LIBRARY HISTORY BEHIND THE WALL
Behind the Wall: One Hundred Years of The Manchester Public Library 1887-1987 is a commemorative booklet published by Friends of the Manchester Library; edited by Charles D. Taylor, designed by Sally Carson and written by Sally Bradlee. Following is the text from this commemorative booklet.
Ground was broken and construction begun on Manchester’s beautiful library building on Union Street in 1886. Designed by Charles P. McKim (1847-1909), with walls of New England ashlar stone, the building was the outright gift of summer resident, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge.
On October 13, 1887, the building was dedicated in three parts: the east room as library, the west room as headquarters for the Grand Army of the Republic, and the central hall as a war memorial in which the names of twenty-three Manchester men lost in the Civil War are etched in tablets of Nubian marble (African marble in which fossils can be found.) During the town’s 250th Anniversary in 1895 two bronze plaques were added, one commemorating the soldiers and sailors of the Revolution – They Suffered – They Fought – They Died in Freedom’s Cause; the other, those who fought in the “early wars” and the War of 1812 – In Savage Ambush and on Sea as well as Land They Won Undying Fame. The architect also placed his own gift to the town and to Mr. Coolidge in this room: a window which McKim himself designed and had executed by Maitland Armstrong and Messrs. Louis C. Tiffany & Co. of New York. Its panel of Mexican onyx bears the inscription: In grateful acknowledgement of the munificence and public spirit of T. Jefferson Coolidge – his fellow Townsmen have set this window.
MANCHESTER’S NOBLE GIFT ran the headline for the Boston Herald’s October 14, 1887 report on the dedication ceremonies. In reality these constituted a Public Meeting of the Citizens of Manchester in the Coolidge Memorial Building as it was called. The GAR, Allen Post 67, paraded the streets behind the Essex brass band arriving in time to hear Daniel Leach, Esq., chairman of the building committee and library trustee, call the meeting to order and state: “No generation that has preceded us in this old town…has ever met an occasion like the present one.
An overflow assembly in the Grand Army Hall (now the reference room) watched as Mr. Coolidge presented the keys and the deed of gift and listened to “short” speeches by representatives of the town government, the library, the Grand Army, the school, and the churches. The program emphasized in equal proportions the cultural and the patriotic, and was punctuated by poems, prayer, and three hymns. The entire proceedings, plus photographs of the building, were printed in a dedicatory album edited by the Rev Daniel Martin and paid for by Mr. Coolidge.
Samuel Knight, Esq., chairman of the selectmen, received the deed of gift with feeling and responded to the donor: “. . may generations yet unborn … have good reason to bless the hour in which you determined to cast your lot amongst us.”
Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, an eminent Bostonian and great-grandson of his presidential namesake, was fairly new to Manchester, at least in comparison with the numerous residents whose families had dwelled here for generations. He was one of the earlier summer residents. His “lot” was “cast” in 1873, when the resort aspect of the town was developing into a surge through the eighties and nineties. “In the winter of 1873 I began to build a country house at Manchester-by-the-Sea, on a wild promontory surrounded by the ocean …We… have remained many years in this beautiful spot,” he wrote n1902 in his memoirs which were published later (1923) by Houghton Mifflin as The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge 1831-1920. Anecdotal in structure, it recounts his happy personal life with commentary on the passing scene; his travels (frequent and far), his business affairs (multiple managements and directorships); and his distinguished public service (from Boston to the Bering Sea) with special emphasis on his year (1892-1893) as Ambassador to France. The large Sevres vase in the library corner next to the Tiffany window was given to Ambassador Coolidge as a souvenir by the government of the French republic.
Manchester’s library, built for approximately $45,000, was not the first philanthropic act by this man of generosity and good will. In 1884, he gave Harvard College the Jefferson Physical Laboratory at the cost of $115,000. Then, “In 1886,” as he wrote in the 1902 reminiscences, “I gave my adopted town, Manchester-by-the-Sea, a public library. The building was constructed by McKim . . . It . . . adds much to the village, of which it is a conspicuous ornament! (Another Charm for the Famous Watering Place read the Boston Herald’s dedication story subhead.)
