Library Visit: Forbes Library in Northampton, MA

Forbes Library
20 West Street
Northampton, MA 01060

  • Built 1894 by Judge Charles E. Forbes
  • Cost: $113, 993.48 (that’s about $3,240,000.00 in current dollars)
  • Designed by William Brocklesby
  • Read more about the library architecture and see some historic photos.
  • Library geeks will be interested to know that the first librarian of the Forbes was Charles Ammi Cutter who created the Cutter Expansive Classification System.
Photo from the library’s website (source)

This visit was a quick pit-stop on a drive from Connecticut to Vermont. We got off I-91 to stop at a visitor’s center that we somehow missed. That was lucky for us as we stumbled upon this handsome library while driving around Northampton, MA.

Not only is the Forbes Library some delicious late 19th-century architectural eye candy, it also houses the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum. Coolidge was the thirtieth president of the United States. The Forbes is the only public library to hold a presidential collection. Check out their Coolidge Museum Blog.

Cookies With a Curator is a new monthly program at the library. Historical documents, photos, and memorabilia are displayed for participants to view, learn about, and discuss. What a great way for citizens to learn about the history of Northampton.

I intend to return for a more leisurely visit, but for now here are some photos from this first visit.

Facade detail.
Foyer and grand staircase.
Now and then. Time changes everything.
A study area to the right when you walk in, across from the staircase.
I love the contrast of the graceful, curved white arches with the boxy dark book stacks.
Digital catalogs are amazing tools, but card catalogs still make me feel warm and fuzzy.
The back of the library from the parking lot.
We’ll be back to explore the library in more detail and also to visit some of the sites in Northampton like First Church, Jonathan Edwards’s home church, and Smith College.


  1. I loved this library when I was at Smith for a year! I believe they renovated it since then, it looks like it has some modernized touches. Wish it was still in my neighborhood.

  2. Yes, it's so striking. The library's website had this to say about it: “One unique feature of the Forbes Library is the use of Guastavino arches, which had also been used in the Boston Public Library. These brick arches, which support the first and second floors, from modular units or bays, of 17 x 14.8 feet. Judge Forbes had mandated in his will that the building be fireproof. The Guastavino arches are part of this safety design and are constructed of brick covered with white clay tile.”

  3. You know, I must have used it but I don't remember the library at Smith at all. Forbes stood out much more with its cool castle-like building.

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