Friday, August 4, 2000
Treasures of Carlisle's Past: A Fine Tradition of Libraries
Townspeople eagerly await the opening of the expanded library later this summer. The brick addition is a tangible reminder of the strong enthusiasm for libraries in town, a tradition that dates back over two hundred years.
Private subscription libraries were the forerunners to the public libraries we know today. The Carlisle Library Society was formed in 1797 and was active until it was sold in 1844. Carlisle's minister, the Reverend Paul Litchfield, served as the first president. The librarian was John Green. A series of twenty "regulations" formed the constitution for this organization which had 52 subscribers. Each paid $1.50 per year for "one right." The fee was raised in 1800 to $1.75. For a time, there was an additional charge for borrowing books. Even in those early days, rules outlined lending terms and included "fines" for overdue books.
The historical collections contain several volumes from another private library, the Carlisle Agricultural Society Library. Ruth Wilkins also mentions that Mrs. Mary Amanda Marsh Reynolds founded a small private lending library, although no details are available about this group.
It was not until 1872 that the Carlisle Free Public Library was founded. It is this organization which is the direct antecedent to the town library of today. When Reverend Moses Patten became minister of Carlisle in 1870, his wife, Lydia S. Patten, initiated efforts to establish a free library. Her dream was realized in 1872 when Town Meeting voted to appropriate $140 for a library, run by five overseers. By 1881 the library catalogue contained 760 volumes.
Space was an early concern. For several years, the library rented an area in Union Hall, then in the Wheat Tavern, part of the so-called Long Block.
In 1894 the space issue was resolved, thanks to a generous donation by a former Carlisle resident, Mrs. Joanna Gleason of Sudbury. She wrote to T. A. Green, Esquire, on September 7, 1894:
"As I am desirous of doing something that will be of lasting benefit to the inhabitants of the town of Carlisle, which is my native town and the home of my early days, and also the lifelong home of my parents, I will propose to present to them the sum of six thousand dollars ($6,000) with which to erect a brick building for a free public library. I will also give them two hundred ($200) for the furnishing of the reading room and for any other purpose for which it may be needed about the building. I will name Messrs. T. A. Green, Daniel Robbins and J.Q.A. Green as a committee to take charge and have oversight of the work. I ask the town to find the land and the foundation for the building, and I will give them one hundred dollars toward the stone underpinning of the building." (Quoted in Sydney Bull's History of the Town of Carlisle)
Residents voted to accept the gift at a special town meeting held on September 17, 1894. The town purchased land from Nathaniel Hutchinson for $500 and construction began according to the design of George G. Adams, an architect from Lawrence, Massachusetts. D. W. Fitch of Billerica was the construction firm. We know that Daniel W. Robbins served as mason and James W. Long from Carlisle worked on the foundation. The total cost of the project, including land and building, was $9,413.19. When electricity came to Carlisle in 1911, F. A Casey of Billerica wired the library.
The town authorized an additional $200 for dedication festivities, held on May 13, 1896. This day-long celebration included a morning "open house" from 10:00 to 12:00, followed by dinner at Union Hall and the formal dedication ceremony at 2:00 in the afternoon. Samuel S. Green, the Worcester Librarian and a member of the State Library Commission gave the dedication address. Sydney Bull includes excerpts from some of the many speeches in his book. A few representative ones are quoted below:
"There is no privilege, no distinction, that can come to a town that begins to equal that of a well-selected library, open and free to all its citizens.
'Wondrous indeed' said Carlyle the man, 'is the virtue of a good book.' The lesson of Mrs. Gleason's gift is, if you have anything to give away do it while you are alive.
I had rather live in a town where there is a good library, than in the most famous community on the face of the earth where that library is wanting."
Unfortunately, failing health prevented the library's benefactress, Mrs. Gleason, from attending the festivities. She sent her regrets in an eloquent letter dated May 6, 1896. She wrote: " . . . my thoughts and my hopes will be with you, . . . for in the completion of the building . . . I see fruition of a hope which I had long cherished, to do something for the benefit of the town . . . for which I have never ceased to feel a daughter's affection. " She would appreciate the latest efforts to provide updated space for the library, as she continued: " . . . I cannot doubt that, as the years go on, the people of my native town will take an ever increasing interest in their library, and give to its maintenance and increase a hearty and generous support. (Quoted in Bull's History)
Fifty donated artifacts started the historical collections, displayed in the Historical Room on the top floor of the building. Mrs. Gleason herself donated seven pictures and a mirror to the library.
The former assistant librarian, Mrs. Mary A. Green, became the first librarian in the new building in 1896. It must have been convenient for her, as she lived in the house across the street. Mrs. Green served as librarian until 1938. She is remembered for over fifty years of service, both as a staff member and as a library trustee. Her successors, Pauline Kohlrausch, Helen L. Wilkie, Margaret L. Hilton and current librarian, Ellen Rauch, oversaw growth and modernization during the twentieth century. Library activities expanded, reflecting the needs of the increasing population of Carlisle as well as the changes in media and technology. In 1961, Gleason Library joined the Eastern Massachusetts Library System, and structural additions were undertaken during the 1970s and 1980s By this time, an active Friends group assisted the Library Trustees with special projects and fund raising. Mrs. Walter Woodward, a former Library Trustee, founded the Friends of Gleason Public Library in 1966.
This summer, when Gleason Library reopens, patrons might reflect on Joanna Gleason's closing comments in her 1896 letter ": . . . I am contented, and glad that the name I bear should be inscribed in enduring letters upon the front of the building that is to be for all coming time, the best monument to the memory of my husband and myself. (Quoted in Bull's History) The building and the modern library services it houses, are an enduring legacy, the latest in a long-standing tradition of fine libraries.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito