Boston Public Library Celebrates 150th Anniversary of East Boston Branch

BPL Honors Historic Branch; First Branch Library in the United States

BOSTON – March 22, 2021 The Boston Public Library (BPL) today celebrates the 150th anniversary of the East Boston Branch, the first branch library in the United States. The branch was formally dedicated on March 22, 1871 after a soft opening as a reading room on November 28, 1870.

“The opening of the East Boston Branch Library was a pivotal moment in the history of the BPL, the City of Boston, and municipal libraries across the country,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Not only did the branch library provide access to other neighborhoods of Boston, the East Boston Branch has historically served a population that has included significant numbers of new Bostonians. Having served such a diverse population for 150 years, the branch is a testament to the BPL’s mission to be truly ‘free to all,’ and a celebration of local community and civic engagement.

The original 1871 East Boston Branch location was in the old Lyman School building located on Paris and Meridian Streets, sharing space with the East Boston Courthouse. In 1912, seeing the community’s need for a larger space, the branch temporarily relocated to the Austin School on Paris Street while a new branch library was constructed at 276 Meridian Street. This new location opened on April 21, 1914, and the East Boston Branch remained there until its most recent relocation to 365 Bremen Street in 2013, where it remains to this day—also serving as a replacement for the former Orient Heights Branch at 18 Barnes Avenue.  

Perhaps the most notable figure to support the East Boston Branch was President John F. Kennedy, whose father and grandfather grew up in East Boston. JFK anonymously gifted the East Boston Branch Library a record player, amplifier, and loudspeaker, which led to the creation of the first music listening room within the BPL. One relic of JFK’s connection to the branch remains: a 1946 telegram in which then-Congressman Kennedy congratulates the East Boston Branch on its 75th anniversary. 

Telegram from John F. Kennedy congratulating the East Boston Branch on its 75th anniversary.
Telegram from John F. Kennedy congratulating the East Boston Branch on its 75th anniversary.

The East Boston community has long been a constantly changing portrait of the people of Boston. Since its opening, the branch has proudly served a vibrant and diverse community starting with waves of Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants in its earliest days, and more recently welcoming many patrons from countries in Central and South America and North Africa.

“The richness of diversity in East Boston has been and continues to be reflected in the branch as a vital hub and gathering spot for community engagement, reading, learning new skills, meeting neighbors, and simply having fun,” said East Boston Branch Librarian Margaret Kelly. “We are so excited to be celebrating 150 years of library service, and we look forward to many more years of engaging with the East Boston community.” 

At its current location, the 15,000-square-foot branch includes a reading porch, the first library teen zone in East Boston, and the BPL’s first dedicated early literacy nook. With views of Bremen Park and the Boston skyline, the building includes eco-friendly

features such as storm water management to conserve water, sustainably harvested and certified wood, floor-fed ventilations and conditioning, high-performance glass, and a reflective roof.  In 2016, the East Boston Branch won a Best of Boston Award for “Best Neighborhood Diversion.”

To celebrate the history of the East Boston Branch, Branch Librarian Margaret Kelly will host a lecture on Zoom about the library’s history on Monday, March 22 from 7:00–8:00 pm. The BPL will also celebrate the Branch’s history with photos and trivia on Instagram (@BPLboston) all week long.