Hopefully, many of you already know that the Memorial and Library Association, which oversees Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year. In preparation for this event, several of us read through the Association’s past Annual Reports and discovered many interesting facts. Here are several of my favorites:
- The Memorial and Library building was designed by New Haven architects Longstaff & Hurd, and bears a strong resemblance to their Barnum Museum in New Haven.
- The Ninigret stained glass window was fashioned from an engraving in Fredrick’s Denison’s book Westerly and Its Witnesses, which was derived from an oil portrait traditionally believed to depict Ninigret II.
- The library contained a bowling alley, gym, and showers for “physical culture”. Baths were available “at twenty-five cents for a bath”.
- The park was electrified in 1902.
- It was voted on September 11, 1909 to purchase a vacuum cleaner (the first portable and electric vacuum cleaner had been patented only a year earlier).
- Plans were secured in 1910 to build a Comfort Station in the Park to replace the library’s public lavatories for the sum of $10,000.
- Around 1910, it was decided not to loan books to people living in diphtheria stricken areas of town.
- Ethan Wilcox. the first librarian (1894-1908), was of no relation to our benefactor Stephen Wilcox.
- The Babcock Wilcox Company, founded by Stephen Wilcox and George Wilcox and responsible for the water-tube boiler, is now celebrating their 150th Anniversary.
- By 1934, Westerly Public Library had several extension services including the Clarkville Branch, White Rock Branch, Bradford Branch, C.C.C. Camp Branch, and the Qunaquontaug Grange Branch.
- Mrs. Wilcox wanted the library to be “the very heart of the town”; while it was very forward-thinking at that time to consider “The Library as Community Center”, that was exactly how Miss Sallie Coy referred to the library in the early 1930’s.
- The Friends of the Library started in the spring of 1972 to “inform the public of the resources and services available” and to “promot[e] the library as a center of cultural and intellectual activity”.
- The 9 p.m. curfew in the park, which remains in effect to this day, was established in 1977 as a result of ongoing vandalism.
- Because of a 1983 Champlin Foundation Grant, Westerly Library was able to automate its cataloguing and book loaning operation, tying into several other libraries. Today, all RI public libraries, 72 in total, belong to a single consortium - Ocean State Libraries.
The library has such a long and interesting history, this list could go on and on. If you are curious to hear more, and would like to see some behind the scenes areas of the library, be sure to sign up for the next Tour Through Time on September 22nd, and/or visit Treasures Through Time – an exhibit of selected items from our special collections – in the Hoxie Gallery from August 23rd through November 15th (opening reception on August 23rd from 5-7).
by Brigitte Hopkins, Executive Director