Historic Structures

Pequot Library, Southport Connecticut

Date added: February 25, 2011 Categories: Connecticut Library Richardsonian Romanesque

The library was built by Mr. and Mrs. Elbert Brinckerhoff Monroe as a memorial to the Frederick Marquands, Mrs. (Virginia Marquand) Monroe's aunt and uncle, and parents by adoption. The building was erected behind the Monroe's house, completely hidden from public view, and not opened until 1894. The secrecy surrounding the library's construction and the confusion of the townspeople is evidenced by the following newspaper accounts in the Fairfield "Advertiser."

  • March 29, 1887 "Workmen are busy on the grounds of Mr. E.B. Monroe. They are engaged by the Fling Building Company, who have the contract to remove the barn to the back end of the lot, and erect a certain building or buildings. One rumor says that this is to be a new bam, another that the new library building is to be erected there."
  • April 15, 1887 "We are informed on competent authority, that Mr, E.B. Monroe is about to erect a library building in Southport, to be built of Long Meadow brownstone and have a length of over 100ft. The plans have been prepared by the well-known architect, Mr. Richardson, of New York. The building it is said, will cost between $itO,000 and $50,000."
  • July 15, 1887 "A rumor reached us that the cornerstone of the new library building was to be laid yesterday afternoon. If so, it was done veiy quietly. As there seems to be a disposition to keep everything connected with the matter a profound secret, we respected the secrecy and did not investigate. Delicacy is so rare now-a-days, that when it is found, it should be respected."
  • November 4, 1887 "The new building on Mr. E.B. Monroe's place is rapidly approaching completion."

Virginia Marquand (Mrs. Elbert Brinckerhoff) Monroe gave the original library building to the Pequot Library Association as a memorial to her uncle and father by adoption, Frederick Marquand. Frederick Marquand was born in Fairfield in 1799. He built his house in 1832 on the site where the library now stands. He was a successful jeweler and silversmith and retired at age forty. In addition to his principal vocation, Marquand invested in real estate, banks, industries and railroads. He funded Union Theological Seminary in New York City, - designed by Pequot Library's architect, Robert H. Robertson - as well as the Theological Department of Yale University. With his brother Henry Gurdon Marquand, he gave the Marquand Pavilion to Belleview Hospital in memory of their brother Josiah Penfield Marquand.

The library reading rooms opened March 1, 1894 and on April 4 the library opened for the distribution of books. By the end of the year, over four-thousand books were in its possession and in circulation, and 8270 people had visited the new building.

In 1899 Virginia Marquand Monroe and Mary Catherine Hull (Mrs. William Webb) Wakeman announced their gift of a collection of rare books, manuscripts and documents on American history. In addition, Mrs. Wakeman gave $18,000 in memory of her daughter Eliza Hull Wakeman, to build an addition to the stack room. She wrote to the Pequot Library Association, "I have enlarged and furnished the stack-room, sparing neither pains nor expense to make it as perfect as possible. My desire has been strengthened by the knowledge of the number and the character of the valuable books which Mrs. Monroe has given to the Association. In the construction of the addition, in all its details, I have sought to give these treasures, and others which may hereafter be secured, a safe and permanent home."

Rev. William Henry Roman, minister of the Southport Congregational Church, 1877-1915, selected each item in the American collection- Holman believed that every library should concentrate on a special type of book, influencing Elbert B. Monroe on this matter. Monroe decided to collect books on Americana with a special emphasis upon New England town histories and local geneologies. In 1971 the collection was moved to Beineke Library at Yale University to be stored until additional space was provided.

As originally constructed the library was a near-perfect rectangle, measuring one hundred fifteen feet (southeast front facade) by fifty four feet. This section includes the lobby, reading room, auditorium, Directors' room and stack room. An ell section was added to the northeast end in 1899 , expanding the area of the rear stack room. The original front view designed by Robertson in 1887 has therefore been retained.

This one-and-a-half story structure is constructed of sandstone granite blocks and covered with a roof of red clay tiles. Because the long main section is covered by an expansive roof area, an impression of horizontality is created. In addition, the brown earth tones of the sandstone blocks and flat red of the clay roof tiles relate the low-lying structure to the ground and surrounding landscape, rather than upward in a vertical motion. Splaying downward and moving across its site, this Romanesque structure achieves a sense of small scale and low height through the interplay of the dimension and materials.

Before the library was opened in 1894 gas lighting was installed. The Southport "Chronicle" reported: "The building is to be lighted by gasoline, and tanks, generator, mixer, and pipes are in place. Mr. McGeem an employee of the Mitchell Vance Co. of New York, is attaching the brass brackets and chandeliers, and has them nearly all up save for the huge cluster in the center of the hall. About 100 burners will be employed, the exterior as well as the interior, being well lighted."

A delicate iron fence encompasses the Library's acre of finely landscaped lawn, designed by late nineteenth-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In March 1894 the "Chronicle" stated that the Pequot Library Association "voted to employ Mr. Olmsted of New York to make a plan for the lawn; with driveway, walk, etc., for the sum of $25." By July the plan was in the process of being executed; "New semi-circular walks are being laid from the streets to the entrance of the building, a large part of one of the schooner loads of stone flagging that recently came into Southport being devoted to this purpose."

The structure faces southeast. It is irregular in plan and one-and-a-half stories with a full basement. The original rectangular section measures 115' (southeast front elevation) x 53'-8". The 1899 stack room addition measures 31' x 49'-4".

Full basement extends under the entire area of the main floor. The partitions correspond to those of the first floor. Basement rooms are now used for storage of books and mechanical equipment.

The main southeastern entry doorway leads into the central foyer. A double doorway to the right leads Into the main reading room. At its northern end, the reading room opens into a smaller reading room; at the southeastern wall, the room opens into a bay window area, which is now a children's room. The circulation desk is located along the southwestern wall. A doorway in the northwestern wall opens into the stack room. To the left of the central foyer is the auditorium which measures fifty feet square. A stage is built against the northwestern wall. Built into the northern corner, a door leads into the Directors' room. A doorway at the northern corner of this room opens into a short hallway which connects the rear entrance with the stack room and Directors' room.