The Reference Desk, courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center
The Newburyport Public Library was built in 1771 by Patrick Tracy for his son Nathaniel Tracy, who equipped and sent out the first privateer which sailed from the United Colonies against England. During the revolution he was the principal owner of fifty cruisers which captured one hundred and twenty vessels from the enemy. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr were some of the people who were entertained in this historic place. In 1865 it became the Newburyport Public Library.* Please see references at the bottom of the page for more of the Library’s history.
There is a gem of a place in Newburyport Public Library that not too many people know about, it is the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center. If you go in the Newburyport Public Library, go downstairs, go through the door to a place where so many of Newburyport’s historic treasures and history reside. Sharon Spieldenner is the head archivist, and if you ask, she and her staff will show you unexpected and amazing surprises, a few of them are shown here and can be found all over this website.
Old photographs of the inside of the old Newburyport Public Library shown below
This is a brief chronology of the Newburyport Public Library Archives.
The Newburyport Public Library organically collected materials given to them through generous donors over the years. This “collecting” began as early as 1855 with Josiah Little’s collection (Newburyport Public Library founder). The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center still has his collection of books, described as “the cornerstone of the library.” Hon. Caleb Cushing, Newburyport’s first mayor, donated books and material, as well as Newburyport historian John J. Currier.
Panoramic view of the Newburyport waterfront along Merrimac Street, courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center
Eventually, the more valuable items, such as early Newburyport imprints and broadsides, were kept in a supervised Newburyport History section, most probably they would have been near the head librarian’s desk. These items were eventually stored in a fireproof vault in the Newburyport Public Library basement (Tracy Mansion). In the 1970s, the brick basement vault, with the still extant fireproof Victor Manufacturing door, was recognized as being an unsuitable place to house these early materials. At that time John Moak (who later became mayor of Newburyport) was the head librarian.
Dottie LaFrance, who was hired by John Moak, was instrumental in getting these early materials out of the vault and into a safe environment. She and a team of CETA (the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973) workers in the late 1970s-early 1980s, including librarian Marianne Savage, pulled everything out of the vault, cleaned up what they could, cataloged each item and rehoused them. They made their way upstairs Treasure Room, now the Teen Loft office. This was their home until the Hamilton Room was established.
Hand-colored lantern slides of some of Newburyport’s historic gardens
The Hamilton Room which opened in 1983, previously a short-lived Arts & Crafts or Display room, was also in the basement. It was remodeled and made as archival material/patron-friendly as possible. Staff member Cecile Pimental and volunteers helped run the room.
In May 2001, the new addition of the NPL was built, which included the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center, a state-of-the-art repository with a Reading Room, compact shelving and an independent HVAC system to maintain a climate-controlled environment. Jessica Gill, the first professional archivist, was hired to organize and catalog the collection. One of her first Federal grant projects was to preserve and make accessible the Newburyport Public Library’s photograph collection.
At present, the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center’s holdings consist of over 1200 linear feet of books and archival material relating to all areas of Newburyport, Essex County and New England history. There are two staff members and 18 active volunteers. The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center, continues to collect, educate and provide free access to Newburyport’s historic materials.
* The Newburyport Public Library Plaque
History of the Library, the Newburyport Public Library https://www.newburyportpl.org/about-us/history-mission
History of Tracy Mansion, Ghlee Woodworth, the Clipper Heritage Trail http://www.clipperheritagetrail.com/tour_downupstatest.php
History of the Newburyport Public Library, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newburyport_Public_Library
Many thanks to the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center for providing the chronology of the Newburyport Public Library Archives.
Check Out The Interactive History Map
More information about Newburyport and its history can be found on the interactive history map, “Newburyport – Keeping the Story Alive.”
Solve The Tracy Mansion Puzzle
Press the icon to play the puzzle on a full screen or tap here to expand the image.