Housing the collection of material published in or about North and South America and begun in the late 1830s by John Carter Brown (1797-1874) in his house at 357 Benefit Street (Nightingale-Brown House), this was the gift of his son John Nicholas Brown (1861-1900). It was the United States’ first independent private library placed within the context of a university campus. The younger Brown selected Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge to design the building, the first of their two libraries at Brown (John Hay Library). For economy’s sake the building was located on the Brown campus, and not adjacent to the collection’s original location on Benefit Street; this allowed it to take advantage of the university-wide heating system, which eliminated the need for a furnace in the place. This serene building, described as “German Ionic” at the time it was built, was cloned in order to double its size in the early 1990s, with designs by Hartman-Cox.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture