Archived Topics

Willimantic Public Library

Posted By: William Brainard <>
Date: Monday, 17 December 2001, at 10:02 a.m.

Before the "new" library opened in 1967, wasn't the public library located on High Street? What kind of building was it housed in? Does anyone remember it? 


Posted By: rd <>
Date: Monday, 17 December 2001, at 12:03 p.m.

In Response To: Willimantic Public Library (William Brainard)

It was located on High St. It was part of the old Court House. If you stood on High St looking at the Court House building, the library was at the far right end. To its right was the Telephone Co. building. The library was one of those creaking floor musty book odor place. It was small and cramped. 


Posted By: Ernie Gesner <>
Date: Monday, 17 December 2001, at 7:45 p.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (rd)

I spent some time in that old library. do you remember the old cannon in front of it? 


Posted By: rd <>
Date: Tuesday, 18 December 2001, at 3:30 p.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (Ernie Gesner)

I sure do--now! If I remember right when you walked in the Librian's desk was right in front of the door and to the left and behind the Librian's desk was the room for kids books. I also remember the big windows and not much overhead light.


Posted By: Shemp
Date: Friday, 21 December 2001, at 12:56 a.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (rd)

And the Librarian's name in the 1950s was....Ms. Phyllis Belair

Yes it was cramped and the floors creaked and had once been varnished years before. I always liked the place. You could spend hrs. in there and never hear a word spoken...just the whispering of questions and answers 


Posted By: rd <>
Date: Friday, 21 December 2001, at 8:56 a.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (Shemp)

I never knew that you could find "answers" in Willi! 


Posted By: Va. <>
Date: Friday, 28 December 2001, at 7:04 a.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (rd)

Sorry to convey sad news on nearly New Year's Eve, but Miss Belair passed away several months ago. I believe she was in her 80s. 


Posted By: Ethan <>
Date: Tuesday, 29 January 2002, at 6:47 p.m.

In Response To: Willimantic Public Library (William Brainard)

No one has mentioned that the children's library was on Prospect St. on the North side of the hill bewteen Chestnut and North St.

I have many memories of climbing the steep steps to the library and finding a quiet corner to read a book. 


Posted By: Lenny <>
Date: Wednesday, 30 January 2002, at 5:17 p.m.

In Response To: Re: Willimantic Public Library (Ethan)

Oh my thats right, as a young child my mom would take us to that library. It was a wonderful place as I remember it. Smeeled good, was warm and comfortable. Frankly, its what a Childrens library should be. Yes, thank you for bringing back that memory


Local Libraries

Posted By: Tom Beardsley <>
Date: Wednesday, 19 December 2001, at 8:46 a.m.

Happy Holidays to William Brainard, Shemp, rd, Ernie Gesner anad all the message board regulars. Here's a Willi Library history:

The Willimantic Public Library: A Brief History

In 1853, a group of public spirited Willimantic citizens organized the "Bee-Hive Circle" in Main Street's old wood-framed Franklin Hall, and assembled "fancy articles" to sell in aid of the newly-formed Willimantic Library Association. The "new" Franklin Hall building (1869) stands at the same location and houses the Hall of Frames. The borough's first library was located in the rear of Henry W. Avery's shoe shop next to the old Franklin Hall. Avery was the first librarian, and Horatio N. Bill-the father of Arthur I. Bill, of the Hall and Bill Printing Company, succeeded him in 1857. The Franklin Hall and the old shoe shop were destroyed by fire in March, 1868. However, the library was not located in Avery's shoe shop at the time of the fire. Its location is unknown.

The library reappears in records in 1869, located in the second story of the new Union Block on Union Street, a commercial structure built by Allen Lincoln, which until 1974, stood opposite the entrance to Church Street. Lincoln's son, Allen Bennett Lincoln, was appointed librarian. It opened only on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. In 1871, the borough purchased the library association for $125, and the Willimantic Public Library was formed. Two hundred dollars year was appropriated for purchases and maintenance, and patrons were charged a small annual fee.

The next big change came in 1882, when the library left Union Street and relocated in offices of the Willimantic Savings Institute building. Mrs. Charles Capen, the librarian from 1872 until 1888, received a $56. 25 annual salary in 1882, and the library held 2,144 volumes. In 1883/84 her salary rose to $100, and the 2,422 books were checked out on 11,673 occasions.

On May 3, 1895, an enabling act in the state legislature led to space being allotted for the library in the proposed new Town Hall. Belle Riggleman was librarian from 1901 to 1923. She introduced a card cataloging system, installed at a cost of $368. 24. On June 1, 1903, the city appropriated $1,000 per annum for the library's upkeep, and increased the opening hours. In December, 1913, the appropriation rose to $1,500. The library was open from 2 pm until 9pm, Monday thru Friday, and closed weekends. By 1919, it held over 10,000 volumes, with a circulation of 36,594.

The library in the Town Hall was constantly criticized for its cramped quarters. The issue became an annual political football, but nothing was done for over half a century. In 1954, the holdings were 20,471 books-almost triple the 1896 holdings and located in the same space. In June, 1954, Mayor Florimond Bergeron formed a library advisory committee. It reported that a new building was badly needed. A New Haven architect, Henry Kelly, was engaged and he produced plans for a building to be located on Memorial Park, then known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Field. It would house 55,000 volumes at a cost of $275,000.

The Chronicle was an avid campaigner for the new library, and it published an artist's sketch of Kelly's plans on its front page of March 1, 1955. The "Memorial Public Library" would have been located on the site of the stone memorial building, erected in 1928. The memorial plaques were to be relocated in the porticoes. A tree-planted mall extended to the front entrance from the Main Street sidewalk.

Fluted porticoes supported a large center gable, which contained the entrance. Two large wings were located at either side. The east wing contained the adult library, a reference library and a display gallery. The west wing contained the children's library, and a terrace and patio facing Tingley Street, to be used in good weather for children's reading groups. This plan was abandoned, and ten years would pass before the problem was tackled again.

Space restrictions in the Town Hall were eased somewhat in 1958 when the children's library was relocated to a house in the Hill district, donated in 1957 in the will of Mrs. Kate Hatheway Turner. A Willimantic Public Library report prepared in 1979 explained that, "the children's department left the crowded the back section of the Town Hall, at 24 High Street, for the airy, castle-like home in the Taylor-Hatheway Memorial Library at 191 Prospect Street." In May, 1964, Mayor Leo Carey formed a library advisory committee. The current Main Street site was recommended and after much controversy regarding its location, construction for the long-awaited new library began in October, 1966. It was open and dedicated on December 3, 1967. The children's library was transferred there on October 3, 1969. 


Posted By: Ada Kerachsky Albright <>
Date: Wednesday, 19 December 2001, at 9:40 a.m.

In Response To: Local Libraries (Tom Beardsley)

Thanks, Tom for that wonderfully detailed history. I am very impressed that such careful records were kept. 


Posted By: rd <>
Date: Wednesday, 19 December 2001, at 10:38 a.m.

In Response To: Local Libraries (Tom Beardsley)

Tom- thanks for all your work, research, and educating visitors who visit this great and wonderful site. It's a pleasure and rewarding to read the history of Willimantic. It is a unique town in a wonderful part of the USA and hope it continues to grow and prosper from its history. A Very Merry Christmas to you and all the regulars. richard donovan