Linn-Henley Research Library

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Linn-Henley Research Library as seen from Linn Park on February 12, 2010 - Photo by Melinda Shelton

The Linn-Henley Research Library is the current name for the 1927 building in Linn Park which was the primary location of the Birmingham Public Library from its completion until 1984, when a new Birmingham Central Library was built across 21st Street North.

After the former library rooms were burned in the 1925 City Hall fire, books and building funds were donated from all over the country. The neoclassical style Indiana limestone-clad building opened on Woodrow Wilson Park on April 11, 1927. It was designed by Miller and Martin.

The central library was upgraded with air conditioning, new lighting and tile flooring with $200,000 in bond funds in 1954. During that project a number of curious items were found stored in the library, including a knee-pump organ; a dress form; a box of shotgun shells; jars of preserved snakes; mounted moose, ram and deer heads; Mexican statuary; and a full suit of Eskimo clothing. Director Fant Thornley said at the time that all the items with any value would be preserved, but that the library itself had no space for displaying them to the public.

After the construction of the nearby Birmingham Central Library in 1984, the 1927 building was renovated and reopened as the Linn-Henley Research Library. It was named for the families of Charles Linn and John C. Henley, whose combined trust helped fund the restoration. The main reading rooms were devoted to the Tutwiler Collection of Southern History and Literature. Other departments, such as Administration, Archives and Manuscripts, the Rucker Agee Map Collection, and Government Documents are housed on other floors. The third-floor auditorium is used for public events, and an enclosed pedestrian bridge connects the library to the third floor of the new central library.


A prominent feature of the main reading room and children's reading rooms are the large mural sequences depicting world mythology and fairy tales, respectively. These were executed by Ezra Winter of New York City. The custom-sized canvasses were painted in Winters studio and brought to Birmingham to be secured to the upper walls.

The murals in the main reading room proceed clockwise from the southwest corner:

  • Egyptian - Isis presents a statue of Truth to Rameses II in a scene from the epic of his life.
  • Hebrew - David composes a psalm on his lyre for Saul.
  • Greek - Bellerophon places Athena's bridle on Pegasus.
  • Persian - Sadi meditates in his rose garden.
  • Arabian - Sharazad entertains Shahryar with one of her 1,001 stories.
  • Hindu - Radha is entranced by the music of Krishna
  • Japanese - Ura-Shima Ta-ro releases the cloud of time given him by his wife, Otohime
  • Chinese - Confucius teaches under a tree.
  • Scandinavian - Sigurd rescues Brynhild from Odin
  • Russian - Igor Svatoslavic leads an army
  • German - Faust seduces Margaret
  • English - Lancelot rides on the quest for the Holy Grail
  • American - Pocahontas rescues John Smith
  • French - Alcest attempts to court Celimene in a scene from Moliere's Le Misanthrope
  • Italian - Dante encounters Virgil in the Wood of Error
  • Spanish - Don Quixote and Sancho Panza set off on their quest

Winter also painted decorations on the ceiling, blending them with the borders surrounding the murals and uniting the entire room as a single composition. The murals were cleaned and restored in 1989. The ceiling decoration has been reproduced in wallpaper following extensive plaster repairs during the 1980s renovation.