the Abbot 140 Columns
This is the first in a regular series of columns about Abbot Public Library, written in honor of the Library's 140th birthday. The columns will feature the events and people who have helped to make the Library the successful, popular institution it has been since it was established in 1878. The first three columns will focus on: the history of Abbot Public Library; the biography of benefactor Benjamin Abbot; and the biography of James J. H. Gregory, the "Seed King" who was the prime mover behind establishing a library in Abbot Hall.
By Jo Ann Augeri Silva
Since its founding, Marblehead has benefited from the foresight and generosity of its citizens, from the most humble to the most exalted. Even those who left our peninsula for other locales have held the Town in their hearts throughout their lives. The most prominent of these to date, Benjamin Abbot, moved from Marblehead as a young boy, first to become a cooper's apprentice in Salem, then to make his fortune as a cooper in Boston. In what are now locally famous words, in 1872 Abbot left the bulk of his estate, $103,000 to the Town, "because it was my birthplace."
Abbot's bequest was meant to construct a building "for the benefit of the inhabitants" of Marblehead. Abbot's will made clear that he didn't intend to restrict the use of the building, and that left an opening for another Town benefactor, James J. H. Gregory. Gregory, who made a fortune selling seeds, saw the need for a place in the Town where all could go to read and borrow books. While the Town was debating where to locate Abbot's fine building and who should design it, Gregory looked forward to the building's completion.
For the May, 1875 Town Meeting, Gregory sponsored Articles 13, "To see if the town will appropriate a sum not exceeding $10,000 from the Abbot Fund (previously donated by Benjamin Abbot) for the purchase of books for a public library and choose a committee to carry this vote into effect; and 14, "To see if the town, having invested $75,000 of the Abbot Fund in our magnificent new hall, will consecrate the $30,000 remaining to putting brains into it in the shape of a good library."
Two years later, the May, 1877 Town Meeting approved $20,000 from the Abbot Fund "to establish and maintain a free public library and reading room." The Reading Room opened that December, and by April 17, 1878, the first books were issued from a collection of 3,320 volumes. The Library dates its birthday from the time the first books were loaned.
Abbot Public Library was popular from the day it was opened. By 1923, its use by children was such that a separate Children's Room was opened. Also in 1923, the new Dewey Decimal system was installed. And, by 1924, it had become clear that Abbot Hall, large and imposing as it was, wasn't large enough to accommodate both Town Offices and the Library. Library Trustees started looking for a central location where a free standing library could be built. They found a plot of land on the corner of Washington Street and Atlantic Avenue. But, in a harbinger of many frustrated future attempts to move and/or expand the Library, Town Meeting turned down the purchase request.
In fact, it took nearly 30 years to get approval for a new, separate library building, and then only because a private citizen, Gregory O. Lyon, died and left $20,000 towards construction of a new building. In between, in 1931, an effort to build a Library at Gerry and Pleasant Streets across from Seaside Park, and another effort to build on the grounds of Abbot Hall, both failed to achieve the necessary Town Meeting support. As a stopgap measure, a branch Library was opened at the Hobbs Memorial Building on Clifton Avenue. In 1937, a proposal to purchase property next to the then location of the US Post Office on Pleasant St. failed.
Boosted by the Lyon bequest, the 1952 Town Meeting approved the purchase of the current Library property on the corner of Maverick and Pleasant Streets for $2500, and in 1953, approved, on the second attempt, $234,000 to build the library on that site. The new building opened in 1954.
Abbot Public Library has continued to grow. In 1987, after an $8,000 expansion study, the Town approved $2.8 million for the expansion completed in 1990 - though an additional $340,000 had to be approved to cover unexpected water-related issues.
Today, nearly 30 years after a renovation that was supposed to keep the Library up to date for 25 years, the Library serves 15,000 cardholders, more than ever and expanding, and circulates more than 250,000 items each year!
Next column: Benjamin Abbot, Cooper
the Abbot 140 Columns
This is the second in a regular series of columns about Abbot Public Library, written in honor of the Library's 140th birthday. The columns will feature those who have helped make the Library the successful, popular institution it has been since it was established in 1878.
By Jo Ann Augeri Silva
Benjamin Abbot: First Library Benefactor
His name is engraved on two beloved Town buildings, Abbot Hall and Abbot Public Library. We know (though sometimes we slip) that his name has only one t. But remarkably little is known about the life of Benjamin Abbot from the time he left Town for a cooper's apprenticeship in Salem and the day his bequest of $103,000 ($2,060,000in 2018) was revealed to the 1872 Board of Selectmen. How did the son of a fisherman become so wealthy?
