Enoch Pratt Free Library

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Enoch Pratt Free Library
Enoch Pratt Logo.tif
Type Free, (Municipal/State) Public Library
Established 1882/1886[1]
Location 400 Cathedral Street, (between West Franklin and Mulberry Streets), Baltimore, Maryland
Branches 22[2]
Other information
Director Chief Executive Officer/Director Carla D. Hayden, Ph.D[3]
Website http://www.prattlibrary.org, http://www.epfl.net
Enoch Pratt Free Library, Central Library building, Cathedral Street main entrance.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is the free public library system of the City of Baltimore, Maryland. Its Central Library is located at 400 Cathedral Street and occupies the northeastern three-quarters of a city block bounded by West Franklin Street to the north, Cathedral Street to the east, West Mulberry Street to the south and Park Avenue to the west. Located on historic Cathedral Hill, north of the downtown business district, the library is also in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighborhood and cultural/historic district. The Cathedral Street Main Library is the flagship of the entire Enoch Pratt Free Library system, now with twenty-two community and regional branches, it was designated the "Maryland State Library Resource Center" by the General Assembly of Maryland in 1971.[1][2]

Its establishment began on January 21, 1882 when long-time local hardware merchant, banking and steamship company executive (but born and raised in Massachusetts) and philanthropist Enoch Pratt, (1808-1896), offered a gift of a central library, four branch libraries (with two additional shortly thereafter), and a financial endowment of US $1,058,333 in a significant piece of correspondence to Mayor William Pinkney Whyte and the City Council of Baltimore. His intention was to establish a public circulating library that (as he described it): "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them." The grant was accepted by the municipal government and approved by the voters later that year in an election on October 25.[1]

Central Library building (Main Branch)[edit]

Original (1886-1933)[edit]

Proposed by local merchant and financier Enoch Pratt, (1808-1896) in a letter to the Baltimore City Council in January 21, 1882, offered to donate and construct a free public library with several neighborhood branches open to all the citizens of the City of Baltimore (and its surrounding environs). After some debate and discussion which was also widely reported in the local newspapers, the mayor and council accepted the gift and the terms of its conditions later that year, which were subsequently approved by the citizens in a referendum held during an election that October, 1882. Construction of a "Central Branch" (now known as "Old Central") began later that year. The original Central Library building opened on January 5, 1886 .[1] Part of Pratt's donation to the city, it was originally valued at approximately $250,000 and was accompanied by the gift of initially four other neighborhood branches in the quadrants of the city which also opened that year and were soon joined by two others, along with an endowment of $1,058,000 (in 1880's money). However, always a very thrifty man, Mr. Pratt provided that the bricks from the three 1820's-era townhouses that were to be demolished for his new city library were to be knocked off, cleaned and re-used in constructing a parish house and hall for his church, the historic landmark First Independent Church of Baltimore, later renamed the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, (Unitarian and Universalist, following a 1935 merger) of which he was a very faithful, supportive and dominating member. In 2000, the Parish Hall/offices at the rear and north of the architecturally-significant church, facing along North Charles Street and West Hamilton Street alley were renamed in honor of the long-ago efforts and support of Mr. Pratt, joining the library and the later Sheppard-Pratt Hospital (for mental health) that bears his name.

