The Library and Its History

The Library Today Brief History of the Library Library Buildings Selected Further Reading
Renovation and Master Plan W.S. and Annie Burr Lewis Oral History Project William Day Museum of Indian Artifacts  

The Library Today

The Lewis Walpole Library, a department of the Yale University Library since 1980, is an internationally recognized research collection in the field of British eighteenth-century studies. Its unrivalled collection of Walpoliana includes half the traceable volumes from Horace Walpole's famous library at Strawberry Hill and many letters and other manuscripts by him. The Library's book and manuscript collections, numbering over 32,000 volumes, cover all aspects of eighteenth-century British culture.

The Library is also home to the largest and finest collection of eighteenth-century British graphic art outside the British Museum; its 35,000 satirical prints, portraits, and topographical views are an incomparable resource for visual material on many facets of English life of the period.

Located in Farmington, Connecticut, forty miles north of New Haven and within easy distance of Boston and New York, the Lewis Walpole Library's collections also include drawings, paintings, and furniture, all housed on a fourteen-acre campus with four historically important structures and extensive grounds. The Library runs an active fellowship program and sponsors conferences, lectures, and exhibitions in cooperation with other Yale libraries and departments.

A brief overview of the Library, its programs, its buildings, and its staff.


The Library underwent a major building renovation project, completed in 2007, resulting in a new reading room, collection storage, staff and conservation workspace, an exhibition gallery, and a classroom. Information about and images of the Library's 2007 renovation project.

Master Plan and Preservation of Historic Buildings

In keeping with the Lewises’ request that the property be kept in “excellent condition”, the LWL has engaged Yale Facilities and Nelson Edwards Company Architects to plan and execute a master plan for the entire complex.  The first project completed was the refurbishment of the exterior of the Cowles House.  This project removed many decades of lead-based paint, repaired damaged siding and trim, refurbished the existing historical windows, repaired the slate roofing, replaced the roofing over the exhibit space and the classroom, and made repairs to the masonry chimneys on the main house and additions.  The exterior was painted in a creamy white color which was identified by the paint study done by Building Conservation Associates, Inc.  This color was determined to have been on the house when the Lewises were both living in the house and were very active in the community (during the mid-1950’s). 

The second project in the master plan was the Emergency Generator Project.  This project consisted of the installation of an emergency generator to power the HVAC and life safety and security equipment in the main library and the Root House.  The generator will ensure that the collections and our patrons will be protected and preserved during any power loss.

The third project was the Walpole Library Campus Refurbishment Project.  This project consisted of the removal of lead-based paint from the Root House exterior, refurbishment of the existing windows in the original house, replacement of windows and doors within the September 2000 addition, repairs to the structure and roofing of the Barn, installation of a new roof on the Day Museum, repairs to the siding and trim of the Day Museum as well as the refurbishment of the windows.  This project was completed at the end of 2014.

The fourth project was  the Root House Terrace Project. This project consisted of a redesign of the entire terrace which was increased in size, had permanent seating installed, new plantings within and around the terrace, new lighting installed (including uplighting of new trees), and improve drainage of the terrace and the Root House gutter system. The terrace is now able to accommodate a 20’ x 20’ tent for events.  Improvements also included modifications to the handicapped ramp leading from the parking area.  The terrace is an inviting area for our readers, staff, and other guests to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Lewis Walpole Library. For a view of the plan for the terrace, click here.

The fifth project is the Cowles House Interior Refurbishment and HVAC Upgrades Project.  This project, which is scheduled to begin in summer 2017, consists of the installation of an HVAC system to provide conditioned air to the house, refinishing the existing floors on both the first and second floors, installation of new carpeting on the first floor, partial restoration of the entry hallway woodwork, as well as repainting of the entire interior.

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Brief History of the Library -- Lewis, Walpole, and the Library

Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis and his wife, Annie Burr Lewis, left their collection, house, and grounds to Yale to be known as the Lewis Walpole Library or, as he referred to it unofficially, Yale in Farmington.

Also on view at the Library is the so-called "Nag's Head" portrait of Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Vice-President Aaron Burr, formerly attributed to John Vanderlyn.

Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis, "Lefty" to his friends, began collecting books not long after his 1918 graduation from Yale. On a trip to London in 1923, Lewis bought a copy of John Heneage Jesse's George Selwyn and His Contemporaries that was full of manuscript notes by Lady Louisa Stuart. Her lively commentary about the people and events described in the book piqued Lewis's interest and led him eventually to Horace Walpole. Walpole (1717-1797) was the youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, England's first prime minister, and an energetic letter-writer for most of his long life. The view of the eighteenth century afforded by Walpole's correspondence fascinated Lewis and led to his lifelong pursuit of all things Walpolian. Lewis acquired books, manuscripts, and prints as well as graphic and decorative arts, all in an extraordinary effort to gather information about Horace Walpole and his times, his house at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, his interests, and his friends and contemporaries. Lewis spent nearly half a century, until his death in 1979, editing Walpole's correspondence. Fully indexed and annotated, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence extends to 48 volumes and remains a remarkable accomplishment.

In 2011, the Library digitized all 48 volumes of The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence and provides free online access to the electronic version.

W.S. Lewis dedicated The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence to Annie Burr Lewis, and his tribute to her following her death in 1959 was published in the preface to volume 20.

The exhibition "Dancing on a Sunny Plain: The Life of Annie Burr Auchincloss Lewis" looked at Annie Burr Lewis's life. View the award-winning exhibition brochure.

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The W.S. and Annie Burr Lewis Oral History Project

WSL ABL ca 1928

W.S. and Annie Burr Lewis, ca. 1928



The Lewis Walpole Library is pleased to announce the inauguration of The W.S. and Annie Burr Lewis Oral History Project and invites help in this effort to record and preserve the memories of the lives and legacies of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (1895-1979) and Annie Burr Lewis (1902-1959).

W.S. Lewis, born in Alameda, California, attended the Thatcher School and graduated from Yale University in 1918. Lewis acquired books, manuscripts, and prints as well as graphic and decorative arts, all in an extraordinary attempt to gather information about Horace Walpole and his times, his house at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, his interests, and his friends and contemporaries. Lewis spent nearly half a century editing Walpole's correspondence. Fully indexed and annotated, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence extends to 48 volumes and remains a remarkable accomplishment. In 1928 Lewis married Annie Burr Auchincloss, who was born in Newport, R.I., and graduated in 1920 from Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. As an essential participant in her husband’s collecting, Mrs. Lewis served as their collection’s first curator of prints and was also active in support of historic preservation, perhaps most notably as Vice-Regent for Connecticut for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Aside from a few years spent in Washington during World War II, where Mrs. Lewis worked at the Red Cross and Mr. Lewis worked at the Office of Strategic Services, they lived at 154 Main Street in Farmington until their deaths.

The Project intends to elicit memories and reflections from people who were the Lewises’ friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, associates, and collaborators.  These narratives will be added to the Library’s archives and will offer a valuable resource for understanding the rich and dynamic life of these two remarkable individuals.

Those interested in participating in this project are invited to provide the Library with written or recorded memories in person, by mail, or by email. In addition, there will be opportunities for participants to audio- or video-record their stories at the Library.

For more information:

Nicole L. Bouché, W.S. Lewis Librarian & Executive Director
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
P.O. Box 1408, Farmington, CT 06032
860 677-2140  nicole.bouche@yale.edu

An article announcing the Oral History project appeared in the Yale Daily Bulletin on August 8, 2011.





On February 15, 2012, Matthew Hargraves, Associate Curator for Collections Research at the Yale Center for British Art, presented a lecture entitled "Charles Ryskamp: A Life in Arts and Letters," at the Frick Collection in New York. Charles Ryskamp was a long-time member of the Library's Board of Managers. In the lecture, Hargraves discussed W.S. Lewis's influence on Ryskamp's career. The lecture was streamed live and video of the entire lecture can be seen online at ForaTV.

The portion of the lecture about W.S. Lewis appears in chapter 8 of the video.

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Library Buildings

Cowles House Exterior The Cowles House, ca. 1784
Photograph by Richard Caspole Yale Center for British Art, 1999

New Library
The New Library, ca. 1928
Photograph by Richard Caspole
Yale Center for British Art, 1999

The Library sits on 14 acres of mostly cleared land about a mile south of Farmington Center. The land is bordered on the west by the Pequabuck River just south of its junction with the Farmington River and by the remains of the Farmington Canal that ran from New Haven to Northampton in Massachusetts 150 years ago. Nearby are some excellent walking, jogging, and bike routes (the Library even provides a bike). Some specimen trees of interest among the many maples on the property are a Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia) and a healthy American Elm. Most open land is left as field or cultivated as lawns, although there are some courtyard gardens immediately west of the Library Building.

