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Adams Public Library

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1910, McLean and Wright from a Carnegie Corporation prototype design. 205 Central St.

The small-town box-of-books library is here blown up into a monumental scale in this yellow brick building with forceful stone trim. The basic design is one of a number of prototypes for small-town libraries supplied to set standards by the Carnegie Corporation in conjunction with its endowment of such facilities in cities and towns throughout the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century—although Carnegie shared none of its largesse in Rhode Island. After choosing this design from the portfolio of possibilities, for example, local architects could work out their own variations in scale, materials, individual choices within the recommended Greek detailing, and so on. It is a rare Rhode Island example of Greek detailing within an early-twentieth-century Neo-Renaissance format, at a time when the fervor for classical detail overwhelmingly favored Roman and Renaissance sources. Only three other early-twentieth-century buildings in the state show such significant Greek influence, three of the four being libraries, and this the smallest in the group (see PR114.11 and PA19). Breadth of planes and moldings; emphatic allusion to structure; linear clarity; severity of ornament enlivened by sumptuous, even exotic, climax; and, of course, specific historic references to Greek monuments: these qualities make it “Greek.” Here the portal and flanking windows sit with such grand assertion on their base and are so broadly enframed by pilasters that they reduce the wall to mere panels for their display. Such monumental emphasis on framing as partly actual, partly simulated structure also typifies the Greek Revival even in its most vernacular reduction in the early nineteenth century. The framing is so intense and iterated around the entrance—door frame, column, and pilaster on either side; projecting lintel, entablature, and pediment overhead—that it can be imagined as a mini-building within the strong enframement of the semi-hip-roofed block.

Inside, the monumentality continues, but with a modesty of mien appropriate to a small library. A top-lighted and columned rotunda provides for both entrance lobby and circulation desk. This circular theme at the center is echoed by shallow bow windows at the ends of flanking reading rooms. Each has its fireplace, and all woodwork is varnished, including the columns. Such homey touches reduce the monumental aura of the rotunda as though the building would reassure its borrowers, “Monumental, yes; but homelike too. Be impressed, but not intimidated.”

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.

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