The donor credited the idea of the building to the Elder Brethren and to Delucena L. Bingham, the town’s librarian, who was hard-pressed for space in his allotted rooms at the old town hall or Town House at 12 School Street. “A short time after I became a citizen of your beautiful town:’ Coolidge said at the dedication, “I was invited to attend a meeting of the ‘Elder Brethren: These gentlemen, as you know, console themselves once a year for being over fifty years of age, by eating chowder and making speeches. At this meeting, my friend Mr. Bingham made an impressive appeal for a new Library Building and a Memorial Hall. The words sank deep in me; and …I made up my mind to assist whenever the Town came to the conclusion that such a building ought to be erected.”
The first deliberations for a war memorial date back to 1878 when Town Meeting chose a committee to “obtain plans of a soldiers’ monument?’ A year later the committee was re-instructed to present plans for a Soldiers’ Memorial in connection with a public library, and the following year the project was enlarged again to include quarters for Post 67, GAR. But the committee failed to secure an appropriation and the matter slumbered until 1886 when Mr. Coolidge made his offer to provide a suitable building and the adjourned Town Meeting of April 16 voted to buy land from Charles H. Trask on which to build.
Owing to the loss of the building committee’s records, contemporary newspaper accounts of the construction must be relied upon, and they are less than satisfactory. The stringer for the Cape Ann Advertiser reported the progress. The Advertiser for July 16, 1886, announced that the contract for the stone work and masonry had been awarded to John H. Watson of Beverly Farms. It is believed that the ashlar stone, cut with a natural seam face, came from behind the present St. Margaret’s parish hall in Beverly Farms, although there are individuals in Manchester who have heard their elders reminisce about seeing the stone for the library brought in by boat. The Advertiser refers to the contractors for the carpentry, plastering, glass and painting as Phillips and Kinsman or Phillips and Kilham and to the builders of the bookshelves as Leach & Annable Co. Later, according to the Advertiser and to the current Connolly Brothers, Stephen Connolly of Beverly was to grade the grounds and use the same stone to build a wall around the property, a well-remembered hangout for generations of Manchester youth.
By September 3, 1886, Mr. Watson was “rushing it along,” and by December the masons finished the stonework and the roof was ready for the slaters. Apparently, the first effort was unsatisfactory as in March the slate had to be relaid in a more “diversified manner”. By early summer 1887, citizens were beginning to worry that the building looked too bare. “Wait a little longer, you will see something to be proud of’ said the Advertiser, and in July: “Be patient!”
The September 2 Advertiser described the townspeople gathering to watch the weathervane hoisted into place above the wooden cupola. While the newspaper referred to a replica of the Mayflower, many people believed the weathervane represented one of Columbus’ ships.
It would be another year, the summer of ’88, before grass was sown and ornamental trees were planted. The July 18 Advertiser remarked that a be-ginning was being made to beautify the grounds with Norway spruces and evergreens and that climbing vines would be added. Woodbine did grow, and quickly. D.F. Lamson’s History of the Town of Manchester, published in 1895 for the town’s 250th Anniversary, showed a portrait of the building sheathed in vines. The woodbine is cut down from time to time to facilitate repairs, but it always comes back.
McKim’s building’s exterior is said to be French in character and the vaulted roof of the reading room to have been suggested by the twelfth century library at Merton College, Oxford. McKim brought back from Morlaix, Brittany, the fragments of a Renaissance oak carving which are incorporated as part of the wooden screen that separates the stacks from the reading room. This eight-hundred-year-old woodwork is augmented by additional carving and paneling of American quartered oak, carved from designs of Joseph Cabus of New York.
