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Newton Free Library preserves and provides access to materials that document the history of our City in the Newton Collection. These items are accessible during the Library’s open hours, but cannot be checked out, and some rare items require an appointment to view. Need to do some research, have a quick question, or want to look for something in the library? We’re here to help.

If you would like to request access to a specific item(s) in the Local History & Genealogy Room please fill out the Special Collections Material Request form below.

If you require assistance with researching local history please fill out the Special Collections Reference Request form below.

Our print and microfilm collections are searchable via our catalog. We also have the Massachusetts Collection, which has materials relating to Massachusetts history.

The Library has a microfilm machine available for public use. Our microfilm machine can be used to view microfilm and fiche in the library collection along with film negatives and slides in black and white and color. Images can be saved to a USB drive, emailed, or printed. Please fill out this form to request use of the microfilm machine. The machine can accommodate sizes up to 5″ x 8.25″.

ViewScan 4 Microfilm Scanner
Introduction, FAQ, and Obituaries

The Local History Room is located on the 3rd floor of the library. The room is currently locked, but patrons can request access anytime the library is open by stopping by any of the Reference Desks on the 1st or 2nd floors, or going to the Information Center on the 3rd floor.

Our digital collections include books, maps, the Newton Graphic newspaper (1886-1986), and oral histories. Other items in our digital collections may be found on the Digital Commonwealth and Internet Archive

There are Newton subject and biography card index files on the left as you enter the Local History Room. The biography card file is located in the drawers immediately to the right of the Newton subject card file index.

The subject index contains citations to newspapers, periodicals, and books in the in the collection about Newton.

The biography index contains citations to newspapers, periodicals, and books in the collection about Newton residents, past and present, which includes obituaries.

The subject and biography card indexes were closed on 12/31/1999. Please refer to the online Newton News Index for entries from January 1999 – December 2021, and check out the Newton News Obituary Index for a list of obituaries. (see the below section Where do I find an obituary for a person who died in Newton, Massachusetts? for more detailed obituary information).

General FAQ


How did Newton get its name?
In 1639 John Jackson, his wife and their fifteen children became permanent settlers of an outlying area of Cambridge, known as Cambridge Village.  By 1645 a small community of 135 people had been established.  In 1688 Cambridge Village officially separated from Cambridge and became an independent township.  The township known by several names, Cambridge Village, New Cambridge, Newtown, and New Town was on December 15, 1691 granted the name Newton with the assignment of the brand mark ‘N’ by the General Court of Massachusetts.

Source: Newton, Massachusetts, 1679-1779 : a biographical directory

How did Newton get the second name of the Garden City?
In the book, Newton Massachusetts 1688-1988, a Celebration of Three Hundred Years by Theodore D. Mann, Mayor (at the time) and the Newton Tricentennial Corporation, 1988, there is the statement:

It is in the 1880s that the term ‘Garden City’ began cropping up in speeches, administrative reports and promotional literature, and the movement for setting aside open space for public use gained momentum.” (p.65)

The references seem to be informal. With two references 1874 and 1875 made in newspaper advertisements to Newton The Garden City.

We have not yet found any official statement, ordinance or proclamation establishing Newton as the Garden City.

Geographical Location

Newton, MA: 
Longtitude  West 710 12′
Latitude North 420   20′      
Elevation: 300 feet (highest) 10 feet (lowest)

Newton, MA has seven hills. ” In respect to hills, Newton claims the mystic and fortunate number of seven, like ancient Rome.; and these bear the names of Nonantum Hill, Waban Hill, Chestnut Hill, Institution Hill, Blad Pate, Oak Hill, and Mount Ida.”  Source: King’s Handbook of Newton by M.F. Sweetser 1889 p. 30-31

Direct link to the book King’s Handbook of Newton on Google Books or on the Internet Archive.

