Feeling Newton Awe – Welcome to the first installment of my Making Newton Home Roadmap, here on Villlage14. As I shared last week, I have come to believe my local history explorations have grounded me to my beautiful community and helped me nurture a sense of home for my family. I hope to share stories that generate a sense of Newton Awe and put special local historical people, places and traditions on the map for fellow “Newts” who want to deepen their connection to our great Garden City.
The convergence of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and a skillfully repurposed public building inspires a sense of Newton Awe for me. Newton’s Senior Center on Walnut Street in Newtonville has been a senior center for as long as I have lived in Newton. When you walk into the main hall, you can feel a palpable sense of wisdom from both the seniors who socialize here today, and the original purpose of the building. Dedicated in 1939, the structure was the Newtonville branch of The Newton Free Library until it was closed in the early 1990’s and reopened as a senior center in 1993.
The construction of the Walnut Street library in the late 1930’s, at the end of The Great Depression, must have been the wonder of its day. Charles Connick, a world-renowned stained glass artisan, lived just up the hill in Newtonville and would have experienced the construction project in his daily local travels. Born in Pennsylvania, Connick established his studio in Boston and ultimately chose Newton as his home in 1920. He lived here until his death in 1945.
Daily encounters with this huge construction project may have spurred Connick to seek inspiration from literary carpenters, poets, when he stepped forward to create two large stained glass medallions for the building’s transepts, as his gift to his adopted hometown. Connick chose to illuminate verses from two timeless New England poems in these large medallions: Robert Frost’s “The Mending Wall” and Emily Dickinson’s “ There is No Frigate Like a Book”.
Both large medallions are breathtaking visual interpretations of the poems and must be seen from inside the building to fully appreciate their wonder. Tucked in a glass bookcase near one of the windows, black and white photographs tell the story of the library’s dedication in December of 1939 and magnify the sense of Newton Awe. From the Newton Senior Center History on The City of Newton website:
In December of 1939, on a cold winter night, an excited group of some 400 residents of Newton gathered in the newly constructed building at the corner of Walnut Street and Highland Avenue to witness the dedication of a new branch library in Newtonville. The new library was located where the Newton Club, a social organization, had been. Mayor Edwin O. Childs presided over the ceremonies and a trio from the All Newton Music School provided music for the celebration. The guests listened as the 38-year-old Robert Frost read through his poem, “The Mending Wall.”
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the room on that cold December night. You are listening to Robert Frost’s iconic voice and admiring Charles Connick’s artistry with about 399 other Newts. You are feeling Newton Awe!