The library reflects McKim’s travels in Europe and his two years as a draftsman to the Romanticist architect, H.H. Richardson, rather than the classical style for which the firm McKim, Mead and White are renowned. This firm was founded in 1879 and burst into prominence (just as the Manchester library was being finished) with the commission (1887) for the Boston Public Library opposite Richardson’s Trinity Church on Copley Square. McKim presumably received the Manchester commission because he and the Coolidges were friends, through intermarriage. T. J. Coolidge married Hetty Appleton in 1852 and Charles McKim married Hetty’s niece, Julia Appleton in 1885.
The construction of the Manchester library coincided with a year of heavy sadness for Charles McKim. His wife Julia died on January 3, 1887. It has been suggested that this building, which honors Mr. Coolidge, also is in no small way a memorial to Julia Appleton McKim. The intertwined Appleton/McKim coats of arms are carved directly above the archway leading to the stacks. It is also possible to construe the meanings of three quotations incised into the wooden room divider as appropriate to remembered and enduring love.
Manchester author Herbert A. Kenny writes:
“The central inscription, library tradition says, was a translation by Thomas Carlyle (1793-1881) from the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Why Carlyle chose to put the quotation in Latin is unexplained. A fair translation would be, ‘Let your choice be a good one for although it be brief it will run to eternity.’ It has been paraphrased, ‘Choose well. Your choice is brief and endless.’ It is indeed a sound admonition to give anyone selecting a book . . . but on reflection, we can see that it applies equally well to a young man about to choose a wife, or a young lady about to choose a husband.”
To the left appears another Latin quotation, this one unattributed and patently pertaining to love rather than literature. It can be translated,
“To love a living wife is a pleasure, to love a dead one a sacred obligation.”
The third inscription, in English, is attributed to “Wordsworth”:
“There is not a breathing of the common wind that will forget thee.”
The trustees of the library would be grateful to any scholars who can track down the source of these enigmatic inscriptions. They remain, as Herbert Kenny says, “…one of the most charming features of a very charming building?”
The bookshelves behind the beautiful carved wooden screen were filled with books in October 1887. Between four and five thousand volumes were transferred from the Free Public Library in the old Town House at 12 School Street. A painting by A. C. Needham, which hangs in the library director’s office portrays number 12 School Street as a square wooden building with a square bell tower which reveals its origin as a school. It was built in 1818 on land leased at first from the Congregational Church and bought by the town in 1854. This building served as a schoolroom, library, engine house, and, prior to construction of the Town Hall on the Common (1868) as selectmen’s offices.
The “chapel building” was later erected next door at 14 School Street. The Lyceum Association, who met there for lectures, gathered the nucleus of the town’s first book collection: the Lyceum library. The Grand Army of the Republic, who were later to share the Coolidge Memorial Building with the town library, also met there. The present firehouse occupies the combined sites of the old Town House and the old chapel building.
When the town became the beneficiary of the Lyceum library’s book collection in 1871, the Manchester Free Public Library came into being. Public libraries were not very common until the mid-nineteenth century. Boston’s being the first major city public library (1852). Most early libraries were private, or subscription libraries, or belonged to universities and parishes. In 1830, the Manchester Sabbath School had a library of 500 books and was considered “progressive” for that time.
The first evidence that Manchester citizens were eager to share literary resources came as early as 1804 when forty-five subscribers formed a “social library” with 150 volumes. It was followed two years later by a second, similar social library. They were both short-lived and. when disbanded, the books were distributed among the members. The Lyceum Library, on the other hand, contributed the core of the town’s book collection, and a few of its books are still preserved in the library archives. The archives are housed in the clock tower conference room, which was furnished by the Friends of the Library as a memorial to Elizabeth Parker Philbin (1891-1964). Rare and out-of-print-books, documents, histories of the town, the state, the county, and the writings of Manchester authors are preserved on the archives shelves.
