The Athenaeum of Philadelphia dates back to 1814 when it was established as a library and archive. The building is unique in that it was created in a classic Italianate style, and its holdings chronicle the history and culture of Philadelphia. The collection is also particularly strong in the field of early American architecture and the decorative arts. The archives are home to over three hundred thousand photographs and a thousand manuscript collections. The Athenaeum is both a National Historic Landmark (1977) and an active library and archive, and it is open to the public.
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia was established as a
member-funded library and archive dedicated to collecting books, artifacts, and
other items connected with the history and
antiquities of America, and the useful arts, and generally to disseminate
useful knowledge in order to benefit the general public of the United
States. Much of the library’s collection duties were concerned with
architectural and building design history, housing drawings, photographs, and
other items relevant to its specific interests.
The Athenaeum itself is heralded as an innovative building
for its architectural design, which was devised by architect John Notman. Built
in the Italianate Revival Style, the building was purposefully designed to seem
plain on the outside, being built out of brownstone. The interior, however, was
lavishly furnished to resemble a British sitting and reading room, with 24-foot
ceilings and rooms which adequately contain the Athenaeum’s collection of
Today, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia is open to the public
as a library and a museum, free of charge. Patrons may view exhibition
galleries on the first floor in order to get a glimpse of the history of
architecture and building design. Those interested in more serious research,
however, may make appointments with the Athenaeum in order to take tours of the
restored reading rooms, or to use the collection of photographs, documents, and
drawings related to design history.