East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library Celebrates 150 years

In 1848 the Boston Public Library (BPL) was established as a pioneer of public library service in America. It was the first large, free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library and the first to have a children’s room. 

Few may know that first branch library opened 23 years after the Copley Branch on March 22, 1871 was right here on Paris and Meridian Streets. 

At the end of last month, BPL officials celebrated the historic first BPL branch’s 150th Anniversary. To celebrate the history of the East Boston Branch, Branch Librarian Margaret Kelly hosted a lecture on Zoom about the library’s history as well as special trivia games throughout the last week of March. 

“The opening of the East Boston Branch Library was a pivotal moment in the history of the BPL, the City of Boston, and municipal libraries across the country,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Not only did the branch library provide access to other neighborhoods of Boston, the East Boston Branch has historically served a population that has included significant numbers of new Bostonians. Having served such a diverse population for 150 years, the branch is a testament to the BPL’s mission to be truly ‘free to all,’ and a celebration of local community and civic engagement.” 

This first branch in the U.S. was formally dedicated on March 22, 1871 after a soft opening as a reading room on November 28, 1870.   The original 1871 East Boston Branch location was in the old Lyman School building located on Paris and Meridian Streets, sharing space with the East Boston Courthouse. 

Seeing the community’s need for a larger space, the branch temporarily relocated to the Austin School on Paris Street in 1912 while a new branch library was constructed at 276 Meridian Street. A second Eastie branch was later located in Orient Heights on Barnes Avenue. 

This new Meridian Street location opened on April 21, 1914, and the East Boston Branch remained there until its most recent relocation to Bremen Street Park in 2013. The consolidated Bremen Street location served as a replacement for the former Meridian Street and Orient Heights Branches. 

According to BPS the most notable figure to support the East Boston Branch was President John F. Kennedy, whose father and grandfather grew up in Eastie. 

Kennedy anonymously gifted the East Boston Branch Library a record player, amplifier, and loudspeaker, which led to the creation of the first music listening room within the BPL. 

One relic of JFK’s connection to the branch remains and is a 1946 telegram in which then-Congressman Kennedy congratulates the East Boston Branch on its 75th anniversary. 

“The richness of diversity in East Boston has been and continues to be reflected in the branch as a vital hub and gathering spot for community engagement, reading, learning new skills, meeting neighbors, and simply having fun,” said Margaret Kelly. “We are so excited to be celebrating 150 years of library service, and we look forward to many more years of engaging with the East Boston community.” 

The East Boston community has long been a constantly changing portrait of the people of Boston. Since its opening, the branch has proudly served a vibrant and diverse community starting with waves of Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants in its earliest days, and more recently welcoming many patrons from countries in Central and South America and North Africa. 

 At its current location, the 15,000-square-foot branch includes a reading porch, the first library teen zone in Eastie, and the BPL’s first dedicated early literacy nook. With views of Bremen Park and the Boston skyline, the building includes eco-friendly features such as storm water management to conserve water, sustainably harvested and certified wood, floor-fed ventilations and conditioning, high-performance glass, and a reflective roof. In 2016, the East Boston Branch won a Best of Boston Award for “Best Neighborhood Diversion.” 

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