Wolcott Historical Society History for May 2015
By Florence Goodman
I was recently asked to present a history of the Wolcott library for National Library Week. I gladly accepted and started my research on a topic, which proved to be enjoyable and enlightening. This month I will share that story with you.
Our library had its beginnings in the Congregational Church. Dr. William Andrus Alcott who was an educator, medical doctor and cousin to Amos Bronson Alcott was an active member of the church. He attended the West School on Spindle Hill Road and later taught there. He graduated from Yale with a medical degree, but his love for education and books was also very important to him. In 1828 Dr. Alcott was the Sunday School Superintendent at the Congregational Church. He wanted books for his pupils to read so he made a gift of twenty books to the church and establish the first town library. The library was housed in and supported by the church for almost one hundred years.
In1839 Reverend Chapman was the pastor of the Congregational Church. He was a strong anti-slavery proponent, but not everyone in the parish agreed with his ideas. An anti-slavery meeting was scheduled in the church on December 12, 1839. The night before this meeting, someone placed gunpowder with a slow wick in the stove. Shortly after 9:00 p.m. an explosion was heard, but it wasn't until after midnight that someone saw the church in flames. By morning the church was reduced to ashes; thus we had no library from 1839-1843. The Church dissolved its relationship with Reverend Chapman and began plans for a new church. The new church was completed in 1843 and the library was once more up and running with a $100 donation by Preserve Carter. The new library was housed at the entrance of the new church.
Stephen Rogers served as pastor from 1859-1863. He was a strong supporter of the church library, but poor health caused him to give up his pastorate. Before he retired, he donated 133 volumes to the church library.
In September of 1873 the Congregational Church Parish celebrated its Centennial. The library was expanded when town leaders, including Amos Bronson Alcott donated books as part of this celebration. Alcott's donation included works by the Concord authors: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
The library continued to grow while housed in the church. From 1912 to 1917 Reverend Furness served as pastor. During his pastorate he expanded the number of books in the library and built a container to store the books. Beecher Memorial Parish Hall was presented to the townspeople in 1915 and given into the custody of the church. It became the new home of the library, which continued to grow for ten more years.
In 1924 the library was on the move once more when it became a municipal project and was moved into our newly built Town Hall. It was housed in a room off the entryway where it remained until 1957 when renovations required it to move again.
At this time, the Center School was being used for town offices so the library was moved into the basement of the Center School. Sixteen months later, when Town Hall renovations were completed, the town offices that were housed at the Center School relocated to Town Hall leaving the entire building available. In 1959 the library was moved from the basement of the Center School to their new home upstairs. They now took over the entire building. The Center School served as our public library until the present library was opened on Bound Line Road.
By 1966 the Center School Library was growing rapidly; library book circulations climbed to a new high of 18,601 and 369 new borrowers were enrolled. Library hours were increased to 32 hours per week. The Combined PTA Library Committee was a strong supporter, which continues today; now called the Friends of the Library. Space was at a premium at the Center School library so First Selectman, Edward Bagley had the old vault emptied to add floor space, but this was only a temporary fix. A meeting was held with the State Librarian to discuss inadequate space issues and availability of State and Federal grants.
Soon a Library Study Committee was established with Nicholas D"Agostino as Chairman, John H. Washburne as Vice-Chairman and Mrs. Florence Marino as Secretary. The other members were Reverend Sherman Andrews (Episcopal Church), David Herbst, Mrs. Ann Donahue, Alexander Nole, Robert Ducham, Richard Opper and Dr. Charles C. Sasso, Jr. They would discuss the need for a new public library and make recommendations on location and the size of the library.
In the1967-68 fiscal year a Library Building Committee was established and Alexander Nole served as chairman. The members were: Francis Byrnes, John Keating, Joseph Ciarlo, Mrs. Gloria Lanosa, Mrs. Geraldine D. Cullen, Martin McCallum, Gloria D'Agostino, Dr. Charles C. Sasso, Jr., Robert Ducham, Edson Seymour, Lucian Helaire, Mrs. Isabelle Way, David Herbst and Earl L. Wooster, Jr.
Our library became a reality in 1970. Volunteers agreed to help move the books from the Center Street location to the new Bound Line Road location starting on October 17, 1970. The Center Street library closed on October 16th and the new structure opened on its formal dedication of October 25, 1970 that over 1000 people attended. Alexander Nole, stated it was, " a dream come true." First Selectman, Edward Bagley, said, "a momentous step forward in the life of the town of Wolcott." He also remarked that there had been controversy over the design of the building, but he believed it turned out to be a "forward looking structure" that reflected the attitudes of the townspeople. The building budget was $375,000, but Wolcott only paid $275,000 because of a $100,000 state grant.
In 1994 the Library's Youth Room was named for Alexander Nole whose 30 plus years of hard work and dedication helped to make our library a reality. The Junior Women's Club chose the library youth room as its special project. They raised funds for furniture, books, and cassettes for this new room. They also donated $5000 towards the development of the room by selling signed prints, notes and post cards of the town Green by artist Tracy Sugarman. Today the Wolcott Public Library continues to offer residents a variety of books, technology and programs. We've come a long way from those first 20 books that were donated back in 1828.
(Information for this article was taken from The Town of Wolcott Annual Reports from 1966, 1969, 1971, Waterbury-Republican American articles October, February 1968, 1970, August 1989, December 1989, 1992, June 1994, August 6, 1995, 2005, The Wolcott Congregational Church 1773-1948 by Rose E. Wakelee, 1948, The 175th Anniversary 1796-1971 by John Washburne, The Meeting House Atop of Benson's Hill by John Washburne)
Sketch of first Congregational Church 1773
Dr. William Andrus Alcott
West School on Spindle Hill Road
Reverend Stephen Rogers
Amos Bronson Alcott
Beecher Memorial Parish House, 1915
Town Hall, 1923
Alex Nole, Mary Hunt, and Margie Smith, 1980
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