History of the Waterford Public Library

A Look Back - The History of the Waterford Public Library 1923 - 2003

Waterford has had a public library since 1923 when an association was incorporated by a little group of interested people to provide library services for the town. Among those who were active in getting things started were: Miss Nettie Edwards, principal of Jordan School; Mr. V. B. Moody, supervisor of schools; and Mrs. Ellery Allyn.

Judge Charles A. Gallup drew up the articles of incorporation, which were signed by the following:

V. B. Moody J. James Floyd
Marguerite A. Allyn Josephine Maxon
Anthony Dixon Helen K. Floyd
Agnes E. Edwards Annie B. Allyn
Jennie W. Jacques  

In addition to the above signers, the following also attended the incorporation meeting on May 22, 1923, and had a part in the organization of the Waterford Library Association: Edith L. Lewis, Lena R. Brooks, Jennie Hoagland, Annie S. L. Perkins, Frederick W. Jacques and Charles A. Gallup.  The first president, elected June 3, 1923, was Mrs. Courtland B. Darrow, who served until 1944.

A small collection of donated books was assembled in the First Baptist Church in Jordan Village, but in the fall of 1923 a fire in the church basement necessitated their hasty removal to Judy Gallup's woodshed across the way, where volunteers deposited them "helter-skelter," as the minutes record.

In March 1924, Mrs. William Saunders offered the free use of a carriage house on her property and the committee set up the library there. All the furnishings, as well as some books, were donated by the committee and interested friends, and the library started operation entirely by volunteers. Minutes of May 31, 1924, record: "Number of volumes in collection - 1302; circulation - 1426." The town fathers were evidently impressed and in September 1924, the Town made its first appropriation to the Waterford Library - $100.

In 1925, Mrs. Jennie Jacques, who had been active on the library committee from the beginning, took the library course at Yale University Summer School, and the association minutes record "assumed the duties of librarian and book committee." This was as a volunteer, without remuneration.

The carriage-house library outgrew its quarters and in November 1926, we find the library committee raising a building fund. Fifty letters asking for contributions were sent out and at the January 20, 1927 meeting, the total received in response, plus proceeds from cake sales, etc., was $473.52. According to the minutes, this was enough for Mrs. Allyn to suggest that "we construct a new building."

At the library meeting November 28, 1927, Mrs. Allyn's optimism was justified, as the Board received "announcement of the gift of a new library building by Mrs. Edward C. Hammond as a memorial to her father and mother, James and Anna Chapin Rumrill." The library was to be placed on a lot on Great Neck Road, the gift of the Nevins family. The minutes record: "Mr. Rumrill was for many years president of the Springfield Library and both Mr. and Mrs. Rumrill were keenly interested in public affairs in the Town of Waterford and for years maintained their summer home in our township, where they were long known as public spirited citizens and where they are now lovingly remembered."

September 8, 1928, marked the formal opening of the new library building to which all the townspeople were invited "to inspect the beautifully furnished home of the Waterford Library. After a survey of the building the Library was hostess (sic) at a delightful collation held on the grounds of Mr. A. J. Perkins" (the adjoining property).

Mrs. Hammond was voted honorary life president of the Waterford Library Association, which office she held until her death in 1965.

In September 1930, the Gilead Community Club gave the library $250 "to be known as the Gilead Fund, the principal to be kept intact but the yearly interest to be used as the Library Association sees fit."

Perhaps spurred by this gift, the library committee began to think in larger terms of the need for an endowment fund. At this time the library had accumulated $2,000. In October 1930, Mrs. Darrow, library president, wrote to Mr. Edward S. Harkness concerning the matter. She evidently presented the case well, as Mr. Harkness sent word that if the library would raise another $2,000 by July 1, 1931, he would contribute $12,000. The income from the $16,000 fund plus annual town appropriation and state grant of $100 each, together with gifts of friends would provide the money necessary to run the library. The $2,000 was raised on time and in July 1931, the library received a check for $12,000 from Mr. Harkness, and the library had an endowment fund.

In November 1931, the library hired its first paid worker--Miss Ida M. Harwood was appointed Librarian at a monthly salary of $40, "Mrs. Jacques to continue as Book Committee." Miss Harwood served until her retirement in January 1958, and in April of that year the Board appointed its first full-time professional librarian, Mrs. Miriam B. Bantz.

The library continued happily in its attractive little building for some years until the Board realized the need for larger quarters and began raising funds for an expansion of the building. Then Fate stepped in, in the form of the State Highway Department, and in January 1959, condemned the library property as it was needed in the reconstruction of Great Neck Road to correct a dangerous curve and railroad underpass in the highway. The indemnity paid by the State for the library property amounted to $26,000, with permission to keep the building if it could be moved to another site.

In December 1959, Trustee Nelson C. White arranged the purchase of the Bingham-Gregor property on Rope Ferry Road (the site of the present library) for $7,000 for a new library. This six-acre piece of land has frontage of 600 feet on Rope Ferry Road opposite the old Nevins home and was once part of that property known as Shaw Farm.

In February 1961, the library closed its building on Great Neck Road where it had operated since September 1928. On March 14, 1961, with the help of many volunteers, the entire book collection had been moved to rented quarters in what was formerly the old post office in Jordan Village, and the library was again open for business.

