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Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive now online — 12,000+ items in Historic New England’s digital collection!

royal barry wills house historic new england royal barry wills archiveAmazing news for fans of Royal Barry Wills architecture (and you know I am his #1!): Historic New England recently completed a multi-year project to clean, catalogue, photograph, rehouse, and — for the first time — provide online access to the Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive. The Archive was donated to Historic New England by the Wills family and business in 2014. Image used with permission: Historic New England/Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive.

From Historic New England’s news release:

This previously unprocessed collection documents the history and work of one of the most important 20th Century architectural firms in Boston from the time of its establishment in 1925 through 2003. This project digitized key items that document the firm’s many activities, including:

  • 6,500 architectural drawings
  • 3,500 photographs and negatives
  • 1,000 other items of significance such as scrapbooks, audio files, and manuscripts and their accompanying illustrations

Over the course of his career, Royal Barry Wills designed 2,500 residences throughout the nation, authored eight books about architecture, lectured widely, hosted a radio program, and supplied “Home Building Plans” for Sunday editions of newspapers. He was the author and subject of feature articles in Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, and American Home, among others. Wills received numerous awards for his work, including the gold medal in Herbert Hoover’s National Better Homes Competition in 1932, and he was one of the winners of a competition co-sponsored by Life magazine and Architectural Forum in 1938.

Life dubbed Wills “the nation’s most popular architectural author.” His ability to understand the desires of potential homebuyers and his willingness to promote himself made him a household name, with a national reputation and clientele. He did so by highlighting traditional house plans that were attractive, efficient, and affordable and by offering advice about cost-effective repairs and remodeling.

The Royal Barry Wills Associates Archive is a major addition to Historic New England’s archival collection. By expanding public access to the firm’s extensive archive, Historic New England will provide scholars focused on American domestic life, architectural and cultural historians, and other researchers with materials that they previously lacked. Access to the collection will also be of great value to:

  • architects
  • preservationists
  • owners of the thousands of residences designed by the Wills firm who are seeking guidance on restorations
  • local historical commissions and societies working to interpret and preserve neighborhoods rich with Wills designs

Funding for this project was provided in part by a matching grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services with additional support from the Felicia Fund, and Elizabeth and Robert Owens, and Kristin and Roger Servison.

About the Library and Archives

Historic New England’s archives contain nearly two million records documenting the cultural and architectural history of New England. The collection includes photographs, architectural drawings, manuscripts, ephemera, prints and engravings, artwork, and books.

This is wonderful news, and I know I am going to be spending a lot of time studying all these amazing Royal Barry Wills materials and coming up with more stories spotlighting his life and work. Thank you, Royal Barry Wills Associates, Historic New England, and, importantly, to the grant funders! And, much appreciation to Susanna Crampton, Public Relations Officer, who has done a crackerjack job of keeping me informed of the progress of this project!

  1. carolyn says:

    It took a couple of tries but I found areas of the site I was interested in. I think someone with a larger, better monitor would be able to see blueprints better than I did. They were visible but I know personally how difficult it is to scan old prints. Anyone who wants to make a portfolio for their drafting or mechanical design courses would do well to redraw the prints for a grade, then donate to the museum.
    I looked at the 2 family house; 45′ x 25′, 2 bed flats with sunrooms. I couldn’t see bathroom on my screen. There’s been a bit of a resurgence for “front porch neighborhoods” and this particular house would fit the bill to revitalize transitional neighborhoods.

  2. Pam Kueber says:

    On my laptop there is a + button layered on the bottom right-hand side of every image. When I click it, the image enlarges to pretty much fill my screen… ?

  3. carolyn says:

    My screen is 17″(?) and I didn’t put my HD cheaters (1.25x) on to look more closely.
    I wonder…is there a copyright to the drawings? Not that I’m in a position to start digging holes but what if?

  4. Phyllis says:

    I’d argue the contributions of Royal Barry Wills to residential architecture are as significant as those of FLW.

  5. Pam Kueber says:

    Yes: I have previously said that RBW is the most influential residential architect of the 20th Century (who most people have never heard of)!

  6. Lynn says:

    Thanks so much. Am always fascinated by all the small house, non-open concept plans you link to and can’t wait to dig into these. Also interested in the variety of houses he designed, from modest (but authentic! ) capes to the grander ones and how you can see his mark in all of them.

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