James V. Brown, a native of Hartford, New York, moved to Williamsport in 1859. After running a flour mill for seven years (previously owned by Peter Herdic), he entered the lumber business. He soon was engaged in other enterprises, including a water company, newspapers, and banking. Brown's will stipulated that his estate be used to build a public library, the city's first. Seeler's design for this marble-clad French Renaissance building was in the architectural mainstream. Of sixty-seven libraries illustrated in the January 1902 Architectural Review, for example, all but five were classically detailed. Like many of the published examples, Seeler's library also had a leaded glass dome (by Heinigke and Bowen) for the front circulation area. The three-bay front was also standard, but its embellishments reflect the architect's and the board's desire to erect an imposing building with local significance. These include the monolithic Ionic columns, the commonwealth's coat of arms on the parapet, and John J. Boyle's bust of James V. Brown in the tympanum of the entrance. In his first meeting with the board, Seeler asked if open or closed stacks were preferred; the progressive open-stack plan, with its greater public access, was chosen. A concern for rational planning was characteristic of Seeler, a Philadelphian who graduated from MIT in 1890 and spent three years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before setting up his Philadelphia practice in 1893. Seeler's commission marks a shift from favoring local architects for major projects to employing out-of-towners, as was also seen with the rugged brownstone First Baptist Church (1913–1914; 380 W. 4th Street) by the New York City partnership Dennison and Hirons. The library's one-story rear brick addition, the David A. Howe Reference Hall, was built in 1937–1939 with funds from the estate of David Howe (James V. Brown's nephew) and the Works Progress Administration. It was raised one story in 1992.
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James V. Brown Library
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