Henry Huttleston Rogers may have been one of the wealthiest men in the world in the late 19th century, but it can’t be said he forgot his roots. Having made a fortune in oil refining, Rogers began donating buildings to his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, including the town hall, a sprawling high school campus, and the local public library.
When Rogers’ daughter Millicent Gifford “Millie” Rogers died of heart failure at age 17 in 1890, the family sought to memorialize the girl who so loved to read and draw, and so, the cornerstone of Millicent Library was laid on September 21, 1891, by Millicent’s little brother Harry. The finished building was dedicated on January 30, 1893, which would have been Millicent’s 20th birthday, first in a private ceremony to unveil the memorial window depicting the robe-draped muse of poetry bearing young Millicent’s likeness, and second at a public ceremony at the nearby Congregational Church. At Henry Huttleston Rogers’ request, opening day was reserved for townspeople aged 70 and older; Henry’s mother Mary took the first book.
If you visit, make sure to sign the guestbook alongside notable names like Booker T. Washington, Joshua Slocum (who listed his place of residence as “ship Spray”), and Eugene Debs. Since the 1950s, most of the signatures are in Japanese. This is because Fairhaven played a central role in the “opening of Japan.” Nakahama Manjiro was a Fairhaven resident in the 1840s and the first Japanese person to live in the United States. Upon his return to Japan, he began working with the government to develop relations with his foster country. In 1918, Manjiro’s son gifted a samurai sword to Fairhaven, which was on display at the library until its theft in 1977. Several Japanese companies raised funds for a replacement that was donated in 1982 and is currently on display in the Rogers Room at the library. Other signatories of the guestbook include the future Emperor and Empress of Japan, Akihito and Michiko, who visited in 1987 to mark the twinning of Fairhaven with Manjiro’s hometown Tosashimizu.
Perhaps the most famous name in the guestbook is that of Mark Twain, a personal friend of Rogers, who visited in February 1894 to give the dedication speech (now on display at the library) for the Town Hall across the street.
Know Before You Go
The library features a large children's reading room and an extensive and eclectic collection of DVDs.