PEPPERELL — In 1901, when Lawrence Library opened in Pepperell, only four other towns in Massachusetts did not have a public library.
Pepperell might have been late in having a dedicated building to house books and shelter readers, but it had a long history of libraries, William Schofield, Esq. of Malden told the crowd at the opening ceremonies of the Romanesque Revival building. The first library in town was started on Feb. 23, 1795.
The Saturday, June 12, 1901, edition of the Pepperell Advertiser carried an account of the opening ceremonies and speeches for the handsome building just up the street from Town Hall.
No expenses were spared. It was designed by the architectural firm of Ernest Flagg and is perhaps the only building in town designed by an internationally known architect, said Ronald Karr in an essay on the town website.
Seven years after Lawrence Library opened, the Singer Building in New York City, also designed by Flagg, opened. For one year, it was the tallest building in the world, according to emporis.com, a website specializing in architectural data.
Charles Farrar Lawrence left $100,000 in his will to build the library. Born in Pepperell in 1842, he traveled to New York to make his fortune in business and maintained a summer house in his hometown, Karr wrote.
Along with his generous monetary donation, Lawrence left artwork for the building, said current library director Deb Spratt. Some of the paintings that are visible in old photographs still hang on the walls.
The bronze and marble statues were part of his collection.
Two of Spratt’s goals, to expose people to all forms of art and encourage budding talents, fit in perfectly with the legacy of Lawrence’s gift.
The art gallery is in the wing of the building without windows in the wall, just as it has always been. When first built, glass ceilings allowed light into the public rooms, but they are now covered to keep the heat in and water out, Spratt said.
The yearly quilt show was up when she interviewed for her position almost nine years ago. When she saw the space, she knew she had found the position she wanted.
One of her first projects was to spiff up the room. Thousands of nail holes were hidden behind the quilts. Spackle and paint were in order. The room now has a professional hanging system and no nails are used.
The library is one of the oldest and best-maintained municipal buildings, Spratt said. It was a gift and now the town is responsible for the stewardship of the legacy.
The quilt show returns every year, one of a jam-packed schedule of shows that exhibit for four to five weeks each. The gallery’s reputation has spread and Spratt is now booking shows for 2016.
Usually the Friends of the Lawrence Library host an opening reception, unless the artists prefers not to have one.
One of the artists who had a show in the gallery in 2009 returned to create a mural of Pepperell in the staircase leading to the history room. Nan Quintin, a Pepperell resident and library patron, donated her time and supplies to install the artwork in 2013.
“All we had to do was prep the wall,” Spratt said.
The history room was dedicated to historian, former library employee and volunteer Jeanne Palmer in June 2014. It overlooks the main room of the original part of the library. The bones of the building are the same as they were in 1901, but some things have changed over time.
The large Boston ferns, occupying pots in the art gallery during the library’s early years, are gone, replaced by a grand piano. It was probably a donation, but Spratt and Palmer are not sure where it came from or when it arrived.
It is put to good use.
The library usually holds two musical nights each month, an open mic and a performance. Music runs the gamut of styles and brings another whole group of people in to use the library, Spratt said, something she believes that “Mr. Lawrence” would like to see.
Lawrence Library is not a place to sit down and be quiet anymore.