While the library operated in the transformed Post Office at 91 Rope Ferry Road, the Library Board was busy with future plans. With the assistance of Mr. Edmund W. O'Brien, a member of the Board of Trustees, new articles of incorporation were drawn up and the corporate name changedold drawingto "The Waterford Public Library, Inc." The by-laws were updated and arrangements for the disposition of the old building were made with the Town. On August 7, 1961, the Library Board voted to give the building to the Town, which moved it to the little park at the corner of Avery Lane and Rope Ferry Road. It served for many years as the main office of the Recreation and Parks Department and now is the headquarters of the Waterford Historical Society.

 

Plans for a library building on the newly acquired site went forward. Gordon MacMaster of Cheshire, Connecticut was engaged as architect, and conferences were held with the Selectmen, Board of Finance and members of the R.T.M. In 1964, for the first time, federal funds were available through the State for library construction. With its fine site and architect's plans ready, the Board of Trustees was able to secure one of the first grants from these funds, subject to the Town's appropriating its share of costs.

In 1965-66, with a combination of federal funds, town appropriation and its own building fund, the Board of Trustees plus two members chosen by the R.T.M. acted as a building committee for the Town and signed the F.W. Brown Company of Yantic to put up the new building on the land the library had purchased in 1959. The Library Board then turned the land and building over to the Town, together with all the books and furnishings of the library, The Waterford Public Library, Inc. agreeing through its Board of Trustees to continue to operate the library for the Town.

In February 1966, with entirely volunteer help, all the books and equipment from the rented library quarters were moved to the new location, and on February 25, the library opened in its handsome new building. Including furnishings it had cost $265,000. Of this amount, $81,500 came from federal funds, $110,000 from town appropriation, and the remainder from the library building fund. The area of the new building was 16,500 square feet and included meeting rooms for public use in the basement. The book collection was 16,000 and the circulation was over 96,000.

Library use accelerated. In June 1973, the R.T.M. appropriated $70,080, a balance on hand from revenue sharing funds "to the expansion program of the Library." This was the beginning of what was to reach a total of over $750,000 for the addition to the west side of the building, changes in the old building and new furnishings and accessories. The Library Board served as the Building Committee. Trustee Henry Gardiner chaired the Committee. The architects were Gibbons, Heidtmann & Salvador of White Plains, New York.

In August 1976, the library opened in its expanded, remodeled building after being closed for three weeks, during which the staff transferred the volumes to the new shelves and arranged the children's department in what had been the adult section. But the sound of builders continued for over a year afterwards, due to changes in the old part of the building to meet new fire regulations. The new wing housing the adult section added 7,500 square feet of floor space. It was designed with a high roof, clerestory windows, and structural bookstacks in order to permit the installation of a mezzanine in the future.

For the next ten years the library continued to grow in the size of its book collection, circulation, number of hours open, and variety of materials and services offered. By 1986 the book collection had reached 96,000 volumes and circulation had climbed to over one-quarter million items checked out each year. In addition to books, records and magazines, patrons also found cameras, computers and video cassettes available for loan. Sunday hours were added to the regular weekly schedule for most of the year. In 1979, in cooperation with the Groton Public Library, the library installed a C.L.S.I. Libs 100 automated circulation and inventory control system to keep library operations up to date.

April 6, 1986 brought completion of the mezzanine provided for in the 1976 construction. The RTM again appointed the Library Board as the Building Committee, with Henry Gardiner again serving as Chairman. Gibbons, Heidtmann & Salvador were the architects and Rudolph Netsch of Chester, Connecticut was the contractor. Total cost was $217,446 of Town funds, partly reimbursed by a $50,293 State Library Construction Grant. The library remained open during the 4½-month project with dedicated staff serving borrowers even with most of the adult collection partitioned off from the public.

On the morning of June 16, 1994, a library patron drew more attention from the library staff than he could imagine. This gentleman was the first member of the public to search for a book by consulting a terminal on the new computerized catalog, instead of looking it up in the card catalog. His successful search completed a process that had been part of Waterford Public Library's vision for the future since the Director's reference to an automated catalog in the 1981 Annual Report, and perhaps since the library's first computer project in 1978. Upgrades to the computer system and improvements to the library database between 1981 and 1993 were undertaken with the vision of an online public access catalog in mind.

Following the installation of the online catalog in 1994, the Library introduced additional automated services. Patrons could soon dial into the catalog from home computers, search for titles, and reserve items that had been checked out of the Library. The Library launched the Town of Waterford Web Page through a statewide project known as the Public Access Initiative. Within a few years, the Library was hosting two of its own Web Pages. Computers for freely accessing the Internet were made available to the public. Additional computers for word processing and spreadsheet work were added for members of the public to use, as were computers loaded with a variety of databases, encyclopedias, learning games, and reference resources on CD-ROM. In March 2002, networked desktop computers replaced terminals and the graphic interface replaced text menus as the Library completed its migration to a new computer system.  The SIRSI system is readily accessible via the World Wide Web, provides users with large amounts of information about titles in the collection, and offers them many "patron empowerment" features.

In January 2000, the Library Board renewed its commitment to excellence by undertaking a 21-month strategic planning project led by consultant Simone Joyaux.  The Board received input from staff, Town officials, community groups, and the public.  The resulting Strategic Plan provided the impetus for the computer migration project, the annual fund drive, and a number of library service enhancements, and helped set direction for the next several years.

So, from a few hundred books in a carriage house manned by a little group of volunteers, the Waterford Public Library is now an air-conditioned building with elevator service, a professional staff, and all the equipment of a modern library. The library has come through some heavy weather in its seventy-six years, but it has been fortunate in the dedicated people who have kept it on course.

Presidents and Library Directors  |  Key Dates in the History of the Library