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LIBRARY HISTORY

History of the Granville Public Library, Granville, MA.



Introduction:


Granville's library, with it's attractive 19th century design features and prominent location, is one of the first things a visitor to Granville will notice. Architectural historians call the style "Richardsonian Romanesque" although it was actually designed by George Keller (1842-1935) in a style similar to that of Henry Hobson Richardson. Keller also designed Union Station and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford, where his ashes are interred in the arch.


Visitors may well ask if it is a "Carnegie library" meaning one of the over 2500 libraries funded by 19th century steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. That question may be met with a chuckle and "Nope. Anything but." And therein lies the story.


Pre-History:


Although the present Granville Public Library at 2 Granby Road was officially opened on February 22, 1902 the history of public libraries in Granville began 100 years or so earlier with the formation of the Third Social Library of Granville. History does not record the exact date of this library's formation, nor the fate of the First and Second "social libraries."


The Third Social Library was located in Middle Granville (the general area of the present Town Hall and Old Meeting House, now known as Granville Center). In 1821 the library was renamed the "Dickinson Library Company" in honor of Richard Dickinson, who had donated land and money to the library.


By 1893 the need for a larger library was recognized and a board of three Trustees armed with a $25 appropriation from the Town was appointed to look into the matter, leading to the establishment of the Granville Free Library. The first Trustees were John A. Gillett, Marshall V. Stow and Ethan D. Dickinson. 


This modest beginning gained considerable steam when in 1895 the Town allocated 50% of what was then known as "the dog money" (income to the Town from the licensing of dogs). The going rate for a dog license at the time was $2, or about $60 of purchasing power by today's standards. A hefty sum for most Granville residents, $2 being more than, and in some instances double, the daily wage of a typical farm or drum shop worker.


The Rev. George Beckwith was appointed librarian in 1895. One requirement of the Town was that each village library location be furnished with a librarian "at no cost to the Town." With the library's books being housed at churches the general practice was for the pastors to also act as librarians. By 1896 the Free Library had 329 books; half were at the Congregational Church (now the Old Meeting House) and the other half at the Baptist Church (now the Federated Church). 


The Library Club Changes Everything:


In 1896 the fate of the Free Library took a dramatic turn. A small group of public spirited Granville women recognized the town needed a permanent library building housing the library collection and operating headquarters. Mrs. Ralph B. Cooley invited this group to her home on February 11, 1896 to discuss what actions could be taken. From this first meeting came the Granville Library Club and the beginnings of what would culminate with the wonderful Granville Public Library building. 


The original thirteen Library Club charter members were chosen based on personal qualities and their shared love of Granville and the people of the Town, not on financial or literary standing, thus reflecting a healthy cross-section of residents. The group also shared an understanding that times were changing quickly and it was time to prepare the town's young people for the world of the future.


Mrs. Cooley served as the Club's first President and brought a unique perspective to the task. Because of the family connection to the Noble & Cooley company, whose sales headquarters were in New York City, Ria Cooley lived part of the year in the city and saw first-hand the value of a place dedicated to serving the educational, social and cultural needs of the community and it's young people.


The Library Club's stated mission was: "To erect a library building containing a library and reading room and also a room provided with suitable attractions and amusements for both young men and young women." This was a major leap forward from the old libraries, where books were accessible only one afternoon per week and there was little provision for reading, study, or even adequate heat.


It Always Comes Down To Money:


It is hard to fully appreciate today the herculean task the Library Club faced in order to raise the funds necessary to construct the library. First, Andrew Carnegie didn't just decide to swing by and drop off a check. Second, Granville was by no means a wealthy town. Even those who might be considered well-to-do were solid, frugal Yankees who were well accustomed to doing their own manual labor well into old age. As for the average farmer the decade of the1890's was particularly unkind financially.


To put this in context, in the 1800's the work of the Town of Granville was typically done by it's citizens and reimbursed from Town funds. The Granville annual town reports of the time are full of long lists of residents who were paid to supply firewood for the schools, maintain town buildings, grade the roads in the summer, clear the snow in the winter, and do all the other things to keep the place going. Even residents one might consider to be prominent or quite elderly (or both) came forward to "break snow" when the need arose and a few cents could be earned.


The women of the Library Club wisely recognized that depending solely on gifts would not achieve the goal of constructing a library building; going around asking for checks was not an option. So they organized public meetings to raise awareness and understanding of the needs and issues. Then they set about finding ways to provide purposeful value in return for donations. This took the form of various services, products and events, many of which required great time, effort and sacrifice but through individual strength and determination they persisted against seemingly impossible odds.


It is genuinely awesome to imagine that our fine building at 2 Granby Road was to a great extent built with money the Library Club raised from every kind of enterprise, including selling: hand-made carpenter's aprons; hand-knit mittens and socks; fruit including cherries, crab-apples and strawberries; arbutus; ice cream; lemonade at the Saturday baseball games; pop corn balls; hulled corn; turnips; doughnuts; clam chowder; paintings; sewing services; laundry services; housework services; the list goes on. Then there were the fairs, raffles, auctions, socials, suppers and so on. 


At the end of three years of hard work and sacrifice the Club had earned almost $3,000, a huge sum in those days but short of the over $13,000 it would ultimately take to make the library a reality. 


Whether out of generosity, sympathy for the hard-working Library Club, love of Granville, or a bit of all three, Milton B. Whitney, of Westfield but a Granville native, offered a $5000 donation provided the Library Club and the Town could match it. In those days "the Town" meant the individual citizens would need to chip in to the extent each felt inclined. There was no "Town money" available as we would think of it today, nor were there grants that could be applied for.


