Brooks Free Library
Established in 1880, Brooks Free Library was the first free public library in Harwich. Founded by Col. Henry C. Brooks and originally known as the Broadbrooks Free Library, the Library is part of a broader legacy left to the town by the Brooks family. The Library has been owned and operated by the Town of Harwich since 1910 and is governed by a 7-member elected Board of Trustees. The Trustees meet monthly on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 PM and welcome public input. Brooks Free Library is member of CLAMS, the Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing (CLAMS) consortium. Through CLAMS, 1.5 million books, videos and audio materials of the 35 member libraries readily available to Harwich residents and visitors.
The first member of the Brooks family to make his home in Harwich was Henry’s great-grandfather, Beriah Broadbrooks, who was born in 1676 and arrived in Harwich in 1694, the same year it was incorporated. He had fifteen children by two different wives. By an act of the Massachusetts legislature, passed March 14, 1806, Beriah’s great-grandson, Obed Broadbrooks had the family name changed to Brooks. Obed had nine children, including Henry, but only a few grandchildren. Henry and his sisters, Tamesin, Harriet, and Sarah never married. Brother Sidney married but had no children. Obed owned the first store in Harwich and his sons became businessmen, traders, and educators.
Henry Cobb Brooks was born May 16, 1824 and was Obed’s youngest son. At the age of 14, he left Harwich for Boston, where he worked as a clerk. Eventually he became a partner in a firm supplying ships in Boston Harbor, and later built ships and operated a sailing line to Australia. He was a prominent member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and acquired the title of Major by meritorious conduct in the Militia and that of Colonel by virtue of his appointment on the staff of Maj. Gen. Samuel Andrews.
While Henry pursued his business in Boston, his brothers and sisters were busy in Harwich. Obed, Jr. was a shopkeeper & merchant, commissioner of the Mashpee Indians and was a founding officer of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and the Cape Cod National Bank. Formed in 1855, the bank was originally housed in the Greek Revival building that today is part of the Brooks Free Library. Sidney founded and built the Pine Grove Seminary, today’s Brooks Academy Museum. The school offered young people an opportunity to extend their education beyond the elementary level, and offered courses in navigation, mathematics, music, art, languages and other subjects. More that 1000 young men and women, “scholars”, passed through the doors of his school in its 20 year history. Sarah built and left a parsonage to the First Parish Church, known today as First Congregational Church. In addition to serving as the first librarian for the Brooks Free Library, sister Tamesin, who was legendary for her business skills and temperance activities, willed Brooks Park to the Town of Harwich.
In the 1880 Henry built a multi-use structure in Harwich Center, the Brooks Block, to house several stores, a free public library and have other uses. Over the years various shops occupied the first floor, including C.S. Hunt, Dry Goods and Furniture; Frank Snow, Parlor Stoves; and Small and Snow, Curtains and Wallpapers. Several upstairs rooms and a small apartment were also rented. The rooms were often let to lawyers for offices or to dressmakers, milliners, and even a barber. Rental monies from these enterprises were meant to support the library, which was located on the east side of the second floor.
With construction of the Brooks Block complete, a reception and open house was held at the library on Thanksgiving Day, 1880. The reference collection was spread out on a large oak table, and the shelves held a collection of 2,500 volumes of fiction, poetry, history and biography, donated by Henry Brooks, as well as a selection of juvenile literature and files of Boston newspapers. Plaster busts of Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Burns, Dickens, and Washington Irving, which can be seen today in the 2nd floor Reference area, were on display.
On January 1, 1881, the library officially opened with Miss Tamesin Brooks, age 60, serving as the first librarian. The Brooks family was very much involved in the operation of the library. Henry Brooks built the building and conceived of the plan to support the library. His brother Sidney and their two sisters, Tamesin and Sarah, arranged, numbered and cataloged the collection.
In June of 1881, Pliny Nickerson of Harwich donated 40 Rogers Groups Statues to the Library. A room adjacent to the library room was opened to house the new collection. The Rogers Groups were plaster statues, very popular at the time, which stood two to three feet tall and depicted themes of contemporary America, the Civil War and everyday life.
