John Howard Whittemore and partners formed a company in Naugatuck in 1871 to produce castings from malleable iron which were then in great demand during the United States’ railroad construction boom. The partnership eventually became known as the Naugatuck Malleable Iron Company, and Mr.Whittemore served as president. He eventually acquired interests in iron foundries in other states.
While the Gilded Age was known for “robber barons”’ of great wealth, Whittemore believed in public philanthropy. He desired residents to be proud of their community and inspired by creating beauty in a town that featured heavy industries, particularly rubber and chemicals. From a period of roughly 1888-1910, he hired the nation’s finest architects to design a number of grand public buildings.
Whittemore Library was designed to serve as a memorial to his son John Howard who died as a teenager. The renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White were commissioned to design our library among other projects they planned in the borough. The building is constructed of pink granite, and features terra cotta panels above the windows and a unique continuous frieze inscribed with the names of iconic writers known to the builders of that era. The library’s front (original) entrance has towering Ionic columns. Inside the front door is the restored rotunda which is decorated with carved marble from Siena, Italy and has prominent gilding and painted tiles. An inscribed Emily Dickinson poem rings the lower portion of the rotunda. Finally, the library’s insignia can be found on the rotunda floor- a red and gold terrazzo tiled medallion.