The Library Club went to work again, raising another $1,800 via subscriptions from individual citizens ranging from 50 cents to $200. Several former Granville residents also kicked in until the match finally exceeded the required $5,000, for a total of over $10,000. It was a long and grueling road but the Library Club pushed the total to enough money to finally begin work on an actual library.


Well, now you know why asking if it's a "Carnegie library" would get a chuckle out of an old-timer. "Anything but!"


A Time To Build:


When faced with deciding the location of the new library the Library Club once again chose wisely. Only problem was that there were already buildings on the preferred site. Fortunately the owner of the dwelling, George Gaines, was sympathetic to the cause and his house was moved to a spot "behind" the present library location. Of course, solving the site problem added another $1,500 to the cost of the project so once again the Club set to raising the needed funds.


The Hartford architectural firm of George Keller was selected to design the new library, keeping in mind the Library Club's dual objective: to build a real library; and to provide something akin to a youth and social center. These features would be an excellent complement to Granville's school system and clearly one of the goals was to bring the illiteracy that still haunted many rural working families to an end.


Actual construction began in 1900 and was completed at the end of 1901. The library officially opened on February 2, 1902. As you enter the building the room to the left was (and still is) the library, the room in the center was the Amusement Room (now the Historical Room), and the room to the right was the Parlor (now the Children's Room). The Amusement Room presumably had games, perhaps a wind-up Victrola, a piano, and other acceptable forms of recreation for young ladies and gentlemen. It was separated from the Parlor by a large pocket door, which is still in place. This allowed both rooms to function as a single room when needed.


The interior of the main floor remains a remarkable example of 19th century design, retaining the original paneling, fireplaces, stained glass windows and convex window features. A portrait of Milton Whitney hangs over the fireplace in the main library room, as it has for over 100 years. The overall effect is that of a welcoming space and a pleasant journey back in time.


The basement area functioned as mechanical space for the boiler and steam heat system, and the acetylene gas lighting systems. There was also a kitchen, pantry and dining area.


The building's exterior is a buff colored brick with brownstone trim, resting on a fieldstone foundation. The original acetylene gas lighting was replaced by electric lights in 1923 and the original wood shingle roof was replaced with slate in 1927 at a cost to the Library Club of $1,300. The steam heating system was converted from coal to oil, and a steel flag pole was added to the lawn in front of the library (dates not recorded).


After the formal opening of the library the Library Club turned the building over to the Town of Granville but has provided operational oversight, including financial support, from the library's inception to the present day. The library still has three appointed Trustees, as established in the 1890's, with at least one Trustee always being designated by the Library Club.


The Times Keep A-Changing:


The library operated basically unchanged through World War I and the Great Depression, serving the residents of Granville as set out in the original Library Club's statement of purpose.


During World War II it became impossible to hold the annual fair and supper that was so important to funding the library. The Town helped pick up the slack and the library's operation continues to be a healthy working partnership.


Another consequence of the war was that the library-hosted social functions between young men and women came to a halt. It was a time of rationing and everyone was either at war or contributing to the war effort. The Amusement Room fell into disuse and by the time the war was coming to an end customs had changed and the original idea of the Amusement Room probably seemed quaint and outdated in the 1940's.


As luck would have it, in 1945 William B. Bailey of West Hartford, CT established a fund in the amount of $1,000 in memory of his mother, Ellen Bacon Bailey, who had grown up in Granville. The fund was intended for the purchase of books of historical and genealogical interest. 


The Library Club quickly connected the dots and decided that since there wasn't much interest in chaperoned "amusement" under the library roof, why not designate the space for the creation of a Granville history exhibit and genealogical research library? 


And so the former Amusement room came to be known as the Historical Room , which now houses one of the better small town collections of historic books, documents and photos in Massachusetts thanks to the enthusiasm of town residents and Library Club members whose gifts and loans of significant items record the fascinating history of Granville.


Celebrating the First Fifty Years:


In June, 1950 the Library Club hosted the 50th anniversary of the beginning of construction of the library. The shindig featured an open house at the library, dancing on the lawn, and Library Club members dressed in turn of the century period garb. Various antique autos added to the olden-day feeling, including a 1903 Cadillac "horseless carriage."


In 1952 another celebration marked the retirement of Mabel Root Henry after fifty years of service as librarian. The Historical Room was renamed in her honor as the Mabel Root Henry Historical Room.


The Second Fifty Years, Today and Beyond:


The view from the windows of the Granville Public Library has changed immensely in nearly 120 years. Today's green is nothing like the hardscrabble blacksmith's shop and stable that was there in 1900 when the area was known as "Jockey Corners." The Wilcox Hotel is gone, Stackers has come and gone. The country store has burned and returned. Change is the only constant but the library stands like Granville's old friend, reminding us of people, times, and things that matter and are still with us in their own way.


Nobody could have imagined the day the library would be equipped with wi-fi and computers for the use of visitors, or the beautiful computer stations built by Art Smith to accommodate the new technology.


Or a time when the Historical Room would have access to virtually unlimited historical and genealogical research material via the internet, never mind a day when the world would be able to research the old photos and documents carefully collected by the Library Club and town residents and preserved in the Historical Room for all these years.


Invitation:


Please come and enjoy the Granville Public Library. Relax. Take out a book. The library is here for you.


Sources For This History:


  • "History of Granville" by Albion B. Wilson


  • Various documents and photos in the Historical Room.