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Literacy among Americans was already among the highest in the world, but it rose still higher at the turn of the 20th century. The number of books published quadrupled during the same period. Reading and writing were essential skills in a society that believed that only literate citizens could sustain a representative government. Designed by American architect Asher Benjamin (1773-1845) for Jonathan Leavitt of Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1797, this private home became the Greenfield Public Library in 1909. With its decorative details emphasized in period paint colors, and its elaborate wings on either side, the building represents an American version of an 18th century English mansion. Extensive interior renovations were necessary to convert it from private to public use, but its dignity and its location near the center of town were two of the reasons for its preservation in the early years of the 20th century.