Founded in 1807 as a literary society, the Boston Athenæum published America's first literary magazine and acquired an extensive library of books and works of art. It moved to its current home, an imposing purpose-built structure, in 1847. The two upper floors, including the beautiful fifth floor reading room that featured in the Merchant Ivory film adaptation of Henry James's The Bostonians, were added in 1913-14, followed by further expansion and renovation at the turn of the century. Among its collections are books from George Washington's library and those given to the King's Chapel by William III in the 17th century.
The Athenæum helped to establish Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in the early 1870s in two of its four galleries, and much of its art collection moved with the museum. However, there are still some notable works on site, including busts of Washington, Franklin and Lafayette by Jean Antoine Houdon, and portraits by John Singer Sargent, Mather Brown and Thomas Sully. Although much of the library is accessible only to members or scholars, the ground floor gallery is open to the public, and free guided tours are conducted thrice a week (call in advance to reserve a place).