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History of the Nevins Memorial Library

A picture of a stair case.

A Commemorative History of the Nevins Memorial Library

The Nevins Family

1809 –David Nevins was born on December 12th, the son of John Nevins of Salem, NH and Achsah Swan, daughter of a prominent Methuen family. The Swan and Nevins families were farmers and owned both saw and grist mills. At 21 years old, David moved to New Bedford, MA and joined a firm that sold goods to the crews of whaling vessels. There he met Eliza Coffin, daughter of a sea captain and merchant.
1838 –David and Eliza Nevins married and began to raise their family: David Jr. was born in 1839, followed by Henry Coffin in 1843. The family settled into a graceful home on Broadway—now the site of the Quinn Municipal Building. During this time, David Sr. entered a business partnership importing dry goods into New York.
1846 –Having learned much of the trade from his frequent visits to England, David Sr. ventured into the textile manufacturing business, also in New York.
1857 –David Sr. established the City Exchange Banking Company of Boston, and invested in the Pemberton Mills of Lawrence.
1864 –He purchased the Methuen Company on Osgood Street in Methuen. By 1875, the Methuen Company employed over 650 people, producing cotton and jute cloth which became known as “Methuen ticking” or “Methuen duck” and was used for sails on ships that traveled all over the world.

The Founding of the Nevins Library

1868 –As a self-educated man, David Sr. had a particular love of books and reading. For a short time in his early life, he worked at the Mercantile Library in Boston—a private subscription library common for that period. Therefore, in 1868, David Sr. asked his oldest son to purchase a parcel of land on Broadway in Methuen. Referred to as “Harvey Place”, Nevins wanted the land for a library and hall to be used by the people of Methuen.
1881 –On March 19th, before realizing his dream to build a library, David Nevins Sr. passed away. In his memory and to fulfill his wishes, Eliza, David Jr. and Henry commissioned the Nevins Memorial Library to be built on the land purchased in 1868.
1883 –On March 27th, ground was broken for the Nevins Memorial Library. Samuel J. F. Thayer of Boston, a student and disciple of Henry Hobson Richardson, was the architect commissioned to design the building. Thayer also designed the Dartmouth College Library.

The Library

1883 –The Nevins Memorial Library was constructed in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture made popular by H. H. Richardson. It cost $75,000. A feature article in the June 21, 1884 issue of American Architect & Building News described the new library:

“The building is…in its external appearance massive and imposing. In plan it is rectangular, the northern portion (the library wing), projecting somewhat. The basement is of good height and contains the steam-heating apparatus (coal), and the quarters of the janitor.

The audience hall on the second floor, 45 x 52 x 84 feet in extreme length from the rear of the stage to the rear of the gallery will seat 352 persons, and the gallery 155, allowing ample space for aisles, etc…The whole interior is finished with quartered oak, and the plastic surfaces are decorated in oil. The windows of the audience hall and library are in part glazed with cathedral and stained glass…The granite foundations are carried down to the ledge which underlies the entire building. The superstructure is of brick, with Long Meadow sandstone finish; the roof is of blue slate crowned at the ridges with terra-cotta cresting and gablets, while the center is a spirelet of beaten copper and lead. The stonework is here and there enriched with bold and effective carving. The great arches of the porte-cochere, loggia and the principal windows give a large motif to the whole composition…”

Henry Coffin Nevins was instrumental in landscaping the beautiful trees found on the grounds of the Library. A bronze statue of a guardian angel, called the Angel of Life, is found in the rear of the Library and marks the final resting place of David and Eliza Nevins. The statue was sculpted by George Moretti of New York and produced by the Bonnard Bronze Company. It is inscribed with the last line from The Living Lost, a poem by William Cullen Bryant: “The pleasant memory of their worth.”

