The James is the oldest library in Norwell and is located on the village green, adjacent to the historic Kent House and First Parish of Norwell. The three-story building stands as one of the few examples of Victorian architecture in the Norwell Historic District.
Since 1874, the James has been a gathering place for scores of groups as diverse as the Young Ladies Union during the late 1870’s, to current community groups including the Norwell Garden Club, the Norwell Women’s Club, and the North River Commission.
The Rev. William N. Fish, Minister of the First Parish of Norwell from 1865 to 1885, conceived the idea of a library, at first for a collection of Sunday School children’s books and later for people of all ages.
His friend, Josiah L. James, a native of South Scituate who had moved Out West to Illinois to make his fortune, wrote that he would like to do something for his hometown and parish. Reverend Fish reported to him the paramount need to expand the book collection. A one thousand dollar donation from Mr. James was the result. In short order it became clear that the closet in the church vestibule that held the books was totally inadequate and that a separate library building would be needed.
Rev. Fish made further appeals to Mr. James, who provided additional funds for the building project. Israel Nash gave a plot of land near the church, valued at $300. A public subscription drive netted $13,515, of which Josiah James gave $5,920.
Built by Leander Sherman of North Marshfield, the Italianate design included Queen Anne style windows, which had not been seen in such novel appearance anywhere in the district. The building was dedicated at a service on May 1, 1874, and named in honor of its earliest and most generous contributor, Josiah L. James.
The new James Library was ideal for a book depository, as well for parish meetings, Sunday school classes, church suppers, and committee meetings. It soon became a public meeting place for many local organizations: the Reading Circle, the Boy Scouts, Ladies Sewing Circle, the Young People’s Christian Union, arts and crafts groups, the Norwell Historical Society, the Couples Club, and others, as well as becoming Norwell’s first public lending library.
By 1990, the Friends of the James Library and the Trustees broadened the scope of activities to more fully realize the James’ potential for service to the community.
In 1991 a series of Literary Teas called Sunday Afternoon at the James were inaugurated featuring author events and book signings. By 1994, a grand piano was purchased and the second floor became a Victorian concert hall. Musicians ranging from piano students to members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform to capacity audiences.
A major renovation of the lower level created a bright, intimate art gallery where area artists exhibit their work. The James was thus recast as a community arts center, and continues today to provide quality arts programming in a Victorian setting.
The James Library and Center for the Arts is self-supporting and dependent on financial support from the local business community, individual donations, and ticket revenue. It would not exist without the help of all those who have generously supported the James with both their time and donations.