Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport

4.5
The Redwood Library and Athenæum is the oldest lending library in America, and the oldest library building in continuous use in the country. Founded in 1747 by forty-six proprietors upon the principle of "having nothing in view but the good of mankind," its mission continues over 250 years later.

The Company of the Redwood Library was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood and a group of his friends and associates. One of the country's earliest "public" libraries -- that is, open to the public though not "free"--Redwood is the oldest surviving lending library in the country. Redwood remains a "membership library" (open to the public) supported by Proprietors, who own shares and pay an annual assessment, and Subscribers, who pay fees. The Original Collection of 751 titles has grown to a collection numbering more than 160,000 volumes.

In 1833, the Library's name was changed to The Company of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum to reflect its expanding role as an educational institution. Today the Library is open to qualified scholars and researchers and to those making use of the collections. Lectures, exhibitions, fine arts displays, and other educational activities are part of Redwood Library and Athenaeum's continuous offerings to the community.

History of Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Established before the birth of the United States, the Redwood Library and Athenæum was charted in 1747 and opened in 1750. It was the first library in Rhode Island, is the oldest lending library in America, and is also the oldest lending library building in continuous use in the country.

As the first major architectural commission of Peter Harrison (1716-1775), its conception was a bold one for its time. Symbolically bringing light and order to the emerging culture of the colonial world, Harrison introduced, for the first time in the New World, an architectural style of classical design. A drawing of a Roman Doric temple with portico and wings, probably derived from a 1735 edition of Andrea Palladio's architecture, was used for the model.

This view of the Redwood was noticed by Thomas Jefferson when he visited Newport in 1790 as Secretary of State in the company of President George Washington. Jefferson began championing classical architecture as the model for public building in the new Republic. So it is that the Redwood Library is possibly one of the most architecturally influential buildings in America.
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Redwood Library and Athenaeum Reviews
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  • What a fabulous find! Our tour began on the front walk with a detailed description of the exterior. Elaine, our tour guide, is well-formed and obviously loves her subject. Her enthusiasm is infectious...  more »
  • A historic story that has survived time. Coming here is a step back into time! Libraries were not always free and were once the oasis of the educated and wealthy. This library was founded in 1747, bef...  more »
  • What an amazing visit! The 200 plus year old trees out front are the first wonder of your visit. The portraits inside are true treasures. The books from the 1760s are spectacular. One note: there is a...  more »
Google
  • If you like history, books or anything interesting, check this place out! We were the only ones on the tour, but it was Special. Thanks to the great staff! Unforgettable.
  • In addition to the rotating exhibitions, the reading room and this gorgeous early American neo-classical building, a collection of paintings and rare books.

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