Salem Public Library

From Salem Links and Lore


The Salem Public Library was originally built as a home for Captain John Bertram and his family. In 1855, the Bertram family moved from their smaller house at 24 Winter Street and took up residence in their new High Style Italianate brick and brownstone mansion at 370 Essex Street. The household consisted of Captain Bertram; his third wife, Mary Ann Ropes, 44; Joseph, 20 an adopted son of his second wife; three daughters (by his first and second wives) Jenny, 18 (later to become the mother of Caroline O. Emmerton, founder of the House of Seven Gables); Clara, 16; Annie, 10 and an adopted daughter, Grace, 7. Another daughter, Ellen Augusta, had died in 1848, aged 8.

Honored and beloved by the whole community, Bertram died on March 22, 1882, aged 86 years, at his home. He was buried in his mausoleum at Harmony Grove Cemetery. His widow purchased and moved into the Assembly House on Federal Street. In a letter dated December 1, 1887, his widow and daughters offered the mansion on Essex Street to the City of Salem for use as a Public Library. The offer was accepted and the Salem Public Library opened its doors on July 8, 1889.

The mansion was immediately refurbished to include a main hall, public reading room, trustees' room, reference room and book-stacks.

There is a handsome Victorian fountain on the lawn, one of the few that survived the scrap drives of World War II.

In 1911, Boston architect Clarence H. Blackall appended a four-story fireproof book stack ell, a one-story reference room wing, and a corresponding office.

Among many services, the library provided shut-in service for patrons who couldn't make it in person to the library. The service for shut-ins was inaugurated in 1944, financed by a bequest from the late Sarah D. Peabody.


In the early 1980's, director Patrick Cloherty pushed for much needed repairs to the library's structure and basic upgrades to the 1850's era building. The problems included lack of handicapped accessibility, leaks in the roof, antiquated inefficient heating system, and fire code violations in the stack area. The last renovation had been in 1912. The renovation was undertaken in two phases. The first phase began in 1986 which established the children's room in the basement and added an elevator and ramp for handicapped accessibility. This phase was complete in June 1987. The second phase renovated the main floor and stack area, and moved the reference room to the third floor. The card catalog was computerized at this time as well. Behind the scenes, a new heating and piping systems, sprinkler systems and concrete separators between floor for fire safety. Cloherty and the Library Board of Trustees made sure the renovations helped restore the historic aspects of the building when possible. Tiled ceilings were removed and paint stripped to restore its 1912 look. The second phase was completed by June 1990. In 2016, CPA grant money was used to repair the elegant stone brownstone facade of the library.


The water fountain in the side yard is a fine example of a Victorian Garden ornament. Cast by Robert Wood & Co. of Philadelphia in the 1850's it was one of the few Victorian fountains to survive the scrap drives of World War II. The Greek god Poseidon (known to the Romans as Neptune) stands in the middle holding a trident with a dolphin underfoot. This is a nod to Bertram's seafaring past. Some repairs were made to the fountain following the building's renovation in 1987. The approximate date of casting is between 1850-1857.

For details about the trees and shrubs around this historic library see the entry on this wiki Salem Public Library - trees and shrubs


Frank P. Hill was appointed the first librarian in January 1888. After he resigned to work in Newark, N.J., Gardner M. Jones was appointed head librarian. The library opened in its present site, the Bertram Estate, in 1889 under his direction. He continued as librarian for the next 42 years, being succeeded by Ralf P. Emerson in 1931.

Charles H.Copeland was head librarian from 1956 until his death in 1963. Ernest A. DiMattia, Jr. took over in September 1965. In the two year interim, Miss Lilly Abbot was acting head librarian.

Patrick J. Cloherty, a long time director, took over in 1971 and stayed until his retirement in 2003. Lorraine Jackson followed him as director after many years as head of the Children's Room and Assistant Director. Jackson retired at the end of Dec. 2010, after 39 years at the Public Library. Nancy T. Tracy was library director from 2011-2016. The present director is Tara Mansfield who was previously head of circulation and assistant director at Salem Public Library.


