One of the smallest and most charming public library buildings in New England is the Hathaway Memorial Library in Assonet Village, in Freetown, Mass. The building was constructed in 1895 from funds donated to the town by Florence E. Hathaway as a memorial to her late father, Guilford Hathaway. For the early years of the library, there was no hired librarian, so Florence staffed the building on Thursdays, and two others alternated on Saturdays, to serve the community. By the turn of the 20th century, the postmaster’s wife was hired as the librarian, and given an office in the small building. Little town libraries just make me smile, they are so inviting and cozy!
In 1643, Lancaster, Massachusetts, was first settled by colonists as “Nashaway” (named after the local Nashaway Native American tribe). The Nashaway’s principal settlement was a piece of land in what is now Sterling that was located between two ponds, their land occupied much of the land in north-central Massachusetts. The Nashaway Tribe comprised of an estimated 200 individuals, with was reduced in numbers by smallpox and the Mohawk Wars. The town was officially incorporated and renamed Lancaster in 1653, after Lancaster, England, where some of the earlier colonists were from. During Metacom’s War in 1676, which was fought partially in Lancaster, a group of Native Americans pillaged the entire town of Lancaster in response to English colonial brutality against them, a series of bloody raids and attacks left dozens dead. The town was abandoned until the 18th century.
Fast-forward to the 1900s… Lancaster had become a proper town, with a growing population, including some very wealthy residents. In 1906, the three living sons of Nathaniel Thayer (a Boston-area banker, who spent much of his later life in town to get away from the woes of city life) donated funds to the Town of Lancaster to erect a suitable memorial to their late father. The 1848 Town Hall was cramped and not suitable for the town, so it was decided a new town hall building would be constructed in his name. Boston architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow (one of my favorites) was hired to design the building, which took 13 months to complete. The Colonial Revival building was built using brick laid in Flemish bond with marble trim. A massive portico with pediment supported by four monumental Doric columns, strict symmetry, and the ocular windows with wreath and other detailing really caught my eye.
Located on Hope Street in Bristol, the Burnside Memorial Hall stands out as an elaborate, poly-chromed, two-story Richardsonian Romanesque public building. The Town of Bristol required a new town hall, and hired Worcester-based architect Stephen C. Earle to design the new structure. Earle’s program was to combine a town hall with a memorial to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, Civil War hero, thrice governor of Rhode Island, and later United States senator, who died in 1881. The centerpiece of Burnside Memorial Hall was to be a statue of the general on its porch, long since removed from the building. Bristol town offices were removed from the building in 1969, and shifted to a bland building attached at the rear, Burnside Hall now serves purely as a memorial. Fun Fact: Burnside was noted for his unusual beard, joining strips of hair in front of his ears to his mustache but with the chin clean-shaven; the word burnsides was coined to describe this style. The syllables were later reversed to give the name we know today as “sideburns”!
Located in southeastern Essex County, Hamilton was a small agricultural town throughout most of its history. There were few permanent residents in the town until the 18th century. The town grew, but still maintained its rural character much so to this day. The town became home to some established families, who used their money to better the town, one such couple was George Snell Mandell and his wife Emily. George Mandell enjoyed financial success running the Boston Transcript, the city’s principal afternoon daily newspaper, published from 1830 until 1941. George Mandell, grandson of founding partner William Henry Dutton, was the controlling force behind the newspaper from about 1889 until his death in 1934. He built a fine estate in Hamilton, where he bred and raised horses, and was an active member of the nearby Myopia Hunt Club, one of Essex County’s oldest and most distinguished country clubs. The Mandells, whose son Samuel was a WWI pilot killed in action, not only wanted to provide local residents with a community center, but they had the additional goal of creating a memorial for their son and seven other local soldiers who lost their lives in the recent war. With assistance from Community Service, Inc., a private national organization that was
established in 1919 to assist communities in establishing and financing recreational facilities, the Community House was funded and the Mandell’s hired famed Colonial Revival-specialist architect Guy Lowell to design the building for the town. Lowell studied at Harvard, MIT, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He enjoyed an illustrious career in architecture and taught landscape architecture at MIT. He opened an office in Boston in 1899, and by 1906 was also operating a branch office in New York. Friends of the Mandells secretly commissioned artist Anna Coleman Watts Ladd (an amazing woman, I encourage everyone to read about her prosthetic work and art) to create a bronze sculpture of son Samuel Mandell as a gift to his parents.