James Blackstone Memorial Library 1896 – 2021

We are looking forward to celebrating our 125th anniversary in the spring and we have created this web page where we can share interesting facts and photographs about the library. We will post a new item every week throughout 2021 and all of the posts will appear on this page.
Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Taking care of the Blackstone Library is no easy feat! The building takes a lot of work to maintain, and we’d be lost without the hard work of our dedicated custodians throughout the years. Today’s 125th anniversary fact is about one of our earliest library custodians. Fred Minott Augur was the library custodian from 1905-1927 and we’re lucky enough to have a formal portrait of him in the library archives. His work was just as essential then as it is today–a newspaper article from 1916 makes sure to note that while he and his wife would be taking a vacation, his son Minott Augur “will have charge of his father’s work at the library.”

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

This week’s 125th Anniversary Fact is about an artifact found during one of our previous renovations. This cup was uncovered behind the rotunda along with a page from an 1895 newspaper. Originally used as a drinking cup, it was coated with zinc and finally used as a container for mixing paint. We wonder if that break in the lip just visible on the right was what demoted it from drinking cup to paint mixer!  It has been carefully restored by Nancy and Bill Hendricks who have identified the design as one available between 1890 – 1900. You can visit it, and many other interesting Blackstone artifacts, in the display case on the top floor outside the computer lab!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

While we know it’s been a while since we’ve been able to host lectures, concerts, and other events in person, we’re sure you all remember one of our favorite library spaces–the auditorium! Here you can see the view from the auditorium stage just before the library was opened to the public. Today’s 125th Anniversary fact concerns the chairs you can see in the picture. We were sure that seating was all long gone, but back in 2019 William and Cynthia Kobak very kindly donated an original pair back to us. We always love it when pieces of Blackstone history find their way back home!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The Blackstone Library has always cultivated a spirit of creativity and innovation in its staff. This dates all the way back to the earliest days of the library, as evidenced by this week’s 125th Anniversary Fact. In our archives we have a document labeled Classification of the Blackstone Library. Why is this a big deal? Because it doesn’t match any known library classification system out there! It has elements of the Dewey Decimal System, the Library of Congress classification system (the gold standard for college and university libraries), and is reminiscent of some classification systems used in the UK. The Dewey Decimal system may be synonymous with the library these days, but that wasn’t always the case. It appears some of our early librarians felt his methods could be improved upon! We’re not sure if this system was ever put into place here at the Blackstone–the margin notes indicate that this was work in progress–but it’s an excellent reminder that the library is a living thing. We’re always adapting to best fit the needs of our community, and what works today may not work tomorrow–whether it’s a program, service, or classification system!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The Reading Room is one of the most popular destinations at the Blackstone, but it didn’t always look the way it does now. This photograph of the Reading Room was taken after construction of the library was finished, but before it was officially opened to the public. Most of this furniture is sadly long gone, but you may be able to spot a piece or two that is still in use today!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Blackstone Library has a collection of commemorative items, including china, paperweights and silver spoons. Some of these items date from the opening of the library in 1896, when local businesses such as the Bradley Co., imported them from Germany. If you would like to see the rest of the collection, it is displayed on the top floor of the library, just outside the Computer Lab.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Today’s 125th Anniversary Fact is almost 125 years in the making and comes from our financial archives. While investigating last week’s fact about our fancy flooring, we came across this receipt from the book supplier Baker and Taylor dated 1898. What’s so interesting about that? Well we still get most of our books from them today! Here at the Blackstone Library, we’re certainly consistent. We order the books online these days rather than by correspondence, but maybe we should ask for a long-time customer discount?

