Happy 100th, Central Branch

SPL - 1930s post cardSomerville 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.
  • 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.

Can you recognize the difference from today?Can you recognize the difference from today's entrance?

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.

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