The Brooklyn Athenaeum and Reading Room was founded in 1852 by a group of prominent Brooklyn citizens as a library and respite for young men, where they could gather as well for instruction as for that innocent relaxation, which the wear and tear of mercantile life so imperiously demands, according to its first president, John Taylor, in his first annual report.
The three story building, designed by William Field, had commercial storefronts on the ground floor, including a book store, the reading room and library on the second, and the concert/lecture hall, which could hold 2,000 people, on the third.
It had high aspirations for the teaching of philosophy and literature, and offered lectures and concerts on all manner of subjects, including music, history, and other high minded subjects. Members paid a fee of three dollars a year, or two dollars for six months.
For many years, the Daily Eagle reported that the shareholders in this venture were able to collect a return on their investments. The Reading Room featured newspapers from other American cities, as well as a selection of European papers.
The book store carried Shakespeare and the classics, as well as pens, papers, writing desks and ink, and a selection of children’s books. The library opened fully to the public in 1858.
Only 5 years after its founding, a group of young men from the Athenaeum established the Brooklyn Mercantile Library Association of the City of Brooklyn, which operated out of the second floor of the Athenaeum for ten years.
In 1869, the Mercantile Library and the Athenaeum pooled their collections and moved to a new building at 197 Montague Street, called the Montague Street Branch Library.