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

Today’s 125th anniversary fact is all about history in the making! 2021 marks the 125th year the Blackstone Library has been serving the Branford community and to mark that momentous occasion we have some brand-new commemorative library cards available. The two designs feature different historic aspects of the building so you can carry a little piece of history in your pocket! One design features the murals on the library dome, but since we’ll be featuring the dome in future posts, today we’re letting the other design shine through! This card features a photo of the library while it was still under construction, specifically in October of 1894. You can see that most of the exterior has been completed, but the interior still has a long way to go! These photos were taken at the request of Probst Construction Company, the firm that built the library. They were taken by the Stoddard Studio right in New Haven, and for many of them we know the name of the actual photographer–Harry O. Andrews. You can see this picture, and many other library construction photos, on our online archive available on our website!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 24th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She was an incredible person who was loved by many, and who is remembered today just as much for her humanitarian efforts as for being a member of the British Royal Family. Her life was so impactful even in our little corner of the world that we have a study carrel on the Mezzanine donated by a local couple and named in her honor. Princess Diana’s name may be the most famous one featured on a plaque in the building, but there are dozens of them throughout the library and many more featured in books throughout the collection. Each one represents a member of our community, and we’re proud to help carry on the memory of each and every one of them.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The nasty weather from the last few days has made us grateful for our very sturdy Blackstone Library! We thought you might be interested in learning a little bit abut the lovely marble columns that hold the building up no matter what the weather is doing. The Blackstone is full of columns, most notably in the Rotunda, Reading Room, and Mezzanine area. According to the architect Solon Spencer Beman, the swirl topped columns in the building were inspired by those at the Erechtheion–an ancient Greek temple on the Acropolis in Athens. But did you know some of these columns are hiding a well-kept secret? It’s easy to assume all the columns are made of marble, but those with gold painted tops are actually made of something called scagliola (don’t worry, we had to look it up too!). Scagliola is a type of fine plaster that is mixed with glue and dyes to imitate the appearance of marble and then polished to a shine. While it was popular in the 17th century as a marble alternative, the use of scagliola had begun to decline by the 19th century, making our columns a later example of the technique.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

The Blackstone Library is home to lots and lots of books, and new ones arrive almost every day. More books are being published than ever before, but back when the pace of publishing was a little slower, the Blackstone used to publish a list of some of our newly acquired titles in the local newspaper. This list appeared in the New Haven Evening Register in about January of 1906. Can you spot the history making title? We’ll give you a hint–if you’ve ever read it, you probably avoided meat for at least a little while after finishing.

You can still find a list of the newest books we’ve added to our collection, now updated for the 21st century! Check it out as part of our online catalog here. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the first to get your hands on a history making title today!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

We have a new face in the Reference Department and the fun and excitement of seeing the library through fresh eyes inspired this week’s 125th Anniversary Fact. We all know the library is an old building, but it’s easy to forget how old until you’re confronted with the day to day reality of it. For example, a handful of doors in the building are still opened with their original skeleton keys circa 1896. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it as they say! We also have several decommissioned ones floating around too, like the one featured in today’s fact. We’re not always sure which doors they used to open (or if the door is even still in the building), but we like to keep them around anyway. As you can see this key was manufactured right here in Branford, probably at Branford Lock Works.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

For today’s 125th anniversary fact we’re sharing some information about another famous author featured as part of our rotunda! Nathaniel Hawthorne is perhaps one of the most famous authors from New England, and arguably one of the most important American writers of all time.

Born in Salem MA in 1804 and descended from a prominent Puritan family, Hawthorne was the son of a sea captain who died when Nathaniel was 4 years old. In order to earn a livelihood Hawthorne served as surveyor of the port at Salem (1846-49), where he began writing his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter (1850). Set in 17th-century Puritan New England, the novel delves deeply into the human heart, presenting the problems of moral evil and guilt through allegory and symbolism. It is often considered the first American psychological novel.

