Outline of History
A modest notice appeared in the Gloucester Telegraph of Jan. 30, 1830, for which the way had been prepared by a communication over the signature of 'A' on Jan. 23d, asking the citizens to meet at Athens Hall on the evening of Feb. 2, ' to hear some statements and a proposition on the subject of Lyceums.' "A very respectable number of gentlemen assembled.' Dr. William Ferson was chosen Moderator, and Benjamin K. Hough, Jr., Secretary.
It was unanimously resolved that "it is expedient to form in this town an Association to be denominated the Gloucester Lyceum." Thomas Stephenson, Rev. Hosea Hildreth, Dr. William Ferson, Israel Trask, and Samuel Kimball were chosen a Committee to prepare a constitution. A committee of nine was appointed to obtain subscribers to the resolutions.
At an adjournment on Feb. 15, the Constitution reported by the committee was adopted, and signed by about one hundred persons, and the following officers were elected:
Hon. ISRAEL TRASK, President.
Rev. THOMAS JONES, Vice President. Rev.
Among these honored names there is not one survivor. On the evening of Feb. 19, the Secretary reported the acceptance of the officers elected, and the Institution was declared regularly organized. A committee of four was chosen to represent this Lyceum at Ipswich on the 17th March to consider the expediency of forming a County Lyceum. A committee of five was appointed to report ByLaws in one week from that time. A code was duly reported, and, with some amendments, adopted.
On the 22d, the Government met at the house of the President, and adopted ByLaws for the Board. It was decided that the Introductory Lecture should be delivered at Union Hall on Wednesday evening, March 10. Subsequently, a Lecture Committee reported that Rev. Hosea Hildreth had consented to deliver the Introductory. The Cor. Secretary was directed to invite Rev. Thomas Jones, Drs. Ebenezer Dale, William Ferson, and Henry Prentiss to prepare lectures for delivery before the Society. He was afterward authorized to invite such lecturers from other places as he should see fit. And the names of more of our own citizens in professional and other walks of life were added to the array of home talent.
About three hundred persons assembled at the place and time appointed, and ' listened with delight' to an Address by Rev. Hosea Hildreth, 'explanatory of the objects, views, resources, and general character of the Institution.' The Directors at their next meeting voted to solicit a copy for publication, but their request was modestly declined.
In his notice of this lecture, the editor of the Telegraph ventured to suggest to the ladies, remarking in parenthesis that ' great delicacy should be observed in matters of this kind, the propriety of sitting with their heads uncovered.' Expressing his pleasure that many of them had done so, and prudently stating that he had 'no objections to huge bonnets or capacious sleeves,' he thought ' that were the ladies to dispense with the former on such occasions, it would much improve the general appearance of an audience, and could not but materially contribute to their own comfort and convenience.'
On Wednesday evening, March 24, Dr. William Ferson lectured on Political and Domestic Economy to an audience of about four hundred, who listened with much interest.' On this occasion ' a communication written in a spirited style, by a female member, was read by the Secretary, and received the applause of the whole meeting.' Commending this production, the village editor remarked that the assistance of ladies in declamation was much to be desired. But since the Scriptures forbade them to speak in assemblages of men, he reminded them that a box had been provided for their written communications, and it was hoped ' that many of our talented females' would contribute to the entertainment of the Society. The suggestion was complied with for a time, much to the interest of the meetings.
Soon after the organization it was decided to introduce Debates alternately with Lectures. For this purpose the Directors recommended a classification of members into alphabetical divisions of twentyfour. Regulations for conducting these exercises were adopted, among them one forbidding expressions of applause or disapproval, and the introduction of political and sectarian topics was sternly interdicted. The first debate was held on March 31, 1830, and on this somewhat difficult subject: " Does the mechanic, the mariner, the merchant, or the farmer, enjoy the greatest amount of happiness." It was concluded April 14, but with what result history is silent. There were occasional resuscitations for a short time, after long intervals; but, at last, the debates fell into entire disuse.
