The N.P. Sims Library sits as a historical landmark with a room upstairs that’s held classes, theatrical plays and literary readings for more than one hundred years. Walking into the Lyceum will take a patron back to the end of the Gilded Age.
When the library opened to the public in 1905, one Daily Light writer described the Lyceum by stating, “the furnishings of the antheum were as lovely as a dream. No more adequate description could be given."
Holly Russell, the children’s librarian shared the history and architectural design of the Lyceum. She said the chief architect on site was Wemyss Smith of Ft. Worth. Smith was renowned for this work on churches.
The decorations and furnishings came from a local store in Waxahachie from W. B. Reymuller. All of the furnishings stand to this day in their original form but all of the cloth décor has been replaced.
Most of the renovations occurred nearly 100 years later in 1992. The floor of the stage was completely redone, while only small portions of the floor where the audience sits has been restored.
The most recognizable difference in the room occurred when the air conditioning unit was put in the early 1990s.
“The library board was able to secure some large donations and some grant funds to add air conditioning. The back half of the building is a lot lower because that’s where the unit is, but originally it was all one height,” Russell said.
But the original pressed tin continues to line the ceiling, holding light fixtures that date back to the 1900s.
Another noticeable difference is the walls. Around the same time of all of the remodeling, the wallpaper was taken down. Russell said before the wallpaper was in disrepair, ruined and moldy, but that it was also “beautiful, hand-painted,” in its original form.
“I wish they would have kept a portion of it,” Russell said.
But when they recovered the walls it was with paint instead. They went with a flat color, which is similar to the green tones of the wallpaper before.
Walking in, a patron will be overtaken by the golden, arch above the stage.
“The arch is the centerpiece to the room. It’s a molded plaster so it would have been molded off sight in an architectural studio. It was then handed gilded once it was put in place and secured,” Russell said.
In the cartouche, a carved tablet or drawing representing a scroll with rolled-up ends bears the inscription “S.W.S,” the initials of the architect.
Russell said, “No one knows why we got the architect’s initials instead of Mr. Sims. We can’t answer that.”
The arch is a gilded plaster over a wood frame the shows its time of Greek-styled architecture with columns and scrolls. Ornamental designs on the arch display acorns, stars, wreaths, bands and ovals.
Russell explained gilding the arch was the most time-consuming.
“It’s very fine leaf, it’s shaved like a thin layer of gold. It has to be overlaid and depending on how large their sheets that they were working with — today we buy them in tiny little squares. The more intricate the arch, the smaller piece they would have to use,” she said.
This arch represents the era of progress and wealth. Russell also said the creation of this room was part of a movement all of its own, similar to the Chautauqua Movement. She said, “almost like an enlightenment.”
During that time there was an emergence of Shakespeare clubs and women’s literary clubs, as well as, a push for social events for education and expanding the mind.
In the early days of the Lyceum’s use it was a space for the community to come together and get expert information, Russell explained.
In modern time, it’s been used for theatrical plays, piano recitals, and classes. The room was perfectly designed for events like these since sound carries so well without an audio system.
Russell explained, “This is one of those rooms, when it gets full you can’t hear the person on stage if everyone is shuffling and whispering because it all echoes.”
The seats where the audience sits also show the Lyceum’s age. Pressed sheets of wood make up the chair, on a cast iron frame. Some of the seats have cracked or been chipped away at, displaying the many sheets of wood. Under most of the seats an audience member and find a rack to place their hat. The library showcases the room, saying it can hold 200 people.
As the purpose of the Lyceum has slightly changed over time, the originality can still hold true with the antique seats, gilded arch, and creaky floor.
“This is an added reminder that we are always learning and that learning can be beautiful,” Russell said.