About HMRC and its Collections

Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) was formed in 1976 with the objectives of locating, preserving, and making available to researchers the documentary evidence of Houston's history. HMRC is located in the historic Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston, which is named after the city’s first librarian. HMRC staff are responsible for collecting, organizing, indexing, and preserving these important materials.

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Archival Collections

From musicians to politicians, our archival collections contain papers and materials of individuals whose records shed light on important historical events or the shaping of history in the area. While we are not an official City of Houston repository, we have many non-current records of local government collections.  Additionally, our collections include Houston area businesses, public and private associations, religious institutions, cultural and civic organizations, labor groups, and educational institutions.  Out of our collecting mission, we've developed specific collecting concentrations, which are listed below.

Photographic Collections 

Lincoln Theatre. J. Milton Lawless Collection MSS 0334-1378

Our photographic collections contain over four million images which highlight day-to-day activity in Houston and Texas, primarily from the 1860s to the 1980s.  Images cover subjects such as farming, industry, oil exploration, transportation, architecture, festivals, parades, natural disasters, cultural, civic, and sporting events, to name a few.   The Houston Post photograph collection covers assignments from the late 1950s to the mid 1980s.  Additionally, a significant portion of material also comes from area commercial photographers such as William Fritz, George Beach, Frank Schlueter, Bert Brandt, and Joseph Litterst.    

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.

Architectural Collections 

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Our architectural collections 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.

Hispanic Collections

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Our Hispanic collections represent contributions and experiences of Houston's Hispanic community throughout the 20th century.  Records such as the papers of civil rights attorney John J. Herrera; photographs of Club Chapultepec, a young women’s club in the 1930s; advertisements for Lydia Mendoza’s musical performances; and Papel Chicano, a newspaper born out of Houston’s Chicano Movement, reveal the impact of the Hispanic community on Houston's history.

Oral History 

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Part of our collecting scope is to capture stories and interviews of Houstonians by way of oral history.  The founding HMRC Oral History Collection is made up of community members, artists, musicians, civil rights activists, politicians, and civic leaders who helped define the growth and history of the city.  Over the decades, staff has continued to develop this collecting medium by way of conducting in-depth interviews, hosting collecting days and partnering in memory projects, and accessioning other oral history endeavors.  Collection highlights include the Bill White Oral History Project and the Texas Jazz Archive oral histories.

Sound Recording and Moving Image

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We have over 500 recordings spanning several decades of Houston's history.  Materials encompass a variety of formats from cassette to CD and film reel to DVD.  These include radio broadcasts, television news reports, conferences, mayoral speeches, and more.  Featured collections include the KHOU TV film collection of newscasts from the 1960s-1970s, and the Orris D. Brown film collection that captures amateur film footage of Houston in the 1930s.

We offer many ways to access archival information and material online.  By visiting the Houston Area Digital Archive, you can listen and view countless oral histories, film reels, photographs, and documents from our collections.  Search our online architectural and photograph databases for individual items.   We are proud to participate in the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) project, a consortia website where customers can browse descriptions of many our collections via web-based finding aids. Please note that this is not exhaustive of all we have to offer to your research.  If you are unable to find information through our online channels, please contact the research room with your reference inquiries at txr.reference@houstontx.gov or call 832-393-1662. 


Special Collections

In addition to the archives, we are home to distinct collections of books and material that had been in the care of HPL over the past century.  Our Texas and Local History Collection offers a keen sense of early Houston and Texas, and how regions have changed over time.  Our adult and juvenile collections showcase sacred texts, early editions of major works, and rare or unique editions of popular literature. 

Texas and Local History Collection

The Texas and Local History Collection is utilized on a daily basis and houses a number of significant research resources.  There are over 14,000 books related to Texana and regional history, and an impressive collection of regional school and university yearbooks.  The collection touts maps of Houston dating back to 1837, with early maps of The Heights and Harrisburg; Sanborn fire insurance maps; Bracey's block maps, topographic maps of many Texas cities; and aerial photos of Houston from 1935-1990.  Included are Houston city directories from the 19th century to present, and directories from many other Texas cities.   This collection also offers extensive 19th century Houston and Galveston newspapers; microfilmed copies of African American periodicals such as the Houston Defender, the Houston Informer, and the Houston Forward Times; microfilmed copies of Houston's Jewish Herald-Voice and the San Antonio Jewish Weekly.  Our vertical files consists of newspaper clippings and other paper material of local coverage of Houston events, people, and places over the last century. 

Culbertson Adult Special Collections

The Culbertson Adult Special Collections consists of materials that originate from historic donations throughout HPL's existence, and is named in honor of Warren A. Culbertson, whose estate made a generous donation to the archives.  It features smaller collections, such as a well-rounded Mark Twain collection, reference works on rare and fine press books, and a selection of illustrated books from around the world. The Finnigan Collection is of particular interest as it contains 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.

Of special note is the Circle M Library, or the Milsaps Collection.  Initially gifted by Major John Ephraim Thomas Milsaps of the Salvation Army in 1903, he continued to collect and donate 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.  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 from the Meldrum family, whose daughter Norma 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. In this collection you'll find copies of Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger books that inspired young people of a century ago,  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. 


Our special collections books and material are available for use in our research room.  If you plan to view a book from either our adult or juvenile collections, we encourage you to call ahead to verify that the book is easily accessible. If a particular book is exceptionally rare, you will be asked to make a rare books room request and appointment.  Please contact the research room with your requests at txr.reference@houstontx.gov or call 832-393-1662.

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