The first five courses dated from spring to spring, with a suspension of exercises in the summer months. With the sixth, a change was made to autumn, having a termination in the spring. In 1837, a project to change the meetings from Union Hall to the vestry of the Unitarian Church created a lively discussion. At last, it was resolved that the ladies, who had never been recognized as voting "members" under a constitution that was silent in regard to sex, be requested to vote. They voted. The scheme was rejected. Union Hall continued to be the Lyceum home until 1844, when it was regretfully left. Its remodeling compelled the use of the Murray Institute for one season prior to the occupancy of what was then styled ' our commodious Town Hall.' Gradually these accommodations were outgrown, and recourse was had to the several churches fbr a few years, until the readiness of the next new Town Hall in 1867. Here the 37th and 38th annual courses were held. Since the destruction of this Town Hall by fire in 1869, they have not been resumed.
Besides a goodly number of our own citizens, many of the best known authors, statesmen, and orators have appeared before the Lyceum; for example: the two Everetts, Choate, Sumner, Rantoul, Winthrop, Colfax, Greely, Emerson, Parker, Curtis, Phillips, BayardTaylor, Dr. Holland, Chapin, Starr King, Hillard, Thoreau, Beecher, Giles, Gough, Dr. Hayes, the Arctic Explorer, Burlingame, Holmes, Alger, Whipple, Murdoch, Vandenhoff, Bancroft, Dana.
With a laudable pride, the founders of the Lyceum de . termined that their youthful institution should become a corporate body. The initiatory forms were duly complied with, and at a meeting held in Union Hall, March 10, 1831, the members organized a body politic under the general law of the time for the incorporation of town and county Lyceums.
Few institutions weather the changes of forty years. Since this Lyceum was founded many have come up and gone down. It is pleasant to record here that Mr. Sawyer is earnest in his desire and advice that the old Gloucester Lyceum shall retain its original name, and keep in view the objects of its early organization.
The declaration on which the Lyceum was established, viz: "the improvement of its members in useful knowledge, and the advancement of popular education," was considered broad enough to include all instrumentalities for mental culture. Only a few weeks had elapsed when a gift of Rollin's Ancient History was received, for which the Directors made due acknowledgments at a special meeting. One or more volumes relating to the Codman estate were afterward presented. These seedcorns of the Library were long germinating, but they at last yielded abundantly.
On the 18th of Feb. 1850, SAMUEL E. SAWYER of Boston, a native, and now a resident of this town, offered the Lyceum $100 toward a library, provided the citizens would increase the sum to $1000. The Directors brought the subject up at a regular meeting soon after. A vote of thanks was passed, and a committee appointed to solicit subscriptions, George H. Rogers offering $100 if the remainder should be raised within a week. And here the matter seems to have rested until, under date of Oct. 31, 1851, another communication came from Mr. Sawyer offering $250 on the same condition as before. This, too, was laid before the Lyceum, eliciting another vote of thanks and the appointment of another committee.
At last, in 1854, the vision of a library was to be a vision no longer. A numerously signed call for a public meeting on Feb. 6 met with a good response. A committee was chosen to raise money among the citizens, who became warmly interested. About two thousand dollars were obtained. The expenditure was made by a committee chosen, in part by the subscribers and in part by the Directors, and from the 14th of the ensuing August the Lyceum opened its library on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings with 1400 volumes ready for use. It was located in the eastern parlor of the residence of F. G. Low, on the spot now occupied by Low's block, corner of Spring and Duncan streets. The fee was one dollar a year. But practically none were excluded, as the Directors were authorized to grant the use of the library to any person unable to pay for it. Several hundred volumes were soon added. The books were read and enjoyed, and the library became an intellectual necessity and a blessing. In time there came, as there always will, the demand for more books. Stimulated by the offer of $250 towards a fund of $1000 for this purpose from him who remained true to his early interests in the library, a fair was projected for the 10th of April, 1856, and carried to a successful issue.
In 1863, the management resolved to remove the library to 135 Front street, and open its doors every weekday afternoon and evening as an experiment to revive the waning interest. The change resulted in a very large accession of subscribers. But the fire, which swept Front street on the 18th of Feb., 1864, destroyed all but about 300 of the 3000 volumes, and the records of the Lyceum as well except the first volume.
