The Castle On The Hill

Photograph of Forbes Library from the College Tower
View of Forbes Library from College Hall

Forbes Library was designed by architect William C. Brocklesby of Hartford, Conn. in a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque, named after the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, the designer of Trinity Church in Boston. This style is characterized by the use of contrasting light and dark color stones (granite and sandstone), massive rounded arches resting on short, squat columns and complex roof systems. The library was dedicated on October 23, 1894.

According to the First Annual Report of the Trustees in 1895:

“After January 1, 1891, and a visit to many large libraries the trustees proceeded to erect the building. It is built of Milford granite with Longmeadow sandstone trimming, is estimated to accommodate 400,000 volumes, is unusually well adapted for library purposes, is an ornament to the city and praised by all visitors. Its cost was $113, 993.48…”

Photograph of the interior of the library showing the Guastavino arches
Guastavino arches

One unique feature of the Forbes Library is the use of Guastavino arches, which had also been used in the Boston Public Library. These brick arches, which support the first and second floors, from modular units or bays, of 17 x 14.8 feet. Judge Forbes had mandated in his will that the building be fireproof. The Guastavino arches are part of this safety design and are constructed of brick covered with white clay tile.

Photograph of the roof under construction
Interior of the roof during construction, photo by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company.

“The crowning glory of inflammability was the roof.” Erected by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, it was constructed entirely of steel girders covered with slate roofing tiles. Each separate slate was tied through with a nail by the roofer on the outside and was then twisted around a support rod by a worker inside the roof structure.

Judge Forbes had also insisted that the building be set aside from all other buildings so that there was no danger of it catching fire from a nearby structure. Thus, the building stands alone on a lovely, raised, park-like lot, and was called by many residents of Northampton “the castle on the hill.”

Forbes Library underwent an interior renovation from 1996-2002, designed by Architectural Resources of Cambridge, Mass.

For more information call the Hampshire Room for Local History, 413-587-1014 or email at For historic photos call the Arts and Music Department at 413-587-1013.

Further reading