Redwood Library in 2008
|Location||50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island|
|Part of||Newport Historic District (#68000001)|
|NRHP reference #||66000015|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||October 9, 1960|
|Designated NHLDCP||November 24, 1968|
The Redwood Library and Athenaeum is a private subscription library located at 50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island. Founded in 1747, it is the oldest community library still occupying its original building in the United States. The original building was designed by Peter Harrison and completed in 1750, and is a National Historic Landmark.
The original section of the building was constructed built between 1748 and 1750 by architect Peter Harrison. Only the Library Company of Philadelphia is older, founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The Redwood Library and Athenaeum predates the Charleston Library Society (founded in 1748), New York Society Library (founded in 1754), and the Boston Athenaeum (founded in 1807).
It was the first classical public building built in America, designed in the manner of Italian Renaissance Architect Andrea Palladio, in the Georgian-Palladian style. The main facade facing Bellevue avenue is based upon a plate in Edward Hoppus' Andrea Palladio's Architecture published in 1735. The oldest section, today called the Harrison Room, still houses the majority of the original books that were purchased as a collection in London. Occupying British troops allegedly looted numerous books (many of which were later returned) prior to the Battle of Rhode Island during the American Revolution.
In 1833 the Library furthered its abilities as an institution, and re established itself as The Company of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. By 1858, membership and collection had grown so much as that an expansion was needed. This expansion, which became known as the Roderick Terry Reading Room was produced by George Snell of Boston.
Within 10 years of the Reading Room being completed, architect Richard Morris Hunt was contacted to furnish another expansion for the library. His plans ultimately called for "an entirely new and enlarged structure of stone and marble shall (that) take the place of the existing wooden erections." Ultimately, Hunt's plans were rejected, although it is unclear whether that was due to monetary restriction on the part of the Redwood Library, or their disapproval of what could be construed as Hunt's irreverence for Peter Harrison's architecture.
In 1875, plans did go forward to develop another expansion to the Library. The Rovensky Delivery Room was designed by famed architect George Champlin Mason. At the time, the collections were in closed stacks, and when a book was requested, the librarian would retrieve it and bring it to the member in the delivery room.
In 1915, historian and architect Norman Isham restored the eighteenth century Harrison room to what he concluded was its original appearance. The Library's modern collection now includes more than 200,000 volumes as well as a museum collection of art and artifacts. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.