Carpenters' Hall

Franklin's Library Company

Scientific equipment owned by Franklin's Library Company was stored in the second floor room now occupied by the Carpenters'Company library. His lending library was across the hall.

Books and the ability to read them were both rare in early America. Franklin set out to change that by forming the colony's first lending library, the Library Company of Philadelphia. For a time both books and scientific equipment of the Library Company were crowded into a room on the second floor of the State House. Library directors and Carpenters' Company managers initially discussed building a hall to serve both organizations. But in October 26,1772, the Carpenters' Company signed a five-year lease "to furnish the House ready for the Library Company to move in. For 36 pounds annually, the Library Company received use of the entire second floor. Equipment for scientific experiments (called "philosophical apparatus") occupied the west room; books were housed in the east room.

Thomas Nevell, one of the most skilled Carpenters' Company members, was hired to "do the joinery." For him, outfitting a library was child's play. In 1764 he built a true showplace of a country mansion, Mt. Pleasant, which today is a venue for some of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's most valued decorative arts. A few years later Nevell constructed his own home, now a private residence at 338 South 4th St.

For the Library Company, Nevell produced carved cabinets, inside window shutters and book shelves protected by wire lattice. The Carpenters' Company furnished a dozen windsor chairs, six brass sconces and two chandeliers, hand carved and decorated with gilded roses. The chandeliers alone cost 7 pounds, 10 shillings.

The Library Company moved into its new quarters September 6, 1773 — exactly one year before the opening session of the First Continental Congress. Members of both Continental Congresses used the library, making it the first unofficial Library of Congress. British officers also borrowed books and, understanding their value, returned them in good condition.

In 1790, within a few months of Franklin's death at 84, the Library Company again moved this time to its new building on Fifth St. below Chestnut. Members of the Carpenters' Company who joined the Library Company provided much of the labor. Nearly a century later, in 1884, the Library Company relocated to a massive building inspired by a classical Greek temple on South Broad Street. Architect and Carpenters' Company member James B. Straw (elected 1990) was in charge of creating in 1998 the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts by adapting the former library and connecting it to a new school building at the rear.

Now at 1314 Locust St., the Library Company of Philadelphia has grown to become one of the country's foremost centers for historical research. But the Company honors its heritage. Among the most prized possessions are volumes which originally were housed in Thomas Nevell's bookcases at Carpenters' Hall. And in a protected niche beside the entrance is the full length statue of Franklin, clad in a scholarly toga, which from a similar location looked down upon the doorway on South Fifth St.


Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open free to the public daily, except Mondays (and Tuesdays in Jan. and Feb.), from 10am-4pm

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a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942.
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