Main Street, west side (at intersection of Town House Road)

The Durham Library stands upon a wooded lot on the west side of Main Street north of the Town Green. Access to this elevated site is gained from a southern driveway leading to the rear of the building.

  • Record ID: 106
  • Address: Main Street, west side (at intersection of Town House Road)
  • Current Owner: Town of Durham,
  • Name of Building: Durham Public Library
  • Historic Name: Durham Public Library
  • Download PDF of Original Record

Notable Features

The central pavillion on the east facade projects from the base of the doorway to the eave of the roof with a double doorway recessed in a double-archivolt rounded arch flanked by original lamps. Each door has two rectangular panels, the upper (vertically) longer than the lower. The door frame has wooden archivolt trim on the frontal edges, and is surmounted with a fanlight. bordered by five polygonal panes. The round arch of the brick inner archivolt springs from square, moulded, brownstone capitals. The arch of the outer archivolt (flush with the projecting portal wall surface) springs from brownstone impost blocks, which, in turn, extend to the outer edges of the portal surface. Inlaid vertical bricks form the keystone of the arch. Concrete steps, with wrought iron railings, rise from the north and south sides to a brownstone platform in front of the doorway. A southeast cornerstone (brownstone) denotes the year of construction, 1901. A single large brownstone panel under .the facade eave bears the word “LIBRARY”. The “Bertha C. Ryan Children’s Room”, built in 1963, is a square, brick, gableroofed
addition attached to the facade platform. A continuous moulded cornice runs under its eaves. Two one-over-one sash, flat-arched windows with brownstone sills, flank the doorway. Above each window is an ornamental, square, brickworked blind panel. The north and south side elements are identically disposed. In the dado of each side (corresponding to the facade steps) there are three central flat-arched basement windows flanked by two lateral basement windows; all of these are six-over-six windows. At the main level, each of three central windows (corresponding to the three central basement windows) has a rectangular pane surmounted by a sqaure pane. Three contiguous horizontal brownstone spandrels separate these panes from one another. Above the side central windows are three contiguous heavy brownstone lintels. Two windows flank the side central windows. On each side, the east lateral window, including the ornamental square panel above, is formally identaical to the facade lateral windows. The side lateral windows to the west (towards the rear) are similar to the side central windows, but have a flat arch instead of a heavy brownstone lintel. An outside end chimney with Queen An~style corbelling capped by brownstone is placed in the center of the rear (west) wall. The chimney brick is the same in composition as the main block. A copper ridge with two finials extends to a facade dormer with a hip roof and triple Queen Anne style windows with triangular panes, decorative wooden tracery, and a moulded frame. A continuous architrave, a plain frieze and a moulded wooden cornice run under the bracketed eaves, demonstrating the Italianate style influence.

Historical or Architectural Importance

The Durham Public Library is a Neo-Classical style building with Italianate style influence. The cubical, light brown brick building, constructed in 1901, has a slate-shingled hip roof and a granite foundation and watertable. The developments leading to the construction of the present building began in 1733, when the Durham Book Company was founded as the “First Book Company in the United States and … the forerunner of our present library” (Century, p. 105). The Company became a respected and venerable organization in Durham. In the nineteenth century, however, it suffered a decline in prestige as “newspapers, light readi:ng and party politics … took the place of solid books, so that the Library was neglected, and Durham lost in some degree its high standing
among the other towns.” (Fowler, p. 106). The Book Company was dissolved in 1856. In 1894, the Town voted to re-establish a library. Books were kept in the Town Hall until 1902, when the present structure, designed by L.W. Robinson, was dedicated. It is one of only four libraries in the state which were built through the labors of the townspeople. The Library presently holds almost 20,000 volumes. Enlargement of the structure is presently being planned to accomodate the ever-increasing number of books.