Norwood's First Library Jabez Chickering Social Circulating 2022

The “cradle” of the Norwood Public Library is an old, blue, pine cabinet. It measures 6’ I/2” high, 3’ 5” wide, and 7′ 1/2″ deep and holds a collection of 95 volumes–mostly classics.

The book cabinet was originally owned by the Reverend Thomas Balch, the first minister ordained in the First Congregational Church of Norwood. Reverend Balch placed the cabinet in his study when he assumed his church responsibilities in 1736.

Reverend Jabez Chickering, successor and son-in-law to the Reverend Balch, gave his personal library to the church in 1790, and the church’s first library, called “The Social Circulating Library” was founded. Twenty-seven members of the parish, which represented almost every family in town, organized the library for “the purpose of gaining information and self-improvement.”

The collection was so limited that members drew lots to see which books they could read, and the books were checked out alphabetically. One record, dated 1792, reads, “21y That the first Wednesdays of Jany April, July & Ocr. shall be the times of taking out books – and that books be returned the day before drawing one hour after sunset allowed for taking out as before..”

Norwood's First Library Jabez Chickering Social Circulating 1972
1972 photo of the Library cabinet, at the Norwood Historical Society.

Fred Holland Day later purchased the cabinet, complete with the original books, and moved them to his home, the F. Holland Day House. They remain on display at the Norwood Historical Society and are one of the highlights of our collection.