The Providence Athenaeum, circa 1958. (U.S. Government Photo)
The Providence Athenaeum, founded as "The Athenaeum" in 1836, is an independent, member-supported library open to the public. Its progenitors were two earlier libraries, The Providence Library Company, founded in 1753 and the Providence Athenaeum, founded in 1831; it became "The Providence Athenaeum" by amendment to its charter in 1850.
In 1753 a group of private citizens started The Providence Library Company to gain access to a collection of books that they could not afford individually. Members paid a small subscription fee to the library to purchase books which all members could share. Stephen Hopkins, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, was a leading member of the early organization. Many of the early books had to be purchased from England. In 1758, a fire destroyed the first collection of books, which were then housed at the Providence court house. Shortly after Brown University moved to Providence in 1770, the library offered students the use of its books. In 1836 the Providence Library Company merged with the Providence Atheneum (founded in 1831), and the merged organization became known as the Providence Athenaeum. In 1838 a new Greek Revival building was completed on Benefit Street by the Philadelphia architect, William Strickland.