Founded in 1834, the Atheneum began as a private literary institution with 3,200 volumes. Nantucket resident Maria Mitchell became the Atheneum’s first librarian. (For more information about the life and career of Maria Mitchell, visit the Maria Mitchell Association.)
Sadly, the Atheneum’s original building and all of its contents were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1846. However, the island’s residents so cherished the Atheneum that it was one of the first institutions to be rebuilt, reopening its doors in 1847. Designed by architect Frederick Brown Coleman and builder Charles Wood, the Atheneum is an impressive example of Greek Revival architecture. Today, the building is a historic landmark, included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Lectures resumed in the Great Hall with speakers including Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Horace Mann. During the mid-to-late 1800s, the Atheneum also hosted concerts, dance recitals, magic shows, fairs, abolitionist and temperance meetings, suffrage conventions, and graduations.
By the end of the 19th century, many towns in Massachusetts were opening libraries to all citizens, and in 1900, the Atheneum became a free public library.
In 1996, the Atheneum renovated and restored the second floor Great Hall for lectures and research, provided gallery and conference space on the lower level, and built the east end Weezie Library for Children.
For the complete Atheneum history, check out the book: The Nantucket Atheneum: A History.
Information via Nantucket Atheneum site
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