Georgetown Library History

Georgetown Library History

Georgetown library

When the Georgetown branch of the DC Public Library opened at 3260 R St. NW in October 1935, the press heralded it as "the pride of the community." The library, built on the former site of the Georgetown Reservoir, was designed by D.C. Municipal Architect Nathan C. Wyeth and funded by $150,000 included in the District's Appropriation Act of 1935. Georgetown's Peabody Room, housed on the second floor, is the only separate collection on local history in a neighborhood library. The library is located within the Georgetown National Register Historic District designated in 1967.

George PeabodyIn 1867, George Peabody, a wealthy merchant and financier who got his start in the District, established a fund for the purpose of building a library in Georgetown. Peabody expressed his wish to donate a gift to residents in a declaration to his selected Board of Trustees:

"Gentlemen: As most of you are aware, I am, and have been for some time, desirous of making some gift which would be productive of some benefit to the Citizens of Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, where I commenced business for myself in my early youth. I am persuaded that I can not better do so than by endeavoring to assist them in their own endeavors to cultivate a healthful, moral, and intellectual progress; and therefore give, gentlemen, the sum of fifteen thousand dollars to be, by you and your successors, held in trust as a fund for a public library, to be established in the city of Georgetown."

The library was not established, however, until after Peabody's death. The Board of Trustees of the Peabody Library Association, headed by W.W. Corcoran, invested the money donated by Peabody. It continued to accumulate until 1872, when the board of trustees of the D.C. Public Schools offered a room in the new Curtis School on O Street opposite St. John's Church. The offer of this rent-free space was accepted by the board, and arrangements were made to furnish the space with books and furniture.

The Peabody Library opened to the public in March 1875. But by the early 1930s, Georgetown had outgrown the Peabody Library. Lead by Dorsey Hyde, secretary of the Washington Chamber of Commerce, a library committee and various citizens' associations set out to establish a new public library branch in Georgetown. 

A home of their own

Georgetown Library photos from 1935An article dated March 1935 in The Journal of the Education Association praised the site of the new Georgetown branch atop the crest of a hill, stating that its site " symbolic of the high purpose of the Public Library as the institution which keeps alight the lamp of learning after formal educational agencies have completed their task." 

The 1935 District Appropriation Act provided $150,000 for building and furnishing the Georgetown building. The Georgetown branch was designed by the District's Municipal Architect, Nathan Corwith Wyeth, in the Georgian Revival style that dominated public architecture of the period in D.C. Wyeth was an accomplished architect who came to Washington in 1899 after training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and working in New York with the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings for several years.

Wyeth’s plan for the Georgetown Neighborhood Library was intended to make the most use of space while giving close attention to the interior and exterior design of the building. The exterior was designed in the Georgian Revival style in order to blend with the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood. Attention was paid to finishes and details, including the stone and brick details of the exterior and the mahogany trim on the interior. 

Changes to Georgetown library

Georgetown Library, 1971In 1977, the branch was designated one of four regional branches, meaning it maintained a larger book collection, was open longer hours, and provided administrative coordination and staff support for the local branches. The new regional system was organized in response to fiscal constraints, allowing the library to centralize administrative services and pool its collections.

The Georgetown library has undergone several renovations, including a modernization program completed in 1976. However, the most significant renovations went underway after fire severely damaged the building on April 30, 2007. Martinez & Johnson Architects, in partnership with Hoshide Williams, were hired to design the renovation of this historic building.

The renovation restored the historical aspects, while also adding modern improvements, including improved ADA access, new children's and teen's spaces and removal of the old mezzanine level. A third floor was also added, as space for the Peabody Collection & Reading Room. 

The Peabody Room serves as the city's only special collection of Georgetown history. The collection of the Peabody Library was transferred to the public branch when it opened in its own building in 1935. Items relating to Georgetown history became the basis for the Peabody Room, while other books were transferred either to the branch or to the main library collection. A separate room, the Peabody Room, was established to house the former library's collection of Georgetowniana, including books, maps, photographs, documents, letters, scrapbooks and clippings relating to the people and places of Georgetown.

In 1979, the Peabody trustees dissolved its association and turned its collections and assets over to the Public Library with the proviso that the collection remain intact at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library.