>The following review of Margaret Bingham Stillwell’s book about growing up on Benefit Street ran in “Notes for Bibliophiles” as “The Story of an Old Street” on December 9, 1945. Stillwell was a scholar-librarian in Providence from 1909-1953, at the John Carter Brown Library and the Annmary Brown Memorial. Her autobiography, Librarians are Human, is a must-read for anyone interested in library history.
The timeworn adage that a shoemaker should stick to his last is shown to possess limited application by the recent publication of a prominent librarian. Miss Margaret Bingham Stillwell, familiar to bookmen as the author of “Incunabula and Americana” (1931) and “Incunabula in American Libraries. A Second Census” (1940), both standard works of instruction and reference, has laid aside for the moment her bibliographical last to write and illustrate a book about a single street in her native Providence. “The Pageant of Benefit Street Down Through the Years” (the Akerman-Standard Press, Providence, 1945, 144 pages, $4) is a gracefully written contribution to the growing lore of American cities, and particularly to the history and lore of the old city which it concerns.
Bookmen will read certain sections of Miss Stillwell’s volume with genuine interest, for Benefit Street has long been a respectable center of American collecting and library making, and, in a restricted sense, of American literary history. Near its southern end is the Nightingale Brown house in which John Carter Brown and his son John Nicholas brought together the collection of Americana which today is widely known as the John Carter Brown Library. Proceeding northward one comes at once upon the John Brown house, now the home of the distinguished collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, where formerly for many years were enshrined the notable Shakespeare collection and Kelmscott Press books of the late Marsden Perry. Beyond that is the little building put up by Colonel George Shepley to house his collection of Rhode Island books, prints, and manuscripts. A short block beyond is the house in which, presumably, Stephen Hopkins wrote “A true Representation of the Plan formed at Albany,” 1755, and “The Rights of Colonies Examined,” 1765. Diagonally across from the Hopkins house is the Providence Athenaeum with its uninterrupted history leading back to the Providence Library Company of 1753, one of the two or three oldest libraries of any sort in the United States. In the block beyond is the former home of John Russell Bartlett, bibliographer, philologist, and author of “Dictionary of Americanisms,” “Personal Narrative of Explorations in Texas, New Mexico, etc.,” and editor of the John Carter Brown catalogue of 1875-1882. Across the street from Mr. Bartlett’s house is the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design. A few hundred yards farther on is the house where Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman was living at the time of her tempestuous engagement to Edgar Allan Poe, and just beyond that the boyhood home of Daniel Berkeley Updike, unsurpassed American printer, who made literature of what could have been workaday writings on the history of his craft. The list could be expanded, but enough instances have been cited to show that Benefit Street is something more than a busy highway through a modern city.
The sixteen pen drawings of houses and vistas with which Miss Stillwell has illustrated her little book are exquisite, an expression of a clear vision and a sure hand every line drawn accurately observed and literally transferred to paper. The end papers are maps constructed by Miss Stillwell with legends and dates which form an outline history of the growth and development of Providence. Typography, copper etchings, paper, binding and presswork are distinctly a credit to the printers and publishers, the Akerman-Standard Press of Providence.