By the 1950s, the Lenox Library was more than
a hundred years old, and it was becoming clear that new library facilities were needed. Despite much local interest in saving the building, the historic Lenox Library was burned and demolished to make room for the new Robert E. Speer Library, which was completed by 1957.
In 1843, James Lenox, a philanthropist from New York City, built the Seminary’s Lenox Library, one of the first free-standing academic library buildings in America. By the 1950s, it was clear that there was a need for improved library facilities. Lenox Library, which was more than 100 years old, was not fireproof, which put many of the Seminary’s collections at high risk. The basement collected water after heavy rainfall. Even with the addition of the New Lenox Library, constructed in 1879, the library facilities were running out of space. While there were attempts to see if the old library could be sufficiently renovated to be useful, engineers concluded that this was not feasible. Plans were drawn up for the construction of the Robert E. Speer Library, which would be completed by 1957.
While most agreed that the Seminary’s old library facilities were inadequate, the decision about where the new library was to be built was extremely controversial. The Seminary had decided that the only feasible option was to tear down the old libraries and build the new library on the same site, located on the corner of Mercer Street and Library Place. Many members of the community rallied to keep the historic Lenox Library, writing letters to local papers, penning editorials, and signing petitions. President John Mackay offered the building to the community if they would move it to some other location so the Seminary could build a new library on the site. Yet despite much local interest in saving the old building, no one came forward to accept the offer and the building was torn down. Since much of the interior was made of wood, the interior was set on fire (people were not so concerned about air pollution from fires in those days) and then a wrecking ball knocked down the stone walls. Lenox Library had been razed and demolished, to make room for the new Robert E. Speer Library, which would carry the Seminary into the twenty-first century.