The Lyceum library was an outgrowth of the Lyceum Association founded in 1830 with about 120 members, men only—according to D. L. Bingham, “nearly all the principal men of the town:” The Lyceum held regular lectures and debates on matters of current or local interest. Participation in the debates was restricted to the members, but women were invited to attend; in fact, their husbands could purchase season tickets for 25 cents to be given to “females only” or boys under a certain age. Debates on such subjects as road repair, suffrage (not women’s), government and schools sometimes lasted two or three sessions and the discussion continued all week among acquaintances along the streets and in the shops. After a four-year burst of enthusiasm, the Lyceum fell into a decline and did not revive until the eighteen-sixties when women also gained membership. Despite this hiatus, the library continued to flourish, and by 1868 had 1000 books.
According to diarist John Lee, the first Lyceum books were kept in the “chapel.” The Lyceum finance committee voted for only one bookcase, but they soon must have ordered more because the initial collection of two hundred books donated by members doubled in four years. An agreement was made in 1852 to house the Lyceum library in the selectmen’s office in the Townhouse on condition that the Lyceum would not, among other things, “dirt the room unnecessarily:.
Dues were fifty cents and the librarian, elected yearly, was paid less than $10 per annum to open the library for an hour every other Saturday, to repair books when necessary, to spend a couple of days a year soliciting new subscribers, and to keep a catalog of books. The 1838 catalog lists almost 500 books: much history, natural history, discovery, adventure, “Lives” such as Plutarch or Boswell, “Memoirs,” “Letters,” gazettes and other periodicals, and a sprinkling of fiction, especially Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. Twenty years later one novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, would warrant four copies. Also indicative of the times, the Lyceum voted in 1840 to accept the library belonging to the Anti-slavery Society, subject to the same regulation as the Lyceum library.
Finally, in 1871, the Lyceum Association disbanded forever and bequeathed its library to the town, with the proviso that money be raised for the care and increase of books. The town responded promptly by appropriating $600 for purchase of books and $300 to “fit up rooms for their accommodation” in – where else? – 12 School Street a/k/a/ the “old school house” or the Town House. Several benefactors also came forward and by 1878, John Lee reports 3000 volumes with a yearly circulation of 14,550 volumes, or fives times the number of books in the library.
Back in 1830, the founding vice president of the Lyceum Association was named Delucena L. (for Lathrop) Bingham. This gentleman had a grandson, whom he helped raised, also named Delucena L. Bingham (1814-1912). Credit is due this latter gentleman for putting the library bee into T J. Coolidge’s straw hat. Mesdames Bingham and Coolidge must have had a great deal to talk about together for they shared a love of journeys to distant places. Delucena L. Bingham, Jr. was trained as a cabinetmaker and worked sporadically for the furniture manufacturers in Manchester, with two extensive sojourns to what the Cricket called in his obituary “the wild and wooly west.” About the time he returned home for good the Lyceum library was passing into the hands of the town and D. L. Bingham, Jr., who had assisted often with the Lyceum library, was named a town library trustee. Ten years later, at the death of the incumbent John H. Crombie, Bingham was put in charge as librarian and it was he who would oversee the move in 1887 to the memorial building. He held the position through advancing years until his death in 1912 when the library had expanded to 15,000 books.
During the next seventy-five years, there would be only four other library directors: Jane S. Sargent (1912-1945), Doris Hoare Connors (1945-1980), Pamela Schwotzer (1980-1986) and the present Director, Cynthia Entwistle. Those years saw the library increase to more than 46,000 volumes with an annual operating budget of more than $100,000. Many necessary innovations that Mr. Coolidge, Mr. Leach, and Mr. Bingham could not foresee in 1887 have been incorporated into the system: a copy machine, calculators, laser light scanners, electric typewriters, phonograph records, books on tape, microfilms, and a computer hookup which magnifies this library’s resources by linking it with twenty-one other libraries.
In D. L. Bingham’s day, there was not even a card catalog. One of his duties was to keep a Finding List in which all nonfiction was classified and given code numbers—not the Dewey decimal system yet, although that had been published in 1876. At the start of Miss Sargent’s tenure, $2.000 was appropriated for the preparation of Dewey card catalog and a cataloger was hired. This process, which took two years is quite comparable to the present day situation, which requires all the books to be barcoded and entered into the computer database.
