In December 1856, the American banker, philanthropist, and Danvers native George Peabody gave $10,000 for the establishment of a Danvers “branch” of the Peabody Institute Library of South Danvers (now Peabody, MA). This branch library was originally set up at Danvers Town Hall; but in 1857, Joshua Silvester, Simeon Putnam, and John R. Langley sold to the Town for $4,000 a four and one half acre plot of land on Sylvan St. (near to the Town Hall) for use as a site for the library. In 1866, George Peabody, realizing the difficulty of a single institution serving two separate communities, allowed the branch to become independent and gave the new Peabody Institute Library of Danvers an additional $40,000. A Gothic style library was built at Peabody Park in 1869; the purpose of the new library was (in the founder’s language) “the promotion of knowledge and morality in the Town of Danvers.” The governing body of the Institute was vested in a board of nine trustees who were appointed for life by Peabody; thereafter, vacancies in the Board were filled by the legal voters of Danvers. On July 2, 1890, a spectacular fire destroyed the library building. Insurance covered $23,622 in losses. The trustees, mirroring George Peabody’s sentiment “Education – A debt due from present to future generations,” voted on September 28, 1891 to appropriate money for the erection of a new building. A building committee was appointed and the Boston architectural firm of Little, Brown and Moore was chosen; local architect Lester S. Crouch did the bulk of the design for the building which was his first major project. J.T.Wilson of Nahant was the contractor for the 62′ x 92′ Georgian Revival structure. The total cost for the project was $34,218.The building was dedicated on October 19, 1892; the library functioned on the first floor and the 1,100 capacity auditorium occupied the upper level. The auditorium served many town uses including lecture series, graduations, and theater and minstrel productions.
In 1963, a remodeled basement area was dedicated for use as a Children’s Room and as stacks; in 1980, following over a decade of discussion, a renovation and addition based on the plans of architect Oscar Padgen and costing $2.2 million was approved by Town Meeting. General contractor for the project was Congress Construction Company. 6,000 additional square feet were created by the construction of a new floor in the space occupied by the former auditorium and 12,000 square feet were added through underground construction. The latter expansion provided space for a new Children’s Room and the Archival Center.
The renovation project design called for the retention of the exterior character of the library and sympathetically treated many original interior features. The Georgian Revival building is a rectangular construction which has a low truncated hipped roof with a surrounding balustrade. The foundation is granite and the siding is flush boards. The first story exhibits alternating wood quoins and two oculus windows. The Sylvan St. facade contains a balconial entry portico, now enclosed as a reading area, while the two side facades contain two story elliptical porticos with second floor Ionic support columns. The second floor has much ornamentation including Palladian windows with fanlight and tracery, arched windows with swags, Ionic pilasters and columns, and roof modillion blocks.