“Libraries Transform,” the theme of National Library Week, April 9-15, strikes a chord with me. The Annapolis public library of my youth certainly helped transform me.
It will probably surprise some people to know where this library was located. It was just two blocks from our apartment on Main Street, on Church Circle, in a building in Colonial times and now known as Reynolds Tavern.
I write about that library and how it impacted me in my new book, “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy: Growing up in America’s Ancient City.” There probably would have been no such book if not for the library, because my experiences there helped inspire me to become a writer. The fact that I’m speaking at several county library branches about my book is also appropriate.
As for the Reynolds location, some of the land around Church Circle was originally the property of St. Anne’s Church – “Glebe Land” used to help pay church expenses. Thus, in 1747, Lot 60 across from the Church was leased to William Reynolds, who built the two-and-one-half story, five-bay brick structure as his home and place of business. Originally a hatter, Reynolds turned his well-located home into a tavern and hostelry, though he continued to make hats at the same location.
Known by the typically English name, “Beaver and Lac’d Hat,” the tavern stayed in the Reynolds family for many years, acquiring its surname in the process. In the 1800s, the building became a banking facility.
Seeking a better, larger home for a library rather than a few rooms in already occupied public buildings, the local library association acquired Reynolds Tavern from Farmer’s National Bank for $20,000 in 1936. In 1937, Miss Esther King, a graduate of Columbia University’s Library School, left her job at a Baltimore department store’s book department to become the librarian at Reynolds Tavern.
My mother enjoyed reading books on English history – mostly romantic novels about the period – and would make regular trips up the street to acquire and return them at the library. She often took me along, and I would look through children’s books in the kids’ section at the back of Reynolds Tavern.
It was during those trips in the early 1940s that Miss King took a liking to me. She seemed schoolmarmish in appearance, but not in attitude. Her ready smile and kind manner made her always approachable. I remember her having a touch of grey in her hair, though in my youth, she wasn’t elderly by any means. She had a welcoming way of making you feel at home in the library. As I grew a bit older, she began to suggest books I might like and would have a few at the ready for what became my consistent trips to the library. It was so convenient. Any trip around Church Circle, which occurred almost daily, meant a stop at the library.
I remember Miss King’s talking to me about two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, who solved mysteries, and thus the Hardy Boys books became a favorite. She knew, like most boys my age, that sports were important, so the exploits of baseball and football stars were waiting for me at her desk in the right-hand room when you entered the building. I recall reading Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, the portrait of 19th century Dutch life, an ice-skating race for the silver skates prize, and the side story of the little boy who uses his finger to plug a leak in the dike and save his country. Another favorite of Miss King’s, passed on to me, was Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. Each book was just a suggestion from Miss King with not much proselytizing about the value of reading. She was too smart for that; she knew that through exposure I would discover the joys of reading.
Eventually, I made my way up to the second floor – the literature floor – of Reynolds Tavern, where I would sit on its original broad, dark wooden floor boards, reading Tennyson’s poems, Hemingway’s stories and Emerson’s essays, and other writings of their famous literary ilk. There the reading habit and dreams of writing, myself, became ingrained in my life.
In the course of time, I lost track of Miss King. The library moved out of downtown in 1965, and I moved on to college and career, using libraries in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where I worked. Miss King retired in 1971, having helped build a healthy library system throughout Anne Arundel County. Losing track does not mean losing memories, and I will never forget Miss Esther King and her kindness to the boy from Main Street and her impact that helped transform my life, fostering literature and a desire to write.
A native Annapolitan, Mr. Crosby is founder and chairman of Crosby Marketing, a national advertising/public relations firm headquartered in Annapolis. His book, Memoirs of a Main Street Boy, is available at the Annapolis Bookstore, at Back Creek Books on Main Street or online at Amazon.com.