Peabody Library: SHSU’s “crown jewel”

In 1902, the Peabody Memorial Library became the first college campus building in Texas to be constructed exclusively for use as a library.

This was when Sam Houston State University was known as Sam Houston Normal Institute and the focus was placed on training teachers.

The building was named in honor of the Peabody Fund, which was established by George Foster Peabody, a New England banker. Peabody set up this fund in order to assist the South in its educational effort after the Civil War.

The Peabody building was known for its reading rooms with an arched metal ceiling, ornamental design, busts of distinguished literary figures and stained glass windows which were gifted by the class of 1902. All of these glass windows are originals, aside from the framed window on the right when entering the building which was constructed of glass salvaged from the massive windows in Old Main Auditorium after the fire of 1982.

“I think it’s wonderful that there is such a beautiful and historic building preserved on campus,” associate director of communications Julia May said. “With the loss of Old Main, the Peabody Building is one of the few connections that we still have to the university’s early years.”

The building was designed in the shape of a cross and contained a reading room, book room and office for then-principal of Sam Houston Normal Institute, Henry Carr Pritchett. The building housed the library holdings of the school for almost three decades.

In 1929, the Peabody building was no longer used as library because of the completion of the Estill Library. Because of this, it was eventually used for other purposes.
The building was also used for band rehearsals, a storage facility, a dance studio, and a radio and television studio.

These were seen as inappropriate uses and talk of tearing it down was common due to the steady deterioration of the building. However, the decision was made to restore it instead.

Restoration of the Peabody Memorial Library was completed in 1991 and required a sum of about $1.5 million, while the original building’s construction was budgeted at $9,372.

Some of the University’s archives and important documents were then chosen to be stored in the building which was deemed as a more appropriate use of the facility.

“Because of the building’s age, and the fact that there are several irreplaceable artifacts inside, I don’t think it should be randomly opened.” May said in regards to its accessibility. “I love history, and to me the Peabody Building is a treasure that should be treated with care and respect.”

Due to an issue with mold in 1998 which was harming historical documents that were being stored in the Peabody Building, the structure was closed until the mold was eradicated.

Today the Peabody Building is recorded to be a Texas historical landmark. The Office of the President rents out the building for different occasions such as formal receptions upon reservation.

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