Amid what seemed to be the town in ruins, the Directors met, Feb. 20, to devise means to repair the disaster. The insurance of $1500 was received. Constant in his devotion to the library, Mr. Sawyer added to this sum a timely gift of $500, and on the 7th of May the library was reopened in the vestry of the Baptist Church on Middle street. Here it remained until the rebuilding of Babson's Block, when it returned to its old quarters on Front street.
As time progressed and the new books lost their freshness, subscriptions dwindled, and the income fell off. Another project for replenishing the treasury was started. An advertisement of the plan said, "The ladies are thoroughly aroused," as indeed they were. A May breakfast was held in the Town Hall on Mayday 1866, a fine fair was organized, and there were dramatic entertainments, and a concert with tableaux and readings, Miss Loring and Miss Ellery having offered gratuitous services. The pleasing result was an accession of some $1200 to the treasury.
In 1869, an offer from some young ladies to exercise their histrionic gifts for the benefit of the waning funds was gladly accepted. From two delightful entertainments on the evenings of March 8 and 9 the library received about one hundred and fifty dollars.
As the surplus revenue from lectures, that had been devoted to the increase of the library, fell off, assuming finally the form of a deficit, the Managers gave earnest care to their charge, increasing and diminishing the fee, expanding, retrenching, as circumstances seemed to require, never praised overmuch and sometimes criticised with gentle severity. But they held to the idea of a permanent library with a faith that was at last rewarded. At the annual meeting in April, 1871, a gift was announced from Mr. Sawyer of $10,000, with interest accruing from the commencement of the year. The Lyceum was glad to attest its sense of his thoughtful generosity by giving his name to the library, which was done with his reluctant consent. And as a grand result of his munificence came the coveted opportunity to make its library free. This was speedily done on the broadest possible basis, and with a freedom from restrictions not surpassed by any, and beyond many a public library in this Commonwealth.
The town soon offered a furnished room in its Town House, then approaching completion. The needful preparation for the change was progressing, when the fire of May 28 compelled a hasty removal, 'with some loss, and a long storage of the books, convenience for this being afforded by the courtesy of Postmaster Charles E. Grover.
All causes of tedious and trying delay removed at last, the library was reopened Jan'y 24, 1872, with gratifying results. In a few weeks, more room was found to be indespensible for the public convenience, and au enlargement was kindly and wisely made by the Selectmen.
It is perhaps too early to make history of the library's success. Over 1300 cards have already been issued. At the present ratio of circulation it will distribute this year 50,000 volumes, which can be had simply for the asking.
At the annual meeting of April, 1872, it was determined to incorporate anew under a recent law. And now the Lyceum of 1830, with its library of 1854, has become a corporation under the name of the GLOUCESTER LYCEUM AND SAWYER FREE LIBRARY, whose purposes are "for the establishment and maintenance of a library forever free to the inhabitants of the town,—for the delivery of lectures,—for the collection and preservation of objects of natural history and works of art,—and for the promotion of intellectual culture in general."
Noble purposes, worthy our best endeavors to perfect and to fulfill. And if some, more sanguine than others, see lifting away in the not far future, an Institution that shall be an honor to the town, and meet the demands of the twentieth century for intellectual culture, they have, we confess, good grounds for their hope and belief.
In the nearly four years that have passed since the sketch of the Institution was written, the beneficent work of the library has not been altogether placid and unbroken. Twice closed for several weeks each, in 1872 and '73, by the public alarm from a contagious disease, its third interruption was of a more serious nature.
In the march of events the old town became a city. Flushed with municipal honors, the young city coveted for the deliberations of its government the rooms occupied by the library. This perhaps pardonable pride resulted in a request to leave. The volumes in the hands of borrowers were immediately called in, the books were regretfully packed, and early in May, 1874, were taken to a place of storage. Shortly afterward, the city voting "permission to use the furniture until otherwise ordered," this also was stored.