Request for Public Records
Visit the Public Records Request page via the City of Newton

How can I find out who my street is named for?
There is no definitive listing of how streets in Newton are named. Thus, this is a hard question to answer. Some of Newton’s street names recall lost veterans.( Newton Tab November 7, 2001 p. 11) while other streets and roads were named for prominent Newton citizens; i.e. Ward Street for Charles Ward, a descendant of the early settlers, and a Civil War army volunteer who was killed in the battle of Gettysburg, while other streets were name for and by the  housing developers of the city.

“Newton simply doesn’t record the origin of street names”  Ken Bresler, article November 7, 2011 p.11 Street names recall lost veterans.

Source: Newton Tab November 7, 2001 p.11; Darrell Azure Newton Engineering Department 

Where do I find an obituary for a person who died in Newton, Massachusetts?
With an exact death date (Day, Month and Year) you can check the microfilm of the Newton newspapers published 1866 to 2020. You can also check the microfilm of the Boston Globe from 1980 to present.

There are two Newton newspaper indexes to Newton, MA people. These indexes may have the obituary citation for the person you are looking for.

  • From 1866 to December 1999: There is a card file in the library’s Local History & Genealogy Room which can be checked for obituary citations. This is an incomplete and very subjective listing of obituary citations.
  • From January 1999 to December 2021 there is the digitized Newton News Obituary Index through the Internet Archive that can be checked for all of the obituaries recorded in the Newton News Index within that time.

A digitized version of the Newton Graphic 1886 – 1986 can be viewed here on the Internet Archive.

Please note that many times obituaries for Newton people were printed in the Boston newspapers.  You can check the BPL’s Obituary Database. Currently, this database includes obituaries published between 1932 and 1941 and between 1953 and 2010.  The Newton Free Library has the Boston Globe on microfilm from 1980 to present and currently subscribes to back electronic issues through ProQuest.

The Boston Public library has all of the Newton Newspapers on microfilm

To view anything on our Microfilm Machine, please fill out the request form here.

Historical Photographs

Assembled here are some collections of historical photographs relating to Newton’s past. Some of the collections showcase the various villages of Newton at different times in their history, while others focus on the Newton Free Library, its buildings, and staff. There are several collections that depict such a multitude of subjects that they could not be confined to any specific categories. Learn more by visiting our collections on Digital Commonwealth. This is by no means a comprehensive list:

City Departments

Glass Plate Negatives, Lantern Slides, & Metal Plate Negative

Houses & Buildings

Miscellaneous

Newton Free Library 

People

Political Cartoons

Schools & Colleges

Trade Cards & Post Cards

Villages of Newton

Newton Photographs Collection. Newton Times

Newton Photographs Collection. Newton Times: Biography A-B, 1971-1980  The Newton Times was a prize-winning, liberal weekly newspaper which published in Newton, Massachusetts from 1971 to 1980. It was an alternative voice created by anti-war activists who weren’t content with coverage of the issues by local newspapers. It served as a force in the community as it reported on social issues, analyzed city and public school budgets, assessed and endorsed political candidates and published a voters’ guide before each election. It pushed for removal of asbestos in Newton North High School and raised awareness of Newton’s distinctive neighborhoods. It was forced to close because of reduced advertising revenue taken by competing weeklies. The Newton Free Library has the Newton Times on microfilm (v. 1, #1, Sept. 8, 1971-v. 9, #22, Jan. 23, 1980), as well as 51 boxes of photographs from the newspaper’s archive and a collection of mock-up maps used with articles. Collection includes photographs of local and some nationally known politicians, political candidates, clergy, musicians, activists, businesspeople, educators, environmentalists, authors and ordinary Newton residents.

Atlases, Maps, and City Directories

Atlas and Maps (in Local History Room)

Newton atlases and maps serve to address a wide range of social, economic, environmental and informational needs. To see some of what we have in our Local History room, please refer to this list.

Digital Atlases and Maps

The Newton Collection maintains many atlases and maps of Newton, MA in hard copy and on microfiche. Below are found direct links to Newton Atlases and Maps. The Sanborn Fire insurance atlases provide information about property boundaries, plot size, ownership, building shapes, and materials.

