Wakefield’s Beebe Library celebrated its 150th anniversary in March of 2006. The town’s first public library was established in 1856, when a committee consisting of B.F. Tweed, Lilley Eaton, Fred A. Sawyer, J.M. Evans, George O. Carpenter, and James Oliver was formed to take the necessary steps towards establishing a library. The library was then located in the old Town House, overlooking the Common. The following year Town Meeting appropriated $300 to buy books and pay the salary of a librarian. Lucius Beebe was the first chairman of the Board of Library Trustees. The first librarian, from 1856 to 1857, was Henry E. Eaton. He was followed by Miss E.M. Newhall, who served until 1859, by which time the library held 1,678 volumes. She was succeeded by Mrs. Emily C. Poland, who served until 1866. Miss Ella E. Morrison took over in that year and served until 1868.
In 1868 the library moved to the new Town Hall, at the corner of Main and Water Streets, which had been donated by Cyrus Wakefield, after whom the town is named. Lucius Beebe donated $500 toward the purchase of new books, which at the time was nearly equal to the annual salary of a typical laborer. That year Town Meeting honored him by voting to change the library’s name to “Beebe Town Library of Wakefield”. Miss Victorine E. Marsh had been appointed librarian in 1868 and she served until 1885 when she resigned due to ill health and was replaced by Mrs. Harriet A. Shepard. In 1904 a branch library headed by Miss H. Gertrude Lee was opened in a room at the Greenwood School. Five years later, in 1909, Miss Lee succeeded Harriet Shepard as head librarian, who retired after 25 years of service.
As the library grew it became necessary to relocate and expand. In 1916, the townspeople purchased a lot at the corner of Main and Avon Streets for $16,000. That same year, Junius Beebe, son of Lucius Beebe, donated $60,000 (average annual salaries at that time were around $700) toward the construction of a new library building, to be built in memory of his parents, Lucius and Sylenda. The cornerstone was laid on March 17, 1922 (shown at left) and the building was dedicated on April 15, 1923. The architect for the 1922 building was Ralph Adams Cram (right), of the firm Cram & Ferguson, arguably America’s best Gothic architect, as well as a writer, and art critic for the Boston Transcript. Cram’s most famous works include several buildings at Princeton University, including the chapel, and more than one hundred churches and chapels across the country. He also was the principal architect of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and was a consulting architect for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The Beebe Library building was a departure from his usual Gothic work, having been built in a Classical Revival style instead.
The building has a large skylit entrance hall flanked by two reading rooms, each up a short flight of marble stairs. The north reading room is graced by fourteen medallions depicting famous literary figures. Both reading rooms include working marble fireplaces, built-in wooden bookshelves, and elegant Adam style plaster detailing on the walls and ceilings. The central lobby has a black and white marble floor and cast iron stair railings with urn motifs that echo the stone urns on the building’s facade. The beehive, a symbol of the Beebe family, is used throughout the building as a decorative motif, and was chosen in 1998 as the Library’s logo. Helen F. Carleton served as head librarian from 1925 to 1952. In 1942 a second branch library was opened in the Montrose school on the northeast side of town. Four years later it was moved to its own building on New Salem Street. In 1952 Mr. Asbury W. Schley was appointed librarian and served until 1956. In 1957 he was followed by D. Marjorie Taylor, who remained until her retirement in 1971.
In 1967 the town appropriated funds to expand the original building, which was becoming overcrowded. An addition was designed by James F. Clapp, Jr., of the Boston architectural firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbot. The addition (shown below) was opened on September 14, 1969. From 1971 to 1974 Ruth B. Litchfield served as librarian. She was followed by Margo Trumpeter, who served until 1978. In 1978 Sharon A. Gilley was appointed library director, and she has continued to serve in that capacity until the present day. The two branch libraries in Montrose and Greenwood were closed in 1981 due to the effects of mandated budget cuts under Proposition 2 1/2. That same year Wakefield became one of the five founding member towns of the North of Boston Library Exchange, one of the first automated library systems in Massachusetts.
