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Providence Athenaeum records (Arch-002)

Providence Athenaeum

251 Benefit Street
Providence, RI, 02903
Tel: 401-421-6970
email: info@provath.org
website: www.provath.org

Historical Note

The Providence Athenaeum (1831-1836) was established in 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island as a subscription library and reading room. It existed for only six years before both it, and the previously-established Providence Library Company (1753-1836) dissolved their corporations and sold their collections to a third corporation, The Athenaeum, established in 1836 and later renamed the Providence Athenaeum in 1850.

A primary impetus for forming the Providence Athenaeum was the fact that as early as 1825 the Providence Library Company was losing its financial footing. By February 1831, a meeting was held to consider the feasibility of starting a second organization. On June 22, 1831 the Providence Athenaeum was incorporated. On July 18 an organization was effected, with subscribers contributing $100 each (patrons) or $25 (stockholders). Tristam Burges was elected president along with other officers and trustees. A constitution and by-laws were written. The reading room opened in August 1831 at Nos. 42 and 44 in the Arcade building in downtown Providence. On November 28, 1831 the first Annual Meeting was held, and in December the circulating library opened with 1,159 volumes.

“Movement for the union of the libraries: As early as July 1832 … the subject of uniting the libraries began to be discussed, and formal negotiations … continued until a final agreement was reached.” On January 25, 1836 a meeting in Masonic Hall was held and it was declared that “after mature consideration, and ineffectual attempts for a union, have severally resolved to dispose of their libraries and dissolve their corporations ... the books of each were to be purchased by the new institution [i.e. The Athenaeum].”

"From a brief statement concerning the old Athenaeum appearing in the first annual report of the new institution, submitted in February, 1837, the following estimate of its work is taken: 'From [1831-1836] ... notwithstanding many circumstances adverse to its growth, it succeeded in making, if not a large, a very choice collection of books--which ultimately constituted by far the most valuable portion of the Library of the new institution [i.e. The Athenaeum established 1836], at the date of its origin.'"

Source: Seventy-sixth annual report of the Board of Directors of The Providence Athenaeum to the Corporation, submitted September 24, 1911, pages 34-41.