Founding and Early History
Pequot Library is listed in the The National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation.
Pequot Library was founded in 1889 by Elbert B. and Virginia Marquand Monroe, residents of Southport, Connecticut. Mrs. Monroe was the adopted daughter of successful Fairfield businessman Frederick Marquand. Marquand and his brothers were leaders in the cultural life of late 19th century America. Frederick was a major donor to Yale and Union Theological Seminary, and his brother Henry G. Marquand was President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during the time Pequot Library was founded. On his death, Marquand left to his daughter his home in Southport and his fortune and, out of these assets, grew one of the most remarkable libraries in the country.
Mr. and Mrs. Monroe were assisted in founding Pequot Library by Rev. William Holman. While at Harvard, Holman had been influenced by the noted American historian Justin Winsor, Head Librarian at Harvard and a founding president of the American Library Association. Under Holman’s guidance, the Monroes filled the Library with the best circulating and reference collection available for children as well as adults. Their truly unique contribution, however, was the creation of the Special Collections, now one of the most important and concentrated collections of its kind in America. It consists of approximately 30,000 rare books and other materials. These Collections are an unparallel resource for understanding the history of the exploration of the New World and early America through the Civil War. They also include internationally important material on natural history and the art and history of the book.
The Library building, designed by noted American architect Robert H. Robertson, was erected in 1893 on the grounds of the Marquand home. In April 1894, the doors of the Library opened to the public, and, since that time, the Library has served a broad public. The auditorium, one of the most stunning architectural spaces in New England, is alive with activity—lectures, workshops, concerts, kids programs, art shows, and so much more—making the Library a true cultural center for the whole region.
Since the time of the original gift of the Library from the Monroes, the rest of the community has taken up the challenge and made the responsibility of caring for the Library their own. Another Southport resident, Mrs. Mary C. Wakeman was one of the Library’s early benefactors, and she helped the Monroes realize their dream. In 1897, she funded a building addition designed by the original architect that doubled the Library’s square footage and enabled it to house an additional 50,000 volumes. Later, she donated a Tiffany stained-glass triptych window for the Library’s stack wing in memory of her daughter, Mary Hull Taintor.
Growing with the Community
Through the years, Pequot Library has benefited immeasurably from the generosity of many others in the community. Some gave books, either to the Special Collection or to the general collection, such as Dr. Abraham S. Sturges, Mrs. Edwin S. Waterman, or Cyrus Sherwood Bradley. Local families such as the Bulkleys have given their papers to the Library, and provide the financial support to help care for them.
By the 1950s, the Library’s use by the community had increased dramatically. At the same time, the Special Collections had also steadily risen in value. Public handling and use of the Special Collections had continued to increase, and the Library’s Board of Trustees (the “Trustees”) struggled with security, preservation, insurance and building maintenance issues.
To deal with these issues, in 1952, the Trustees approved a loan agreement with Yale University pursuant to which 812 books and 1,062 manuscripts belonging to the Library were placed on long-term loan in the Beineke Library. Under the terms of the agreement, all of the material was to be preserved, made available to researchers, and fully insured.
The 800 books and 1000 manuscripts that went to Yale represent only a small percentage of Pequot’s Special Collections: 30,000 in the Special Collection items remained at the Library until 2004, when they were transferred to the New England Library Depository (operated by William B. Meyer) for storage until the new addition with its Pequot Library Center for Special Collections can be constructed.
In the 1970s, as book collections grew and visitors increased, a children’s wing was added offering increased space for children and students. Pequot continues to offer many programs especially tailored to help students of all ages make the best possible use of the rich resources at the Library. The number of younger patrons regularly using Pequot Library has increased so dramatically that redesigning and expanding the Children and Young Adult areas, along with the state-of-the art facility for the Special Collections, is a top priority for the future.
The community has increasingly embraced Pequot Library as a major cultural center. Over the years, it has become a center of civic pride, and the wonderful experiences that generations of area residents have shared at the Library are part of what brings us together as a community. Each year over 100,000 thousands of people from throughout the entire region come to the Library to use these collections or to attend one of the over 200 high level educational or musical programs presented at the Library each year. Some of these are presented by the Library alone, many others are presented in collaboration with a whole host of other collaborative partners in the community such as Music for Youth, the Westport Arts Center, Fairfield University, and many more.
Pequot has integrated new technologies in its management of its collections. In May 2001, Pequot joined the other Fairfield Libraries in the new user-friendly integrated computer library system called SIRSI. Books can be picked up and returned at any of the three locations, and holds and renewals can be placed online from home. Pequot Library now fully shares resources with Fairfield Public Library and Fairfield Woods Branch Library, the Connecticut State Library, and other groups. It has invested in many on-line resources such as the musical databases that are available on its web site.
Pequot Library has grown into a true American treasure. It has been serving the communities of Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and the entire region for over 125 years. It brings literature, music, art, and learning into the lives of countless families. It is a place where children are welcome and safe, and introduced to the magic of reading. In short, Pequot Library exemplifies what a great library should be.
For the future, Pequot Library will continue its strong and enduring commitment to the basic elements of its mission. Its strategic plans include the renovation of the existing building and the construction of a modest addition. This will enable the Library to expand its services to children and to create of a state-of-the-art Special Collection facility, where a collection focused through careful collection management on the primary area of interest of the Library’s founders—Americana and local history—will be carefully protected and more fully accessible by a broad array of patrons who will be more aware of their existence by the staff’s efforts to integrate it into the day-to-day life of the Library and through an effective and wide-ranging promotional plan.
Successful fund-raising efforts will not only build and equip this newly renovated and expanded Library, but a subsequent endowment campaign will ensure that Pequot Library has the institutional capacity to fulfill its mission for generations to come. As the cap-stone of that plan for the Special Collections, the increased institutional capacity of the Library will permit the material currently on loan to Yale to be reclaimed and returned home to Pequot Library where it belongs.