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Blackstone Library

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Blackstone Library
20061028 Blackstone Library Front.JPG
Front of Blackstone Library
General information
Town or city 4904 South Lake Park Avenue
Chicago, IL, Illinois
Country United States
Construction started 1902
Completed 1904
Design and construction
Architect Solon S. Beman

T. B. Blackstone Memorial Library is a building that is part of the Chicago Public Library System and is named after Timothy Blackstone. The building was designed by Chicago architect Solon S. Beman. It is now known as the Chicago Public Library – Blackstone Branch and commonly referred to as Blackstone Library, or Blackstone Branch and sometimes Blackstone for short. The Concord Granite building's two-year construction started in 1902, and it was dedicated on January 8, 1904.[1] Blackstone Library marks the beginning of the Chicago Branch Library System as the first dedicated branch in the system.[2] Blackstone is also the only branch of the 79-branch Chicago Public Library branch system that was constructed using private funding.[1]

The building is located in Chicago's Kenwood community area in Cook County, Illinois, United States and serves the Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Oakland community areas. The branch celebrated its 100th anniversary of service in 2004.[3] Today, the library has bronze and mahogony furnishings and has themed paintings on the rotunda ceiling. The library is equipped with custom-designed furniture and makes public Wi-Fi access available to its patrons.


Blackstone Library Rotunda and Checkout Area, murals by Oliver Dennett Grover

The library was dedicated to the memory of Timothy Beach Blackstone, President of the Chicago and Alton Railroad from 1864 to 1899,[1][2][4] a period longer than any of his contemporaries. Blackstone, who had died on May 26, 1900, was also the founding president of the Union Stock Yards.[2] He had owned the property on which the Blackstone Library now stands, and he donated this tract for the construction of the library after his death. The library was built on the tract through a codicil in his will, carried out by his wife, Isabella Norton Blackstone (1838–1928), after his death. Blackstone Library was his contribution to the city where he had made his fortune and stands as a monument to his generosity. Blackstone is 13,794 sq ft (1,281.5 m2) and its original cost was $250,000 ($7,071,154 today).[3][5]

Although the Blackstones lived downtown, they maintained numerous close friendships in the affluent Hyde Park neighborhood, which then included what is now called the Kenwood community area. Prior to the donation of the Blackstone Library, the Chicago Public Library System had been renting reading room spaces around the city and had been seeking stand alone branches.[1] On January 8, 1904, Isabella Blackstone handed the keys and deed to the Timothy B. Blackstone Library to the city's Library Board members. Blackstone Library became the first branch library in the Chicago Public Library System.[1] The building retains a Lake Park Avenue address although the neighboring section of Lake Park was moved about a half a block east several decades ago.

At least three renovations have occurred, which have expanded, renovated and updated the library.[1] From 1938–1939 the new children's room annex, a Works Progress Administration project,[1] was added at a cost of $68,400 ($1,203,382).[3] During this annexation one of a set of Howard Van Doren Shaw townhouses was razed.[7] From 1977–1980 a major restorative renovation occurred.[4] Blackstone was rededicated on November 18, 1980, in recognition of completion of the three years of work.[4] There was also a 2004 renovation for the centennial.

Blackstone donated a larger James Blackstone Memorial Library (1891, opened 1893), in his father's memory to Branford, Connecticut, Blackstone's birthplace. In addition to the James Blackstone Library in Branford, there is a library named "Blackstone Library" in Blackstone, MA.[8] The architect for both the Branford and Chicago libraries was Solon S. Beman.