It occupied a fraction of the same plot of land as its successor 47 years later, with its stepped entrance and large rounded windows facing West Mulberry Street near the corner of Cathedral Street, across from the Catholic boys high school Calvert Hall College, which had been founded in 1845, run by the Christian Brothers which opened just a few years later on that site, from 1890-1960 (later replaced in 1963 by the present Archdiocesan office building, ("Catholic Center") of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore). Designed by Charles L. Carson, the "Old Central" with its elaborate and baroque "Romanesque Revival architecture" became a target of criticism from journalists during the structure's final years of existence. The famed editor, columnist and author H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun, in one of his more spiteful quotes judged that it was "so infernally hideous that it ought to be pulled down by the common hangman." (although he was a frequent and prolific user of its southwest neighborhood original Branch #2 at Calhoun and Hollins Streets[4] By the late 1920s the "Old Central" building (along with a rear annex) could no longer hold the library's continually expanding collection.[5] It was razed along with several adjacent townhouses around the corner to the east facing Cathedral Street (including a significant one formerly owned by Robert Goodloe Harper) in 1931 to make room for its replacement structure, which occupied the entire block facing the "Old Baltimore Cathedral"; now designated the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and constructed 1806-1821, as the first Roman Catholic Cathedral constructed in America under Bishop John Carroll, also the first ordained bishop to lead in America.[4] The Central Pratt Library's staff, services and 400,000 volumes were relocated to temporary quarters at the old Rouse-Hempstone Building for the Armstrong-Cator Company at West Redwood Street and Hopkins Place (now the site of the Royal Farms Arena, previously the old Baltimore Civic Center of 1962), for a two-year stay during 1931-1933. It was here although at a "temporary location", that the Central Pratt was able to reorganize and plan for its future arrangements of departments and use a "test-run" of its soon-to-be famous "department store windows" displays[1]


A $3,000,000 loan for a new Central Library was approved by Baltimore City's voters by an almost 3-to-1 margin on May 3, 1927. Construction began on June 1931, during the darkest, most difficult days of the financial "Great Depression" and along with other major construction projects occurring at that time with the building of a new U.S. Courthouse and Post Office at Battle Monument Square at North Calvert and East Lexington-Fayette Streets, and the new Municipal Office Building on Holliday Street, across from the old Baltimore City Hall and the new Federal Courthouse/Post Office, offered an important source of desperately needed employment to the hundreds of out-of-work citizens of the city.[1] The building was completed in January 1933, and opened to the public on February 3rd, with a record of not one day of suspended service since the original beginnings of "Enoch Pratt's Folly" on January 5, 1886.[6]

Maryland Department Room[edit]

The Maryland Department Room, located on the second floor of the 2004 Annex, contains many of the library's prize collections. These include 275,000 mounted documents (mostly newspaper articles), 2100 maps, 6000 pieces of ephemera, and 24,000 photographs, all relevant to Maryland and Maryland history.[7] The Maryland room also has a room full of books pertaining to Maryland, with an emphasis on Baltimore.

Most materials in the Maryland Room are non-circulating but available for patrons to examine.

Notable Library Statistics[edit]

Central Hall, Central Library building.

In 2010, there were two million visits to Pratt, a 58% increase over the previous two years — more people than attended Ravens games. Pratt's award-winning website got 2,600,000 hits. 106,000 children, teens and their families participated in child and teen programs. Children and teens read 220,000 books in the Summer Reading Program. There are 600 computers available system-wide for public use.


Pratt's branches serve the unique needs of patrons in their neighborhoods. For example, the Southeast Anchor Library has a program for new speakers of English and Spanish to practice their conversation skills informally.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f History of the Library – Enoch Pratt Free Library.
  2. ^ a b Library Locations Interactive Map – Enoch Pratt Free Library.
  3. ^ "About The Library". Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Later although other published architectural historians and historic preservationists have since been much more charitable to the "Old Central's" style and contribution to the fabric of Baltimore's tremendous 19th Century architectural collection of buildings and the more modern greater appreciation of the "High Victorian-era style of architecture and the unfortunate loss of additional Georgian/Federal-era townhouses on Cathedral Street which predominated in the neighborhood and still exist just west and north of the "New Library".Zajac, Mary K. "A cathedral of books," Style Magazine (Baltimore), September-October 2011.
  5. ^ Gunts, Edward. "A new chapter is opening for the Pratt Library," The Baltimore Sun, Sunday, November 2, 2003.
  6. ^ Information about the Central Library and its Central Hall – Enoch Pratt Free Library.
  7. ^ Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Maryland Department: About the Collection". Retrieved 17 July 2012. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]