Here is what we know:
Benjamin Abbot was born on Sept. 7, 1795 at 8 Union Street. Benjamin's mother, Marcia Martin, died before he was nine, when Benjamin Sr. took his son on a fishing voyage to the Grand Banks. Benjamin hated it. Fortunately, his stepmother sympathized with his aspirations to learn a trade. She pressured Abbot's father to apprentice the boy to a Marblehead cooper (barrel maker), David Holder. When that apprenticeship soured, Mrs. Abbot walked to Salem to secure Benjamin another apprenticeship. This one, with Savory, lasted six years.
After finishing his apprenticeship with Savory, Abbot and his cousin Samuel Brownworked for molasses and sugar importer Benjamin Burgess in the West Indies. Samueldied after only two years, however, and Abbot moved to Boston. He partnered with a master cooper named Mullock. After Mullock died, Abbot paid off his partner's debts, overcame numerous obstacles, including fires, developed a successful business, and become a wealthy man.
These details come from several sources, including Samuel Roads Jr's History & Traditions of Marblehead: an essay by William Hooper Reynolds in the privately printed Hollyhocks to Hot Top; and from the Priscilla Lord and Virginia Gamage history Marblehead: the Spirit of 76 Lives Here. Roads wrote enthusiastically about Abbot's personality and diligence:
Abbot, Roads wrote, "opened a cooper's shop in Boston, and by economy and persevering industry succeeded in amassing a fortune. Mr. Abbot was esteemed by all as a good man of honor and integrity, and his genial disposition and ready sympathy endeared him to a large circle of friends." Abbot was well liked by suppliers, including woodcutters who sold him high quality barrel staves.
(Why barrels? They were the shipping containers of their day. Merchants demanded them in quantity. Depending on how they were treated, barrels could hold liquid and dry goods, could be rolled onto ships and into their holds, and then be stacked on top of one another to maximize cargo space.)
We know that Abbot was married to Bullock's niece, Olive Welch, for well over 40 years, apparently without any children. Reynolds quoted Abbot saying at his wife's deathbed, "there was never an unkind word between us." Abbot died Sept. 29, 1872, shortly after his 77th birthday; his last will and testament bequeathed $5,000 to Tufts College, $2000 each to Dean Academy and the Universalist Church, $8,000 and his household effects to his housekeeper, Elizabeth M. Pray, $70,000 to 62 relatives and friends, and the balance, $103,000, funded construction of Abbot Hall and thereby creation of Abbot Public Library.
Accepting the bequest, then agreeing on a location to build the structure, didn't go smoothly. As Reynolds wryly noted, Marbleheaders always "look a gift horse in the mouth." Opposition to taking Abbot's legacy, and opposition to building the hall on land known both as the Common and the Training Field, wasn't widespread, but it was fierce. Some citizens filed suit against the Town, claiming it had no right to use public land to build the hall. The opposition lost the case, the architectural firm of Lord and Fuller was hired to design and oversee construction, and the building was dedicated on Dec. 12, 1877.
While many are aware that Abbot made the bequest to Marblehead "because it was my birthplace," it isn't as widely known that he attached few strings to the funds. Abbot did not dictate that his name be given to the building, but that his name "always be attached to the fund" to build and maintain the structure. He wanted a building erected "for the benefit of the inhabitants" of the town, but also made it clear that he did not "intend to limit the use of the legacy to that purpose or to impose conditions which would prevent the use of it" for other purposes townspeople might decide.
Abbot's words, as interpreted by the Abbot Hall building committee, including James J. H. Gregory, opened the door for a Library to become an integral part of Abbot Hall. Gregory, who was a wealthy man in his own right, was the driving force behind using part of the new hall for a reading room and library.
Next: The Seed King: James J. H. Gregory
the Abbot 140 Columns
This is the third in a regular series of columns about Abbot Public Library, written in honor of the Library's 140th birthday. The columns will feature those who have helped make the Library the successful, popular institution it has been since it was established in 1878.
James John Howard Gregory (1827-1910) was one of Marblehead's great philanthropists. An educated man, he understood the value of books more than most. Not only was he intimately involved in advocating for and implementing Abbot Public Library in Abbot Hall, he donated thousands of books to establish libraries in schools for African American children in the south.
