Greenwich Reading Room and Library Association Part 1

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I decided to research the history of The Greenwich Library, and write about it in my blog.  As a result, I ended up using 3 different sources. The most recent history of the library is sufficiently recorded (1960 to present)in one source.  I found the early history (1800 to 1960) distributed between two other sources, which are cited at the end of this blog. The history is important because it helps us understand how the library developed into what it is today and what it will become in the future.

In the early 1800s, a group of concerned citizens started collecting books to share.  Then, in 1805, a Town Library was opened in the Ebenezer Mead House at the foot of Put's Hill (near Cos Cob).  This was  a "subscription library".  The library sold subscriptions for $6 per share. People paid $3 at the initial subscribing, then $3 six months later.  The money was used to buy new books.  When thirty people had joined, they would elect officers to direct the business of the library.  A patron could borrow 1 book per share. Unfortunately, interest waned in the library, and the books were scattered amongst the subscribers.  A public-spirited patron came to the rescue, however, collected all the books and gave them to the Second Congregational Church for safe keeping.  These books were incorporated into the church collection and circulated after the Thursday evening prayer meetings.

The library flourished during this period, and several hard-working citizens wanted to establish "a library and reading room, open to all, as a means of general culture".  In 1878  the first Greenwich Library and Reading Room Association was incorporated by the General Assembly, with the proviso that non-subscribers (the general public) could use the books on the premises.  It was located at the future headquarters of the Putnam Trust Company.  Unfortunately, the number of subscription patrons declined as the general public could use the books on site.  The Board had to pursue other fund-raising activities such as concerts, oyster suppers, bazaars and lectures.  Eventually, in 1884, the operation moved to the Ray Building on the southeast corner of Greenwich Avenue and Lewis Street, which offered more space. 

Fortunately, Mrs. Elizabeth Milbank Anderson offered a gift in memory of her mother - Mrs. Jeremiah Milbank. She offered to provide money to build a new library if the library administration could find a plot of land to build it on.   After an unsuccessful capital drive, the residents raised $11,500 and the town also chipped in a fair amount. The land where Saks Fifth Avenue resides today was the site of this new Greenwich Reading Room and Library Association.  In 1899 it was re-incorporated as The Greenwich Library.  Although Mrs. Anderson had requested it to be a free library open to all, the administration was slow in implementing this. 

In 1901 the library received a permanent endowment of $25,000 from some prominent citizens.  Mrs. Anderson offered an additional $10,000 donation if the residents would match it.  The public rose to the occassion.  By 1907 the General Assembly passed legislation to officially name the Reading Association "The Greenwich Library". In 1917, the Library asked the town for help.  The library needed assistance with operating expenses.  Greenwich appropriated money ($1,000) for library operations for the first time.

Approximately $125,000 was raised from private funds to build an addition on the Greenwich Avenue building in 1929.  The town appropriated $36,000 for the library in the following year.  Head Librarian Isabelle Hurlbutt approached local corporations for support, and thus began a long relationship with the business community.  A new addition was added to the library on Greenwich Avenue, which provided much needed space.

From 1930 to 1950, the library gradually grew until it was faced with another space problem!  This was about the time Miss Isabelle Hurlbut was hired as head Librarian.  Under her guidance, library services grew exponentially.  Satellite operations were set up in Cos Cob and Byram.  The collection in the main library doubled in two years.  Free Sunday afternoon concerts were added.  The first Bookmobile was added - a second-hand Ford canopy express.  Two new school libraries were at Hamilton Avenue and Riverside Schools.



Greenwich Library; Peterson, Harry N.; Chicago, ALA, 1962

Greenwich Library; Nicholson, M.; Greenwich, OHP, 1976

The Greenwich Library Since 1960: Cole, Marie and Nolan Lushington; Greenwich,OHP, 1978

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on December 21, 2010 4:48 PM.

Greenwich, Inc. was the previous entry in this blog.

Greenwich Library and Reading Association Part 2 is the next entry in this blog.

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