Franklin Public Library

One benefit of living in New England is the wealth of historical places. Over two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin donated some books to a town in Massachusetts, thus creating the first public library. Ah, but there's a little more to that story.


When the town incorporated, the folks there decided to name it Franklin in honor of Benjamin Franklin. After a few years, the locals decided to remind Franklin of "the great honor a small town of farmers in Massachusetts had bestowed upon him."* In other words, the farmers thought they were owed; they asked for a bell for their meetinghouse.

Franklin was a little disgruntled, wondering what the heck a bunch of farmers needed with a bell anyway. He wrote back that he'd send them some books on government and law, "Sense being preferable to Sound." The cost to Franklin was about 24 pounds (the books being purchased in England), or about $2,500 US today.


The books were sent to Reverend Emmons of the Congregational Church in Franklin. The right Rev. announced the books would be available for lending to those attending (and monetarily supporting) his church. This angered quite a few residents who didn't attend said church.


Over several years at town meetings more than ten warrant articles were passed which instructed Rev. Emmons to make the books available to all residents. The Rev. finally gave in, putting the books in the entry of his mansion in 1790. This officially established the first public library.


The books moved from place to place, some additions being added by the various caretakers. At one point the books were stuck in someone's barn. Some thought the books deserved better treatment. The Franklin Library Association was established and the members helped to create a permanent home, the Ray Memorial Building.


The Library building was built in 1904, a beautiful example of classic architecture. The entry hall has wonderful marble pillars, murals, and decorative lights.


Back in the day, one would request a volume at the delivery room; no open stacks back then. After receiving the book(s), one could then retire to the reading gallery, another gorgeous space with murals, amazing woodwork, and a grand fireplace.



We may not build libraries like this anymore. Thank goodness we still build public libraries.



*Facts and quotations are taken from A History of America's First Public Library at Franklin Massachusetts by John A. Peters and Nina C. Santoro.