The Topsfield Town Library can trace its origins back to Topsfield’s first library that the Topsfield Library Society founded in 1794. Formed by eighty residents who paid twenty shillings each toward the purchase of books, the first 68 volumes were purchased and kept in a bookcase. The bookcase was kept at the home of the current librarian, usually the pastor of the church or a physician. Books were circulated the last Monday of every month. This bookcase and its original volumes are on display in the periodical room of the Topsfield Town Library today.
In 1874 the town realized that a larger public need could be served by establishing a free town library. Several established town groups added their collections to the 1794 book case, money was raised to purchase additional volumes, and other books were donated as gifts, bringing the Library to 1,256 volumes. In 1875 the Library found its home in the new town hall and was open Saturdays only. Space constraints limiting access sparked the town’s interest in finding a separate location for the Library. In 1912, the town purchased a parcel of land at South Common Street and a young Boston architect, Harold Field Kellogg, drew up plans for a library to be built at the site. However, it would take twenty-two years before the project went forward.
Donations from George Gould and David Pingree for a library (made in 1921 and 1932 respectively) were crucial in getting construction underway. Also essential was the town securing funding under the 1933 National Recovery Act. Once approval for the building was in place, and minor revisions to Kellogg’s 1912 plans were made, the Library was built. The Topsfield Town Library building was opened to the public February 16, 1935 and served the town’s 2,000 residents well.
With time, however, the town’s population grew and needs changed. Meanwhile the number of new materials available for libraries also increased. The Library suffered growing pains. By 1966, a number of changes were necessary including moving the children’s room to the basement to make room for more adult materials. Still, space was shrinking while demand was increasing. At this time the Friends of the Library was formed with the mission of supplementing Library services and programs. It still plays a vital role today.
In 1988, the Library received exciting, surprising news. The will of George Lambert Gould, an original contributor to the 1934 building, was revealed. Even though Mr. Gould had drawn up his will in 1921, his bequest to the Topsfield Town library was not revealed until his last living heir, Rosamond Gould Childs, died at 100 years of age. The bulk of the legacy was comprised of Benjamin Moore stock, and Trustees were notified that the bequest was significant. Gould’s will expressed “his strong conviction that the Topsfield Town Library should not only be a repository of the printed word but also a cultural center promoting the aesthetic in the lives of Topsfield residents.” Interest from the bequest was to be divided equally, half for the purchase of books and half for the acquisition of art. An appeal to Probate Court ruled that income from the art portion could be used for architectural purposes as well. In 1993, a consultant for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners recommended that the Library should be enlarged to three times its size. Young adult and senior populations would need more attention and the building would need to be accessible for the handicapped.
The trustees explored the issue further and in 1996 a firm was selected. After negotiations, additional adjacent land was purchased and a state grant was secured. Groundbreaking day came in November 1997. Construction in a historic district on conservation-restricted land was not easy. Great care was taken to preserve the original murals and muses of the original building during renovation and expansion. Citizens helped staff move 7,000 paper bags of books to and from the Library’s temporary location. The Library reopened on February 27, 1999 amid much celebration. The original building appears just as it always has, and the new addition blends seamlessly with the old.