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

For today’s 125th Anniversary Fact we’re exploring a library detail that’s right under your nose…and your toes! It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen it in person, but our rotunda is home to 12,500 square feet of hand laid mosaic tile flooring imported from Paris. Each tile is only about the size of a nickel which makes the variety of designs featured even more impressive! Whoever laid the tile was truly a master craftsman, and we’re currently trying to learn more about the origins of the materials used and who exactly may have done the work. Stay tuned–we hope to have an update for you some day soon!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

This week’s post shows the before and after photographs of our author portraits, located just below the paintings in our dome.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

For this week’s 125th Anniversary fact we’re taking you back to the groovy days of the 1970s and one of our earliest renovation projects. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the Blackstone Library did not have a dedicated space for children. Recognizing the needs of the community, The Branford Woman’s Club teamed up with the library and began raising money in the early 1970s to change all that. They played an integral role in making the project happen, and Blackstone opened the brand-new Children’s Department in February of 1974!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Today we’re sharing another library artifact that makes us thankful for computers! In our Blackstone Library archives we have a collection of original Accession Records dating from the earliest days of the Blackstone to approximately the 1940s. What exactly is an Accession Record? They’re massive hand-written ledgers of every book purchased for the library collection and include information on purchase dates, prices paid, publication information, and even when the book was eventually removed from the collection–known as Condemning according to the stamp that was used at the time. These ledger books were specially designed by Melville Dewey (of Dewey Decimal fame) and include a handy list of standardized abbreviations to help save time and space. These books are a real gem of library history, but we think we’ll stick with our computerized catalog!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The library has two Seth Thomas clocks, one in the Reading Room and one in the nonfiction area, that are still telling time for us 125 years after they were first installed for the opening of the library in 1896.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

James Blackstone, for whom the library is named, was born in Branford in 1793. He served as a captain in the Connecticut militia, was first selectman of the town of Branford and was a State Senator. He died in Branford in 1886. His portrait can be seen in the Reading Room at the library.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Fines may be long gone here at the Blackstone Library, but today we’re sharing an artifact from library fine history. This Fine Calculator was found in our library archives and probably dates from around the 1940s or 50s. It was designed to help librarians calculate fines accurately before the days of computers and calculators. You can check out our Facebook Page to learn all about how it works. Thankfully, for us and for you, we at the Blackstone won’t be needing this device any time soon!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The library has a long tradition of hosting lectures and concerts (and we look forward to the day that we are able to do so again!). Here is what was happening a hundred years ago.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Everyone in Branford knows the Blackstone Library is an impressive piece of architecture. One of our favorite things to see are artistic renderings of the building from both professionals and amateurs alike! Today we’re featuring this card from our archives featuring a beautifully detailed drawing of the library. The card is from 1906 and was done by a woman named Martina Meline. She also included a lovely poem on the inside, so be sure to check out our Facebook page to read it!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

On the middle floor of the library you will find an interior dome with a height of fifty feet with an ornamental skylight forming the eye of the dome.

 

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Over the years, the library published a number of different brochures and notes for patrons. These brochures contained lecture and program notes, lists of books added to the library’s collection, history of the library, and quotes. Here are two examples from 1922 – No. 2 and No. 4 (the library has 14 notes from 1922).

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The library’s front doors are made of bronze and weigh nearly 2,000 pounds. To read a description of the doors by the architect, click here.

 

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

There is a Blackstone branch of the Chicago Public Library, built in 1904. Designed by the same architect who designed our Blackstone Library, Solon Spencer Beman, and with artwork by Oliver Dennett Grover, the Blackstone branch was built by Isabella Norton Blackstone to honor her husband, Timothy Beach Blackstone who donated the funds to build the James Blackstone Memorial Library.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The first head librarian at the library was Arthur Wellington Tyler, who served in that role from June 1896 to April 1898. He lectured at the library in the years following his time as library director. He was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1842, attended Amherst College and was a journalist and newspaper editor before becoming assistant and then second librarian at the Astor Library in New York City. He was head librarian at the Indianapolis Library and worked at libraries in Kansas and New Jersey. He was dean of the faculty at Teachers College in New York City, then worked in Illinois, at Columbia University and in Delaware. After his time in Branford, he traveled extensively in Europe and was then assistant librarian of the public library in Washington, D.C. He died in March 1906. (From The Tyler Genealogy, by Willard I. Tyler Brigham)

Blackstone's 125th Anniversary

When the library opened in 1896, the bronze light fixtures were “arranged for both gas and electric light.”

 

Blackstone Library 1896-2021
The library was dedicated on June 17, 1896 and opened the next day, after three years of construction. You can read the architect’s description of the building and the bronze doors and the artist’s description of the paintings in the dome.