Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy Birthday to Us!

The Belfast Free Library first opened it doors on May 1, 1888, so we celebrate our 120th birthday today. A bequest of $20,000 from Paul Richard Hazeltine and a $31,000 bequest from the Nathaniel Wilson (pictured below) estate, made it possible for the city to purchase the land and construct the building. The land, then occupied by the Robert Miller house, was purchased in 1886 and the Miller house was moved to Bridge Street. Julius Munchwitz of New York was the architect and the contractor was James Thomas Pottle, who completed the building in November of 1887.

Here is Joseph Williamson's description of the building from Vol. II of his History of the City of Belfast: " The body of the structure is of red granite, and the finish and trimmings are of Somerville gray granite. The building is one story high with a basement, and has a frontage of fifty-six feet on High Street and of thirty-two on Miller. The rooms are nineteen feet in height. It is estimated that the bookroom has a capacity of fourteen thousand volumes."
This old interior shot is showing the view from the current reference room into the portrait/computer room. At that time, the stacks were closed and all book requests were paged by the staff. Patrons were allowed to check out only one book at a time.
The first President of the Library Board of Trustees and the first library card holder, was Joseph Williamson and the first librarian was Miss Elizabeth Maltby Pond, with Miss Annie Veazie Field as her assistant.

The first General Catalogue was published in 1896. Prior to that date, a yearly bulletin was published with the annual report and current holdings of the library listed.

In 1931, a gift from Maud Gammans made it possible for the library to add a large, elegant reading room to the rear of the existing building, aptly named the Gammans room. Furnishings, art and artifacts were also part of the gift and you will see that many of the items in the photograph below still decorate this room. Here, also, is a photo of the exterior building after this addition.

This symbol of the original Hazeltine gift is still in view over the door of the former entrance to the library.