To the rear of the building is a carriage shed, once used to hold the horses and buggies belonging to the Library’s patrons. The original plan of the main floor of the Library consisted of a waiting room connecting to the Library proper by a wide low elliptical arch facing the delivery desk. This area had deep alcoves for shelving books and two spiral staircases leading to an upper level, semicircular windows at each end and a glass skylight ceiling. Connected with this library area were reading rooms with brick fireplaces. Amazingly enough all of the features described above remain and have been restored to their original glory in the 2002 renovation.
1884 –The first event held in the upstairs hall was the graduation ceremony honoring
the Methuen High School class of 1884 on June 11th. David Nevins Jr. was the guest speaker for the class which consisted of six young ladies.
1885 –The Nevins Library opened for business, but did not allow circulation of books until 1887.
1885 –The Nevins Library was incorporated as a private non-profit organization by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature on February 12th. The first meeting of the Board of Trustees was held on May 26th of that year. By-Laws and Rules & Regulations of the Library were adopted, and The Trustees hired Miss Harriet Ames to be the first librarian. She purchased 7,500 volumes for the first collection and developed a hand- written catalog that was widely admired by other librarians and became a prototype for the card catalog of the next era.
1934 –The Library celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a gala program held in the hall.
1950 –During this year, and for many years after, the Library cooperated with public and parochial schools in Methuen. As well, there was a special relationship with the Stephen Barker School—a summer program was held for children who had difficulty getting to the Library. Similar programs were later established in the Marsh and Pleasant Valley Schools.
1970 –Although changes had been made to the building in the intervening years to maintain and update the facilities, the 1970s saw the first major renovation of the building. Walls were removed in the main reading room to accommodate new shelving and more books. A handicapped ramp was constructed to allow access to the main floor, and restrooms were built for the public. Consultants from Simmons College of Library Science had recommended the renovation of the basement to house a new Children’s Library, and it was completed in 1977.
1985 –During this, its centennial year, the Nevins Memorial Library became one of the earliest members of the Merrimack Valley Consortium, joining other local public libraries in a revolutionary plan to computerize cataloging and circulation of materials, and to share resources.
1987 –The Friends of the Library, in cooperation with the Trustees, launched a successful campaign to improve funding from the Town of Methuen. The Library had been operated solely on private funds since 1885, until the early 1970s when, in order to qualify for state funding, the Town began to appropriate $1,000 per year to the Library. By the mid-1980s, the Town was contributing $60,000 per year for the upkeep of the Library. The Town Council, convinced of the need for improved library services in the community, voted to significantly increase the appropriation. Additional improvements and expansion of services began.
1995 –The Library Trustees, with the assistance and cooperation of the City of Methuen, decided to hire an architectural firm, Tappé Associates of Boston, to conduct a feasibility study for a renovation and addition to the Library. Systems needed updating, handicapped access was a problem; and the Library had run out of space to add collections and programs. With the plan developed by Tappé Associates, in 1996 the Library applied for a Massachusetts Public Library Construction grant and received an award of $2 million. An additional $4.8 million was needed and in 1999, in an historic agreement between the Library Trustees and the City of Methuen, the library building was leased to the City for a term of no more than 25 years, so that bonding could be done to achieve the project.
2002 –In June, after a prolonged three-year construction project, the newly renovated Nevins Library reopened to the public. During construction, the Library had been located in an office park at 13 Branch Street in Methuen, which allowed the continuance of all services. Although, space for seating and larger meetings was limited. In the end, the construction project was brought in on budget at $6.8 million, but completed 18 months late due to construction problems.

In the months and years following the expansion, the Library’s programs grew significantly. Within three years, Library circulation had doubled, and foot traffic tripled. The use of the Library as a community learning space and meeting place continued to grow.
2006 –The Library founded “Literacy Volunteers of Methuen,” an affiliate program of Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts. The program—fully funded by the Library with grants—trains volunteers to provide one-on-one, free, confidential, and individualized tutoring to English Language Learners and others with low literacy skills. Approximately 60 tutor-student pairs are working together at any one
time through the Library’s program. Most tutors and students meet in the Library. Training for new volunteers are held twice a year. But, even with new tutors available regularly, the waiting list for tutors is always very long.

The Nevins Library is well-known for its wide array of programs. The Children’s Department offers a large series of storytimes and other special programs for caregivers and children—babies to Grade 6. Adult programming also became popular, and in 2006 the Library sponsored a “Community Reads” program. A grant in 2007-08 funded a demonstration project to introduce STEM programming into the Children’s Department, and science programming has been a hallmark since that time.
2012 –The Library hired its first full-time Teen Services Librarian and launched a full schedule of programming for Teens.
2013 –The Nevins Library held a full year of events commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, culminating in a Civil War encampment on the Library Grounds.

The Library continues to keep pace with technology, and has grown from one MacIntosh computer in 1990 to housing over 60 computers for public and staff today. The Library offers traditional books, but also has a large collection of audio and video, on-line resources, e-books, streaming music, and digital magazines.
2014 –The Library’s eight-acre park setting was enhanced with the opening of Phase 1 of “The Garden at the Nevins Library” by the Friends of the Nevins Library. Phase 1 is
a Children’s Garden for reading and play. The Friends continue to fundraise for the expansion of this outdoor space for contemplation, programming, and relaxation for Methuen residents.

The Library is still operated by the private non-profit corporation and is governed by a seven-member Board of Trustees. The Board is composed of five permanent or life-time members, and two members elected by the City’s registered voters for a two-year term. The Library depends on municipal appropriation, trust funds, and state aid to provide excellent library services to Methuen residents.