The Library building is one of four on the site, and the most prominent from Main Street. It is a two-story white Georgian-style house built about 1784 for Revolutionary War General Solomon Cowles. It is thought that the front porch wrapping two sides of the house may be one of the earliest examples of a porch original to the design and not a later addition. It is also believed that the intricately carved wood paneling and trim on the first floor interior is the work of Hessian prisoners of war. The Lewises engaged the architect William Adams Delano to design their late 1920s addition to the house to accommodate their growing collection.

Next door to the Library is a simpler two-story white frame Colonial-style house, built for Army Captain Timothy Root in the same year as the Cowles House. It was completely renovated in 2001 to accommodate scholars working with the Library's collections, and now boasts nine bedrooms, each with private bath.

In the center of the Library "campus quadrangle" is The William Day Museum of Indian Artifacts, a small, one-story red structure originally built 250 years ago by local Native Americans as part of their residence. It was moved to its present location to house an exhibit of artifacts first unearthed on the site by Bill Day, the Lewises' caretaker; later, Yale archaeologists organized several digs. Read more about the William Day Museum and its contents in "A Bit of Yale in Farmington," written by Paul Grant-Costa.

Finally, a large red barn of eight bays with full loft completes the building complex. Originally used for agriculture and livestock, it now houses the facilities workshop and grounds equipment.

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William Day Museum of Indian Artifacts

Day Museum
William Day Museum, ca. mid-18th century

A Bit of Yale in Farmington

While the Peabody Museum of Natural History is the larger and more well-known Yale facility which houses Connecticut archaeological materials, there exists another, much smaller building, called the William Day Museum of Indian Artifacts, situated at the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut.  Its presence on the library's campus owes its existence to Wilmarth S. Lewis and the keen eye of his groundskeeper, Bill Day.  While it was Day who consistently picked up various types of prehistoric lithic materials from the Lewis's backyard, it was Lewis, an ardent collector of materials by the 18th-century English figure Horace Walpole, who got the idea of displaying Day's numerous finds to the public.

Lewis was no stranger to Yale, the Peabody Museum, or even to archaeological artifacts.  A graduate of Yale Class of 1918, he corresponded as an interested alumnus with Cornelius Osgood, Peabody's director, about bringing together other Yale alumni who were collectors to create a web of contacts and publish information about Yale's extensive collections in the alumni magazine.  Through Osgood, Lewis learned of the University's attempt to purchase Edward Payne's large private collection of Mississippi Valley Indian artifacts in 1935.  That assemblage, valued in the millions of dollars, was said to be the "largest and finest aggregation of Stone Age materials of this country which has ever been made."  It was so large, in fact, that it could easily have filled nine regulation railroad freight cars.  The sale eventually fell through, and after Paynes' death the collection was divided, sold, and scattered throughout the country.  But Lewis's connection to the Peabody continued to grow stronger.

By 1938, Lewis was a member of the Yale Corporation and by the next year was advocating building of a new wing of the Peabody devoted solely to anthropology.  In 1944, Lewis had tried to persuade Norris Bull -- a local artifact collector from West Hartford--to leave his substantial collection to Yale.  Although these two endeavors were unsuccessful, Lewis revived an earlier idea in 1946 and published a widely-read report of Yale's extensive collections in a monograph which included a chapter on the Peabody's natural history as well as its anthropological assemblages.  Perhaps inspired by this experience and his interest in the topic, he read books on archaeology and anthropology sent him by Osgood.  Thus when Bill Day kept digging up stone artifacts in Lewis's property, Lewis had an idea.  He arranged to have an old eighteenth-century cabin, built by a Farmington Indian, moved to his garden to serve as a museum of sorts for the growing collection.  This building Lewis dubbed The William Day Museum of Indian Artifacts, a grandiose title, he admitted, but one he liked immensely.

