Where it all began...Ben Franklin and Books
The Town of Franklin, Massachusetts was originally the area known as "westerly Wrentham". This section of Wrentham voted to make it's own way in the world, and in 1778 would incorporate and be named after one of America's greatest patriots and statesmen, Benjamin Franklin. The committee of residents charged with building a meetinghouse for this newly minted town wrote to Franklin, asking for a bell for the meetinghouse steeple. Dr. Franklin himself explains why books instead of the bell in this letter to his friend, Dr. Richard Price:
The Forgotten Treasure
By the 1840s, the once treasured books were all but forgotten, at one point being stored in a barn, their condition in "considerable disorder". It took a letter to the editor in The Boston Traveller newspaper from local author and prominent Franklin citizen, William Makepeace Thayer to bring this to light. He and other men of his circle, including Joseph Gordon Ray, formed The Franklin Library Association to protect and preserve the Franklin books for the future.
Joseph G. Ray (1831-1900), Franklin's Foremost Citizen
There can be no doubt that J.G. Ray took pride in
his town, and in his community citizenship. His contributions to, and participation in, creating the Franklin we know today cannot be overstated. In addition to running a dozen textile mills, he financed the building of the Franklin railroad, he purchased the Franklin Waterworks so that it would be in local hands. He was president of the Franklin National Bank, the Franklin Cemetery Association, the Franklin Library Association. He was on the board of the Franklin Universalist Church, but also gave donations to Franklin's Catholic Church when they were in need. As a good friend of Oliver Dean, he became a member of the Dean Academy building committee and made financial contributions to its construction. The Franklin Sentinel published a lengthy front page obituary and this statement seems to sum up the sentiments of Franklinites toward J.G. Ray:
He had a remarkable knowledge of men and insight into character and to a marked degree was a lover of his fellowmen. This made life always worth living to him and made him love to live and to do. It can be said of him as was said of Longfellow, that when "men came to his door, his love met them at the threshold".
Joseph Gordon Ray
In an 1858 Boston Traveller newspaper letter to the editor, 46 years before the construction of the Ray Memorial building, William Makepeace Thayer laments on the sorry state of Franklin's book donation and states, "If some towns possessed it, they would rear a beautiful edifice in which the books might be preserved, and make it the nucleus of a large collection of works".