Have you ever taken a stroll in Somerville, to come across an octagon shaped house with all the windows boarded up and cameras leering down at you? Well, if you know what I’m talking about, you’ve seen the Round House at 36 Atherton Street in Somerville. Although, it may not be as mysterious as we all think. The house was built by Enoch Robinson sometime around 1847, right after the locksmith and designer moved to Somerville. He lived in the house with his wife, three daughters, one son and maid. The design of his home was influenced in the idea that circular houses wasted less space, had more light and created better quality heating.
A little history….In 1986, a restoration program was started by the North Bennet Street School but the project fell through. The home was bought in 2007, before that, the round house was vacant and slowly deteriorating. Today, the home is owned by a local man who is rumored to be head of a general contracting firm. If you walk by now, you’ll see the windows are all boarded up, and according to the Somerville Historic Preservation, there is an intent to fix the round house into a livable house once again.
One of SPL’s most valuable resources for Somerville history is the Somerville Journal, the city’s oldest newspaper. We have the complete run of the paper in hard copy and microfilm from the 1870s to the present. Reading old issues is fascinating. Not only do they give a sense of how important newspapers were for news and entertainment before competition from radio, television and the Internet, they also reveal the issues that were on people’s minds that seldom make it into the history books. While looking for an obituary today I happened upon a Journal opinion piece from February 26, 1914, that set the minds of Somervillians at ease regarding the vital question: may a gentleman eat raw onions? The title of the editorial is “The Onion Vindicated.”
I won’t keep you in suspense, dear reader. Gentlemen (and ladies) may eat onions. They are good for you. Onions kill diploccocci pneumoniae, what we would now call streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria that can cause ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia. The Journal advises its readers that, “As for the members of the family who object to onions–well, a man must not give up his hope of escape from the lurking diploccoccus merely because his sisters, his cousins or his aunts abhor the penetrant perfume of raw onions.”
Our latest staff profile is of Kevin, who you will recognize if you’ve ever been to the second floor of the Central Library.
“I’m Kevin. First and foremost, I work at the reference desk answering questions for library users, trouble shooting computers, helping people find books, and suggesting books to people who aren’t sure what they want. I speak Spanish, so I often help Spanish-speaking patrons. I also select books for the Library in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Chinese. I find it fascinating to see what’s being published in other countries.
“In the past couple of years I’ve co-written some grants for special projects. One of these a StoryCorps grant, and SPL was one of just ten libraries in the U.S. selected for a pilot project for StoryCorps in public libraries. It was really interesting and moving to listen to the various people who came to the Library with stories they wanted to share. I also helped the Library get an ALA/NEH grant to do programming on Islamic history and culture. I learned so much. My favorite event in that series was definitely our interfaith panel discussion. A Protestant minister, the former Imam of Boston, and a rabbi talked about the similarities and differences of their faiths. I never would have thought hearing an imam and a rabbi joking together would make me laugh so much.
“In addition to my other duties I work in the cataloging department one morning a week and that’s really cool because I love books and I get to see every one that comes into the Library.
“I’m also in charge of the local history room, which is a real privilege because Somerville has such a rich and quirky history. George Washington and Marshmallow Fluff – who can beat that?
“In my spare time I read, do yoga, cook, spend time with friends, and review books for the Christian Science Monitor.”
Last week we asked you to share your stories of how the Library has impacted your life or the life of a loved one. Over the last few days we’ve received some amazing responses, and they’re too good to keep to ourselves. Here’s one for a start, and we’ll post more soon!
When I was a senior in Somerville High School in 1957, I applied for a job as a librarian in the Somerville Public Library on Highland Avenue near the high school. I was hired part-time to help repair the plastic covers of the records in the library’s music department. Although my parents loved music and were knowledgeable about classical music a young man who also worked in that department introduced me to modern composers I did not know. He showed me their albums – Bartok, Schoenberg, Bloch and Mahler. When he talked to me about Mahler a darkness passed over his face, and his gaze deepened inward in front of me. Music had not been introduced to me like that before. He told me to take the records home and listen to them. I never forgot the names of these composers. Another time, someone else in the library pointed out where the banned books were kept. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious was off limits, high on a shelf in a librarian’s office. The women who worked as librarians at the check out desks were polite when they asked people to lower their voices. The library was a very quiet place, people were reading there by the slant of light that came through the old windows on the top of the hill. We lived next door to the library director, Mr. Kelly, on Central Street in Somerville. My father was the Rabbi in Somerville. He had great respect for Mr. Kelly and was always reminding us to play quietly outside, so not to disturb the Kelly family. Among the many things learned that summer, were the music of those composers, the fact that books were banned, and the value of quiet.
Would you like to share your story (and qualify for a chance to win a $25 gift card)? Email Glenn Ferdman, Director of Libraries, or click here to fill out a short online form. You can also fill out a paper form at any SPL location. Thank you!
Somerville Public Library’s central branch is marking its centennial this year. Way back in January of 1914, the Italian Renaissance-style building at 79 Highland Avenue opened for patrons after its dedication on Dec. 17, 1913.
Famed library architect Edward Lippincott Tilton designed the new building. According to the Somerville Journal in an article dated Dec. 12, 1913, the library was constructed at a cost of $125,000 (which is $2,993,333 in today’s dollars). Great library supporter and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie donated $80,000. The furniture and bookcases were made of oak. The book capacity was 200,000 volumes.
