Who was Maria Hastings?
Maria Hastings (pronounced "ma-RYE-a") was born in 1801, the youngest of nine children. Her father and grandfather both fought in the Battle of Lexington. They were farmers. When she was 27, she married William Harris Cary, from a neighboring farm. Then she was Maria Hastings Cary. Her husband was a rich merchant in Boston and NewYork. The Carys moved to New York City but spent their summers in Lexington.
She lived to be 80 years old.
Maria Hastings Cary is the founder of Lexington's free public library. She donated money and led the way deciding how the library would be run and financed by the town.
In 1868, she gave the town $1,000 for books, but said the town had to also spend $1,000 on books and not charge people for borrowing them. At that point, the town library was a few bookshelves upstairs from the general store. The next year, 1869, she offered Lexington $20,000 so it could add a special room for a library to the town hall it was building. That gift would be $410,000 in today's money!
She gave the library $5,000 more in 1871. When she died in 1881, she left another $5,000 to the library. Each of those gifts is the same as $100,000 today.
Remember that in those days, not all towns had public libraries. If you've read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you remember how precious access to books was to the characters in those books.
Where did Maria live?
Maria grew up on a farm on Lincoln Street. Because her husband's importing business moved to New York, Maria and William bought a house in Brooklyn, NY. But they missed the country, so in 1853, her husband bought a Lexington farmhouse that had belonged to Maria's father, on Cary Avenue. They remodeled it and it became known as the Cary Mansion. The house burned down after her death, but legend has it that her ghost still wanders the neighborhood. She really loved Lexington.
If her married name was Cary, is she linked to Cary Hall (the town auditorium)?
Cary Memorial Hall was built to honor her husband's brother and business partner, Isaac Harris Cary. It was given to the town by his daughters.
Is she related to Hastings Park (where the bandstand is)?
Yes. Her daughter Alice gave that land to the town in Maria's memory.
How did a school built in 1955 get named for a lady who lived in the 1800s?
Lexington has a tradition of naming schools for important town leaders from its past. For example, other schools are named for heroes from the American Revolution, or the first doctor or the first teacher. Maria Hastings Cary was a leader in the cause of literacy and education.
Did she have any children?
Maria and William loved children but had none of their own. They had a foster daughter named Alice Butler Cary.
Where can you see a portrait of Maria Hastings Cary?
Two oil paintings of her hang in the newly restored oval room located to the right as you come in the front door of the Cary Library. One is of her in her forties painted by Edgar Parker. The other, painted by Charles E. Osgood, a portrait painter in Salem, Mass, is of her as a grand, elderly lady.
Is it true Maria's sister was also her mother-in-law?
Her older sister, Abigail, was the third wife of Maria's husband's father, so Abigail was Maria's stepmother-in-law. Also, Maria had a brother who married one of her husband's sisters.
Did the town appreciate her during her lifetime?
Yes. A town historian wrote that she was "sincerely loved and respected." When she died, all of the churches in town came together for her memorial service. Although the library was her main interest, she was involved in many local charities. We can be proud of her devotion to the entire community of Lexington. Our school's efforts to build "a community of learners" could not be more appropriate as a memorial to her.
The library was previously housed in the
second story of the local general store.
How did the library get moved to the big building it's in now?
After Maria Hastings Cary died, her daughter Alice Butler Cary, gave the town money to build a library in memory of her mother. Other members of the Cary family contributed the land. The Cary Memorial Library is named for Maria Hastings Cary. In the 1970s, the library built a big addition to keep up with its growing collection of books and the growth of the town.