Collections

HMRC collects books with priority given to materials focusing on Houston and Texas in the following categories: non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies, fiction, poetry, young adult and children’s materials, and government documents. Other notable holdings include:​


Collections and Resources

Photographic Collections

Lincoln Theatre. J. Milton Lawless Collection MSS 0334-1378The Photographic Archives contains approximately four million photographic images. The photos offer glimpses of day-to-day life in Houston and Texas from the 1860s to the 1980s, and cover subjects such as farming, industry, oil exploration, transportation, festivals, parades, natural disasters, and cultural, civic and sporting events, including:

  • Work by commercial photographers like William Fritz, George Beach, Frank Schlueter, Bert Brandt, and Joseph Litterst
  • Street, park and bayou scenes in Houston, as well as aerial views and skylines
  • Architecture: residences, businesses, hotels, churches, theaters and schools
  • Famous Houstonians like Jesse H. Jones, Howard Hughes, Colonel House, Alfred C. Finn, Mr. and Mrs. Hobby and Rev. Jack Yates
  • Early twentieth century postcards and cartes de visite portraying Houstonians from the 1860's and early 1870's on photographic visiting cards
  • Local news photographs

A catalog of many of HMRC's photos can be searched via the Photographic Archives Database.

For further assistance with HMRC’s photographic collections, please contact the HMRC Photo Department.

To make an appointment to view these images, please contact the HMRC.

Architectural Collections

Hermann Park General Plan, 1930The architectural collections of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center reflect a range of the region's architectural history. The principal focus of the collections is architectural drawings but also includes correspondence, office records, job logs, specifications, photographs, shop drawings, and oral history interviews. Major series of records from architectural firms include those of Maurice J. Sullivan, Alfred C. Finn, Harvin C. Moore, Frank Meyer, and Hare & Hare, landscape architects. Dozens of other architects and architectural firms are represented. There is a significant collection of drawings for parks commissioned by the Houston Parks & Recreation Department.

A catalog of the materials held in HMRC's architectural archives can be searched using the Architectural Archives Database.

To make an appointment to view architectural materials, please contact the HMRC.

Archival Collections

Circus poster. Heiser-Alban Collection of Circus Historical Materials MSS 0257The archival collections focus on non-current records of local government, corporations, businesses, public and private associations, religious institutions, cultural and civic organizations, labor groups, educational institutions, and any other organization or group that has played a role in the development of Houston. HMRC also actively solicits the public and private papers of individuals whose records may shed light on important historical events or trends in the history of the area. The diversity of the thousands of archival collections held at HMRC can be seen in materials such as-

  • The Felix Tijerina, Sr., Family Papers (MSS 0108) contain materials that document this prominent Houstonian's extraordinary participation in the advancement of Houston's Mexican-American communities. Mr. Tijerina, a restaurant owner, was active in LULAC and chief sponsor of the "Little School of the 400."
  • The Heiser-Alban Collection of Circus Historical Materials MSS (0257) collection contains periodicals, clippings, correspondence, photographs, posters, and other memorabilia relating to the circus from the collection of Joseph Matthew Heiser, Jr. ( 1897-1987), a well-known Houston naturalist and long-time circus fan who served in both World Wars and was employed by the Texas Company as an accountant. The collection documents the circus mainly through its advertising material. It contains over 800 posters from the 1890s to the present, as well as several hundred date sheets, most from Texas performers and specifically the Houston region. The collection also contains brochures, handbills, window cards, programs, and an extensive collection of newspaper clippings.
  • The Franklin Beauty School Collection (RG D 0044) consists of many different types of documents from the operation of the beauty school. These documents include student registration forms, the Franklin Beauty School's publications and flyers, correspondence relating to students, payroll records, taxes and business records. There are also records relating to agencies and organizations auxiliary to The Franklin Beauty School, but were important to the school's practice. Documents were retained from trade organizations such as the City Wide Beautician's Association as well as state agencies governing labor laws, including the Texas State Board and the Texas State Employment Commission. J.H. Jemison's personal business records are included in this collection as well.
  • The Calvin Wheat Collection (MSS 0064) contains photographic works from Mr. Wheat's personal collection. Many of these photographs are relevant to Houston history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to photographs, Mr. Wheat's personal records are part of the collection. The documents contained in the collection reflect Mr. Wheat's interest in photography and photographic equipment.