For a time the Hawthornes lived at “Tanglewood,” near Lenox, Mass. where Hawthorne befriended his neighbor Herman Melville. Melville was one of the first to appreciate Hawthorne’s genius and the two were reportedly very close friends. Aside from his importance as a novelist, Hawthorne is justly celebrated as a short-story writer. He helped to establish the American short story as a significant art form with his haunting tales of human loneliness, frustration, hypocrisy, eccentricity, and frailty. Among his most brilliant stories are “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” “Young Goodman Brown,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “The Great Stone Face,” and “Ethan Brand.”

Be sure to come and visit our portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne (and all our other amazing portraits and paintings) on your next visit to the Blackstone!

 

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Edition 6, 2000
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2000 Columbia University Press
Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

For today’s 125th Anniversary Fact we’re sharing a little bit about one of the authors featured in the library’s rotunda. Each portrait below the dome features a famous author from New England, and today we’re featuring William Cullen Bryant. Born in Massachusetts in 1794, Bryant was trained as a lawyer but eventually made his living as both a successful poet and the editor in chief of the New York Evening Post. You can read more about him on our Facebook page!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Laugh and the World Laughs with You
Weep and You Weep Alone

Did you know these famous lines were composed by Branford’s own Ella Wheeler Wilcox? Her portrait hangs in the Blackstone Library Reading Room, so we’re making her the topic of today’s 125th Anniversary Fact! Ella was born in Wisconsin in 1850 and began writing poetry at the age of 5. She settled with her husband, Robert Marius Wilcox, in the Short Beach section of Branford in 1891. She published numerous volumes of poetry throughout her life, the most famous of which was Poems of Passion published in 1883. During her time in Short Beach, she organized a village improvement society called White Wings with the aim of beautifying Short Beach and making it a center of intellectual life. Robert died suddenly in 1916 and Ella never recovered from the loss. While visiting injured WWI troops in France, she fell ill and passed away in Short Beach on October 30, 1919.

This portrait was painted in 1899 by Lilly Martin Spencer of NY, one of the most popular genre artists of the mid-nineteenth century. Both she and Ella were strong female figures in male dominated fields, and we like to think they had much to discuss with one another!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

This year’s Summer Reading theme is Tails and Tales, so for this week’s 125th Anniversary Fact we’re sharing the tale of one of our favorite library tails! In 1978 the Blackstone Library made a new furry addition to the staff. In April of that year a stray calico cat took a liking to the library and, after spending one night, decided to make it her permanent residence. The staff enjoyed the company of the reportedly shy and occasionally sassy feline, and soon dubbed her Prudence the Library Cat. She had her own room on the top floor of the building, and enjoyed lounging at the check out desk and looking out her favorite window in the Director’s Office. She had free rein of the building and while she enjoyed being in the middle of things, she didn’t like to be the center of attention. Prudence certainly lived a life many people might envy–we’re certainly jealous!

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

Today we’re showcasing the last remaining portion of original shelving in the Blackstone Library and it’s another reminder that they don’t make things like they used to! The shelving was made by the Snead & Co. Iron Works which had an office in Chicago. Because Timothy Blackstone was based out of Chicago, we find that many of the materials used in the building are sourced from there rather than New England. While the shelving is certainly functional, it also doesn’t shy away from being beautiful too. It features many intricate details that you simply don’t find in library furniture today, and we’re so grateful that it’s still serving it’s purposed 125 years later! If you want to see these shelves for yourself, you can find them on the middle floor underneath the mezzanine. They’ve been the home of many collections in the past, and they now house nonfiction and biographies.

Blackstone Library 125th Anniversary

For today’s 125th Anniversary Fact we’re featuring a unique library collection we’re sure many of you remember fondly. The rooms on the upper floor once held displays of historical items and bird specimens until 1996, when the area was repurposed for the children’s space. We get lots of questions about the bird collection and it’s no wonder! The collection was extremely impressive and represented many different types of local species. According to our archives, the core of the collection was provided by Valdimar Hammer and the taxidermist was a Mr. Armstrong of Pawson Park here in Branford. We were certainly sad to see them go, but we know they found a great home at Earthplace Nature Discovery Center in Westport CT, a non-profit organization committed to building passion and respect for the natural world and a more sustainable future. There, the collection continues to educate and inspire a new generation of animal enthusiasts!

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

https://www.blackstonelibrary.org/jbml125/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.