Description of Historic Place
Haskell Free Library and Opera House is not only located on Church St., Rock Island Québec, it is also situated on Derby Line, Rock Island, Vermont because this building straddles the border. It is an ornate stone two-storey Queen Anne Revival-style building with a three-storey tower that houses both a library and an opera house. This designation refers to that part of the building that is located on Canadian soil. The American portion is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.
Haskell Free Library and Opera House was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1985 because the building straddles the Canadian-American border and accommodates at one time a library and an opera house.
Haskell Free Library and Opera House was donated for the use of the residents of both countries in memory of American sawmill owner Carlos Haskell and his Canadian wife Martha Stewart Haskell by their family. Designed by architect James Ball and Gilbert H. Smith, and built 1901-1904, it testifies to the late Victorian belief in the intellectual and moral benefits of education and the arts. Its Queen Anne Revival style is typical of public libraries of the time. The second storey opera house has an ornate interior that seats 500 people and follows the accepted principles of 19th century theatre design. The building continues to serve its original functions.
The heritage value of Haskell Free Library and Opera House National Historic Site of Canada resides in its unusual location, its dual function and the long-term sense of community and goodwill they symbolize. The values are expressed by the impressive aesthetic design of the building, its details, composition and materials, as well as in the functional design of the interior, its detail composition and materials. The building’s site and setting are critical to its value.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1985, February 1990.
Key features contributing to the heritage character of this site include:
- the building’s location straddling the US-Canadian border which is marked by a thick black line running beneath the opera house seats and across the library reading room;
- its Queen Anne Revival style as expressed by its irregular two-storey massing, lively roof line with gables, dormers, projecting, enclosed and balustraded porches, and three-storey polygonal tower with conical roof and finial, and the use of Renaissance Revival features, notably a decorated pediment, projecting arched entries, a variety of window forms including arcaded, round- and flat-headed, Palladian, oculus, 12/1 multi-paned sash windows, stained glass, and transoms, as well as classical devices including piers, pilasters, columns, denticulated cornice;
- the entablature over the main (south) entry decorated with the words “Haskell Free Library” in raised stone letters and “Opera House” in the entablature over the east entry;
- its load-bearing masonry construction with granite block foundation, cut granite blocks on first storey and yellow brick on the second with granite trim;
- its high quality workmanship and rich detailing, notably rich woodwork, panelled doors, glazed brick fireplaces, pressed metal;
- the integrity of furnishings and fittings in the library, general public and office areas of the building, their craftsmanship, materials and finishes;
- integrity of the functional design and layout of the opera house ( a scale model of the Old Boston Opera House interior) with its rectangular horseshoe gallery, open slant-floored auditorium, proscenium stage, fly galleries, dressing rooms, and curtain area;
- the integrity of the fittings and furnishings of the auditorium including its folding mahogany seats, sculpted plaster decoration on proscenium arch and balcony, pressed metal and painted ceiling, wall mural, and painted curtain;
- the continuity of its original dual function.