The stately classical architecture of the Redwood Library & Athenaeum is a visitor’s first clue they are entering a very special place. Stepping inside, one discovers a collection of some 200,000 volumes, with a focus on rare collections of colonial American history, early modern architecture, and local history. An exceptional art collection lines the walls and includes six Gilbert Stuart and five Robert Feke original paintings.
The Redwood, located on Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, was the first library in Rhode Island and is the oldest library building in continuous use in the country. Founded in 1747 by Abraham Redwood, a successful Newport merchant, and a group of 45 like-minded men, the Redwood was designed by America’s first architect Peter Harrison. It was called “the greatest act of philanthropy in the colonies” and was one of the first designated National Historic Landmarks in the United States.
Dr. Edwin G. Fischer, president of the board, states that the first professor of medicine at Harvard was one of many scholars who started his education at the Redwood. “This was not a hobby gentleman’s library. It was a serious institution,” he explains.
The Redwood is a membership library that is open to the public. Caroline Considine, director of institutional advancement, shares that members refer to the library as “my sanctuary” and “heaven on earth.”
“We’re a place where people can come, socialize, and learn together. If you’re interested in books and reading, it would be logical that you would come to the oldest continuously operating library in the country,” continues Benedict Leca, executive director. “The Redwood stands out as a beacon for intellectual pursuit, a place of intense intellectual activity. We’re a living institution – now in our 269th year - and a growing one.”
The Redwood has had an endowment since the 18th century and transferred a portion of it to the Foundation. “This flexible endowment allows us to establish a relationship. We think this is a starting point and will help us continue the library’s mission of ‘propagating Virtue, Knowledge and useful Learning’ into its next century of operation,” says Peggy Richmond, treasurer of the board of directors.