Mission and History
|John Notman, Architect, Perspective View of Athenaeum, watercolor, 1847|
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is an independent member-supported library and museum that engages members, scholars and the interested general public to join actively in the cultural and intellectual life of Philadelphia and participate in historical, literary and educational activities. To that end, the Athenaeum must be a diligent steward of its National Historic Landmark building and its collections of books, manuscripts, architectural drawings, photographs, and historic objects.
The Athenaeum was founded in 1814 to collect materials "connected
with the history and antiquities of America, and the useful arts, and
generally to disseminate useful knowledge" for public benefit. Annually the
Athenaeum's nationally significant collections attract thousands of readers:
graduate students and senior scholars, architects, interior designers,
museum curators, and private owners of historic buildings. It provides the Philadelphia region with a
resource of first resort on matters of architecture and interior design
history, particularly for the period 1800 to 1945.
The Athenaeum building was designed in 1845 by the innovative architect John Notman (1810-1865). It is widely hailed as the seminal American structure in the Italianate Revival Style and one of the first Philadelphia buildings built of brownstone. Severely plain on the exterior and deceptive in scale, the Athenaeum building contains richly embellished reading rooms with 24-foot ceilings. Into these spaces has been gathered a museum collection of American fine and decorative arts from the period 1800 to 1850 which is available for group or individual tours by advance reservation. The building has been expanded and restored to provide appropriate facilities for the care and exhibition of the collections. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.