In late October my Book Cougars buddy Emily and I visited The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in the Berkshires where we had a tour of her library. It was a fantastic day!
On the way home, we planned to stop at The Bookstore in Lenox because Emily recently watched a documentary about it and, well, it’s a bookstore. As we drove through Lenox our jaws dropped when we saw the gorgeous Lenox Library. After a browse at the bookstore, we walked back to the library.
It was getting close to sunset and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the library was still open and would be until 7 pm that evening, giving us time to look around. In our experience, public libraries in small New England towns are often closed by 5 or 6 pm.
A side view of the building as we approached the library on our walk over. It was originally a county court house, designed by Captain Isaac Damon and built in 1815-16. In 1874 it was repurposed as the town library and in 1973 was placed on the National Historic Register.
There is so much to take in from this view point. Beauty, age, strength, and support.
Door knocker featuring an eagle, shell, and serpents.
Detail from one of the front door side light windows.
In 1868 the county seat was moved from Lenox to Pittsfield, MA. In 1871, Edeline E. Schermerhorn, a summer resident from New York City, purchased the building for use as a “public library and reading room free to all visitors and inhabitants of Lenox.” According to the library’s website, the Lenox Library Association, which was established in 1856, moved into their new space in 1874.
One of the librarians we chatted with told us that Edith Wharton served as a library trustee.
When you step through the front door, you enter a small foyer and the entry to the library is to the left.
First stop is The Book Nook where former library books, used books, and DVDs are for sale. Further down the hall is the circulation desk, which was busy with patrons during our visit, so I didn’t take any photos of the area.
Just past the circulation desk to the right, you pass under an arch. On the right side of the arch is this sculpture of Puck by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830 – 1908).
The plaque reads: “As a student of Mrs. Charles Sedgwick’s School for Girls in Lenox, Harriet Hosmer made the acquaintance of the actress Fanny Kemble, who encouraged her to try her hand at sculpting. While at the school, Hosmer became close friends with Cornelia Crow, whose granddaughter, Mrs. Edward B. Weed, donated Puck to the Lenox Library in 1951.”
After passing under the arch, you enter this room. To the right (behind me in this photo) is a large meeting room where a group of studious teenagers were working on a project. To the left, or forward in this photo, is what I immediately thought of as the grand hall of books.
A study space off to the side of the grand hall of books. Such nooks are part of the charm of older libraries.
A dictionary on a windowsill, ready for action.
The stairway at the end of the grand hall of books, where a decision must be made. Periodicals are straight ahead. Nonfiction is downstairs. Fiction and Young Adult are upstairs.
The nonfiction section is undergoing some shifting and apparently some water damage mitigation. Areas undergoing repair were obvious and there was heavy duty professional dehumidifier at work.
We couldn’t figure out what this cabinet was for. One of the librarians we spoke with later told us it is a printer’s drying rack.
Left: Made by Shaw Walker, Chicago, London, New York.
Middle: Adjustable drying racks with rollers.
Right: Plate proclaiming this was presented by F Aug Schermerhorn.
Compact shelving holding biographies. This might be the first time I’ve come across compact shelving in a public library’s circulating stacks.
I’m currently reading a mystery where there’s something blocking the compact shelving from moving as an archivist tries to access some materials. Yup, it’s a dead body in the way. The book is The Foulest Things: A Dominion Archives Mystery by Amy Tector.
This is in the Sedgwick Reading room. The doorway leads to a gallery exhibit. The second floor is the adult fiction section.
A well-used globe.
Looking down into the reading room from the second floor. I have not seen a library organize their periodicals this way, in stacks on tables. I wonder if it’s temporary or if the citizens of Lenox are tidy folk. Having worked as a periodicals clerk, I know just how quickly magazines can become un-tidy.
Cather on the shelf!
This is the view from the Young Adult section looking across the reading room toward the adult fiction section.
Card catalog and poster in the YA section. “Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming, Safe Space For Everyone.” Forever and ever, Amen.
Free books for teens. Take what you want!
The sign next to this clock reads, “Grandfather clock by Sam Cousmin, Strand, London. This clock was given to the library by Mr. Grenville Winthrop while the Sibley clock (now by the main desk) was out of the building for repairs. Along with this clock he brought its matching piece, the globe that is in the corner of the Sedgwick Reading room.”
The stairs lead up into a hallway off of which are the local history collection offices and displays with local history artifacts.
At the end of the hallway is this stunning room with a dome that is now undergoing repair and restoration. Notice the scaffolding behind the shelving.
A wide-angle view. It flattens the dome, but you get a sense of how it hovers above the entire room. To see a much better wide-angle photograph, check out this article about the early stages of the preservation efforts.
A stunning display case. It would take up half of my home office and I would not mind.
Love these flying books! This is back downstairs in the children’s section. After you pass through this room you are back at the circulation desk.
This was a hard library to leave. I can imagine many happy hours working in this library.
The creamy yellow light glowing from the windows against the old brick facade as the sky darkens was breathtaking.
The Lenox Library is certainly a Welcoming, Safe Space For Everyone. If you’re in the area, it is definitely worth a visit.
The library is only two miles from The Mount. There are other literary places to explore in the area such as Herman Melville’s home, Arrowhead, about 5 miles to the north and the W.E.B Du Bois National Historic Site about 15 miles to the south.
18 Main Street
Read more about the library here https://lenoxlib.org/about-the-library/