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Taliaferro Boatwright’s
“History of The Stonington Free Library” Part II

Written By: Taliaferro Boatwright, “Boat” to all who knew him. He served as Library Secretary from 1979-1982

Summary of Part I

In 1887, a committee was formed "to see if a Free Library [was] practicable" for Stonington. The first meeting of the Stonington Free Library Association, as it came to be called, was held early in September, 1887, and the decision was made to establish a Free Library in the borough. The "Aunt Mary Howe House," on the corner of Main and Church Streets, (currently owned by Elizabeth Tobin Brown) was rented for $100 a year as quarters. The Library was incorporated in 1888 as "The Stonington Free Library Association", a Connecticut non-stock (non-profit) corporation and has remained continuously in existence to the present time.

The Howe house was an adequate home for the Free Library at first, but a new and larger building became necessary to house the books and provide an adequate public reading room. Two public-spirited men with Stonington roots, Samuel D. Babcock of New York and Erskine M. Phelps of Chicago, each pledged $8,000 if the residents of the town would raise $4,000. Before long the challenge was met.

Samuel BabcockIt was proposed that the library be built in Wadawanuck Park, the site until 1893 of the famous Wadawanuck Hotel, which had been razed. On September 15, 1898 a meeting was held in Borough Hall to accept the property as a gift from the heirs of Samuel Denison. A provision in the deed stipulated that a building be erected on the property to be used as a circulating public library and reading room, and that one room be used by the Stonington Historical and Genealogical Society.

Messrs. Clinton and Russell of New York were hired as architects and Norcross Brothers of Worcester as contractors to construct the building. (See The Librarian Fall ’07 issue for more on the design and construction of the building) The new library was formally opened on March 25th, 1900. This handsome structure served the needs of the Borough and the surrounding area for many years. But eventually it was recognized that more space was needed, both for books and for an additional reading room. Through the generosity of Dr. Frederic C. Paffard a new section, designed by John E. Dodge of Stonington, was added on the north side of the old building and opened March 15th, 1956.

Thirty years later it was again apparent that more space was needed, and that the original part of the building needed a face lift. Mr. and Mrs. Jacques Wimpfheimer, owners of the American Velvet Company, donated $350,000 toward a new wing in memory of their son, Jocko, who died in Africa in 1987. Another $400,000, raised through donations, paid for renovations to the existing structure and to establish an endowment fund. The Stonington Garden Club gave $4,000 for new plantings, and the Village Improvement Association replaced the park benches in the square. Ken Best of the firm of Galliher and Baier in Simsbury, CT designed the wing to complement the 19th century architecture of the original building.

The Wimpfheimer Wing, which was dedicated on July 6, 1990, added 1,000 square feet of floor space and doubled the library's shelf space. Renovations to the existing building included air conditioning and humidity control, a new circulation desk, new lighting, computer access and a large unfinished basement (at first occupied by the Stonington Historical Society Library and now by the Children’s Room, with books and computers and programs for children from infants to teens).

By January of 1996 the library had expanded its computer services to include reQuest, giving patrons an inquiry system to all Connecticut libraries, and offered access to the internet. For the prior fiscal year ending July 30, l995 circulation was almost 43,000 books, videos, books on tape and other materials. The same year saw six adult lectures, two poetry series and numerous children's story hours. 

But, in the words of Mrs. Rose York, past president, "What's really special about this library is its atmosphere. It's small and we really try to please the public." 

History Postcard
(Postcard courtesy of the R. W. Woolworth Library)

Taliaferro Boatwright’s “History of The Stonington Free Library” Brief Update:

Since “Boat” finished his “History” the Stonington Free Library has continued to move forward, most notably with an ambitious capital campaign to provide funding for ongoing upkeep as well as to increase the institution’s endowment to over $1,000,000. Over the summer of 2005, the library replaced its copper roof and skylights and restored its massive front doors, which had been damaged and were sagging. Since then HVAC has been upgraded, the interior has been painted and new carpeting installed. Cardholders number 6426. We've gone from 17,274 titles in our collections 25 years ago to 37,251 today. Circulation is a whopping 58,353 transactions. Our children's offerings include story hours for babies thru age five, book clubs for grade school students, opera performances, and summer reading programs and activities for non-readers through teens. Adult programs include book groups and lecture series. 2007-2008 Annual Appeal proceeds exceeded our ambitious $125,000 goal. Our Board's active participation in the town budget process gained increased support for the library. The Stonington Free Library is in robust health and will continue to provide "Service to All" for many years. 

 

 

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