Jourgensen: Getting a read on Lynn

Reading in Lynn spans four centuries, beginning with the move to establish a “social library” in 1815 with 72 shareholders with enduring local names like Newhall, Mudge and Alonzo Lewis, the shareholders’ pick to be the first librarian.

The library actually needed state approval to operate with the Legislature providing a charter in 1818. The library’s collection grew from 205 books to 2,000 and the library went through several name changes. It came under the stewardship of the National History Society in 1850 before the Library Association took over the collection before becoming the Free Public Library 12 years later. 

Open to the public in a building at the corner of Market and Tremont streets, the library moved to the second floor of the former City Hall in 1868. By looking up a book in the library index, borrowers could match the title with its corresponding peg inserted into a large board in the library main hall. If the peg’s white end was visible, the book was available. If the pink end was visible, someone had checked it out. 

By the 19th century’s end, some of the most enduring names in the library’s history had made their mark on the institution. 

Librarian Jacob Batchelder’s death in 1875 left the library without an experienced administrator. But Harriet Matthews stepped into the breach for a year until John C. Houghton went from serving on the board of library trustees to running the 27,000-volume library. 

With the City Hall library overflowing with books and periodicals, the search began to find a site for a new library. In 1893, Elizabeth Shute bequeathed $100,000 — a huge sum for the time — in memory of her husband, William, to help cover construction costs. The North Common Street library was built and outfitted by 1900 for a total cost of $211,000. 

Not to be outdone with her posthumous generosity, Shute in her will provided another $10,000 to open an East Lynn reading room ” …remote from the public library building, to the end that the room so maintained may be more attractive to young men than any drinking saloon.”

A grateful city honored Shute for her generosity by naming the former branch library on Parrott Street after her. The first East Lynn branch library opened in 1920 in an Olive Street building owned by the Women’s Industrial Union. The branch, according to Item history, moved into 1928 to a storefront on Essex Street before the Parrott Street branch library opened in 1937.

Other branch libraries included the Matthews branch originally opened in the Lincoln School. By 1916, the library had outgrown its allocated space in the school and local education powerhouse Julia F. Callahan successfully pushed to get the library moved to a small building on Holyoke Street.

In 1925, the City Council approved moving the Matthews branch to Tower Hill, site of the former city convalescent home. In 1947, the Matthews branch moved back to Lincoln School after the Tower Hill building was decreed a structural hazard. The branch was named for Matthews, who succeeded Houghton as city librarian in 1904 and held the job for 12 years. 

Houghton’s legacy was immortalized when the branch bearing his name opened on Western Avenue in 1917, followed a year later by the opening of the Wyoma Square branch. 

In 1993, during the late Mayor Patrick J. McManus’ tenure, the Wyoma branch was named for Dorothy C. Haywood, who worked in the Lynn library system for 40 years and served as chief librarian from 1956 until 1978. 

“She lived and breathed the library,” former Chief Librarian Joan Reynolds told the Item in 1993. 

Haywood’s city service never included a stint, ironically, as Wyoma branch librarian. But in the spirit of Matthews’ and other great local librarians, she helped found the Eastern Massachusetts Regional Library System, a precursor of the Noble library system that allows borrowers to get books on loan from a vast collection of libraries. 

A St. Mary’s Grammar School graduate, she was the Item’s 1961 Woman of the Year and her husband, author and attorney Charles Haywood, gave lectures at local libraries. 

Curiously enough, a resident expert who spent much of his boyhood in Lynn libraries, said the Lynnfield fire station building once housed an upper Ward 1 library. Additional details on this claim are welcome and can be sent to this column writer. 

Read on!



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