Salem Athenaeum

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  • This private library founded in 1810(the second oldest in the country), began by the merging of two local libraries, the Social Library, founded in 1760, and the Philosophical Library, founded in 1781. For the first four decades, the Athenaeum had no permanent home and occupied quarters at four different locations in Salem. In the 1850's a bequest by Caroline Plummer enabled the group to build at 134 Essex St, which was its home until the early 1900's (now the home of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.)
  • The Athenaeum sold the building to the Essex Institute in 1905 and built the current building at 337 Essex Street in 1906. Dedicated in 1907, this red brick structure is modeled after "Homewood" the house in Maryland that Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built for his son.
  • AS the first library in Salem, the Athenaeum pooled the resources of the educated book-owners of Salem. Both Nathaniel Bowditch and Nathaniel Hawthorne used this unique library. Some of the older books in the collection came from the spoils of ships captured during the privateering of British ships in the late 1700's. These are called the Kirwan Collection.
  • Librarian Cynthia Wiggin worked there for over thirty years, starting in 1960 and retiring in 1994. She wrote a history of the library as well.
  • Presently, the library has approximately 50,000 books, many of them rare, but the library does purchase newly published books for its many members. The Athenaeum offers many educational events throughout the year including author talks. Some of these are open to the public. The Athenaeum celebrated the 100 year anniversary of their building in March of 2007.
  • In 2006, the Athenaeum contemplated selling a rare copy of the 1628 Massachusetts Bay Charter to help with a deficit, but changed their minds.
  • The Athenaeum celebrated its 200th anniversary as an organization in 2010 with a period ball at the Hamilton Hall on Chestnut St.

See Also

Vertical File in Salem Collection - Salem Athenaeum

Vertical File in Salem Collection - Kirwan Collection

Salem Women's Heritage Trail by Bonnie Hurd Smith, p. 31-32.

Salem Athenaeum Salem Tales, SalemWeb.com

Salem Athenaeum Library website

Salem Athenaeum; 1810-1910 by J.N. Ashton, 1917.

The Salem Athenaeum, a short history by Cynthia B. Wiggin, 1971

"Salem institutions going strong at 81 and 232" Boston Sunday Globe, Jan. 12, 1992, p. N1

"Salem Athenaeum puts on the ritz" Salem Evening News, Sept. 30, 1998.

"Salem Athenaeum celebrates 100 years" Salem News, Mar. 17, 2008, p.2

"Partying like it's 1810" Salem Gazette, Mar. 12, 2010, p.13

"Salem Athenaeum celebrates its 200th birthday" Salem News, Mar. 4, 2010, p.1

"Four pages of history: for sale?" Boston Sunday Globe, Apr. 2, 2006, p. N 1

"Charter sale on Athenaeum's front burner" Salem News, Apr. 6, 2006, p. A1