The Peabody Institute Library was begun with the June 16, 1852 donation from George Peabody.
George Peabody was born in South Danvers (now Peabody) in 1795 and by the year of 1851 had risen in the business world to become an investment banker in London.
Proud of their native son, the Danvers Mechanic Institute named George Peabody an honorary member on January 5, 1852. This subscription based institute, located in South Danvers , was both library and lyceum. Though the committee selected to inform Peabody of this honor waited until after Danvers was informed of the donation, it is possible his awareness of this institution influenced Peabody in deciding the type of institution he wished to create.
Later that spring, the Danvers Centennial Committee issued an invitation to George Peabody, asking him to join the citizens in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Danvers' separation from Salem. His response, sent on May 26, 1852, announced his intention to donate $20,000 for the creation of the Peabody Institute. Though like the Danvers Mechanic Institute in that it would be both a library and a lyceum, the Peabody Institute would be open to everyone, free of charge. By the time of his death in 1869, George Peabody would have donated over $217,000 just to the Peabody Institute.
The architect chosen for the Peabody Institute was Richard Bond (1797-1861). A well-known New England architect of the day, Bond was also responsible for Salem City Hall, the Essex County Courthouse and Gore Hall at Harvard University. Franklin Merrill of Danvers, and Russell & White of Salem were the contractors for the project.
The Peabody Institute Library opened on October 18, 1854. Fitch Poole had been chosen as the first Librarian on January 3, 1854. His participation in founding the Danvers Mechanic Institute in 1841 and his work with it until it closed in 1855 made him a natural choice. He was instrumental in selecting many of the original books for the library, as well as organizing it. He resigned just before the library's opening on September 27, 1854. Eugene B. Hinckley was then elected Librarian and he served until May of1856. Upon his resignation, Fitch Poole once more became Librarian, continuing his work with the Peabody Institute until his death in 1873.
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