top of page
Image by Henry Be

History of the Library

History of the Library

The Franklin Library Association was formed on March 31, 1847 with Capt. Charles H. Bigelow, the engineer, under whom the Great Stone Dam was built, functioning as the library’s first president. Other original members were Caleb M. Marvel, and Charles S. Storrow. Abbott Lawrence (who gave Lawrence its name) donated $1000 to purchase books that would “tend to create mechanics, good Christians and good patriots.” An additional $5000 came to the association when Mr. Lawrence died in 1855.

For many years the Franklin Library Association was the solitary literary presence in Lawrence. The Lawrence Athenaeum would host a course of lectures for two seasons and the Lawrence Lyceum continued for another two or three years. Both societies would merge into the Franklin Library Association, which would present a series of twelve lectures a year for many years. The Association was a subscription library much like the Boston Athenaeum and like Boston it catered to the original Yankee citizenry.

In 1852, the Honorable Daniel A. White of Salem, Massachusetts set up the White Fund, the money to be used for the purchase of books and other library materials. July 6, 1872 the association turned over its library and funds to the City of Lawrence. With the aid of the White Fund the Free Public Library was born. Trustees of the White Fund proposed to contribute $1,000 annually to the Library for the purchase of books and other needed materials. The Library contained 11,624 volumes at the time.

The library was housed in the Saunders Block at 240 Essex Street. With the establishment of the Free Public Library, the collection and materials became available to all residents of Lawrence. Registration grew quickly as more working-class people made use of the library's ever-expanding materials. Due to its success, the Lawrence Free Library moved to rooms in the Odd Fellows Hall on the southwest corner of Essex and Lawrence Streets. The Library’s first original building was located on the southwest corner of Hampshire and Haverhill streets at a cost of $50,000. It was opened to the public in 1892. George G. Adams, a local architect, designed the building in the Romance Revival style. The first floor of the building was used for reading and general delivery, and the second floor contained a 250-person capacity auditorium that was used for lectures, meetings and forums. The first Librarian was William A. Fletcher, who was then followed by Frederic K. Hedge, who held that position for 27 years. In 1902 the new library was enlarged at a cost of $37,300.86 after much pleading from the director for a children’s room. By 1923, the Library contained approximately 84,000 volumes, a notable reference department, and very modern facilities. The White Fund held title to the Main Library until 1937 when the Trustees turned ownership over to the City. When that building was sold in 1974, the proceeds of the sale were used to establish an endowment for the Public Library as had been specified by the Trustees of the White Fund in 1937. The building was enlarged again in 1938. The White Fund generously provided the money for the construction and expansion.

The South Lawrence branch was opened in a store near the railroad station, at 160 South Broadway, on August 1, 1898. An original building was constructed for use as a branch library and to replace the rented space on Broadway. The new library was opened for business October 10, 1927. It was and still is located at 135 Parker Street.

History of Library Directors

The directors of the library have been: William I. Fletcher 1872-1874, Frederic K. Hedge 1874-1901, William A. Walsh 1901-1938 Richard L. Sullivan 1938-1956, John A. Griffin 1957-1975, James Kennedy 1975-1982, Barbara DeYoung 1982-1984, Joseph R. Dionne 1984-1999, David Hildt, acting director 2000, acting director, Sharon Doyle 2001-2, Javier Corredor 2002-2004, Maureen Nimmo 2004-2016, Kemal Bozkurt acting director 2016, Jessica Vilas Novas 2016-2022, and Janelle Abreu 2022-present.

Quick Links


Click here to edit the text and include the information you would like to feature.


Click here to edit the text and include the information you would like to feature.


Click here to edit the text and include the information you would like to feature.


Click here to edit the text and include the information you would like to feature.

bottom of page