Henry Wells’ Enduring Legacy

Posted May 7th, 2015. No comments

As mentioned in our last blog post, ACPL has been spring cleaning. We’ve excavated closets and storage areas seldom visited. Along the way, we’ve run across long-lost mementos, including boxes of 19th-century books. Well, perhaps not lost, but long-stashed away. Most of these books are remnants of the original Wells Library.

In 1866, the Village of Albany opened a small library named after Henry Wells, its benefactor. Wells was a local merchant who died at age 28. He left $250 to the village to buy books for a library and established a $1,000 endowment for on-going support. The Wells Library joined the countys public library system in 1974, but still maintains its name.

These books have not been a part of the library’s circulating collection in a long time. Most of the titles would challenge the attention of even the most astute student: The Ohio Railway Report of 1880, Tales from Blackwood in 13+ volumes, A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle: To Which is Added a Lecture on Plantinum, or Religious Emblems: Being a Series of Emblematic Engravings, with Written Explanations, Miscellaneous Observations, and Religious Reflections, Designed to Illustrate Divine Truth in Accordance with the Cardinal Principles of Christianity.

There are, however, interesting aspects to even the most platitudinal title. Just holding a 150-year old book feels special: admiring the handcrafted end papers; touching a leather binding that’s still soft; seeing a color plate that would have added great expense to a book’s production.

We can also see clues about how the library was arranged. Melvil Dewey didn’t introduce his system of organizing book collections until 1876. The Wells Library used bookplates that gave a specific shelf location. This was book number 73 and should be shelved in section B, shelf 7:

The public library in Albany has a marble monument in the lobby dedicated to Henry Wells. It’s a simple Doric column representing the wisdom of a learned society, broken to symbolize Wells’ early death. The monument was made by J. N. Smith of Pomeroy in the 1860’s and has always been present at the various locations of the library, from the Albany Masonic Lodge to the old village building to its the current location on Washington Road.

Mr. Wells would be happy to know that 155 years later his $1,000 endowment is still generating money for his library and community. In November, 2014 ACPL received $15 from his fund.

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