March 27, 2021 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Melrose Public Library. The library’s beginnings were at a town meeting where three trustees were appointed to establish a “public library and reading room” and a vote was passed to allocate the Dog Tax to fund the library. The library had several homes prior to its present-day location (and size) on West Emerson Street.
The original location of the library and reading room was on the Waverley Block, Essex Street. One end of the Selectmen’s room in the Waverly Block (now known as Waverly Apartments) was made available for a modest collection of books from 1871 until 1874.
In September 16, 1874, the library moved to new quarters in the newly built town hall on Main Street where it stayed in the northeast corner room for 21 years.
In 1895, the library transitioned to its third home in the YMCA building on Main Street occupying a corner of the first floor. As the town and library were experiencing rapid growth the need for a permanent home became apparent.
With the arrival of the twentieth century, the fifty-year-old Town of Melrose became a City – a City that had grown in half a century from 1,200 to 12,000 citizens. Aware of the urgent need for a larger library facility, Mayor John Larrabee and other citizens persuaded Andrew Carnegie to make a substantial contribution for the construction of a library building. The original section of the current building was erected on West Emerson Street on the site of the old High School, which had been destroyed by fire in 1897. The new building opened on April 15, 1904.
A larger collection of materials and increasing usage by the community necessitated the construction of a significant addition to the building in 1963. In 1990, thanks to the diligence and perseverance of a number of people, the library was awarded a Massachusetts Library Construction Grant which enabled improvements to be made to portions of the interior and exterior of the library. The past thirty years have seen dramatic changes in the workflow and function of the modern public library. Adaptations have been made as much as possible with the current space and configuration. As Melrose Public Library looks towards the next 150 years, it is again time to align the building with the needs of the community.