By the late 1980s, the Beebe Library had again outgrown its space. New library technologies as well as expanding collections prompted a study into the feasibility of renovating the existing building to provide added space, particularly in the Youth Room, new utility systems, and handicapped accessibility. In November 1995, Wakefield’s Town Meeting approved a $5 million renovation to the Beebe Library, with $3.2 million to be funded by the town and $1.8 million from a construction grant from the Board of Library Commissioners. The challenge was to achieve these goals in the existing structure while retaining the beauty of the historic portion of the building.
The Boston architectural firm of Childs Bertman Tseckares was hired to redesign the building and work with the Library Building Committee and library staff to bring to fruition the goals of the building program, which gutted the 1969 portion of the building and restored the historic 1922 portion. Castagna, Inc. was hired as the general contractor, and the entire project was overseen by the project management firm, the Carlisle Consulting Group. Cheryl Webb Scott, a local interior designer, donated her services to the project to design interiors and select furniture, fabrics, carpets, and color schemes.
Before construction could begin in October 1996, the entire library had to vacate the Main Street site and move to temporary quarters at the Lakeside Office Park. These temporary offices were generously provided at no charge to the town by the Savings Bank of Wakefield for the duration of the construction period. The move took three weeks and the “Library at Lakeside” reopened to the public the second week in October, 1996. Construction on the Main Street building was substantially completed in January 1998, and the library moved back to its beautifully renovated historic building during the month of February. The rededication festivities took place on Sunday, March 15th, 1998, and the next day the library reopened to the public.
Money for furnishings was not part of the project’s funding. At the 1995 Town Meeting, the Board of Library Trustees made a commitment to raise $200,000 through private fundraising. This private money was earmarked to furnish the new building properly and to provide extras not included in construction. The “Furnish Our Future” campaign ultimately raised more than $240,000 from scores of individuals and community groups to purchase comfortable upholstered seating, custom-made computer and study carrels, solid cherry tables, specialty shelving, and custom-designed furnishings for the Youth Room. In addition, many of the Library’s original antique furnishings were refinished and reupholstered to be reused in their original settings.
Now over 150 years old, the Beebe Library is known not only as an architectural gem in the town, but an active and vital part of the community fabric, serving as an educational and cultural institution and meeting place. The library has won numerous publicity citations from the Mass. Library Association’s Public Relations Awards, and was the first library in Massachusetts to sponsor a townwide reading program, “Wakefield Reads”. The library staff is active on state and regional library committees and prides itself on excellent public service.
(Photo by Edward Jacoby, Jacoby Photography, Boston, Mass.)
(Photo by Edward Jacoby, Jacoby Photography, Boston, Mass.)
The old Ecclesiastical Library was at first kept in the parsonage of Rev. Reuben Emerson (1) and later in the rear store area of the Homestead (2) on the north corner of Main and Salem Streets, which belonged to Lilley Eaton II (3). There also were housed the later Social, Franklin, Phrenological, and Mechanics Libraries, each of which was promoted by various town leaders, among whom were Franklin Poole (4), and one who served as librarian, Abel F. Hutchinson (5). Two who had an interest in promoting an Agricultural Library were James Eustis (6)and Samuel Kingman (7).
Then in accordance with the new Massachusetts edict in 1856, the Town Public Library was organized, located on the first floor of the Old Town House (8) on Church Street where it crossed what is now the Common. This location served well until conditions became crowded. So in 1872 the Library was again moved, this time to a section of the first floor of the new building, the 1868 Town Hall (9), a gift to the town from Cyrus Wakefield (10).
Among the hardworking citizens who made up the original committee to establish the Town Library were Benjamin F. Tweed (11), James Oliver (12), George O. Carpenter (13), and Lilley Eaton III (14). Several also served on the first Boards of Trustees, as did Edward Mansfield (15), upon the site of whose home was later to be erected that which fulfilled the ultimate dream, a special library building made possibly largely by the generosity of friends, and given the name of The Lucius Beebe Memorial Library (16) to commemorate the services and generosity of that member of the original Board of Trustees, Lucius Beebe (17). Others working with him in the same capacity will also be long remembered: James M. Evans (18), Ebenezer Wiley (19), Paul H. Sweetser (20), and John S. Eaton (21).
Head Librarians of the Beebe Library since its Establishment: