In 1876, the Town Council took control of the library and ownership of its book collection. The library gained notoriety for its progressiveness, notably instituting an open shelf system, allowing children under the age of 14 to use the library, and opening a Sunday reading room that permitted workers (who routinely worked Monday through Saturday) to enjoy the library.
Pawtucket grew as a mill town, benefiting financially from robust trade related to agriculture and industry during the second half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century, the city sought to develop the town beyond its role as a center of trade and growing industrial core. Partly for civic pride and also to counteract sin behavior, this library and other civic institutions received the support of leading residents.
As a result of founder Frederic Sayles' travels to Europe, the library was built using a design that stands as a striking example of Greek revival architecture. The library is comprised of fine-grained white granite and a large portico bounded by four massive columns at its former entrance. The front doorway of the building is an exact replica of the Erechtheion, a Greek temple on the Acropolis at Athens.
By the turn of the century, an increasing need, and desire, for a permanent building arose. 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.