Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stratford-upon-Avon Public Library

Stratford-upon-Avon Public Library (1906).

In 1902, American steel-magnate Andrew Carnegie, who was on a library-funding spree in the United States, agreed to fund a new library for Stratford. The town authorities in Stratford wanted to build the new library on Henley Street, the street on which Shakespeare's Birthplace stands. The plans called for razing several cottages on the proposed site. Enter the romance novelist Marie Corelli (see yesterday's entry), who had only recently moved to Stratford. She protested against the destruction of the cottages, and said that a new building would deface historic Henley Street, which she called "the central aisle in the cathedral of literature." The town authorities produced reports claiming that the cottages were Victorian, but Corelli dug deeper and proved that some of the cottages had, in fact, belonged to Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth (see yesterday's entry). The cottages were spared, but the new mock-Tudor library was built on Henley Street after all, only a few yards from the Birthplace. Marie Corelli, meanwhile, sat down a novel in which she aired, behind the veil of fiction, some of the resentment she felt over the whole affair. (To get a sense of Corelli's style, you can read the first chapter of that novel online here.)

Northfield Public Library, Northfield, Minnesota (1910).

The tug-of-war between development and historic preservation is familiar to residents of places like Northfield, Minnesota, which in recent years has been attempting to balance the preservation (and revitalization) of the historic downtown area with the growth of outlying commercial developments. It's often (but not always) the relative newcomers, like Marie Corelli, who come down on the side of preservation; they want the town to remain as it was when they chose to move there. One of the issues Northfield will have to face in the coming years is whether its public library will remain in the cramped but historic downtown building or move to a more spacious location. Northfield's public library, like Stratford's, is a Carnegie library, built at around the same time as Stratford's.

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