HISTORY OF THE JONES LIBRARY

The Jones Library at 43 Amity Street in Amherst, Massachusetts opened to the public on November 1, 1928. As reflected in its architecture and vision for community service, the Jones Library was like no other public library of its day and remains unique to this day. The Jones Library is unique among public libraries across the country, but we are not alone in valuing the unique character of our historic building and placing value on keeping our beautiful garden! The Frick Museum, in New York, backed away from a proposed expansion in order to save its historic building and its garden. Click to read: NYTimes: Frick Museum Abandons Contested Renovation Plan

 

THE GENEROUS BENEFACTOR

The Jones Library was made possible by the bequest of Samuel Minot Jones.  Born in 1836 in Enfield, Massachusetts, his family moved to Amherst when Samuel  was three years old. He grew up in the family home on Amity Street.  As an adult, he served in the Civil War and later prospered in the wholesale lumber business in Chicago.  When his only child, a young son, died during an influenza epidemic, the terms of Jones' will specified that a "free public library" be established in his childhood home of Amherst.  It was this generous bequest that allowed Jones Trustees to spend nearly $400,000 for the new Jones Library and still have invested funds of $500,000 to provide for operations and maintenance.     

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 Samuel Minot Jones 1836-1909

VISIONARY LEADERSHIP

The original design of Jones Library was regarded as a daring departure in library architecture.  Its creators deliberately ignored both functional standards and traditional designs used throughout the country for public library buildings. Three individuals played important roles in the Jones Library design: 1) John M. Tyler, President of the Jones Library Board of Trustees and Professor Emeritus of Amherst College; 2) Charles Green, Head Librarian of Jones Library; and 3) Allen H. Cox, Architect of Putnam and Cox. These three men developed an innovative design to address the intellectual and civic life of Amherst.  

Professor Tyler's vision for Jones Library was a simple building that would typify "Mother Amherst Welcoming her Children." Without pretension, it would be a building with a simple entrance that would invite visitors to enter.  In a letter to a friend, he wrote, "It must be a library which shall be at the same time the center and home and stimulus and support of the whole intellectual and civic life of the town.  It must elevate our schools and inspire our teachers.  It must create and maintain an appetite for art as well as learning." 

The architect, Allen Cox, responded to Tyler's ideas by writing, "Try for a living room for reading with informal arrangements of furniture.  Consider the auditorium and gallery for permanent collection of paintings and for temporary exhibitions as important as the library room.  Mother Amherst wecoming her children to her hearth."

Charles Green, Head Librarian, also strongly supported Tyler's rather unconventional ideas, including establishing an auditorium as part of the Library.  For forty years, the auditorium served as a weekely gathering place for people to attend programs on many subjects. 

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THE RADICAL BUILDING

In 1920, the Jones Library employed the firm Putnam & Cox as architects for the new building. Below are highlights describing the building's design.  

♦ The new library consisted of a main building three-stories high, with a two-story extension on each side of the main building.  The right wing enclosed an auditorium with seating for 270 people, and the left wing accommodated the children's room with its own exterior entrance.

♦ The main entrance was through the vestibule that is still in use.  Upon entering the Library, the reading room with fireplace was to the left of the center staircase. The reading room was finished like the living room of a home.  Easy chairs stood near portable reading lamps.  Tastefully placed works of art decorated the walls. 

♦ On the second floor of the main building was a large exhibition room suitable for art and other exhibits.  The third floor included the Memorial Room, dedicated to the memory of those who had died in the Great War, and five small rooms to be used by writers and scholars. 

It was the desire of the Trustees that the exterior of the building should be representative of the local landscape. To accomplish this, other members of the community donated stones. Each stone was used to form the outer wall of the front of the Jones Library.

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LITERARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LIBRARY

Unique literary history took place in the Jones Library. Robert Frost hand-carried his autographed first editions through the Main Entrance and presented them to his friend and first serious collector, founding Library Director, Charles Green. This was before Harvard, Dartmouth or any other institution started to collect Frost's work. David Grayson wrote his great biography of Woodrow Wilson at the Library. Howard R. Garis, creator with his wife, Lilian, of the Uncle Wiggly, Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift series, often did his writing in the Library. So did New England poet, Robert Francis, an original participant in the Amherst Common Peace Vigil, whose poetry Frost greatly admired.  In 1969, Frost and Green attended the dedication of the Robert Frost (now Goodwin) Room on the third floor of Jones Library (slated under The Plan, to become a staff lounge).

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                                                                Poet, Robert Frost          

 

A LARGE GARDEN WAS PART OF THE ORIGINAL PLAN 

The original plan for The Jones Library included a large garden to be planted behind the Library building.  In 2000, this part of the plan was realized when the Kinsey Memorial Garden was dedicated.  (See Garden History for more details.)   

                             Stone bench on a patio outside the 1993 brick addition   

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