The Hampden library will usher in a more modern image as it celebrates more than $250,000 worth of renovations

Admiring a proud past, turning to shining future


Robert Poole came to Baltimore as an uneducated immigrant who taught himself, and he never forgot the value of learning. He became an engineer and owner of a foundry that provided iron and other products for the U.S. Capitol, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Customs House in New Orleans.

Poole's legacy is felt today in every book that patrons of the Hampden library in North Baltimore check out. Poole built Hampden Library 105 years ago to ensure that others had access to books.

"He supplied materials for the most significant building in the world. The Capitol is the symbol of America," said Thomas Swett, whose grandmother's grandfather was Poole. "He never lost sight of his humble heritage."

That library on Falls Road has just received More than $250,000 worth of renovations and is celebrating a new look today. The makeover was made possible by a $1 million anonymous gift to the Enoch Pratt Free Library system.

The Hampden library has evolved in the years since it opened. The card catalog is gone, replaced by computers, but the emphasis is still on learning. New carpeting and a fresh coat of paint give the library a vibrant new feel.

Earline Lunquest, 81, has been visiting the library for about 50 years. "I think you can find things a little better," she said of the changes.

Lunquest recalls how her son grew up coming to the library every day. "After school, not that he always wanted to be here," she said.

Children hanging around the library have been a constant. As far back as 1928, the library's annual report concluded that "children seem to crowd out adults in the evening." When school lets out, children continue to flock to the library, which expanded its section for them in the renovation.

In the summer of 1900, when the library opened, it housed 4,113 books. The collection has grown to about 15,000, which doesn't include resources such as audiotape books.

Through the years, the tone of the library has changed. It is no longer "the shhhh library," said Betty Boulware, the chief of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's neighborhood services division, as she put her finger up in front of her mouth to demonstrate. "It is more in keeping with the times."

The Rhythm Warriors from Robert Poole Middle School will banish the quiet library stereotype when they perform today, Boulware said. Visitors will realize libraries are places to explore and gain access to information from all over the world, she said. A magician will also perform at the open house held from 10 a.m. to noon.

The library began as the Woodberry Free Reading Rooms in 1885, created by Poole with others in the community. "He was a role model for the way he treated his employees," Swett said. A few years later, Poole donated his book collection, land and $25,000 to the Enoch Pratt so that the Hampden library could be built.

The building was designed by architect Joseph Evans Sperry, who is responsible for many other Baltimore structures, including the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, said Devon Ellis, the head librarian. The librarians believe that the building's four exterior columns might have been cast in the same foundry that provided the iron columns for the original U.S. Capitol, Ellis said

The library's readers have long been interested in the nation's history. In 1964, there was "a brief flurry of adult reading by Goldwater followers," according to that year's annual report. "All the Kennedy books need replacing." In 1906, boys exhausted the library's supply of books about Indians and war.

The library lent out 20,512 books to readers in its first year. In today's era, the library lends an average of 35,000 books a year.

The library also has a long history of community involvement. In 1917, librarians planted gardens and held a harvest exhibition and tea. The next year, the librarian taught patrons how to can fruits and vegetables.

The library will continue to evolve. Boulware said there are hopes to convert the basement storage area into public space. The area outside might one day be converted into space for public programs.

Using funds from last year's anonymous gift, library officials intend to upgrade several of the system's 21 branches. The Forest Park branch on Garrison Boulevard was the first to be renovated. The Northwood Branch on Loch Raven Boulevard is next.

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