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Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library

The Pawtucket Public Library, formerly known as the Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library, is located at 13 Summer Street in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Its main building, designed by Ralph Adams Cram and built in 1899-1902, and was a gift to the city from Pawtucket's first mayor, Frederic Clark Sayles, in memory of his recently deceased wife.

Pawtucket Public Library: formerly Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library
Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library.jpg
Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library is located in Rhode Island
Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library
Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library is located in the United States
Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library
LocationPawtucket, Rhode Island
Coordinates41°52′44″N 71°23′7″W / 41.87889°N 71.38528°W / 41.87889; -71.38528Coordinates: 41°52′44″N 71°23′7″W / 41.87889°N 71.38528°W / 41.87889; -71.38528
Area1 acre (0.40 ha)
Built1899 (completed 1902)[2]
ArchitectCram, Goodhue & Ferguson
Architectural styleClassical Revival
NRHP reference #75000002 [1]
Added to NRHPDecember 6, 1975



The library was founded as the Pawtucket Library Association in 1852.[3] This group purchased private libraries around the city, and in 1876 gifted its 4,700 volumes to the town for public use.[3] By 1898, it became clear that the library needed a permanent home.[3]

A competition to design the library attracted twenty-four entries.[3] The winning entry was submitted by Boston's Cram, Goodhue, & Ferguson.[3] The building's cornerstone was laid on Nov. 18, 1899, and the building opened on Oct. 15, 1902.[3] The library was the first in the nation to allow patrons to browse the shelves directly, instead of requiring a librarian to retrieve books for them.[3]

Architect Raymond Hood, a Pawtucket native, and sculptor Lee Lawrie, a team who much later became known for their work on Rockefeller Center, worked on the library building while in the employ of Boston architectural firm Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson.[2]

An expansion to the library in the 1960s has been called "awkward and insensitive."[2]

The library's main building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975; the connected former post office building was listed in 1983.[1]

The buildingEdit

Reliefs above the six windows on either side of the pediment

The Classical Revival building features ionic columns, a pediment, egg-and-dart moldings, with high relief panels on its wings.[3] The main façade is closely styled after the north porch of the Erectheion on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.[4][3]

The Classical Revival structure has been joined to the adjacent former Pawtucket Post Office building.[5]


The six bas-reliefs above the library windows depict scenes from literature and mythology.[6] Depicted are scenes from the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, Dante's Inferno, and scenes from Shakespeare and King Arthur.[6] Across the library's front doors are depictions of Moses, as well as Egyptian, Greek, and Roman figures of law and wisdom.[6]

The sculptures were designed by Lee Lawrie and carved by Hugh Cairns.[6] These reliefs were Lawrie's first ever commission.[6] Lawrie would go on to become "one of the country’s foremost architectural sculptors."[6]

Pawtucket Public Library, 1901

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ a b c Morgan, William (14 February 2019). "5 gems of Rhode Island architecture". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Zipf, Catherine (23 December 2015). "A progressive and public library". Providence Journal. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  4. ^ "History of the Library" (PDF). Pawtucket Library. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  5. ^ "NRHP nomination for Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library" (PDF). Rhode Island Preservation. Retrieved 2014-11-20.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Stong, Todd. "Sayles Library Reliefs by Lee Lawrie". Pawtucket Public Art. Retrieved 19 February 2019.

External linksEdit