HMRC is proud to participate in the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) project, a consortial website where customers may browse descriptions of the contents of many HMRC collections via web-based finding aids.

Special Collections

Warren A. Culbertson Adult Special Collections

The Warren A. Culbertson Adult Special Collections selects, preserves, curates exhibits of, provides reference assistance for, and promotes rare and unique materials in many forms. These particular materials are best managed separately from the general collections due to their subject matter, rarity, source, physical condition, or value. The Culbertson Adult Special Collections materials originate from historic donations and are named in honor of Warren A. Culbertson whose estate made a generous donation to HMRC. Included are items relating to the social, political, intellectual, and economic aspects of local, state, and regional history, as well as works of unique content that enhance the visibility of the Library's treasures by their potential for exhibits and outreach.

There are several small collections of books in the Culbertson Adult Special Collections, including a well-rounded Mark Twain collection, reference works on rare and fine press books, and a selection of illustrated books from around the world. Of special note is the Finnigan Collection, containing exquisite and rare items from the history of the written word, including Arabic manuscripts, early Aldine Press materials, and a 15th century Book of Hours from Flanders.

Annette Finnigan, Annette Finnigan Collection SC 0013The largest discrete component of Culbertson Adult Special Collections is the Circle M Library, donated by Major John Ephraim Thomas Milsaps. Grandson of an Alamo fighter, a leading light in the Salvation Army, and an inveterate bibliophile, Milsaps amassed books during his lifelong travels around the world. In 1903, he placed his collection of books and curios in the Houston Public Library. The Circle M Library, or the Milsaps Collection, was formed. He continued developing this collection through the years with materials from locations where he served, including London and France, where he was stationed during World War I. The collection includes approximately 12,000 books and 3,000 pamphlets. Special fields of interest include slavery, the Civil War, the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and the subsequent insurrection, and world religions. There is also the most complete run in existence of the War Cry, the Salvation Army newspaper that Milsaps edited. In addition to his books, Milsaps also donated 74 volumes of his diaries, a hand-illustrated, highly entertaining window into the life of this important Houstonian.

Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections

The Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections began as an active children’s library in the early 1900s, funded by a donation in honor of Norma Meldrum, who died of scarlet fever at eight years old. What were new publications, eagerly handled by Houston's children in 1910, have since become valuable American juvenilia. The same copies of Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger books that inspired young people of a century ago to be wholesome and industrious can be seen today, along with the frightening story of Struwwelpeter, Andrew Lang's color Fairy books, histories of a much younger United States, and non-fiction books with publication dates from the 1870s to the 1970s. This collection also includes an exceptionally fine selection of books illustrated by Kate Greenaway, Bertha L. Corbett, Arthur Rackham, N. C. Wyeth, and Jessie Wilcox Smith.

The Norma Meldrum Room, which houses the majority of the Norma Meldrum Juvenile Special Collections, is closed to the public; the collection is accessible through the Texas Room. If you are interested in hosting an event in this room or other spaces in the Julia Ideson Building, call 832-393-1646 or email hpl.specialevents@houstontx.gov for more information.


Texas and Local History Collection

Texas Room circa 1930The Texas and Local History Collection is the primary reading room for viewing HMRC materials. In addition to providing a space for customers to view and study HMRC materials, the Texas and Local History Collection houses a number of significant research resources.

Books

  • Collection of approximately 14,000 books of Texana and regional history
  • A collection of local and regional yearbooks from junior high schools, high schools, colleges, and universities

Maps

  • Maps of Houston from 1837 to the present such as the 1837 Borden survey and the 1904 P. Whitty street guide
  • Early maps of the Heights and Harrisburg
  • Topographic maps of many Texas cities
  • Aerial photos of Houston from 1935 to 1990
  • Sanborn fire insurance maps and Bracey's block maps
  • Early maps of Texas and the Southwest

City Directories

  • Houston city directories from the 19th century to present
  • City directories from many other Texas cities

Newspapers and Vertical Files

  • Extensive collection of 19th century Houston and Galveston newspapers
  • Microfilmed copies of the Houston Defender, the Houston Informer, and the Houston Forward Times
  • Microfilmed copies of the Jewish Herald-Voice and the San Antonio Jewish Weekly
  • Thousands of files of clippings offering otherwise unavailable ease of access to local newspaper coverage of Houston history. To see a list of available files, click here.

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