Thursday, March, 16 2017

Library History

This brief history is compiled from the personal accounts of present and previous librarians, stockholders, and patrons. The presentation of this history was made at the ground breaking ceremony for additions and renovations to the Middletown Public Library in 2002. In attendance were many of the people who helped with the original renovations to the former Navy Day Care Center.

The first meeting of the subscribers for establishing a library in Middletown was held on January 28, 1848 and the Miantonoma Circulating Library opened in District #1 Schoolhouse – Oliphant School .

In 1851 the Library was made a stock concern. Stock was put at one dollar per share with each stockholder to have only one vote. Nathanial Greene was chosen chairman and George Coggeshall, secretary. Aretas A. Saunders, John Gould and George Coggeshall were appointed to a committee to draft library rules and regulations. Of the stockholders, there were twelve with the surname Anthony, eight with Brown, nineteen with Coggeshall, nine with Chase, five with Green and five with Gould.

Original Stockholders of 1851
Original Stockholders of 1851 Page 1Original Stockholders of 1851 Page 2
click photos for high resolution images

In 1856, the Library was incorporated under the name of the Miantonomi Circulation Library. It was first situated in the little school house of District No. 1 Middletown, a 20′ X 24′ building at the corner of Oliphant Lane and West Main Road. The books were on shelves in back of the teacher’s desk, protected by double doors with long, iron straps or hasps across them, and fastened with a heavy padlock. About the time of the establishment of the Miantonomi Circulating Library, Joshua C. Brown and George A. Brown collected a fund by public subscription which became the nucleus of the Middletown Free Library.

Joseph C. Dennis was appointed as first librarian at the Miantonomi Library and Aretas A. Saunders, who was a teacher at Oliphant School was appointed Assistant Librarian. They were allowed to read all books free of charge.

On November 11, 1875, the Miantonomi Library conveyed all of its books and property to the Middletown Free Library Association (MFLA). Daniel M. Chase was appointed librarian at that time.

In 1882-1883, a new Oliphant School was built and a room was partitioned off upstairs for the Library. During the construction, the Library books were moved to the Daniel Chase farm on Oliphant Lane and books were loaned from that small shed-like building in the door-yard. When the school building was completed, the library books were moved back to the school house until this space was needed for a classroom and the books again were removed to the Chase Farm until they were moved into the new library building on West Main Road in 1902.

In January, 1900, a building committee was appointed to determine and procure plans and specifications for a library building. Members were: Henry D. DeBlois, John L,. Simmons and Nathaniel L. Champlin.

In April of 1901, Mr. William E. Bailey and Miss Josephine I. Bailey of Morristown, N.J. donated $2,500 to erect a suitable library. It was to be in memory of their father, the late Joseph T. Bailey, a native of Middletown, who died in 1877. In June, 1901, the Proprietor of the Northwest School District agreed to lease a parcel of land north of the school building on West Main Road for 99 years at two dollars per year upon which to erect a new Library.

West Main Road around 1902 (click photo for high resolution image)

West Main Road around 1902
West Main Road around 1902
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The Library was designed by Edwin Banning. It had no running water or toilet facilities. There was very poor lighting, and very high shelves. The building was heated by a pot-bellied coal stove. At the Association’s Annual Meeting in January, 1903, plans were made for furnishing the Library and in April, 1903, the building was accepted and Clara Coggeshall, later Mrs. Harold R. Chase, was the first librarian in the new building.

The first annual meeting of the MFLA held in the new library was in January of 1904 when a new furnace, costing $60, was approved for purchase.

Financial records show interesting contrasts. Early in the 1900’s the association voted the sum of $100 for library maintenance. In 1920, the annual maintenance fund was increased to $125, with $10 devoted to "keeping up the grounds". Until 1932, the library had been supported by small donations and assessments of the stockholders. In 1932, the Town of Middletown first contributed $300 towards the operation of the Library and has continued annual contributions every since. In the 1940’s, the Town’s contribution was $250. In 1959 the town’s appropriation was $3,759.80 which enabled the library to be open six afternoons and two hours Friday evening. The Town’s contribution has steadily increased: by 1965, the Town’s contribution was $5,500; in 1975, it was $40,000; in 1978, it was $74,342. In 2000, it was nearly $450,000.

In 1940 and 1941, the book collections were completely reclassified and cataloged under the supervision of the State Library as a WPA project. At this time, the book collection numbered 4,000 volumes. And, according to Librarian Nancy Chase, in 1948, a new furnace was installed with a grant of $625 from the Rhode Island Foundation.

In 1950, Mrs. Helen Anthony (who by the 1990’s had worked at the Library for over 50 years) started raising money for the installation of water and a toilet in the library by holding rummage sales and a food sale. By 1954 the fund had grown to $216.90. Those funds along with a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation of $500 allowed a new water pipe to be connected to the water main along with a connection to the sewer system. The Rhode Island Foundation also provided funds for new shingles and painting.

