children’s history

The Robert Bacon Memorial Library opened its doors on June 24, 1924. It was a gift to the community by the Bacon family in memory of Colonel Robert Bacon, the Secretary of State and Ambassador to France under President Theodore Roosevelt. After Colonel Bacon’s death in 1919, his widow, Martha, wanted to pay tribute to her husband. In keeping with his desire to be, “an inspiration and to awaken big ambition” in young people, Mrs. Bacon decided to build a memorial dedicated to children.

Mrs. Bacon hired local architect Julian Peabody to design the library and used Col. Bacon’s library at Old Acres, the Bacon estate in Old Westbury, as a model. The fireplace and mantel are replicas of one in the French Embassy in Paris. Inscribed in gold letters on the mantel is the French motto Colonel Bacon often repeated to his family: “Cherchez la ligne du beau.” (Seek the line of the beautiful). The bust of Bacon which sits atop the mantel was by Malvina Hoffman who was widely recognized for her work at the Field Museum for Natural History in Chicago. On top of the library sits a family of five metal owls. They are perched on the gilded weathervane of the building’s white belfry.

As well as the building, Mrs. Bacon donated gifts of art to the children’s library. On permanent display is a collection of rare wooden birds carved by Elmer Crowell. Other valuable objects include an original letter by Beatrix Potter and paintings by Kate Greenaway, Leslie Brook, Arthur Rackham and Newel C. Wyeth. Muralist Stewart Travis was commissioned by Mrs. Bacon to paint two maps that continue to hang on either side of the front door. One is a map of Long Island showing the native birds, animals, and wild flowers and the other depicts the voyage of the pilgrims.

In planning the library, Mrs. Bacon consulted Anne Carroll Moore, Supervisor of Children’s Services at the New York Public Library. Together they selected the books in the collection, drawing from American and English titles. The library still houses several of these first edition titles. A month before the library first opened its doors, Mrs. Bacon hired librarian Jacqueline Overton to organize the collection and prepare the library for opening. Ms. Overton initially planned on staying with the library for only 6 months, but ended up working there for over 25 years. She lived in the librarian’s house at the back of the library which is now home to a historical collection.

The Library was originally privately endowed and operated as an independent institution for 40 years. In 1965, the Children’s Library became incorporated with the Westbury Memorial Public Library through a school district vote. The library was renovated in 2005 and now includes a mural by Sal and Nancy Moccia that reflects folktales of the cultural background of the children of Westbury.