The Boston Athenaeum’s Open House Returns

The red leather doors are opening up to the public October 14.

boston athenaeum

A member browses the stacks of the fifth floor reading room. / Photo by Madeline Bilis

There’s something magical about unique addresses. While platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station might bring you to Hogwarts, the red leather doors at 10 1/2 Beacon Street open into a world of history, art, and knowledge—the Boston Athenaeum. This Saturday, that world is open to the public.

Usually, the distinguished cultural center is members-only, and public patrons are only permitted for paid tours on limited days of the week. At the annual open house, however, the Athenaeum opens up, allowing guests to discover its hidden treasures. You can view rare books, manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, prints, and more. Admire the domed ceilings, high windows, and elegant fifth-floor reading room. Listen to the docents providing context and meaning to what you see around you.

Guests can delve into history while they wander through the building’s six floors. The Athenaeum contains pieces of George Washington’s personal library, as well as the King’s Chapel Collection—the oldest remaining colonial library in Boston. Over half a million books rest within the building’s walls, many of them in the building’s “drum”—ten floors of bookshelves, tucked into the rounded end of the Athenaeum. Artwork by John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart, Polly Thayer Starr, and N.C. Wyeth lines the walls.

The Athenaeum was founded more than two hundred years ago, residing in various locations around the city as its collection of art, books, and artifacts grew. Its current residence, with its iconic red leather doors, opened in 1849. Since then, it’s been renovated twice for expansion and fire safety, but the original elegance and charm has not been lost.

While early registration for the open house has closed, members of the public can still visit the magical collections at 10 1/2 Beacon Street—just be prepared for a line at the door.

Free, Saturday, October 14, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (no entry after 3 p.m.), 10 1/2 Beacon St., Boston,