Miss Lilly S. Abbott, assistant director, worked at Salem Public for 47 years. She joined the library in 1925 as an assistant, and held positions of children's librarian, reference librarian, acting director and assistant director.

James Manning began his career at Salem Public as a high school "page" in 1931 and worked for the library for the next 56 years. Manning left only for military service during World War II, and Korean War. Over the years he served as library assistant, then circulation librarian. For many years he taught swimming and life saving classes at the YMCA in Salem. He passed away at the age of 87 on Jan. 20, 2003.

Dorothy Connolly worked as a reference librarian and as assistant director from 1964 until her retirement in 1989. Connolly's son left a generous donation in his mother's name when she passed away in 2009.


For a description of the three branch libraries (The East, the South and the North) that operated in Salem, go to Branch Libraries.


The Bertram Elm that used to be in the yard of the Salem Public Library was said to be close to 100 years old in 1912. The tree's circumference measured at 18 feet and 6 inches in 1912 and reaching to 70 feet high, with gracefully spreading branches. In 1909 the tree was treated for 'interior tree cancer.' Cement was used to fill its cavity after hollowing out the cancerous spots. Iron rods were also used to hold the great limbs in place. The elm is documented up to the year 1919, but no one is sure when the great tree came down.


See Also

  • Vertical File in Salem Collection - Salem Public Library pt. 1 & pt. 2
  • Postcard courtesy of
  • "The Public Library" (opening announcement) Salem Gazette, June 25, 1889
  • "Bertram residence on Essex St., presented to city, has been home to Salem Public Library for 50 years" Salem Evening News, Nov. 3, 1938, p. 3
  • "Bostonian Appointed Salem's Librarian (E.DiMattia)" Salem Evening News, Sept. 19, 1965, p. 24
  • "Copeland, Librarian here, author, lecturer, dies" Salem Evening News, June 17, 1963, p.?
  • "Library Assistant retires (Lilly Abbott)" Salem Evening News, June 10, 1972, p.?
  • "Library needs major repairs" Salem Evening News, Sept. 27, 1982, p.3
  • "The patriarch of library; James Manning has worked up the ranks" Salem Evening News, May 22, 1987, p. 3A
  • "First chapter of library work completed" Salem Evening News, May 27, 1987, p. 9
  • "Libraries in every chapter of director's life; Patrick Cloherty got first library card at age 5" Salem Evening News, May 22, 1987, p. 4A
  • "From the dust, a new library takes shape; $2.2 million renovation project well under way" Salem Evening News, Nov. 1, 1989, p. 17
  • "The famous old Bertram Elm, one of the finest in existence is about one years old" Salem Evening News, July 24, 1912, p. 10
  • "The famous Bertram Elm Tree in the public library yard found to have interior cancer" Salem Evening News, May 24, 1909, p.?
  • "A grand booking: Salem Public Library celebrated reopening" Salem Evening News, June 26, 1990, p. ?
  • "Salem Public Library 100th Anniversary" Salem Evening News, May 22, 1987, (special insert)
  • "Mayday for Neptune (fountain in yard needs work) Salem Evening News, Oct. 19, 1987, p.1
  • "Obituary for James Manning, at 87" Salem News, Jan. 24, 2003, p. C6 (long-time library employee)
  • "Salem library stunned to receive check for $50,000 left in man's will (Dorothy Connolly's son)" Salem News, Jan. 9, 2009, p. 1
  • "An era ends at Salem library: Lorraine Jackson retires after 39 years, seven as Director" Salem News, Jan. 8, 2011, p.1
  • "A worthy investment in Salem(Library brownstone preservation of 2016) Salem News, May 14, 2016
  • "Salem Public Library does away with overdue fines" Salem News July 7, 2023, p. 1