Of all the early libraries founded in the American Colonies, Redwood Library and Athenæum is the oldest one still housed and operating in its original building. Redwood library was the first major architectural commission of Peter Harrison. His Doric design, widely copied since then, was the first such use in the New World. Harrison, who had amassed the greatest private architectural library in the colonies, chose his designs for this building from among patterns reproduced in the pages of the most stylistically advanced architectural books of his day. The model for the Redwood library, a Roman Doric temple with portico and wings, was probably derived from the headpiece of Book IV of Edward Hoppus’ 1735 edition of Andrea Palladio’s architecture.
The building is crafted of wood “rusticated” to look like stone. This was done to make use of native materials, while imitating the look of stone that was in accordance with the current English Palladian taste. The two small projecting wings of the façade provided for office space and allowed for four large windows on the front as well as three small “attic” windows. This was the view of Redwood noticed by Thomas Jefferson when he visited Newport in 1790 as Secretary of State in the company of President Washington. Jefferson began championing classical architecture as the model for public buildings in the new Republic. So it is that Redwood Library is possibly one of the most architecturally influential buildings in America.