Salem Public Library

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The Salem Public Library was originally built as a home for Captain John Bertram and his family. In 1855, the Bertram family moved from their smaller house at 24 Winter Street and took up residence in their new High Style Italianate brick and brownstone mansion at 370 Essex Street. The household consisted of Captain Bertram; his third wife, Mary Ann Ropes, 44; Joseph, 20 an adopted son of his second wife; three daughters (by his first and second wives) Jenny, 18 (later to become the mother of Caroline O. Emmerton, founder of the House of Seven Gables); Clara, 16; Annie, 10 and an adopted daughter, Grace, 7. (Another daughter, Ellen Augusta, had died in 1848, aged 8).

Honored and beloved by the whole community, Bertram died on March 22, 1882, aged 86 years, at his home. He was buried in his mausoleum at Harmony Grove Cemetery. His widow purchased and moved into the Assembly House on Federal Street. In a letter dated December 1, 1887, his widow and daughters offered the Mansion on Essex Street to the City of Salem for use as a Public Library. The offer was accepted and the Salem Public Library opened its doors on July 8, 1889.

The mansion was immediately refurbished to include a main hall, public reading room, trustees' room, reference room and bookstacks.

There is a handsome Victorian fountain on the lawn, one of the few that survived the scrap drives of World War II.

In 1911, Boston architect Clarence H. Blackall appended a four-story fireproof book stack ell, a one-story reference room wing, and a corresponding office.


In the early 1980's, director Patrick Cloherty pushed for much needed repairs to the library's structure and basic upgrades to the 1850's era building. The problems included lack of handicapped accessibility, leaks in the roof, antiquated inefficient heating system, and fire code violations in the stack area. The last renovation had been in 1912. The renovation was undertaken in two phases. The first phase began in 1986 which established the children's room in the basement and added an elevator and ramp for handicapped accessibility. This phase was complete in June 1987. The second phase renovated the main floor and stack area, and moved the reference room to the third floor. The card catalogue was computerized at this time as well. Behind the scenes, a new heating and piping systems, sprinkler systems and concrete separators between floor for fire safety. Cloherty and the Library Board of Trustees made sure the renovations helped restore the historic aspects of the building when possible. Tiled ceilings were removed and paint stripped to restore its 1912 look. The second phase was completed by June 1990.

The water fountain in the side yard is a fine example of a Victorian Garden ornament. Cast by Robert Wood & Co. of Philadelphia in the 1850's it was one of the few Victorian fountains to survive the scrap drives of World War II. The Greek god Poseidon (known to the Romans as Neptune) stands in the middle holding a trident with a dolphin underfoot. This is a nod to Bertram's seafaring past. Some repairs were made to the fountain following the building's renovation in 1987. The approximate date of casting is between 1850-1857.


Patrick Cloherty was a long time director, serving from 1971 until his retirement in 2003. Long-time employee Lorraine Jackson took over as director after many years as head of the Children's Room and Assistant Director. Jackson retired at the end of Dec. 2010, after 39 years at the Public Library.


For a description of the three branch libraries (The East, the South and the North) that operated in Salem, go to Branch Libraries.


The Bertram Elm in the yard of the Salem Public Library was said to be close to 100 years old in 1912. The tree's circumference measured at 18 feet and 6 inches in 1912 and reaching to 70 feet high, with gracefully spreading branches. In 1909 the tree was treated for 'interior tree cancer.' Cement was used to fill its cavity after hollowing out the cancerous spots. Iron rods were also used to hold the great limbs in place.

See Also

  • "The Public Library" (opening announcement) Salem Gazette, June 25, 1889
  • "Library needs major repairs" Salem Evening News, Sept. 27, 1982, p.3
  • "First chapter of library work completed" Salem Evening News, May 27, 1987, p. 9
  • "From the dust, a new library takes shape; $2.2 million renovation project well under way" Salem Evening News, Nov. 1, 1989, p. 17
  • "The famous old Bertram Elm, one of the finest in existence is about one years old" Salem Evening News, July 24, 1912, p. 10
  • "The famous Bertram Elm Tree in the public library yard found to have interior cancer" Salem Evening News, May 24, 1909, p.?
  • "A grand booking: Salem Public Library celebrated reopening" Salem Evening News, June 26, 1990, p. ?
  • "Salem Public Library 100th Anniversary" Salem Evening News, May 22, 1987, (special insert)
  • "Mayday for Neptune (fountain in yard needs work) Salem Evening News, Oct. 19, 1987, p.1
  • "An era ends at Salem library: Lorraine Jackson retires after 39 years, seven as Director" Salem News, Jan. 8, 2011, p.1