Deborah Cook Sayles Library
Fredric Clark Sayles, the first mayor of Pawtucket, gifted the Deborah Cook Sayles Library to the city in 1898. After first providing the land, he traveled to Europe and sought architectural inspiration from Europe’s grand libraries. The builders laid the cornerstone on November 18, 1899, and the library opened to the public three years later on October 15, 1902, named for the mayor's late wife, Deborah Cook Sayles. The library is inspired by ancient Greek architecture and was renown for its progressive and permissive attitude towards patrons. While many libraries in the late 19th century were only accessible to subscribing members, this library operated under what was known as an "open shelf" policy. The library was also known for its policy of allowing children to use the library and hours of operation that included Sundays for to accommodate mill workers.
Backstory and Context
Pawtucket had gained a reputation as an industrial center, dating back to 1790 when Samuel Slater arrived and opened the first successful cotton mill in the United States (which also points to a time in the U.S. when cotton existed as a considerable portion of the U.S. economy). Thus, cotton helped Pawtucket achieve economic growth within the textile industry.
By the end of the nineteenth century, residents increasingly pushed to erect structures physically expressive of the town's prosperity, as well as provide leisure and beauty to its residents. Because, like many cities during the Industrial Revolution, libraries and other institutions served to bolster civic pride and instill a notion of an urban center maturing beyond its industrial core, often referred to as urban or civic boosterism (especially in analyzing western cities during that period). As well, progressives sought methods for which the "ills" of urbanization and industrialization could be curtailed, including providing an alternative to "sin behavior" such as spending time at taverns.
Hence, in 1890, the city celebrated the Cotton Centennial, and by the late 1890s, the library building emerged, serving both to enhance civic pride and enhance progressive ideals. In fact, at the dedication in 1902, Rev. George Harris said, "So this temple is dedicated to learning, to education, to the purest enjoyment of the people of Pawtucket, to promote the welfare of the city, to advance the interests of citizenship in an intelligent democracy."
"History of the Library." Pawtucket Public Library. pawtucketlibrary.org. Accessed October 11, 2018. https://www.pawtucketlibrary.org/History.pdf
Sayles Library Building: By Marcbela (Marc N. Belanger) - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7231519
Pawtucket Library Postcard - Date Unknown - from http://www.pawtuckethistoryresearchcenter.org/