As with most major cities the Boston Public Library has several different branches. I intended to focus on the Central Library branch which is comprised of the Johnson and McKim buildings. It’s located in the heart of Copley Square. The Library opened in 1895 and is heavily influenced by Roman architecture and contains enough marble to fill a small cargo ship.
Exterior: Two statues by Bela Pratt stand watch over the main entrance; the one on the left represents science, while the one on the right depicts art.
The Entrance Hall and Main Staircase: Upon entering you are immediately greeted by grand entrance hall and the main staircase. I returned to it several times during our visit to marvel at all of the intricate details, each time I was rewarded with new sights.
Two incredible lion statues are located halfway up the staircase. Both are the work of Louis Saint-Gaudens and are dedicated to the Second and the Twentieth Massachusetts Civil War infantry regiments. The top of the staircase provides a great overview of the whole marvelous design and leads you to one of my favorite rooms in the library.
Bates Hall Reading Room: This room instantly caught my eye. The grand hall has an enormous vaulted arched ceiling that contains two rows of large work tables each decorated with classic green law lamps. Please note that this hall is designated a quiet room. Be respectful of the many people studying here.
Second Floor Abbey Room: This room is covered with richly colored murals and named after their artist Edwin Austin Abbey. The Quest for the Holy Grail is the work on display, and it traverses roughly one hundred and twenty feet of wall space.
Third Floor Sargent Gallery: Upon reaching the top of the staircase in the McKim building you will find yourself in the Sargent Gallery. The room is named for its artist John Singer Sargent, who spent years creating the masterworks on display entitled Triumph of Religion. When the library opened this was the entrance to the special collections and Sargent believed it deserved a modern masterpiece to sit at its gates. The mural follows the gambit from pagan gods to dogma and its crown enlightened spirituality. The more you examine the mural the more you will find it is full of symbolism and story.
Third Floor Special Collections: The crown jewel on display here is second President John Adams’s 3,800 volume personal collection. Their research collection is rivaled by few other libraries in the U.S.. Don’t miss the puppet collection located on the same floor. The collection is small but very interesting.
The Courtyard: This space was the epitome of a peaceful haven in an otherwise busy city. Tables outline the open air courtyard and are occupied with an array of patrons. The fountain by Frederick MacMonnies breathes serenity and is called Bacchante and Infant Faun.
Map Room Café: Our time in the library was certainly longer than we expected. The convenience of the Map Room was much appreciated. I grabbed a tasty chicken sandwich and Glinda had the soup sandwich combo. The food hit the spot and was the perfect cap to our trip to the library.
Logistics: Central Library Branch: 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116. Tel: 617-536-5400
The main buildings are open Mon-Thur: 9am-9pm, Fri-Sat: 9am-5pm & Sun: 1pm-5pm. Some rooms or exhibits have special hours, so it is best to double check their website here. Free tours are available, more info here. Give the library at least an hour, possibly two if you take the tour, to show you all of the secrets; you won’t regret it.
The library’s website was instrumental in providing the dates and artists names for the article and is a wealthy resource not to be overlooked.
Recommendable: Most Certainly. It will surely surprise you, especially for students of history and those forever searching for hidden gems.
Have you ever visited any libraries that have surprised you? Please tell us about your experience.