Correspondents have weighed in on the Shepley Library, and perhaps the most interesting suggestion comes from Peter Van Erp, who contends that the Shepley Library was not on what are now the grounds of the John Brown House. In fact, the passage from Providence’s Benefit Street that I interpreted as saying so does not necessarily say so.
Attributed by authors Ellysa Tardif and Peggy Chang to historian Margaret Stillwell, the passage reads: “… just beyond the John Brown House stood a ‘little building put up by Colonel George Shepley to house his collection of Rhode Island books, prints, and manuscripts’” Arguably, “just beyond the John Brown House” could mean a distance beyond the Brown House compound. The address 292 Benefit is indeed a block north and on the opposite side of Benefit from the compound.
In fact, 292 Benefit still exists, though it is not listed in the 1985 architectural survey by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. And as Peter points out, the land on which the library would have sat is in fact a parking lot – across the street from my first tiny apartment (1984-90) in Providence, directly north of the Hope Club parking lot (occupied until 1960 by 2 Benevolent St. on the map at the bottom of this post). Below is the Shepley House at 292 in a photograph from a real-estate website. Notice that it has the same ornate entrance portico as the one to the far left of the photo, above, of the Shepley Library and Shepley House.
It is definitely the same house. Below is a detail from my 1895 plat map expanded to the area just north of yesterday’s map. So now we have moved closer to solving our mystery of the Shepley Library. Much remains to be learned, but we now know where it is, or was. Many thanks, Peter, for your excellent architectural detective work!