Robinson Hall was the “New Library” of 1878. John Carter Brown 1816, who died in 1874, had bequeathed to the University a lot at the corner of Waterman and Prospect Streets as a site for a library, along with $50,000 for the building. This amount, with his earlier gift, now grown to $20,000, made it possible to lay the foundation in the summer of 1875. His widow paid the difference between what he had given and the final cost of $95,588 for the building, which was dedicated on February 16, 1878. The three storied cruciform shaped building had a central rotunda with an octagonal cupola with stained glass windows at the top. The upper floors had balconies with shelves divided into alcoves. The exterior of Danvers pressed brick was trimmed with granite from Tingley’s Stone Yard on South Main Street, and the building was graced by the carvings of James C. Brierly – an owl and a fox on either side of the entrance, mountain lions above, and other flora and fauna in unexpected spots. The Brunonian of February 12, 1878 included this description of the new Library Building:
“The external appearance of the building in architectural design and finish is at once beautiful and imposing. It is in the Venetian-Gothic style, being in form nearly a Greek cross, the walls are of pressed brick with stone trimmings, the roof of wrought iron and slate, and the porch of Nova Scotia olive stone artistically chiselled. Not less striking or less perfect in workmanship is the interior of the building. Passing the librarian’s room and committee room on either side of the hall-way, we enter the reading room, from which extend the three wings of the building, containing in all seventy-two alcoves. Over the hall-way is a large room to be devoted to the fine arts, and above this a room of equal size for pamphlets, in which the Library is particularly rich. On the walls are placed four inscriptions.”The four inscriptions were, first, the commemoration of the donor John Carter Brown, noting in Latin his dates of birth and death and his bequest of the building; second, the dates of the beginning and completion of the building; third, that the University was founded in 1764 and received its name in 1804 from Nicholas Brown; and fourth, an extract form the Book of Proverbs. The inscriptions and the grandeur that was the New Library are gone, and the marble bust of John Carter Brown that graced the entrance has been retired with a broken nose.
When the John Hay Library was opened in 1910, the intention of the Library Committee was to connect the two buildings and to house the departmental libraries in the former library. The expense of remodeling proved too high, and in 1912 the building was partially opened to receive the Department of Economics and its library of 10,000 volumes. The building, called the Old Library for years and then the Economics Building, was closed during the Second World War. When it reopened in 1946 with eight classrooms and twenty offices, it was named Robinson Hall for Ezekiel Gilman Robinson during whose presidency it was built. Still occupied by the Department of Economics, the building displays some of its former beauty since its renovation in 1989 and 1990 by the Robinson Green Beretta Corporation.