Gregory's great wealth was surely the result of his hard work and good sense, but the business that earned him that wealth, and the local moniker of "Seed King" started almost accidentally. A correspondent wrote to Gregory while he was still a schoolteacher, asking for seeds for a "good squash." Knowing that his father had grown a successful variety of squash, Gregory packaged and sent seeds to the man, who later expressed great satisfaction. Within five years, JJH had given up teaching to grow and sell seeds full time. Thus was Gregory's fortune "seeded."
To build his seed business, JJH Gregory planted many acres of vegetables in Middleton, since there was not enough arable land in Marblehead to meet his needs. He required a large warehouse to sort, package and mail seeds, and built that in his hometown on Elm Street, next to the Gerry School. The building is gone, but the Old Squash House across the street, where Gregory would often leave out surplus vegetables with a sign saying "help yourself," still stands, now as a private home.
Most of Gregory's warehouse employees were women, and during Marblehead's financially difficult 19th century, their families desperately needed the income. He paid his employees by the honor system: at the end of each week, each person could take what she was due from the cash box.
Gregory and his first wife, Eliza, did not have biological children. Four times, they went together to orphanages in Boston. There, they chose not babies but older children, who were in some cases disabled, to bring home and adopt. Of his two sons, Edgar inherited the seed business and ran it well for half a century, while the other, JJH's namesake known as Jaime, after being sent to Columbia by JJH for business reasons, eventually became a war hero there, married a Columbian woman, and lived in that country for the rest of his life.
Once JJH Gregory made his fortune, he shared his wealth with his hometown and beyond. His Marblehead philanthropy was widespread, including paying for the clock and the bell in Abbot Hall Tower, and helping to fund the first books in what became Abbot Library - first as a reading room and then a lending library. He wrote and sponsored the Town Meeting articles that led to spending $20,000 of Benjamin Abbot's bequest "to put some brains in" the fine hall that was dedicated in 1877.
He also started a fund for twins in 1907: realizing that the birth of two rather than one baby would bring extra expenses, Gregory started to give money to Marblehead families who had twins. When he died, his will created a $1000 trust for twins. Each January, the interest earned on the trust was divided among the families blessed with twins. Gregory was also one of the most generous funders of the Marblehead Women's Humane Society, and was known for providing winter firewood for families in need from a list provided by the Humane Society.
While Gregory's local philanthropy is known to some in Marblehead, few people know just how widespread and forward thinking his generosity became.
After graduating from Marblehead High School, Gregory attended Middlebury College and Amherst College. At Middlebury, he met a brilliant African American man, Martin Henry Freeman, with whom he nurtured a lifelong friendship. Through their friendship, Gregory became intimately aware of the disparity of equality in the southern United States. Following the Civil War, when Gregory was building his seed business and thereby his wealth, educational opportunities for black people were limited, if not abysmal.
Gregory took this need seriously. He generously funded not only a series of "Gregory" or "Marblehead libraries" that traveled to dozens of African American schools in the south, he also donated significant sums to build several African American churches and schools, some of which bear his name.
Perhaps the best tribute to JJH Gregory was written by his son Edgar for the 1911 Gregory & Son Seed Co. catalogue. Edgar finished his "open letter" with these lines: "He always lived modestly and since his retirement from business took great pleasure in his private concerns and charities. His whole life abounded in usefulness, and he certainly erected a monument of good deeds that will be a light to all futurity."
the Abbot 140 Columns
Tom McNulty: The Mayor of Marblehead kept a family tradition alive
By Jo Ann Augeri Silva
This is the fifth in a series of articles about Abbot Public Library, on the occasion of the Library's 140th birthday. The columns will feature people and events important to the Library's success over the years.
Though he was retired for a few years before he passed away last November, Thomas A. McNulty was universally known as the unofficial Mayor of Marblehead. His service to the Town as a longtime Selectman and Town Clerk, as the owner and greeter at the Warwick Cinema, as an active member of the Rotary Club of Marblehead, a co -founder of the Marblehead Dollars For Scholars Scholarship foundation, and involvement in numerous other civic organizations made him both well -known and beloved.
Tom McNulty also made his mark on the Abbot Public Library - after all, the Library was a family affair.