No suitable place offered for reopening, until alterations were begun in the Bank of Cape Ann Building.
In addition to a gift of $,000 in 1873, an income of an equal sum was now tendered by him whose name the library bears, in order to meet this new expenditure. The rooms thus to be made available were therefore immediately secured. After much weary waiting, on July 19, 1875, the books became once more accessible to borrowers. The rapid increase of the registry to now nearly 3,000 and the increasing circulation, testify how welcome was the announcement that the library was again ready with free and open doors.
More than most libraries it has been exposed to vicissitudes of fortune. If it shall be spared them in the future, here it is likely to remain, pursuing the even tenor of its way, and offering its hospitalities to citizen and stranger alike, until it shall find a fitting permanent home.
Feb. 1, 1884, Samuel E. Sawyer, Esq., purchased from Mr. Wm. A. Pew, for $20.000, the spacious and beautiful house on the corner of Middle street and Dale Avenue, for a permanent home for the Sawyer Free Library. The grounds of this noble mansion are extensive and well laid out. The. library now occupies the best site in the city. Mr. Sawyer has fitted up this mansion with fine taste, and at great expense, for its new purpose. The large rooms and stately halls are carpeted and elegantly furnished. The walls are adorned with one hundred and fifty rare and valuable paintings and pictures which Mr. Sawyer collected abroad and at home. The grounds have been improved in several respects. The generous donor has done everything that could be done to make the new and permanent home of the library convenient and beautiful. During the last days of June, the books and other property of the library were removed from the old home in Main street, into the new home. July 1, 1884, the library was dedicated with appropriate services and ceremonies. A large assembly of our best citizens were present, together with several persons from abroad. Mr. Sawyer presented to the trustees the deed of the property, which makes it a perpetual gift to the citizens of Gloucester, and also an endowment note for $20.000. He said that he hoped to increase the amount. After the services, the assembly remained to examine the works of art, and then dispersed, feeling grateful to him for the princely gift which he has made to his native place. The weather being very fine, many persons walked through the grounds, admiring their beauty. Sit librarium perpetuum, liberum, utile omnibus.
This ancient mansion was built in 1764, for Thomas Saunders, a leading citizen and a merchant, who desired it to be built stanch and strong. The builder heeded the merchant's word. With great care he chose chestnut, elm and oak for his work. According to the journal of parson Chandler, of the First Parish; it was raised July 10, 1764. John Beach was the next owner; Samuel Calder bought it from Beach; Thomas W. Penhallow purchased it from Calder a year later; Dr. William Ferson, who is still held in honored remembrance, became the next owner, in 1827: Mrs. Davidson bought it in 1849, and afterwards she bequeathed it to her son, Dr. Herman E. Davidson; Mr. William A. Pew bought it in 1878.
The building is now, (July, 1884,) 120 years old. It has been altered and improved by several of its owners. Capt. Beach made some important alterations. Dr. Davidson's improvements beautified the mansion in several respects. But Mr. Pew improved it very much. He erected a fine tower upon it, and built verandas round the first story, and a Porte cochere. He laid out the grounds with considerable taste, and protected them with walls of dressed granite, and iron gateways. Mr. Sawyer's improvements, made with fine taste and much care, have embellished this valuable estate in many respects, while he has added everything that comfort or convenience could demand. The estate is now considered to be worth about $40.000.
Be it known, that whereas HENRY A. PARMENTER, ALEX. PATTILLO, GORHAM P. Low, SIMEON A. BURNHAM, JOSEPH O. PROCTER, JOSEPH L. STEVENS, JR., and others, have associated themselves with the intention of forming a corporation under the name of the GLOUCESTER LYCEUM AND SAWYER FREE LIBRARY, for the purpose of maintaining a free library, lectures, collections in natural history and works of art, and the promotion of intellectual culture generally, and have complied with the provisions of the statutes of this Commonwealth in such cases made and provided, as appears from the Certificate of the President, Treasurer, and Directors of said corporation, duly approved by the Commissioner of corporations, and recorded in this office.
