Lucius Beebe Memorial Library
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) and the building was dedicated on April 15, 1923.
The architect for the 1922 building was Ralph Adams Cram, 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.
Twenty-five years later, 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, new utility systems, and handicapped accessibility. The design proposal recommended a renovation that would cost $5 million. The library was the recipient of a $1.8 million construction grant from the Board of Library Commissioners and the town appropriated the remaining funds at Town Meeting at the end of 1995. The well-known Boston firm Childs Bertman Tseckares was retained as architect on the project, which gutted the 1969 portion of the building and restored the historic 1922 portion. After more than a year of construction, the beautifully renovated building was reopened to the public in March 1998. Cheryl Webb Scott, a local interior designer, donated her services to the project to design interiors and select furniture, fabrics, carpets, and color schemes.
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.
Head Librarians of the Beebe Library since its Establishment:
- 1856 - Henry E. Eaton
- 1857 - E. M. Newhall
- 1859 - Emily C. Poland
- 1866 - Ella E. Morrison
- 1868 - Victorine E. Marsh
- 1885 - Harriet A. Shepard
- 1909 - H. Gertrude Lee
- 1925 - Helen F. Carleton
- 1952 - Asbury W. Schley
- 1957 - D. Marjorie Taylor
- 1971 - Ruth B. Litchfield
- 1974 - Margo Trumpeter
- 1978 - Sharon A. Gilley
- Wakefield : 350 years by the lake : an anniversary history / compiled by the Wakefield 350 Writing Committee ; edited by Nancy Bertrand, 1994, p248-250, 393.
- Library web site