Interior of the library, 1904

As one of the 79 Chicago Public Library branch libraries, Blackstone Library serves the Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Oakland community areas. These communities include 17 elementary schools and 4 high schools.[3] The 2000 census service area population was 50,084.[3]

In 2003, the "Friends of Blackstone Branch Library" was formed, making the Blackstone Branch one of approximately 34 branches to have such a support group. The volunteer support group attempts to "serve as an advisory council for Chicago's first branch library, promote use and improvement of the library, and provide volunteer and fundraising services for Blackstone".[3]

The Blackstone Library participates in most Chicago Public Library programs and partnerships, including Great Kids Museum Passport Program, the Monthly Adult Book Club Discussion as well as many annual events and activities.[9] The branch also partners with neighborhood institutions such as the Hyde Park Art Center and the Smart Museum for programs and workshops. Like all branches, the library provides both free wi-fi access and free terminals with both internet access and printing facilities. Blackstone has 5 internet terminals requiring reservations for each session of up to one hour and 1 express terminal that does not require reservations for sessions of up to 15 minutes. Currently, patrons can use the terminals for up to two free internet sessions per day and print for a small charge per page anywhere in the Chicago Public Library system.[10]


Bronze Doors
Rotunda Mural

The building was designed by the architect Solon S. Beman and modeled after Beman's Merchant Tailors Building, the domed temple facing the lagoon in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition,[11] and the Erechtheum at the Athenian Acropolis.[1][2] Greek Mythology teaches that Demeter, the goddess, bestowed agriculture and civilization upon the world during Erechtheus's reign.[2] The library's rotunda murals have thematic titles: "Labor", "Literature", "Art" and "Science".[12]

The following is a summary of the building's features:[1] Tiffany style dome; Marble column and walls in the rotunda and foyer; 4 overhead rotunda murals painted by Oliver Dennett Grover, mural painter for the World Columbian Exposition; 1 in (2.5 cm) square Italian marble mosaic flooring; glass-floored mezzanine; 2,800 pounds (1,300 kg) bronze plate, solid copper core outer front doors; 2 150 pounds (68 kg) lbs. bronze and glass inner doors; 12 inches (30 cm) thick granite walls; and ionic columns.

The building's adult reading room is equipped with mahogany furniture specifically designed for the space.[3] It also contains matching built-in shelving and custom-made bronze lamps.[3] The circulation desk area has two-tiered bronze-trimmed book stacks.[3] The mezzanine floor is composed of glass blocks.[3]

Related structures and ways[edit]

Rear of Blackstone Library from 49th St and Blackstone Ave

Although parts of South Blackstone Avenue south of 53rd Street accommodate two-way traffic, near the library it is a northbound street that accommodates one-way traffic running north along the 1436 east block and ending immediately to the west of (behind) the Blackstone Library at 4900 south (see Kenwood map in external links below and picture to the right). The street was also named after Timothy Blackstone well after the library was built.[1][13] The Blackstone Library does not bear a Blackstone Avenue address, despite its proximity. Blackstone Hotel and adjacent Blackstone Theatre (now the Merle Reskin Theatre) would also be named after Timothy Blackstone, whose mansion had stood on their site.

Photo gallery[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Blackstone Branch, Chicago Public Libraries. Celebrating its Centennial". Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Blackstone: About this Library". Chicago Public Library. Archived from the original on March 18, 2009. Retrieved July 23, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Friends of Blackstone Branch Library". Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. Retrieved April 9, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c "History of the Chicago Public Library". Chicago Public Library. August 2000. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  5. ^ "Blackstone Branch Library: 100 years (Profile)". Chicago Public Library. June 2004. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  6. ^ Couper, Greta Elena, ‘’An American Sculptor on the grand Tour: The Life and Works of William Couper (1853–1942) TreCavalli Press, Los Angeles, California, 1988 p 101
  7. ^ "Howard Van Doren Shaw in Hyde Park". Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Blackstone Public Library". Blackstone Public Library. Retrieved April 7, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Programs and Partnerships". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Reserve a Computer". Chicago Public Library. Archived from the original on July 8, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  11. ^ AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd edition, Alice Sinkevitch, ed., 2004, Harcourt Books Inc., pg. 426. ISBN 0-15-602908-1
  12. ^ Pickerill, Carl (May 10, 2005). "Local library offers Hyde Park a smaller alternative to the Reg". Chicago Maroon. Archived from the original on April 27, 2007. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  13. ^ Hayner, Don and Tom McNamee, Streetwise Chicago, "Blackstone Avenue", p. 12, Loyola University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8294-0597-6

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°48′21″N 87°35′25″W / 41.805800°N 87.590250°W / 41.805800; -87.590250