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Literary Landmark: 1906

Literary Landmark: 1906

Circa 1906. "Cossitt Library, Memphis." This Romanesque red sandstone structure, at Front and Monroe on the banks of the Mississippi, was Memphis's first public library when it opened in 1893. Detroit Publishing. View full size.


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I love to dabble in photoshop and this photo just seemed to cry out for some color. I have no idea whatsoever if this is even CLOSE to the original color, but it's what I saw in my mind.

I give you the photo because all I wanted to do was colorize it. I did so and had a lot of fun doing it. I don't make money off it, I just have fun with it.

Thank you for bringing us so many wonderful memories.

[Ooh. It's beautiful! Click below to enlarge. - Dave]


An excellent guide to Memphis architecture I have explains that the red sandstone used to build the library began to deteriorate and experts at the time determined that it could not be saved as it was. Most of it was torn down and an International Style structure took its place. Though some of the original red sandstone can be seen in the back (river-facing) side.

Oh, if only...

we still created public buildings with the same pride and care. I think I could get my kids to actually want to go to the library if they felt they were heading to a "castle." I see pics of European castles/buildings which simply make me sigh. Our "boxes" and public structures leave so much to be desired. Many people build their own personal castles (mansions) but only they and their neighbors get joy from these. I want to go to this library and read for hours!

A Trip to the Library

In the late 1930s we went by public streetcar (later by bus) downtown to this library. We got off at Court Square and walked across the square, passing Woolworth's on Main Street on our way. When I was a bit older, I was allowed to make this trip alone. Every Saturday I climbed these steps and entered the cool porch and then what seemed to me a sanctuary of quiet and wonder. The librarian would sometimes notice what I was returning and recommend a book or an author and I happily browsed the shelves and sat in the reading room which had windows on the river. After I checked out my books -- limited to four, so the selection took a while -- I retraced my steps to Woolworth's where I would stop for a little shopping, real or imagined, and a wonderfully real pineapple ice cream soda. The building seen to the right in the photo is the Post Office.

The Cossitt Today

The Cossitt Library is right up the street from where I work. It's true that it was "modernized" into an appliance like structure that looks more like an air conditioner than a public building many years ago. However, part of the original red sandstone structure still exists. It faces the river. The turret (actually almost all of what is visible in this photo) was "replaced" with the new box building and it actually is attached over some of the original building. It's always under the threat of being closed, but has somehow managed to stay open. Seems to be deserving of restoration. We managed to save the Overton Park Shell (now the Levitt Shell) and built a replica of the demolished Stax studios as the Stax museum so it seems to be possible, even though it rarely happens.


Gorgeous. Reminds me of Stewart Hall at West Virginia University:

Romanesque libraries

I lived in Memphis in the 1980s and can testify that much of the charm of the late 1800s has disappeared and replaced by 1960s boxes.

Warner, New Hampshire, has a charming example of a small Romanesque library that has been tastefully and thoughtfully enlarged.,_New_Hampshire

High res pics

If you don't mind me asking, how did you go about getting these recent high resolution images? I know the HABS/HAER collection has good hi-res pics and so do the G.G. Bain and National Photo (Washington D.C.) images you typically feature, but I have only seen very low-res images in the Detroit Publishing collection at the LoC website.

Have they added a high res section for this I didn't know about or do you just have to query them for high res versions of individual images? Thanks for the info.

[The Reproduction Number series LC-DIG-det has 397 Detroit Publishing images with hi-res tiffs. - Dave]


What a beautiful sight. Was this a Carnegie library? Will someone post a picture of the site today?

Worse Than Gone

The Cossitt Library is still in the same place, but it's now an ugly 1960s box. The magnificent Romanesque building was demolished in the interest of whatever people were thinking at the time. It's said in Memphis that the Crossitt Library is now imperiled because the site is valuable for development. Alas, it hardly seems to matter.

The Cossitt, R.I.P.

Unfortunately, this beautiful building was razed in the late 50's and replaced with a much less graceful structure. I've seen this shot of the library before but at a much lower resolution. Here's an example:

The two things that stand out to me in this shot are the cobblestone, which today are only visible down at the river landing at the bottom of the slope, and the river channel in the background. The Arkansas bank is now shored up to support the I-40 bridge a mile to the north and the I-55 bridge maybe a mile to the south.

All in all, a marvelous shot. Thanks for sharing, I know just who will enjoy this print come Christmas.


Any chance of an enlargement of the flyers on the pole?

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