"Tom grew up in the library, as did I," recalls his wife Deborah. Not only were McNulty family members active Library patrons, both Tom's father and mother served as longtime Library Trustees. Being part of the civic life of Town was always fascinating for Tom, Deb said. "His father would always bring him to Town Meeting, and he would sit on the stage and watch everything. He always wanted to be a Selectman!
"Tom's father, Robert Emmett McNulty, served as a Library Trustee, and when he died, Tom's mother Joan became a Trustee," said Deb. She adds that Bob McNulty died when he was only 43, leaving Joan a widow with seven children, the youngest aged just two, and the oldest, Tom, aged 16. Joan ran the family movie theater by herself, along with raising the seven kids and being an active Library Trustee.
And, Library Trustee was Tom's first elective office in Town. Bob McNulty served from 1955 -1964, the year he died, and Joan McNulty not only served out his unexpired term but continued on the Board until she remarried and moved to Connecticut in 1974. Tom McNulty, then newly married to Deb, ran for his mother's empty seat on the board, and won. He served until 1980, when he won his first election for Selectman.
Jacqueline Mara Lynch served as a Library Trustee from 1971 -1976, overlapping with both Joan and Tom McNulty.
"Except for the suit and tie instead of a dress, it was like the same pleasant upbeat person was sitting there," Lynch remembers. "Tom followed the family tradition when he took over the ‘McNulty chair' once occupied by his mother and his late father. He was so proud to be a Library Trustee. He rolled up his sleeves and dove into the tasks at hand. Like his mother before him, Tom had a great deal of enthusiasm for the library and was always thinking of ways to serve its patrons."
Tom didn't lose his enthusiasm for the Library once he became a Selectman. In 1992, materials cost increases outstripped Town funding for books and magazine subscriptions by 40%. To help meet the need and keep the Library's books and periodicals current, Tom became an active part of the Second Century Fund. The Second Century Fund goal was to create an endowment that could "update the collections with high -quality materials that simply cannot be obtained exclusively at public support." Between 1982 and 1992 the cost of books and periodicals increased by 45 percent while the Library's funding for materials increased only 3 percent, and one third of the magazine subscriptions had been canceled. The Fund
raised more than $200,000. Current Library Trustees Chair Phyllis Smith remembers that Tom's fundraising abilities were much appreciated and went far towards reaching the Fund's goals.
Tom was certainly successful at raising money for the Library and other organizations. But, Deb said, "he didn't love asking people for money. He had a very light touch - he wasn't aggressive as a fundraiser." While Tom knew many of the wealthy folk who lived in Marblehead, he didn't call on them to donate unless the cause was an important one. The Library was important to Tom and Deb both, and both take it seriously.
"I always get the same feeling when I walk into the Library," she said. "It's the same feeling I get when I go to vote - it's a civic responsibility."
Knowing that Library programming is, as it has always been, paid for with donations, Deb McNulty encourages residents of Marblehead to donate to fundraising for the Library when it needs renovation and updating.
"It's a lovely Library," she said. "I would certainly donate to a fundraiser, and I know Tom would have, too."
the Abbot 140 Columns
Funding Abbot Public Library a public and private collaboration
This is the sixth in a series of columns about Abbot Public Library, which celebrates its 140th birthday in 2018. The columns explore the people and events important to the success of the library throughout its history.
By Jo Ann Augeri Silva
When Abbot Public Library holds its 140th birthday party on April 29, it will celebrate the success of a public/private partnership that started with Benjamin Abbot's $103,000 bequest to the Town of Marblehead.
The Town followed Abbot's wish that the money be used to construct a building for the use of its residents. When Abbot Hall was nearing completion, JJH Gregory persuaded Town Meeting that $20,000 of the bequest should be used to "put some brains" in the grand new building by establishing a library.
A six member Board of Trustees, elected in staggered three-year terms, was established to govern the Library. And, as it does today, the Town budgeted taxpayer funds to support the Library: paying employees, maintaining the building, and, partially, funding needed materials.
From the beginning, it was clear that private donors would be critical not only to the Library's growth as a living and thriving entity, but to its survival. Gregory certainly knew it – his donation of $2000 toward purchasing the first books established a tradition that lives on and flourishes.
Keeping the Library's materials sufficiently stocked and up to date was the motivation behind establishing the Second Century Fund in 1991, says current Board of Trustees Chair Phyllis Smith.
