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

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.