Other Historical Maps of Interest

Directories and Guidebooks (in Local History Room)

Annotated list of Directories and Guidebooks available by Dewey call number in the Newton Collection as of June 1, 2015.

Digital Directories and Guidebooks

The Newton Collection maintains many directories and guidebooks of Newton, MA, in hard copy and on microfiche.

Assessed Polls

Assessed Polls 1884-1942 (Digital Commonwealth)

Assessed Polls 1943-1995 (Internet Archive)

Year Books and Class Statistics

Class Statistics NHS Class of 1890

Newton High and Newton North High School yearbooks [Newtonian] (1910-2012)

Newton South High School [Regulus] yearbooks (1962- 2012)

Newton Junior College (1957-1972)

Newer yearbooks post 2012 – current year are available in the Local History room and can be used within the library. See any Adult Services Librarian at the reference desks for assistance.

Local Newspapers

Newton Newspaper Holdings (PDF Download)

Newton School Periodicals

Newton Graphic and Tab

  • The Newton Graphic is digitized on the Internet Archive through 1986. Our Local History room has the Newton Graphic on microfilm from v11 (1882) – v128 (1997). The microfilm is also available at the Boston Public Library.
  • The Newton Tab is no longer being printed, ending on May 4, 2022. We have the Newton Tab on microfilm from Vol 1 No. 1 April 25, 1979 through 2020. Physical copies of the Tab 2021-2022 are not microfilmed yet and are available to browse as printed editions in the Local History room.
Subjects A – Z

Below are broad subject areas A-Z in the Local History & Genealogy Collection. Each subject area contains an annotated list of items available by Dewey call number in the Collection as of February 2, 2012. Items in the Newton Collection are not available for lending but can be used in the Local History & Genealogy room.

Architecture and Historic Houses
Arts and Recreation
Associations, Clubs, Foundations and Societies
Biographies
Business and Industry
Cemeteries
Environment
Family History
Government
History: Index to the Grand Army of the Republic: Applications for and Transfers to Charles Ward Post 62
History
Hospitals and Health
Natural History
Planning and Urban Renewal
Religion and Churches
Schools and Education
Social Issues
Statistics and Surveys
Traffic

Related Links

Digitized Related Books and Documents

Oral Histories

Voice of Women

Voice of Women (VOW) was a Newton-based nuclear disarmament organization formed in 1960 which continued through the Vietnam War and beyond. Its members conducted teach-ins, sit-ins and protest demonstrations in Newton and the Boston area. It ran the Peace Boutique, which sold peace paraphernalia, then became a craft and gift shop and meeting place for peace supporters. Even after the peak of activity in the 1960s and 1970s the women continued their involvement in peace, civil rights, and protest against atmospheric nuclear testing. Around 2000 an effort was made by the Newton2000 History Committee, the City of Newton Women’s Commission and VOW members to collect oral history about the women in the organization. This collection includes videotaped interviews of members and an introductory history of the movement. It also includes papers related to the VOW Oral History Project-programs honoring VOW members, fundraising sources, publicity covering the renewed interest in Newton’s historical involvement in peace activism and the role of women.

Interviews were made with the help of oral historian and videographer Ann Smith. The collection has been digitized and interviews can be viewed as a playlist on Youtube. More information can be found in the Local History & Genealogy Room at the library.

A History of Trades and Craftspersons in Newton

This oral history project began in 1981 with the stated purpose of to recording Newton’s social history village by village by giving interviewees an occasion to relate their personal experiences. Interviews cover memories of the 1920s through 1950s in Newton. The project involved collaboration between Newton Free Library, Jackson Homestead, and Boston College throughout the eighties. Interviews were originally recorded on cassettes, and have since been digitized.  Interviews can be viewed as a playlist on youtube.  More information can be found in the Local History & Genealogy Room at the library. A record for each interview can be viewed in the library’s catalog