This one here is a photo-heavy post, but if you like old books and history, then take a breath and let it load. I think you’ll like hearing about the Hughes Free Public Library in operation since 1882.
Work had me on the road last year up on the Cumberland Plateau, which is where Rugby, TN, (population 64), is. While the founding of Rugby by the “second sons” is a fascinating read all by itself, it is the Hughes Free Public Library that really shines.
I was lucky enough to get to take a tour of the library and wanted to share some photos as this space remains almost completely untouched from its opening day back in 1882.
The library is named for Englishman Mr. Thomas Hughes. He founded the Rugby settlement as an “experiment”. When the Hughes Library opened it contained 6,000 books donated by publishers in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. In fact, many of the bookcases in the library are built from the actual crates the books were shipped in.
There were another 1,000 books donated from private collections and the Chicago Library (where there is a Thomas Hughes Reading Room). In 1900, the catalog records 7,000 books on the shelves. Today, there are 6,994. They have lost 6 books in the last 120+ years of operation. But when your patron list is counted in 10’s I guess it’s easy enough to keep track of who has books overdue.
The books are in absolutely amazing condition considering how often they were used and their age. I was told by the caretaker that this is due to a number of factors:
the floor is triple layer of timber, to keep moisture out.
the windows were intentionally spaced so they directed light onto the library tables and not the bookshelves themselves. That is why the spines and binding show very little sunning and bleaching.
most all of the books are “rag paper” so there are none of the chemicals, etc. that are used in “pulp paper” books
the location/climate coupled with the smart cupola in the ceiling help regulate temperature
If you ever find yourself up in that neck of the woods around historic Rugby, TN, it’ s certainly worth stopping in and seeing if you can get a tour yourself.
The book was a fun read. Really fun. It was full of crazy book collectors and crazy book collector stories. One of my favorites is where A.S.W. Rosenbach is sharing stories from his time around his uncle’s bookstore / publishing house: his Uncle Moses’ Shop on Commerce Street.
Can you imagine a bookstore like this? A bookstore where Edgar A. Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, WC Bryant, Webster, and Melville, all frequent and hang out? What a storied childhood! No wonder Rosenbach landed where he did in the pantheon of bookmen.
My book group just finished readingIn the Garden of Beasts and it was fantastic. Erik Larson has a way of lining up all of the diaries, letters reports, and news of the day in a very conversational way. One that truly paints a picture of how things happened and of the personalities involved.
I hear Dead Wake, about the sinking of the Lusitania, is really good as well. It’s on my list. But now, so is The Splendid and the Vile.
Most of the folks reading Men We Reaped are doing an introductory post. So I hope this post qualifies.
1. Where do you plan on discussing this book the most? I’ll probably be the most chatty here on my blog, though I am on Twitter and follow the #sjbookclub hashtag there. Also, I will definitely find a conversation and talk about it on LibraryThing.
2. Where in the world are you reading? I am in Birmingham, Alabama.
3. Why did you decide to join in on the reading and/or discussion of this book? This is the first SJBC choice that I have not already read and I’m ready to give it a go. Most of the ‘social justice’ books I pick up tend to be analytical and history driven. Not dry, just rooted squarely in cause/effect and pattern issues. Men We Reap sounds to be a very personal story, which is a welcome change from what I’ve been reading.
4. What, if anything, are you most looking forward to about this book? I can say with 100% certainty that I would not have picked up this book browsing on my own. Ward’s experience sounds horrific and I want to hear her first-hand account of what’s happening around the country.