When completed, the card catalog stood to the left of the librarian’s desk, which occupied the archway leading to the stacks, thus preventing public accessibility to the books. The large Marble Faun, which now stands in the center of the east wall, was placed at the right of the desk in 1922. This statue of a draped faun with a little satyr was a gift to the library by the family of T. J. Coolidge following his death. It is the work of Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908), a noted sculptress and one of the first American women to study art in Rome. Her work, including this statue, was exhibited in many European cities.
On the opposite side of the building, the Allen Post, No. 67, GAR, maintained their assembly hall and an anteroom. A current reminder of the GAR’s occupancy is a large painting of the Town of Manchester as seen from Powder House Hill done by Colonel Joshua Sheldon when he was eighty years old and blind in one eye. When the town refused the artist’s offer of the painting, he gave it to Post 67. It was donated to the library through the Women’s Relief Corps and now hangs above the encyclopedias.
The Allen Post was founded in 1868 and named in honor of William H. and Isaac F. Allen (brothers) and Edward F. Allen and Benjamin Allen, all natives of Manchester. Isaac was killed at Antietam, William and Edward died as prisoners in Richmond, and Benjamin died of wounds in a Washington hospital. The Allen Post eventually counted 96 comrades on its rolls, though never more than 53 in one year. At its 50th Anniversary in 1918 only sixteen members remained.
In its first fifty years, the Allen Post expended $7,000 in relief for the comrades and families in need, and its distaff side, the Women’s Relief Corps, offered a “pleasant and cheerful word” together with gifts of money, flowers, flags and clothing. Many Manchester men and women who were schoolchildren during the first quarter of this century remember the delicious odors that wafted up the library stairs from a kitchen in the cellar when Relief Corps president Sarah Crombie and her committee got started cooking up a chowder or baking beans. It is hard to imagine this tiny basement with its narrow stairs (since rebuilt) as suitable for a kitchen, but many suppers were served. Speeches, singing, and stories were the order of the social evenings for these men who enjoyed telling and retelling tales of the “days of the Rebellion?’ A personal history of each man’s role in the war was written down and presented in a huge leather-bound volume by Colonel Russell Sturgis, Jr., to be preserved forever in the library along with the other records of the GAR.
In 1927, after the last GAR veteran had died, their rooms, as anticipated, were transferred to the library. The anteroom became the children’s room, and the Grand Army Hall, the reference room. The central hall was left empty to emphasize the memorials, an arrangement which remained unchanged for the next thirty years. The library was virtually split in two, according to former director Doris Connors, and the librarians had to make endless trips back and forth across the hall. When it became increasingly evident that alterations would be needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of books and the growing needs of the patrons, the central Memorial Hall was finally pressed into service as a circulation area. Thus the stacks could be open to the public. Later the stacks were rebuilt as a double deck with stairs leading to the mezzanine.
The new charge desk and bookcases for current fiction and nonfiction were in place for the library’s 75th anniversary in 1962, a gala occasion which drew a large audience to hear Senator Leverett Saltonstall as principal speaker. This was the first of three celebrations at the library during the decade 1960-1970: On December 29, 1965, a new children’s room, the first and only addition to McKim’s building was dedicated. J. Linzee Coolidge, great-grandson of the library’s donor, presented the keys. In 1970, the library participated in the town’s 325th anniversary with a Book and Authors Tea. Noted authors from all parts of Essex County came as special guests.
The new children’s room, designed by architect James H. Ballou of Salem, enabled the old children’s room to be transformed into a badly needed director’s office. The new room greatly enhanced the children’s program, which had received its impetus in the 1950’s from head librarian Doris Connors, who had grown up in Manchester and attended its schools. Her warmth and enthusiasm extended the influence of the library for beyond its walls. Even before there was a children’s room per se, the children of Manchester were encouraged to use the library as were the teachers in the town schools. Today a large group of youngsters enjoy coming regularly to the story hours, movies and music programs conducted by children’s librarian, Caroline Marietta, and to browse among the children’s books.