Chase Library – “The little library that could”
Chase Library is a quaint neighborhood library in West Harwich where the staff knows your name. In June 2015, the Chase Library was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places!
Our Mission -It is the Mission of the Chase Library Association to provide excellent library services to its patrons, to engage the wider community of Harwich in Chase Library services, to build stronger bonds with the Town of Harwich and to preserve the historic nature of the library.
Our Vision – Promoting the library as a community focal point. Identifying and meeting the needs of a changing population. Committing to providing personalized services.
Our History – Ruth Nickerson started a library called the Sunshine Club in 1905, and began meeting in what is today the Claddagh Inn. She was joined in her efforts by Salome Chase. In 1907, Ruth’s husband, Dr. John P. Nickerson, donated a parcel of land, and Salome’s husband, Col. Caleb Chase, built the present building for $2,100. The stove cost $31.45; paint for the walls, $52.70. The back room was added in 1953, with a bathroom and Children’s area. A new heating system and storm windows were added with Community Preservation funds, and the original wood floors were refinished in 2013.
Please check the Chase Library website — chase-library.com — it’s worth making it a morning stop in your online browsing. We have so many newly published, wonderful books. We have received summer beach reads, literary fiction works and new non-fictions that will delight and inspire you. Come on by and get the feel of each volume before you make your choice!
OR – go to the website – chase-library.com – and click on Virtual Events. On our newly launched Library Speakers Consortium page, clicking on the Event button allows you to view and freely register for the three June talks. Or you may scroll to the bottom of the page to see all the past recordings. There are some wonderful events in that listing – all free to you, any day, any time!!
Harwich Port Library – A century of good reads
There’s nothing better than a summer read, flipping pages under a sunny sky. Harwich is blessed to have multiple libraries where you can find just the right book ¬– one delightful spot is the smaller yet historic Harwich Port Library. Set in a classic Cape-style home, the Harwich Port Library welcomes residents and visitors alike looking for that quiet break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Harwich Port or an easy stop on your way to Bank Street Beach. It is a quaint, out-of-the-way local secret and one of our community’s true delights, dating back to the 1920s.
As with many organizations, the Harwich Port Library did have to move around until it found the perfect spot to build its foundation in the community. Its past homes traveled some truly historic spots in Harwich in the early 1900s, with the first home in the Red Cross Rooms, with the rent being paid by Mr. E.G Eldredge. Subsequently, it moved to J.B. Bakers, then to the other half of the Florence building, followed by the store next to the Modern Theatre. It then made its permanent home in the present location on Bank Street.
The story began in February 1920, with a gift from Mrs. Anne (Harold S.) Van Buren of 400 to 500 books. The next steps were to organize a Board of Directors and develop membership to the Harwich Port Library, which in 1922 was set at 50 cents. As donations came in from notable residents to the library’s building fund, the library was on its way.
Three years later, the volume of books grew to 3,469, and the annual report from the board of directors showed the circulation of 6,880 books for that year. The building fund received a $1,022.90 and a desirable building lot was gifted by summer resident Mrs. Paul Gray of Detroit. Three years later, on July 4, 1925, the building was dedicated with much celebration and fanfare, including 500 people dancing to an orchestra and enjoying a clambake on Ayer Lane.
According to a quote from the July 15, 1925 Harwich Independent, “The Harwich Port Library is established not only in our town but in our hearts and is for the use of the people; but at the same time it should be regarded by the people as a sacred trust to maintain and support”.
There are many reasons why libraries are essential, as they support educational opportunities, preserve cultural heritage and history, provide access to necessary resources, and spark the imagination of generations within our community.
In the digital age, there is still something magical about opening a book ¬– especially when doing so in a library where others have been doing the same for 100 years. Today, it has become a favorite of many residents and visitors alike for its charm, history, location, and special events. During the summer, it is a highlight for many children to have their favorite hometown team, the Harwich Mariners, come to the Harwich Port Library for a special story time.
As the Harwich Port Library celebrates its first 100 years and looks forward to the next 100 years, it is committed to the vision established in the 1920s − serving the community through education and socialization. Be sure to experience the joy of visiting this local classic for your next summer reading adventure.