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Boston Public Library

Bates Hall

Central Library

Bates Hall
 • Additional Images
 • The Publication
 • Original Letter
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Named in honor of its original benefactor, Bates Hall is, even by today's standards, majestic. Funded by a $2-million grant from the U. S. Department of the Interior, restoration of the Reading Room, with its rich barrel vault running the full length of the Copley Square facade (218 feet long, 42.5 feet wide, and 50 feet high) and lighted by 15 arched and grilled windows, was begun in September, 1996, as part of a $50-million, 10-year project that will ultimately return the National Historic Landmark to its original beauty.

Joshua Bates was born in 1788 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As a youngster growing up in Boston he spent as much time as the proprietors of the Hastings, Etheridge & Bliss's bookstore would allow educating himself by reading books. Mr. Bates went on to become the senior partner of the great banking house of Baring Brothers and Company.

On October 1, 1852, after reading the first Annual Report published by the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, he wrote a letter to the Mayor of the City of Boston offering to donate the sum of $50,000 for the purpose of purchasing books for the new library. The only condition was that "the building shall be such as to be an ornament to the City, that there shall be a room for one hundred to one hundred and fifty persons to sit at reading tables, and that it be perfectly free to all."

The offer was enthusiastically accepted by the Boston City Council and thus Joshua Bates became the first major private contributor to the country's first municipally supported library, establishing a tradition of public/private support for the Boston Public Library that continues to this day.

Bates's vision for the Boston Public Library was fulfilled 43 years later through the architectural genius of Charles Follen McKim, and the Reading Room remains one of the most historically significant spaces of this National Historic Landmark.