Library Visit: James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT

James Blackstone Memorial Library
758 Main Street
Branford, CT  06405
(203) 488-1441
Visit the library website to read about the history of the library.
Date visited: April 30, 2011

The information below is taken from a historical facts handout given to me by the circulation librarian. She was very nice and obviously proud of her library.  I’m often surprised at how reticent some librarians are when asked about the history of their library, so it was refreshing to meet someone who happily shared her passion for her library.

Mr. Blackstone
  • Built by Timothy B. Blackstone (1829-1900) as a tribute to his father, James Blackstone (1793-1886)
  • Construction began: 1893
  • Dedication: June 17, 1896
  • Cost: $300,000
  • Architect: Solon Spencer Beman
  • Style: Grecian Ionic; details modeled on the Erechtheum of the Athenian Acropolis 
  • Initial holdings: 5,000 books
  • First librarian: Arthur M. Tyler
  • Current holdings: over 80,000 books, periodicals, and audiovisual materials.
The public library in Branford, Connecticut is one of the best library surprises that I’ve had so far in my travels. Laura and I were exploring coastal Connecticut and although we regularly stop at libraries or places of literary and/or historical interest, the library of Branford was not on our radar. To be honest, decidedly un-romantic, and rather base, nature was calling and we saw a sign for the library and headed in that direction.
The library building itself is impressive from the outside–the facade looks more like a small museum than a library, even a nice Carnegie Library–so we knew this would not be an average library (whatever that means), but even after walking up the stairs, between the marble pillars, and through the bronze doors, we were not prepared for what we saw when we walked in. It was surprise-after-pleasant-surprise throughout the entire building.
The front steps are 39 feet wide, the exterior is Tennessee marble.
The dome is solid concrete and roofed with marble eight inches thick. The rotunda is 44 feet in diameter and five feet high. Murals painted by Oliver Dennett Grover. Each panel represents a significant time period and/or innovation in the production of written works.
Gathering the Papyrus
Records of the Pharaohs
Stories from the Iliad
Medieval Illumination
Venetian Copper-Plate Printing
First Proof Guttenberg Bible
The Franklin Press
A Book Bindery — 1895
There are eight medallion portraits in the dome. Pictured above are Emerson and Hawthorne, two of my favorites. The other 19th century literary luminaries featured are Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Cullen Bryant.
The mosaic floor tiles are marble and were designed in Paris. This one is directly below the dome.


Many of the light fixtures are original and were installed for use as gas or electric; when the library opened in 1896 it had 660 electric lights.
Back staircase with the bust of Blackwell in the center below.
Reference/periodical research area.
Stairs leading from reference area to lower level.
Cafe/refreshment area on the lower level.
Directional signage with a nice literary touch. I think such simple things make libraries fun and help to foster a love of literature.

So now I come to the part of this post which contains a topic I never imagined myself writing about: a library bathroom. But check it out–the bathroom doors and their hardware seem like they could be original. I didn’t think to ask when I was there if they are original, I just sort of assumed they were. Thinking about it, though, it struck me that the teenagers of Branford must be a rather civilized species if this truly is original hardware and doors. That’s 115 years without names being carved into the doors or hardware being ripped off its foundation or stuffed with gum or other teenage refuse. Perhaps my perspective is skewed due to coming of age in an urban environment.

I’ll end this post with some pictures from the James Blackstone Memorial Library’s women’s room:


The open or engaged notice doesn’t always line up, but it still functions at some level.
Inner turn lock still works.

If you’re anywhere near Branford, CT and love libraries or 19th-century architecture, the James Blackstone Memorial Library is a must see.

Stay tuned!  In June I plan on visiting another Blackstone library. Update: I did! To see photos of my visit to the Blackstone Memorial Library in Chicago, click here.


  1. On behalf of the Blackstone Library staff:

    Wow! Thanks for posting this. How exciting to find such a cool post about our library. We are very proud of our library and are happy to hear that others have positive experiences. If you do come back to visit, please stop by the Reference Desk and say Hi!

    – Barbara, Debby and Katy, Blackstone Reference team

  2. I'm thrilled that you found this post! Thank you for taking the time to tell me that you enjoyed it. We loved the library and Branford, too, and hope to be back within the year. I will definitely stop in to say Hi and learn more about the library.

  3. Here from JBML's facebook page — such a cool post about our local library! I'd never thought about the lack of graffiti in the ladies' room, but you're right, that is pretty special. 🙂

  4. Thanks for visiting, Alana. Such a great library…it makes me wish I lived in Branford. I'm tickled that they shared my post and am off to check it out.

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