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History of the Ivoryton Library


"The library [was] formed with small beginnings...with an earnest desire to supply a lack of reading matter in out midst, and to promote moral and menial culture." (The New Era 1939)

Before there was a building, there was a library. It all began in l871 when fifteen Ivoryton residents each placed one book on a shelf in the Boarding House (later the Ivoryton Inn). One hundred and twenty-five years ago it was called the Centerbrook Circulating Library. After one year the library was moved to the home of Mrs. Sarah L. Cheney were it stayed for l8 years. Mrs. Cheney acted as librarian. Besides caring for her family, Mrs. Cheney gave piano lessons to the children and adults of Ivoryton.

A l939 article in The New Era reads: "The library, formed with small beginnings, was formed with an earnest desire to supply a lack of reading matter in our midst, and to promote moral and menial culture."

The village of Ivoryton was named April 21, l880 and the Ivoryton Library Association was organized in l888. It's first president was Harriet Comstock who donated the land on which the building was erected.

Harriet S.Comstock's term of office was from l889 until her death two years later in l891. The secretary at this time was Mrs. Sarah L. Cheney, who, in recording the president's death, wrote: "The existence and success of this institution was largely due to her earnest efforts." Her sister, Elizabeth A. Northrop, followed her in office as the next president.

As a memorial to her, Mrs. Northrop gave a set of Century dictionaries and later a gift of $1000, the interest from which was to be used towards insurance, repairs on the building, and free books.

Later the library was opened three evenings a week for the exchange of books, and during the summer of l890 only on Wednesday evening. The trustees had charge, taking turns in alphabetical order, and the rules were: "Any trustee who fails to act or provide a substitute will be fined $l.00."

This same year the Ladies' Sewing Society requested that it be allowed to complete the basement according to the original contract which called for a kitchen and a dining room. In more recent times the kitchen underwent gradual disuse. There was still a sink (not used) and a stove (not working) downstairs in the l970's, but no sign that there had been regular use for many years.

The New Era continues: "One of Ivoryton's best and most important institutions is its fine Circulating library. The building is situated on Main street just west of Rose Brother's store. It is nicely fitted up and has a large, pleasant, well-lighted reading room. There are about l500 volumes upon the shelves comprising a variety of carefully selected reading matter, treating upon all subjects."

It is thought by some that, in 1888, the architect David Russell Brown was hired by the building committee (Harriet "Hattie" S. Comstock, Robert H. Comstock, William W. Shailer, George B. French, and Henry P. Chapman.) Others believe that the library was the product of the carpenter, Charles Newton. Whether it was designed by one or the other, the cost of building the library was $3205.25, and contributed by:

Ladies' Sewing Society $2000.00

The Comstock, Cheney & Co. 1000.00

Elizabeth A. Northrop 200.00

Baseball Club 5.25

Michael J. Crosbie of Essex, an architect with Centerbrook Architects and author of architecture articles for the Hartford Courant has written "....the library is decorated with gingerbread ornamentation, such as carved railings and columns on the front porch, and rafter tails at the edge of the roof, all painted in various shades of mauve. The interior reminds one of a cozy house, with oak paneling, brass chandeliers and a fireplace in every room."

"...in the small town, the library is often scaled to the individual user, almost like a large house where one can comfortable sit and read. In architectural style, the small town library ...can be whimsical, colorful, decorated, different. Inside it is welcoming, with a balance of large rooms and small nooks, where one can curl up with a book beside a window."

"Children are drawn naturally to these libraries, partly, I believe, because of the architecture. Libraries might appear as storybook buildings, with tall roofs, chimneys, stone carvings, stained glass. They are appropriate settings for the fantastic adventures that young people can take by reading. The library, through its design, might reflect the imaginary realm of a child lost in a book."

"[It is] a doll house of a building found next to ...the Ivoryton Store."

When the building was completed in l891, the collection included 553 volumes. In l897 the Ivoryton Dramatic Association donated the large library table in the main room. It remains there to this day. In l925 the library became public.

In l90l it was voted that educational, historical, religious, scientific, nature books and those on art beavailable free of charge. In l906 Mrs. Northrop gave the cost of an addition to the building and other books including geographies, poems, etc, were taken from the main room and placed on the shelves of the new alcove, named the "Free Room."