Library Visit: Derby Public Library (Derby, CT)

I came across this handsome, historic library one day this summer when I was in the area running errands.  It’s so exciting to stumble on such an architectural treasure.

Derby Public Library
Harcourt Wood Memorial Library
313 Elizabeth Street
Derby, CT

  • Dedicated December 27, 1902
  • A memorial library initiated by the parents of Holton Harcourt Wood who died when he was only eleven. According to this NYT article, he died from meningitis.
  • Style: Colonial Revival featuring Flemish gables and granite ashlar walls 
  • Size: 7500 square feet
  • Architect: William Hartley Dennett*
  • Renovated and expanded, 1990-2000, additional 7200 square feet


The Derby Public Library sits on a rectangular slice of land between Elizabeth and Caroline Streets. The land was originally owned by the DAR and they maintain rights to use the library.


A grand staircase leads up from Elizabeth Street to the original front entrance.


The new front entrance is on the side of the library along Caroline Street. The original library building is to the left of the new entrance and the addition is from the entrance to the right.


An old millstone, dated 1727, recommissioned as a sundial.
A view of the original entrance from behind the millstone/sundial.


Thick purple glass embedded in concrete. I forgot to ask about this when I was there. Could it have been something like a skylight for the basement?
Entry detail. The original structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.


A view of the foyer, looking out.


Beautiful handmade tile in the foyer.


A serious umbrella stand.
Dedication plaque reads: “This building was erected by his parents in loving memory of Holton Harcourt Wood, Born June 19, 1885 — Died February 27, 1897.”


Walking into the library from the original foyer. To state the obvious, the gold leaf ceiling is stunning.


Staircase leading to the librarian’s office.


Stencil and ceiling detail.
The original mahogany circulation desk with brass lights. Until the early 1980s, the library had closed stacks. Patrons came to the circulation desk to request materials. The new circulation desk is through the left-hand door. Through the doorway to the right is the history room.
The new circulation desk.


An original safe across from the new circulation desk.
A peek into the history room.
Beyond the new circulation desk and to the left is the teen section.


To the left of the teen section is the reference and computer area. The reference librarian is sitting to the left — he’s facing the original circulation desk, so we’ve almost gone full circle.


Walk beyond the circulation desk and you’re in the new addition. Here’s a shot looking back toward the old section’s display cabinet. Through that doorway to the left is circulation and to the right is the teen section. Nonfiction is behind me but there were too many patrons to photograph it without being intrusive.
The Non-English Collection is being developed to better serve Derby’s diverse population. It includes fiction, nonfiction, and DVDs. “It is the goal of the Library to invite all groups to become part of the Library.”


A collection of “Very Short Introduction” books from Oxford University Press is just across from the elevator. Fiction is upstairs and downstairs is meeting rooms, restrooms, offices.


Colorful close-up. I like this series and its neat to see them all in one place. They’re typically shelved in their respective categories rather than as a collection.


Sit, Color, Relax. Coloring isn’t just for kids anymore.


Upstairs in the fiction section. The original external arched roof line is part of the internal design of the new edition.


The Cather on the shelf shot that I often take at libraries was challenging here as the Cather titles wrapped around to the other side of the shelf, so I pulled out one book and took this photo instead.


And it was then I saw that the library used a custom hole punch instead of an ink stamp to mark ownership. Here’s a close up of a different Cather book.


Back outside. A shot of the other side of the library, facing Elizabeth Street. Handsome windows reflect the blue sky.


The”Old Hallock Kettle” is on display on this side of the library. It was originally used to test blubber on whaling ships, 1816-1869, and then was put to use at a local shipyard to steam and bend ships knees (an L shaped piece of wood used to brace).


That’s me holding the kettle to give a sense of size.


Overall a very handsome, busy, and obviously well-loved library. It’s always heartening to see an old library building in use.

*If I have the right Dennett, it looks like he was the husband, for a time, of Mary Dennett.


  1. This is lovely! It's nice that they made an effort to match up the more recent addition with the older part, and to preserve the most interesting historical bits. What a wonderful little spot.

  2. What a beautiful building! My first job, when I turned 15, was in a library in the then tiny town of Preston, CT. The building was a home built in the 1800's that had been converted at some point into the library. It certainly wasn't as grand as this building but it was full of charm. The town outgrew the building and built a new one in another location. I believe the building is being cared for by the Historical Society. Sadly, I was unable to find any other information online.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.