In 1966, Lewis contacted the Peabody's Ben Rouse and asked if there would be any interest in excavating the garden and fields where the artifacts were being found.  Rouse was skeptical at first but quickly agreed once it was determined that the surface finds that Day was gathering were quite old and significant.  In fact, some material was Paleolithic, about 10,000 years old.  Moreover, the diversity and number of the finds convinced Rouse that a systematic excavation of the site would be needed.

The discovery of the Farmington site occurred at the same time that Yale was considering offering archaeology as an undergraduate major.  With Lewis's support and financial largess, the Anthropology Department was able to offer an undergraduate course in modern field techniques, using his property as a training ground for budding archaeologists.  From 1967 to 1977, undergraduate and graduate students conducted numerous excavations under the watchful eye of a number of Yale faculty--Michael Coe, Barbara Stark, and David Starbuck--the artifacts going into exhibits at both the Day and Peabody Museums.  By the time Lewis died in 1979, however, the Department felt that the time and expense of transporting students from New Haven to Farmington outweighed the benefits of using the site and discontinued its field school there, opting instead for an historical project within a short driving distance of campus. 

In the Spring of 1991, the William Day Museum opened to the public on a limited but regular basis under the aegis of the Farmington Historical Society.  Until its close in 2005 for the construction of new facilities for the Lewis Walpole Library, the museum attracted hundreds of visitors and school groups interested in the prehistory of the Farmington area.

pg-c / April 2011

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Selected Further Reading

Branch, Mark Alden. "Yale's Country House Gets a Makeover," Yale Alumni Magazine, 72, January/February 2008. http://www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2008_01/l_v.html

Caitlin, Roger. "For Love of Art: Two Men's Obsessions Converge at Farmington's Lewis Walpole Library," Hartford Courant, December 13, 2009, http://www.courant.com/entertainment/arts/hc-walpole.artdec13,0,5312269.story

Cornforth, John. "The Cowles-Lewis House, Farmington : the Home of Mr. Wilmarth S. Lewis." Country Life, 163, no. 4216 (April 27, 1978): 1150-53, and 164, no. 4217 (May 4, 1978): 1230-33.

Hellman, Geoffrey T., Profiles, “The Steward of Strawberry Hill I,” The New Yorker, August 6, 1949, p. 26-37.

Hellman, Geoffrey T., Profiles, “The Steward of Strawberry Hill II,” The New Yorker, August 13, 1949, p. 31-41.

Hellman, Geoffrey T., Onward and Upward with the Arts, “Farmington Revisited,” The New Yorker, October 31, 1959, p. 156-172.

Hellman, Geoffrey T., Our Far-Flung Correspondents, “The Age of Wilmarth Lewis,” The New Yorker, October 15, 1973, p. 104-111.

Lewis, W. S. Collector's Progress. New York: Knopf, 1951.

Lewis, W. S. One Man's Education. New York: Knopf, 1967.

"The Lewis Walpole Library: a Piece of Yale in Farmington." Yale Bulletin and Calendar News Stories, 24, no. 3 (1996). http://www.yale.edu/opa/ybc/v24.n33.news.15.html .

"Life Explores World's Finest Walpole Library." Life Magazine, 23 October 1944, 116-117.

Notes by Lady Louisa Stuart on George Selwyn and His Contemporaries by John Heneage Jesse. Edited from the original manuscript by W.S. Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press; London: H. Milford, 1928.

Peltz, Lucy. "A Scholar's View of the Walpole Library." Nota Bene 10 (Fall 1996). http://www.library.yale.edu/NotaBene/nbx3/nbx3.htm

Serna, Daniel. "Tucked Away, Yale Library Flourishes." Yale Daily News, October 27, 2009.

Shenker, Israel. "Can He Be the Real Horace Walpole--or Is He Wilmarth Lewis, a Yale Scholar Who 'Lives' in the 18th Century?" Photographs by Marvin E. Newman. Smithsonian 10 (May 1979): 102-108.

Stillwell, John E. The History of the Burr Portraits, Their Origin, Their Dispersal and Their Reassemblage, [New York?] 1928.

Van, Irene. "Mystery of the Lewis Walpole Library Explained," Farmington Patch, March 24, 2011.

Walpole, Horace. The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence. Edited by W.S. Lewis [et al.]. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1933-1983. Available electronically at: http://images.library.yale.edu/hwcorrespondence/


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