treasurers of the Proprietors, include account books, annual treasurer's reports, paid bills, and bank statements. The collection also holds two scrapbooks of materials related to the administration of Louisburg Square, including correspondence, blueprints, financial records, memoranda, meeting minutes, and news clippings.
Gift of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, Feb. 1984.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Correspondence, 1918-1968
This series primarily consists of correspondence between members of the executive committee of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, resident proprietors, and other organizations and individuals, largely regarding administrative and financial aspects of improvements and repair of infrastructure; care and upkeep of the Square's shared green space; enforcement and regulation of parking; and consultation with lawyers and police for advice and conflict resolution. Copies of open letters sent to all resident proprietors, including announcements of committee meetings, requests for payment of delinquent assessments, and reports on progress of improvements to shared spaces, are also included in this series.
II. Proprietors' records, 1826-1980
This series consists of materials created and collected by the Proprietors of Louisburg Square. The bulk is administrative records, which include copies of the original 1826 division deed and subsequent agreements registered with the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, as well as records related to the announcement and conduct of meetings, much of which is contained in two bound meeting books. Also included are subject files and printed materials, which contain materials related to the history, residents, and regulation of the Square.
A. Deeds and agreements, 1826-1955
This subseries contains a photocopy and official typescript of the original 1826 division deed. It also includes an 1844 signed agreement delineating meeting protocol, proprietors' dues, and the approval for expenditure on improvements to the Square by majority vote of resident stakeholders. A 1944 signed agreement outlines the establishment of a more formalized executive committee, names the officers, and adds a provision for the committee to adjust proprietors' dues based on an annual assessment of expenses.
B. Meeting records, 1826-1975
This subseries contains records related to proprietors' meetings, including notices of planned meetings and meeting minutes which record proposals for policy changes and for fund dispersal for the Square's management, upkeep, and staffing. It also includes letters transferring powers of attorney for residents unable to attend meetings. Volume 2 also contains various printed materials, including newspaper clippings and historical ephemera.
C. Subject files, 1909-1972
Arranged chronologically and by subject.
This subseries consists of files related to the history and residents of Louisburg Square. The Horace Morison collection consists of materials Morison saved during his fifty years as resident owner of No. 3 Louisburg Square. It contains articles, news clippings; illustrations; and manuscripts of Emilie Poulsson's poem "Louisburg Square," and Horace Winkley's 1920 history, "Annals of Louisburgh Square." Also included are lists of proprietors and their payment status for annual assessments, as well as materials relating to the regulation and enforcement of parking in the Square. Historical sketches, by Ernest Jacoby and Mario di Leo, document the background of the Square's statues of Christopher Columbus and Aristides the Just.
D. Printed material, 1826-1980
Arranged chronologically and by size.
This series consists primarily of photocopies of newspaper clippings which relate to Louisburg Square's history, residents, and activities. Also included is Gabrielle Griswold's historical sketch "The Story of Louisburg Square" and a notice to residents announcing the duration and logistics of onsite filming for a the production of "Terror Eyes," which took place in early 1980. Oversize printed materials include illustrations, notices, blueprints of the Square's layout, landscaping, and building plans, and a copy of a charcoal rubbing of the 1963 plaque commemorating the Historic Beacon Hill District as a National Historic Landmark.
III. Treasurer's records, 1856-1970
This series contains records relating to the finances of Louisburg Square, including account books, annual treasurer's reports, paid bills, and bank statements.
A. Account books, 1856-1964
This subseries contains account books kept by the various treasurers of the executive committee of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, which were audited by committee-appointed proprietors on an annual basis.
B. Treasurer's reports, 1925-1970
This subseries consists of annual treasurer's reports which account for the previous fiscal year's allocation of expenses and funds collected in the form of annual proprietors' assessments.
C. Paid bills, 1933-1964
This subseries contains paid bills due to outside contractors, mostly for landscape, road, and iron work for the improvement of the Square's shared spaces. It also accounts for salaries paid to staff for gardening, custodial, and security services.
D. Bank statements, 1958-1964
This subseries includes monthly balance statements from the proprietors' account at the First National Bank of Boston.
IV. Scrapbooks, 1844-1965
This series consists of scrapbooks containing materials related to the administration and finances of the Proprietors of Louisburg Square, including correspondence, blueprints, treasurer's records, bills, memoranda, printed materials, and meeting minutes. The earliest scrapbook, spanning 1844-1905, has been disbound.
Proprietors of Louisburg Square (Boston, Mass.) records, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.