Now, therefore, I, OLIVER WARNER, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby certify, that said Henry A. Parmenter, Alex. Pattillo, G. P. Low, S. A. Burnham, J. O. Procter, J. L. Stevens, Jr., their associates and successors, are legally organized and established as, and are hereby made an existing corporation under the name of the GLOUCESTER LYCEUM AND SAWYER FREE LIBRARY, with the powers, rights and privileges, and subject to the limitations, duties, and restrictions, which by law appertain thereto.
Witness my official signature hereunto subscribed, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hereunto affixed this tenth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy two.
Secretary of the Commonwealth.
1. Any inhabitant of Gloucester over the age of fourteen years, and other persons authorized by the Library Committee, who shall give a satisfactory reference to some respectable citizen, may borrow books from the Library for home use, on signing a promise to obey the Rules.
2. No person shall have in home use more than one, and no family more than three volumes at one time. No book can be returned on the day it is issued. Books shall not be lent or transferred by borrowers. No book shall be reserved in the Library for any person by preengagement.
3. Books may be retained fourteen days. They may be renewed once, but not after that time has expired. No renewed book shall be lent again to the same person, or one of the same household, until one week after its return.
4. A fine of two cents shall be imposed on each day of the detention of any book over fourteen days. Every book kept four weeks shall be sent for at the expense of the borrower. Every book retained six weeks after its issue shall be regarded as lost.
5. All injuries to books, beyond a reasonable wear, and all losses shall be made good to the satisfaction of the Library Committee. If a volume, lost or injured, forms part of a set, the whole set shall be replaced, and the person replacing it shall be entitled to the broken or damaged set.
6. All books shall be returned for examination when required by the Library Committee, under penalty of a fine of fifty cents. But at least fourteen days' notice shall be given.
7. No book shall be lent to any person who is owing for fines, injuries, or losses.
8. The Library Committee may withhold any books fiom circulation. But they may be borrowed for home use on the written permission of two Directors, except when restricted by the conditions of a gift.
9. Every person authorized to take books from the Library for home use shall be furnished with a card, containing name, residence, and registration, which card must be presented on borrowing, returning, or renewing a book.
The proper holder shall be responsible for all books delivered on this card. If lost, it will be replaced at the cost of the loser, who must first give seven days' notice at the Library. A failure to give prompt notice of the change of residence will render the hohler liable to forfeiture of card. Holders must surrender their cards on removal from town.
10. All persons of such orderly conduct as not to interfere with the convenience of others may have the use of the Reading Room during regular hours.
11. Every book issued for reading in this room shall be receipted for, and returned before the borrower leaves the room. No reading matter assigned to this room shall be taken for home use.
12. All conduct and conversation inconsistent with quiet and good order are prohibited.
13. The privileges of the Library and Reading Room shall be denied to all persons who persistently violate the Rules, or deface any book or other property of the Library with writing, marks, or mutilation.
14. The Librarian, under direction of the Library Committee, shall have charge of the Library property, performing all the duties usually incumbent on this office, and observing and exacting a strict compliance with the Rules.
I5. No one shall be permitted access to the shelves, unless connected with the management of the Library.
16. A complete record of the doings of the Library shall be kept for the inspection of the Directors, and a full report of the same shall be made when required.
The following Law of this State will be enforced on known offenders.
"Whoever willfully and maliciously writes upon, injures, defaces, tears, or destroys any book, plate, picture, engraving, or statute, belonging to any law, town, city, or public library, shall be punished by a fine of not less than five dollars, nor more than one thousand dollars, for every offence."
JOHN JAMES BABSON, SIMEON A. BURNHAM,
EDWARD DOLLIVER, JOSEPH GARLAND,
W. FRANK PARSONS, JOSEPH O. PROCTER,
ALLAN ROGERS, SAMUEL A. STACY, JOSEPH L. STEVENS.
JOHN JAMES BABSON, President.
JOHN JAMES BABSON, Chairman, BENJAMIN H. CORLISS,
HIRAM RICH, Treasurer,
JOSEPH O. PROCTER,
JOSEPH L. STEVENS, Secretary, EDWARD H. HASKELL.