The room is named in honor of Frances Quincy Ervin (1892-1982) whose creative and untiring leadership was responsible for the formation of the Friends of the Library in 1960 and the raising of more than $25,000 to build and equip the children’s room.
Mrs. Ervin remained the heart and soul of the Friends even after she ceased to hold office as president. For more than fifteen years she organized the Friends’ annual used book sale, their major fund raising event. The Friends of the Library use their income from book sales, legacies, dues and donations to benefit the library. Special selections of books. periodicals and phonograph records have been presented along with equipment and furniture, upholstery, carpeting, lighting, bike racks, and the sign-post. In 1976 the Friends sponsored a project by Joan Brown to catalog and photocopy important town documents and to microfilm the old Manchester Crickets and the nineteenth-century newspaper the Beetle and Wedge. Perhaps the most popular gift from the Friends is the memberships in the major Boston and Essex County museums which enable families and individuals to check out museum passes on their library cards.
The Friends of the Library embarked on their first capital fund-raising campaign in the children’s room building fund in 1986. This Library Centennial Fund seeks additional endowment and the means to assist the library to finish the three-year computerization program begun in 1981. The initial thought and research that went into this project was a joint effort of the library trustees and Pamela Schwotzer during the six years she served as Director. The new Director, Cynthia Entwistle, appointed in 1986, and the three current trustees, Robert M. Finlay, Kathryn Greenslet, and Linda Buddenhagen, are supervising the installation and encoding which will make possible both the electronic control of circulation for the Manchester Library and complete membership in the Merrimac Valley Library Consortium. Each of the twenty-two libraries in this cooperative network ties into the mainframe computer at the Andover Public Library through a telephone link and is connected through Andover to all other members. Each member library buys its own computer terminals, telecommunications equipment and supplies, and shares the cost of maintenance of the central site computer.
Soon each Manchester Library patron will have a new library card, which can be scanned by laser along with the books being checked out. The librarian will have at her fingertips all records of fines owed, overdue books, reserve books, and location of loans. Since 1985, borrowers have had the choice of a total of 1.5 million books from other libraries in the consortium. Locations of specific titles can be called up on the computer terminal at the circulation desk and the books are delivered in about a week. The resources of the Boston Public Library, which is outside the consortium, are also available through the bookmobile and the interlibrary loan system of the Eastern Regional Library Association.
What next? It has been said that books “link the generations,” making it possible to ‘share human experience down through time and cast our vision of life forward into a future we will not see.” The last speaker at the 1887 dedication ceremonies, the Rev. C. A. Bartol recalled the history of the town. “First it was a settlement, place of a camp, as the name of Manchester …means. The men once here had the hoe in one hand, the gun in the other!’ Next, Manchester became a fishery, then a factory. ‘But the fisheries have gone to Gloucester, and the factories to Boston, or elsewhere… Lastly, Manchester, in our day, has become a splendid watering place. The Rev. Mr. Bartol could not see then the emergence of Manchester as a year-round residential town in a technological age, but he did say, “…with this dedication the village starts ahead, and has a prospect of improvement without end!’
Although we cannot see the improvements of the next century, two things seem fairly certain. The physical grace of Charles McKim’s building will continue to delight and, despite what one reads about sophisticated systems for information storage and retrieval in libraries of the future, the book is here to stay.
This commemorative booklet is published by the Friends of the Manchester Library. Edited by Charles D. Taylor, designed by Sally Carson and written by Sally Bradlee. Photographs by Richard Towle, also Frances Corcoran and Sue Robbins. Cover photo by Anna D. Shaw, MPL logo by Martha Arnaud. The personal attention, time, and previous research, writings, and cataloguing of a number of people were helpful. Special thanks to library director Cynthia Entwistle, assistant librarian Esther Proctor, director emeritus Doris Connors, to Francis Burnett and Sally Gibson of the Manchester Historical Society, and to Joan Brown, the late Evelyn Diges, and Herbert A. Kenny.