Newburyport was one of the first 10 communities in Massachusetts to establish a public library after the passage of an 1851 general law permitting towns to maintain public libraries through municipal taxation. The first public library opened in 1854 in what is now a floor of City Hall. The library was so popular that city leaders saw the need for an expanded space.
When the Tracy Mansion became available, plans to establish a stand-alone structure began in 1864, and library operations were relocated there in 1865.
Historians say that in 1870, the first public newspaper reading room in the country was established there.
A two-story addition, the Simpson Annex, was constructed in 1881 and other renovations were added in the 1880s.
In 1900 the stacks were opened for residents to browse, and in the 1920s, library leaders developed a reference department and a children’s room.
Computers were added in 1985, and online resources have become a centerpiece of the library’s mission in recent years.
For close to a century the local YMCA stood next to the library, making that block on State Street among the most picturesque in the city. But the YMCA was destroyed by fire in the late 1980s.
With an open parcel next door and demand growing for larger facilities, library trustees launched an initiative to raise $6.8 million to renovate and expand Tracy Mansion.
In October 1999, the library was moved to a building in the industrial park while construction took place.
The “new” public library at 94 State St. opened in October of 2001, and remains one of the intellectual hubs of this community.
Among its assets is an archive center in the basement that serves visitors from around the country.
“It was a nine-year project to plan to move to the park, transfer the inventory, and then begin the work on the renovated structure,” said Dottie LaFrance, who was head librarian from 1978 to 2008. “We were excited to come back and see the expansion and a restored historic library that could provide services in the 21st century.”