Other events in our library’s life:
– In 1928, the second floor of the central branch – Wellington Hall – was dedicated to library trustee J. Frank Wellington, who at that time had served for 35 years in that capacity.
– The 1975-’76 renovation: $1.7 million was spent on the facelift, which is $7.5 million in today’s dollars. Of that total, $1.5 million came from a bond issue. Staff members recall many books being kept in trailers near City Hall, while staff and some resources were relocated to City Hall’s basement while renovations were taking place.
– In 1976, after renovations were complete, the Children’s Room was dedicated to late Somerville citizen Marguerite “Missy” Alice LeHand, President Franklin Roosevelt’s longtime secretary and confidante. James Roosevelt, grandson of the late president, also attended the dedication.
– In 1981, the library was picked by the Massachusetts Library Association as the Library of the Year.
Can you recognize the difference from today’s entrance?
– In 1989, the branch was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
– In 2007, the library was awarded a $40,000 Planning and Design Grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
– In 2012, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners added Somerville to its waiting list for an $18 million construction grant to build a new library in Union Square. In order to receive the grant, Somerville must come up with a solid plan for funding the whole project, which is projected to cost $45 million. Plans are still developing.
At the dedication in 1913, Drew Bert Hall, Somerville’s librarian, had this to say: “Yet this service, great as it is, is but a beginning of what shall be. For there is not a child or a young man, a housewife or a merchant, a laborer or a banker, a mechanic or a lady in this land to-night who does not need something to be found in good books; whether it be comfort for their sorrows of the day, or of knowledge for the struggles of the morrow, or of inspiration for their visions of the future.”
Can this 100-year-old sentiment still be relevant to us today? You betcha.
For more information on the history of all three branches of the Somerville Public Library, visit the Local History Room on the second floor of the central branch. Our website has some tips to check out before you stop by. There is also a display on the first floor of the central branch with with lovely pictures of the branch pre-renovation, during the renovation in 1975-’76 and a few from the library right after the renovation.
Books for Somerville Reads 2014 have arrived and are now available at all SPL locations!
Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss the same book. The book that has been selected for 2014 is Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. A companion children’s book has also been selected: The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 by Deborah Kops. Both of these authors will be visiting the Library in September. Details about the author visits and other Somerville Reads events will be coming soon.
In the meantime, stop by one of the SPL Libraries, pick up your book, and start reading! And to get in the spirit, why not try a molasses recipe or two? We will be printing out some recipes for you to try in the coming weeks – they’ll be available near the display of Somerville Reads books. Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans, anyone?
It’s official: Whitey Bulger has been found guilty – of a whole lot of stuff – and will presumably be spending the rest of his life behind bars. Many of us would like to forget all about the notorious thug but, human nature being what it is, a fair number of us want to know all there is to know about Whitey and his doings. To that end, here’s a list of relevant books available through the Minuteman Library Network.
“Based on what we find out, we’re going to make suggestions for a sculpture, ” said SHS senior Larry Barnes. The sculpture will in some way embody the history of Assembly Square and will placed in the new development known as Assembly Row, said SHS history teacher Ted Blake.
Based on the Somerville students’ suggestions, Boston teen artists will make a prototype of the sculpture that will go on display at Riverfest this September.
The students have an infectious enthusiasm for the project. “I just like the excitement, that something good is going to come of this, ” said Lucy, an SHS senior. Another senior, Nicole, said, “I like that we’re helping design something and we can say, ‘I made that.’
Pictured: SHS students Larry Barnes and Fred Gramont. Photo courtesy of Ted Blake.
Last night yours truly and Kristi Chase of the City’s Historic Preservation department gave a presentation on genealogical and house history research. Since most people remember research processes when they’re given concrete examples, we took one house in Somerville and explained how to use library resources and local government document to find out how the house had been altered over the course of its existence and to find out who lived there since it was built. So technically, the presentation was “Researching the History of Your House and the People Who Lived There.” I demonstrated how to use resources such as the census, deeds, and military service records to gather information on who lived in a specific house, and Kristi was impressive as she showed how one can use maps, historic photos, and building permits to uncover radical changes to the house (in this case, a rather spare house built in the 1850s had been converted into an example of Queen Anne fancifulness).
Our talk was one of the final events of Somerville’s Historic Preservation Month. We’ll be giving it again next year and hope you’ll attend.
As usual, there’s a lot going on at the Library and all over the City this weekend!
* Saturday at the Central Library from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., we invite you to join us for the Somerville Reads Potluck Celebration featuring great food, prizes, and music by the Michael J. Epstein Library. This is part of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Initiative – you can read about related events happening around the City here.
* Sunday at the Walnut Street Community Garden at 1:00 p.m., Cathy Piantigini and Jim Boyd host an all-ages discussion of Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks. Full information can be found here.
* Also on Sunday, at the Central Library at 2:00 p.m., Paul and Rachel Revere will ride again, in a performance by Lee Riethmiller and Jessa Piaia. More information on this program can be found here.
Will the weather cooperate? We don’t know, but either way, it’s SPRING!!! and that in itself is something to be glad about. Here’s a spring song to get you in the mood: