The Pawtucket Public Library is a complex of two historical buildings, the Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library and the Gerald S. Burns Building. Both buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1898, Pawtucket’s first Mayor, Frederic Clark Sayles offered to give a plot of land on Summer Street for the construction of a free public library. He traveled to Europe, looking for architectural inspiration from Europe’s most majestic libraries. The corner stone was laid on November 18, 1899. On October 15, 1902 the library that he built for the free use of the people of Pawtucket was opened and formally dedicated in memory of his late wife, Deborah Cook Sayles.
The Sayles Building is an impressive example of Greek revival architecture. It was built of the finest-grained white granite, from the quarries at North Jay, Maine. Four massive Ionic columns form a portico at the former entrance. The front doorway of this building is an exact replica of the Erechtheion, a Greek temple on the Acropolis at Athens. The architects were Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson of Boston. Six panels by sculptor Lee Laurie of New York decorate the front of the building. The panels show a comprehensive view of the world’s civilizations. The panels depict scenes from Roman, Grecian, Egyptian, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Teutonic civilizations. The Library is known for its decorative ceilings, soaring pillars, and glass-floored North balcony.
Cost: approx. $5000
Weight: 600 pounds
Size: 8 feet in diameter
Ceiling height: 35 feet high
2,000 prismatic crystals
96 light bulbs
Made in West Germany
Installed March 15, 1967
Approx. time to hang crystals: 7 hrs.
Lowering device: hand-operated winch
The Library is not only distinctive in its architecture, but also in its service. It was one of the first libraries in the country to allow users open access to the library book stacks and one of the first to be open on Sundays, accommodating the many Pawtucket mill workers who worked six days a week. Minerva Sanders, the Library’s first librarian, is also credited with making Pawtucket one of the first libraries to allow children under the age of fourteen into the public library.
The Gerald S. Burns Building served as the Pawtucket Post Office from 1896 to the 1940’s. William Martin Arkin was the supervisory architect for the Treasury Department during the period of its construction. It was built on an oddly shaped lot at the intersection of Summer and High Streets. A dome tops its round entrance, which is located at the intersection of the streets. After serving as a post office it was used as the city’s Welfare Office until the late 1970’s.
In 1979 renovations began to join these two impressive and historic buildings together.
In 1982, the renovations of the original United States Post Office building were completed and the Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library was joined with the newly dedicated Gerald S. Burns building to become what is known today as the Pawtucket Public Library.
Deborah Cook Sayles, wife of Frederic Clark Sayles, was born in Pawtucket on November 26, 1841 and died on November 25, 1895. She was active in such organizations as the Ladies Soldiers Memorial Association, The Daughters of the American Revolution, Woman’s Home Missionary Association, Musical Club, Associated Charities, Pawtucket Day Nursery Association, and Pawtucket Center of University Extension. Her husband dedicated the building to perpetuate her name and the memory of her abiding interest in everything that concerned the welfare of her native Pawtucket.
Frederic Clark Sayles was born in Pawtucket, July 17, 1835. Frederic married Deborah Cook Wilcox on October 16, 1861. On the first Monday of January in 1886, he was inaugurated as Pawtucket’s first mayor and presided for two years. In 1898, Mr. Sayles offered to give a plot of land on Summer Street for the construction of a free public library. He traveled to Europe, looking for architectural inspiration from Europe’s most majestic libraries. On October 15, 1902 the library that he built for the citizens of Pawtucket was dedicated as the Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library in memory of his late wife. He died on January 5, 1903 – soon after the library was dedicated and presented to the city.