Newberry Library
If you stand in Washington Square Park as the leaves begin to fall, you can look through the thin spider-web like branches of the trees to get a glimpse of the Newberry Library. Its ponderous Romanesque form was completed in 1893, the same year Chicago saw the World's Columbian Exposition welcome millions of visitors to Jackson Park on the city's South Side.

Situated near The Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast neighborhoods downtown since 1887, the historic building is worth a stop — and here's why. 


Through Tragedy, a Great Gift

Chicago's Newberry Library was created through the largesse of Walter Loomis Newberry, a Chicago land developer who came to the city from Detroit in 1833. He worked a type of alchemy with his keen eye for a good real estate investment, and he was a community leader, serving as the president of the Chicago Historical Society for many years.

Tragically, he passed away at sea in 1868. Fortunately for Chicago and its visitors, his will provided for the establishment of a public library to be located on the city's North Side. At the time, the city did not have such an august institution, so this was considered a most honorable gift. Acting on the somewhat vague terms of Newberry's will, the trustees decided to create a library for scholars and people desiring to make careful "researches."

In the intervening century and a quarter, the library has continued this charge, and along with offering a range of programs for visiting scholars and researchers, they have a set of public programs and tours that will be of interest to the generally curious.


Exhibitions and Programming

Newberry Library

First-time visitors will definitely want to check out their FREE exhibitions, which rotate every several months. Drawing on the library's vast holdings, recent exhibitions have included intriguing investigations into Daniel Burnham's vision for Chicago and daily life during the Civil War. The Chicago Calligraphy Collective presents a juried exhibition in the gallery annually, and is now in its 30th year.

The programs and events at the Newberry include adult seminars (registrations and enrollment fee required), free monthly genealogy orientations for those interested in using the Newberry's genealogy collection, chats with authors, and close looks at Newberry collections, such as the Midwest Dance Collection.


The Annual Newberry Book Fair and Bughouse Square Debates

Bughouse Square Debates

One of their most celebrated events is the annual Newberry Book Fair, which happens during the last weekend in July. This event offers over 100,000 books, records, and paper ephemera at rock-bottom prices. Bibliophiles line up early to make a beeline for the Chicago, fiction, and other sought-after sections of this vast and inviting sale. 

This book bazaar happens in conjunction with the Bughouse Square Debates, which bring together speakers from all walks of life to talk about current events, labor struggles, and a myriad of other subjects, across the street in Washington Square Park. On a lovely day, there's no better place to be for thoughtful conversation and debate. 


Newberry Library
60 W. Walton St.
(312) 943-9090

Reading Room and Exhibition Galleries hours vary throughout the week. Closed Sundays. Check the website for full listing of hours of operation.


N is for Newberry is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries!