JONES LIBRARY HISTORY
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 is not alone in valuing the unique character of the 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.
Samuel Minot Jones 1836 -1909
A 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.
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, without pretension, 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."
A Radical Building
In 1920, nearly 100 years ago, the Jones Library employed the firm Putnam & Cox as architects for the design of the new library 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, members of the community donated stones, with each stone used to form the outer wall of the front of the Jones 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 Demolition-Expansion, to become a staff lounge).