In 1960, a wing was added from funds received from the Town of Middletown ($5700), the Rhode Island Foundation ($2000), and from public contributions, rummage sales and food sales. The new wing opened in April, 1961. In 1967, another wing was added and funded by the Town of Middletown and the Rhode Island State Department of Library Services, in equals shares of about $10,000 each. Total circulation of books in 1975 was 70,417. In 2001, it was nearly 180,000 items. In 1975 the Library held 19,394 items. In 2002, there were nearly 60,000.

Middletown Free Library – Exterior 1978 and Interior 1977
Middletown Free Library Exterior 1978Middletown Free Library Interior 1977
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On March 22, 1976 the US Department of Health Education and Welfare deeded property which had been used as the Navy Day Career Facility to the Town for educational purposes. Included with the 10,000 square foot structure was 3.02 acres of land.

Middletown Public Library – 1977 Exterior
Middletown Public Library 1977 ExteriorMiddletown Public Library 1977 Exterior
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On August 19, 1976 the first meeting of the Library Building Committee was formed to oversee the transformation of the former Navy Day Care center into a Library. The Building Committee Members included:

  • Norman W. Hall Chair
  • Morrie P. Seiple Vice Chair
  • Dorothy M. Dejardins
  • Mary Ann O’Neil
  • John F. Fitzgerald Town Administrator
  • Charles C. Roberts Town Finance Director

Edward P. Denning provided the library design. When the construction bids were opened on May 10, 2002 they greatly exceeded the architect’s estimate of $400,000 and cost reduction measures were taken. The RJ Marshall Construction Company, Inc. was awarded the construction contract by the Town Council on July 3rd 1978 with the Town significantly increasing the overall construction budget. The Rhode Island Department of State Library Services provided half of the $540,000 in funding to transform the Day Care Facility into a library with the Town responsible for the other $270,000. Also in 1978, the MFLA transferred ownership of the Library to the Town -creating the Middletown Public Library.

1979 – The Middletown Public Library opened the new facility at 700 West Main Road. (click photo for high resolution image)

September 24, 1979 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
with Norman Hall, June Giibbs, and Robert Silva
September 24, 1979 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
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Middletown Public Library – 1979-2002 Exterior & Reference Area
Middletown Public Library 1979-2002 ExteriorMiddletown Public Library 1979-2002 Interior
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In 1987, the Library became a member of the Cooperating Libraries Automated Network (CLAN). That partnership now provides access to 4.1 million cataloged items in the public library system. Over 40,000 other libraries extend borrowing privileges through the interlibrary loan system – making the public library a tremendous local resource.

In 1994 and 1999 five year planning committees met and determined the need for future growth based on input from the community and professional evaluation of the facilities.In May of 2000, a Library Building Committee was formed from Town residents to hire an architect and design for the future.

The Library Building Committee of 2000 members included

  • Ms. Joan Ponte Chair
  • Mr. Stanley H. Grossman Vice Chair
  • Ms. Audrey Rearick Secretary
  • Mr. Bruce Allen Town Council
  • Ms. Margery Hirschler
  • Ms. Beverly Murphy
  • Mr. Jack White
  • Ms. Alice Duce

Funded by a $10,000 donation from the Friends of the Library, the Building Committee selected architect Robinson Green and Beretta, Inc. to facilitate the building program with a design that meets the needs of the community for the next twenty years. The program calls for a 3,000 square foot addition to the 10,000 square foot building, expanded safer parking and walkways, better security, and renovations that will make space for 80,000 items.

Overhead rendering of Site Plan and NE View
– by Christopher O. Placco
Overhead Rendering of Middletown Public Library Site PlanNE View Rendering of Middletown Public Library Site Plan
click photos for high resolution images

In June 2000 – The Middletown Town Council obtained enabling legislation through the State Delegation to allow the Town to borrow 1 million dollars for the purpose of renovating and expanding the library. In November 2000, the residents of Middletown approved the bond. Recognizing the renovations required exceeded the funding available from the bond, the Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Middletown Public Library formed a fund raising committee. And, as a result of generous donations of all sizes from foundations, businesses, trusts, and patrons – over $500,000 was raised for the building project.

The bids were opened in May, 2002 with Keenan & Navarro Builders, Inc. of Dayville Connecticut as the low bidder. The Office of Library and Information Services approved the contractor and 50% funding of the Library project – a benefit to the Town of Middletown of over $750,000. With the expansion and renovation, the Library will be able to provide comfortable information, entertainment, and cultural enrichment opportunities through the year 2021 to this growing community.

The building project began on August 15, 2002 along with another chapter in the History of the Middletown Public Library.

Ground Breaking Ceremony
August 15 2002 Ground Breaking Ceremony

Additions and renovations to the Middletown Public Library
were completed in December of 2003
Middletown Public Library LobbyMiddletown Public Library Front EntranceMiddletown Public Library Childrens Room