The Bryant Free Library sits on a now-busy state road in Cummington, Massachusetts, tucked into the trees at the bottom of a hill. Climb the hill and you’ll reach the sprawling boyhood home of the man for whom it’s named, the 19th-century poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant. He was born here in 1794, but he made his career in New York as the crusading editor of the Evening Post, and as a founder of the party that once was Lincoln’s. Bryant, as in Bryant Park. Yet he never forgot these hills, and in 1872, just a few years before his death, the old man came back to Cummington, a hundred miles west of Boston, and gave the town a library.

The Bryant is a cube-shaped mass of brick and rusticated stone that looks defensible, more like a military blockhouse than a seat of learning. Only a sign announces the… More…