Between 1982 and 1992, the cost of materials such as books and periodicals rose more than 45 percent, while budgeted funding for materials rose only three percent. The Library was forced to curtail spending on new books, especially expensive research volumes, and to cancel many magazine subscriptions -- dire actions for a public library with among the most active subscribers in the state.
The Library did not, at that point, have a permanent endowment fund to provide continuing support for Library materials. The Second Century Fund provided that vehicle. A significant sum was raised from generous donors. Those funds are managed by SCF trustees, who disburse money to Library Trustees each year. SCF funds pay for additional materials – and materials only. Judith Eissner, founding chair of the Second Century Fund, continues to serve as chair.
Since 1982, the Library has been assisted financially by the Friends of Abbot Public Library, through its quarterly book sales. A few weeks ago, Trustees used private funds to create the Sail Away Book Shoppe on the first floor, a charming glass-enclosed store selling gently used books. "This will reduce the work that goes into those quarterly sales," says Smith. Friends will continue sorting books for sale and staff the shop. Proceeds from the shop will go toward both children's and adult programming, and towards the purchase of subsidized museum passes for Library cardholders.
Taxpayer dollars do not support programming at the Library, so for programs and renovations, (other than major additions which require Town Meeting/override approval), private funding must be used. The Library hosted more than 300 programs last year.
The recent, much praised renovation of the Children's Room was funded by the Killam trust. Oliver P. Killam left the Town millions of dollars, whose interest income annually provides support for significant college scholarships for Marblehead high school students, as well as an annual distribution to the Library in support of children's and young adult activities.
Previously, private funds given to the Library through bequests were held by the Town Treasurer and disbursed as Trustees requested. Some familiar names attached to the funds include: Virginia Carten, a local artist whose bequest was targeted toward art programming at the Library (the Virginia Carten Gallery is named for her); the Harold B. and Elizabeth L. Shattuck Fund, which this year paid for the upgrade of audio visual equipment in the Meeting Room; the Elaine Hoff Sorenson Fund, which paid for the new Friends book shoppe; and the Robert E Morse fund, which helps with the annual upkeep of the library.
If held by the Town, however, monies in those private funds cannot be invested, so they earn only a modest amount of interest. And, if someone wished to donate to one of the existing private funds held by the Town, their donation would not be tax deductible.
The reality of the funding situation at Abbot Public Library is this: Taxpayer funding of the Library budget has been level funded at $1 million for the past decade. Since costs have continued to rise exponentially over that decade, Trustees realized that a vehicle was necessary to accept bequests and donations that could be tax deductible, invested wisely, earn interest, and grow.
That led to the establishment, two years ago, of the Abbot Public Library Fund, Inc. which acts as the foundation arm for the Library. Volunteer Charles Ives was largely responsible for the initiative. Donations and bequests to the APLF Inc. are tax deductible, can be invested, and can be targeted to certain uses, or not, depending on the wishes of the donor. For example, as mentioned above, the Killam Trust disburses funds to the APLF Inc. annually, and those monies must be used for programs or materials and/or renovations that affect children or young adults
The surprise bequest made by Virginia (Jinny) Pope, however, is unrestricted, and may be used for any purpose Trustees approve. Her bequest was the first donor contribution to the APLF, Inc. When Pope, an avid reader, contacted Library Director Patricia Rogers to ask the best recipient for a donation she was considering, Rogers suggested the newly established APLF Inc. A few days later, Rogers received a small, hand written envelope containing a $50,000 check. Pope passed away just three short weeks later.
APLF Inc. has been the funding source for the Abbot 140 birthday events, say Smith and Trustee Nancy Arata, who is Vice Chair of the Library Trustees. The funds are also being used to pay for an architectural study to determine how best to renovate the Library for the future. The addition completed in 1991, both Smith and Arata say, was supposed to serve the Town's needs for 25 years. Some 30 years later, both technology and library usage have changed dramatically.
"The library has used its 140th year to communicate to the Town more about its services and mission, in the hope of engaging people about its mission and its future," says Arata. "After spending the last two years developing data sets on issues confronting the library, doing community surveys and local focus groups, the Trustees feel they know what the community expects.
"They are now working with architects to design a major renovation - details are developing and we will be prepared to share more in the fall. Our goal is to provide Marblehead with the 21st Century library it deserves, and to reinforce its definition as a community center."
For more information about the Abbot Public Library Fund, Inc., visit http://www.abbotlibrary.org/about-us/supporting-the-library/