The Beverly Public Library was established in 1855, three years after the Massachusetts Legislature became the first in the nation to authorize cities and towns to expend tax funds to support free public libraries. The Library was the successor to the Social Library, a private subscription library which traced its founding to a collection of books seized by Beverly privateers from a British merchantman during the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth P. Sohier, a trustee of the Beverly Public Library, led the fight to establish the first state library agency in the country, and served as the State Library Commission’s first secretary.
The Library first operated from rooms in City Hall. In 1913, the Library moved to its current building on Essex Street. The building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in the Beaux Arts style. Gilbert was also the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York City and the United States Supreme Court. The Library was renovated and enlarged in 1993.
The Beverly Farms Branch was established in 1886 and moved into its current building in 1916. Bookmobile service was established in 1959. In 1981, the Beverly Public Library joined four other communities in establishing the first shared library computer system in Massachusetts.
History of the Farms Branch
Public library service in Beverly Farms began as a delivery service in 1875. Established by Louisa Loring and housed in the Loring family home in Prides Crossing, books were delivered every Saturday to local children. In 1880 Sarah Wyman Whitman founded the Neighbor’s Library in a rented space near the center of town; and in 1884 the Loring library was added to it. After a new fire station was built the Neighbor’s Library moved to the first floor of the old station. Although the town would not support an official Farms branch, it did agree to provide semi-weekly delivery service from the main library, consisting of two crates of books sent to Liffin’s Store on West Street.
In 1893, an official branch of the Beverly Public Library at Beverly Farms was finally established with the Neighbor’s Library of 1,700 volumes as the core collection. Staffed by one librarian, Sylvia Bennet, the branch received four deliveries per week from the main library and was open from 3 to 9 PM, with an hour break for supper.
In 1916, the current branch library was opened to the public on land donated by the Loring sisters, Katherine and Louisa, on the condition that the city buy the two lots on Hale Street for a public park to honor their parents. The building was designed by the sisters’ cousin, Charles Greeley Loring of Loring and Leland. In 2004, the city of Beverly, with the financial support of many Farms residents and a grant from the state, renovated and expanded the branch to meet the growing needs of the community. The Beverly Farms Branch Library has many special features including the desk of Farms poet and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. donated in 1899 by his son, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and a collection of the works of Farms resident and writer John Updike as well as many books of local history.
Will Barnet, Artist
Born May 25, 1911 in Beverly, Massachusetts, Will Barnet was an artist known for his paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints. An article appearing in North Shore Sunday recounts his appreciation for the Beverly Public Library as an aid in his search for knowledge in his youth. In appreciation, Will Barnet donated a number of prints to the Beverly Public Library which are on display in our Barnet Gallery.