A major renovation of the Houghton Library is scheduled to be completed by the beginning of next year. Perhaps many at Harvard University's rare book library will react with puzzlement, as in, I didn't know there was major reconstruction going on at the Houghton Library. There is, just not at that Houghton Library. There is another, and it is the only other library to share the manuscript collection of their mutual benefactor, Arthur A. Houghton, Jr.
This “other” Houghton Library, the Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. Library, is located at the Corning Community College in Corning, New York. The division of his manuscripts, along with his largesse, between such different institutions might seem puzzling. It isn't, once one understands Houghton's background. The Harvard connection was sealed by his days as an undergraduate. Arthur Houghton graduated from Harvard in 1929.
The Corning Community College connection relates to his family background, and his business career. Mr. Houghton was the great-grandson of the founder of the Corning Glass Works. He undoubtedly could have lived comfortably without working a day in his life, but instead he went into the family business. In 1933, he was named President of Corning's Steuben Glass division. The artistic glass division had been struggling during the Depression. Houghton took on the task of revitalizing its designs, and building the company into the most important designer and manufacturer of high quality, crystal designs. Steuben Glass, under his leadership, became legendary. He remained Steuben's President for the next forty years, though part of the time was spent elsewhere, focused on other endeavors.
One of those other endeavors was serving as curator of rare books at the Library of Congress from 1940-1942. Along with his love of art, Arthur Houghton had a love for rare books and manuscripts, the result of his appreciation for English literature, developed during his days at Harvard. He would emerge from his undergraduate days as a book collector, becoming one of the most important collectors of his time (the middle of the 20th century). Houghton provided the major financing for the library at Harvard which bears his name, along with contributing to its collection, most notably the world's largest collection of Keats material. The library opened in 1942.
In the late 1950's, Houghton would be much involved with the formation of Corning Community College. He donated 273 acres of land, along with providing money and part of his personal collection to the library. It is not surprising that the Corning college would name its library after its generous benefactor. This is how the Corning Community College library came to share a name and a collection with the rare book and manuscript library at Harvard University. Now, with the extensive reconstruction being completed at the Corning edition of the Houghton Library, students will have a modern facility in which to read and learn, and the collections donated by Arthur Houghton and others will receive the proper level of care. So three cheers are in order for the Houghtons, one for each library, and one for the man.