Historical Arlington: Robbins Library and Town Hall
Historical Arlington wraps up our trip through time with two of the most prominent public places in town.
Every building has its story. The history of the stone and cement tells tales of years past—but not forgotten. Two of the most historically significant and well-frequented spots in town are Robbins Library and Town Hall, located next to each other in Arlington Center.
Robbins Library was first built in 1807 in what was then West Cambridge. In 1835, a doctor by the name of Ebenezer Learned left $100 in his will to establish a juvenile section of the library. Learned's donation made it possible for Robbins to become the first continuous and free children's library in the nation.
Jumping to 1872, the name of the town and the library had been changed to reflect the town's current moniker. During this time, the library moved around six times. It wasn't until 1892, when a gift from Marcia C. Robbins in memory of her late husband Eli, landed Robbins where it is today and secured its current name. The building cost $150,000 to build and held 60,000 books. The front entrance was created as an homage to the Cancelleria Palace in Rome and was made of Indian sandstone.
From 1951 to 1978, there were talks of expansion for Robbins, but funds were not available. It wasn't until 1988, after many years of trying to acquire grant monies, that Robbins managed to secure $3 million from the town. It took another $3.3 million state grant and a communal effort to raise $500,000 to get construction underway in 1992. By 1994, Robbins was renovated as it stands today—double the size of its original design.
Robbins is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Town Hall was built in 1913 on 730 Massachusetts Ave. where it still resides. The hall was a gift to the town from the Robbins sisters, paid for with monies left to them from their cousin Lynnfield Robbins. Town Hall was dedicated to their father, Amos Robbins.
The Town Hall design was created by architect R. Clipston Sturgis, who also planned and landscaped the adjoining Winnfield (Robbins) Memorial Gardens where the iconic Menotomy hunter statue and flag pole stand. The statue itself was scuplted by prominent Arlington artist Cyrus E. Dallin, whose museum rests along the Minuteman Trail near the Jefferson Cutter House.
Former Gov. John Q. A. Brackett, who lived in Arlington and was in office when Town Hall was built, had this to say on inauguration day:
“The old adage that 'republics are ungrateful' happily does not always apply to municipalities. This is proved by our assembling here today. We are here not simply to dedicate this elegant edifice, but also to manifest our grateful appreciation of the munificence of him to whom we are indebted for it.”