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Sawyer Free Library

"On February 15, 1830 nearly 100 Gloucester residents met and formed the Gloucester Lyceum. The purpose of the organization was to bring community members together to participate in lectures and debates which fostered ideas and information. Among the many intellectual luminaries of the day who appeared were Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The Lyceum inevitably led to the formation of a library. In 1850, a local businessman and philanthropist, Samuel E. Sawyer, offered the Lyceum $100 if additional funds could be raised to develop a library collection. With additional support from Mr. Sawyer and funds donated by the public, a library collection of 1,400 volumes was established by 1854. When all but 300 of its 3,000 volumes were lost in a major downtown fire in 1864, Mr. Sawyer stepped in and added $500 to the insurance settlement to rebuild the collection. Again, in 1871 he made another gift of $10,000. Lane offered to sell a painting and to donate the money raised to help Mr. Sawyer's fundraising efforts. Unfortunately the painting did not sell.

Membership fees were suspended and the library was officially named The Sawyer Free Library. The library did not yet have a permanent home. Several different locations and another major fire followed in the course of the next decade. In 1764 Thomas Saunders, a merchant and state representative built a sturdy house on the corner of Dale Avenue and Middle Street. Subsequently, the house passed through several owners and further architectural enhancements. In 1884 Mr. Sawyer purchased this prominent residence and donated it to the library corporation. At the dedication ceremony on July 1, 1884. Mr. Sawyer explained the reasons for his generosity: “It has always been a prominent motive or object of my life to do something to promote the best interests of the young, for in them lie the germ, the roots and fibres [sic] of civilization. Books are the food of the mind; from the earliest years of childhood books are sought to feed the intellect, and so from school to college; later on they are a course of recreation to the idler, the tools of the student, the scholar and the man of letters.”

Today, the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Library continues as a public charitable corporation as designated under a charter granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts June 10, 1872. Its purpose remains to serve as an institution for “maintaining a free library, lectures, collections in natural history and works of art, and the promotion of intellectual culture generally." (1)


1. See

Related tables: Davidson, Dr. Herman Elvas »  //  Gloucester Lyceum »  //  Low, Capt., and Mrs. Gorham Parsons »  //  Sawyer, Samuel »

photo (historical)
The original Sawyer Free Library building
Hand tinted photograph
Sawyer Free Library, Gloucester, Mass.

In 1884 Mr. Sawyer purchased this prominent residence at 88 Middle Street and donated it to the library corporation.

Gloucester Lyceum record 2.18.1850
Sawyer Free Library, Gloucester, Mass.
Document of the Gloucester Lyceum recording Lane's offer to "furnish a painting which should sell for at least fifty dollars, in furtherance of the project..." to build a new Library in Gloucester. Flyer circulated to "Sons of Gloucester" but no one responded, so apparently Lane never donated painting.

Also filed under: Gloucester Lyceum »   //  Sawyer, Samuel »

1858 Gloucester Telegraph & News 3.3.1858
Gloucester Telegraph & News

Fitz H. Lane, Addison Center, and John Trask created a tableau for the Library festival.

1862 Cape Ann Advertiser 7.18.1862
Newspaper clipping
Cape Ann Advertiser
Collection of Fred and Stephanie Buck

"We learn that Dr. H.E. Davidson is shortly to exhibit to our citizens, some stereoscopic pictures on a large scale. The pictures are said to be truly magnificent, and are magnified to a great extent, showing every detail in a clear and life-like manner. The proceeds of the exhibition will be given to the Public Library, after paying the expense of the instrument. Due notice will be given of the the exhibition."

photo (historical)
Cape Ann Scenery Unique Series: No. 10 Cape Ann National Bank Building
Procter Brothers
possibly 1884
Stereograph card
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive
Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Sawyer+Free+Library (accessed July 24, 2024).
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