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Weymouth’s Fogg Library reopens

Photos by David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Five hours before Weymouth’s stately Fogg Library was scheduled to reopen on Monday, a dozen people had already gathered in front of the Columbian Square landmark, said library director Robert MacLean.

When the doors of the historic building opened at 1 p.m., the crowd of dignitaries, neighbors, and scores of people who had frequented the library as children flooded in to check out the restoration work, share memories, eat cake, and take out books.

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“I’m just smiling ear to ear,” MacLean said as he surveyed the busy scene. “Seeing everybody happy and enjoying the space, that’s what a library is all about. And Weymouth has waited long enough.”

The Fogg closed for repairs in 2005, then underwent almost nine years and nearly $3.5 million in restoration and renovation projects.

Mayor Sue Kay called the reopening one of her favorite moments as a public official.

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“I was a councilor when we had to close it, and it was a very depressing day,” she said. “I’m so delighted that I’m mayor when it reopens.”

The Fogg first opened in 1898, the gift of local shoe manufacturer and banker John Fogg. (He also provided the funds for the Fogg Opera House, across the street, where residents heard such speakers as Booker T. Washington, a sometime summer inhabitant of the town.)

Built at a cost of $34,580, the Fogg was a private library until the town took it over in 1975 as the branch facility for South Weymouth. It is Weymouth’s smallest library, with about 10,000 volumes. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was made of Weymouth granite and topped with a slate roof, and featured lofty ceilings, stained-glass windows, fireplaces, and carved-oak columns, bookcases, and stairs.

But leaking water caused extensive damage, including the destruction of the entire children’s collection, and prompted its closing a decade ago. The town had repaired the exterior by 2010, and spent the next four years raising more money and renovating the interior, MacLean said.

“It was really a big mess,” he said.

Besides restoring the original woodwork and other architectural features of the Italian Renaissance-style structure, the town added an elevator, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, meeting rooms, new air conditioning and heating systems, and wireless Internet access, he said. The children’s room, with all new materials, was moved upstairs into what used to be the reference room.

The new furnishings share space with local antiques, including a large desk used by William Bell, creator of the Thanksgiving dinner mainstay “Bell’s Seasoning,” and numerous portraits of historic Weymouth figures.

There’s also a collection of Edmund Aubrey Hunt paintings, seven of them donated by Joseph Merten, a town resident and retired principal of North Weymouth’s Wessagusset School. Hunt was born in Weymouth — his father owned fan and fireworks factories — in 1855 but spent most of his life painting in England.

“This is going to be a destination for art lovers,” MacLean said.

He expects the Fogg also to be frequented by students from nearby Weymouth High School, employees of nearby South Shore Hospital, and its neighbors in South Weymouth.

The goal, he said, is for people to view the Fogg the way it was described in a booklet for the 1898 dedication, when officials wrote: “We hope it will become a quiet social centre, a source of intellectual growth, of benefit and joy in all time to come.”

“People are excited,” MacLean added. “People grew up in that building and they want to introduce it to their kids and grandkids and continue the tradition.”

Ann Marie Swanson came with her 3-year-old daughter, Tabitha, and planned to return with 5-year-old Daria to take out more books and lounge in the cozy children’s room.

“We live right down the street,” Swanson said. “My kids love to read, and this is so exciting for us to be able to walk down the street to the library.”

Natalie Procter came to the Fogg when she was a child, and was a librarian there in its heyday from 1966 to 1982. She returned for the reopening ceremony and said, “This is just the way I remember it.”

Duxbury librarian Lindsey Rakers said she came back to see the Fogg because she’d gone there as a child with her grandmother. “I’m very excited to see it reopen. It’s gorgeous, just like I remembered,” she said.

The Fogg will be open 28 hours a week: Mondays and Tuesdays from 1 to 9 p.m., Wednesdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The town also operates the main Tufts Library and two other branches.

Visit www.bostonglobe.com/south to see photos of the new Fogg Library. Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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