The Octagon Room

Part Three: Ancient Things…Scattered Promiscuously

Throughout the 1880’s the Library Trustees continued to acquire objects for the “antique department” with more than 120 separate accessions recorded by 1889. The acquisitions were listed briefly in the Librarian’s annual reports but there is no discussion of the Museum itself which was clearly secondary to the main mission of the Library: to provide books to the public. While the 1881 Woburn Advertiser article introducing the Museum to the public was positive, a less complimentary story was published later in the decade, in the Woburn Journal on November 22, 1889. Innocuously titled “The Library Museum,” the article, written anonymously on behalf of the Journal, begins by citing “the collection of antique and curious things which many interested and thoughtful people …. gathered together and deposited without much attempt at order in one of the large rooms in the basement of our public library.” Noting that the Museum is something that the people of Woburn have a right to feel proud of, the writer goes on to describe the collection:

 

It is large and consists of an almost endless variety of ancient farm and household Implements,  kitchen and parlor furniture, products of field and loom, of the smiths’s shop and the potteries of our own and foreign lands, and represents almost every domestic and other industry that flourished under the sun.

The author then acknowledges that the main purpose of writing the article is “to draw the attention of the Trustees of the Library to the importance of furnishing better accommodations for this rare collection….” This is done by repeatedly juxtaposing the value and importance of the collection with the inadequacies of the space:

 

In the collection of ancient things now scattered promiscuously throughout a room not one quarter the capacity demanded by its size there is the making of a museum that might easily become the pride of our city and a strong attraction to the many people who visit the Library to enjoy its architectural beauty, its fine art gallery, rich natural history collection, and its 25,000 books from neighboring communities almost every day in the year.

The writer proceeds to take the reader on a tour, telling how “the visitor enters the door from the basement hallway to the small, dark room which contains this rare and choice aggregation of all sorts of things curious and strange to modern eyes….” The museum objects are described in detail before the author circles back to the main object of the article: “to plead with the Trustees of the Public Library for suitable quarters for this numerous and valuable collection of the relics of bygone days…”

The article concludes by asking, “Shall we have the Museum, gentlemen Trustees?”

In 1889 the library was electrified and the gas lights were replaced, which should have helped with the inadequate lighting in the basement noted in the piece. The author’s entreaties though were in vain regarding the larger point of finding a more suitable space for the collection, as the Museum would remain in the basement for another twenty-five years. Meanwhile the Cummings Natural History collection, acquired in 1888, would receive most of the attention and accolades; the subject of next week’s blog post.