Walpole Public Library History

"Walpole's New and Costly Public Library Dedicated with Ceremonies Befitting the Occasion. A Large Attendance"
(Walpole Enterprise, May 16, 1903)

"The Walpole Public Library"
by Eleanor M. Harding - (from Ye Sawmill Settlement: a history of Walpole's Government 1724-1974)              

"Grass roots for library system established in 1816"

(Walpole Times, April 2, 1964)


"Walpole's New and Costly Public Library Dedicated with Ceremonies Befitting the Occasion.  A Large Attendance." 
[Walpole Enterprise, May 16, 1903]

    The new and beautiful public library building which the town has just erected and furnished, and which was dedicated Thursday afternoon is a structure well calculated to stir a feeling of pride in the heart of every citizen here.  The structure has already been described in a previous issue of this paper, with exception of the inside finish and the furnishings.

    The main entrance opens into a spacious corridor which at once strikes the visitor with the beauty of its finish.  Fronting this corridor is the librarian's desk, with modern improvements adapted to the work of charging, etc.   Overhead, there is a beautiful, large, circular design in stucco work, and behind this are numerous electric lights which present a very pretty sight in the evening.   The walls and ceiling are finished in white.

    At the left is the spacious general reading room with art and catalogue cases, and leading from this is the reference room, each provided with massive tables of English oak.  Between these rooms, on either side, is a large pillar of polished oak.  The walls in these rooms are tinted a light green.

    On the opposite side of the corridor is the children's room in which are wall cases on all sides containing volumes especially suitable for the children.  The walls are finished in terra cotta.  Leading from this is the cozy apartment known as the trustees' room, with its open fireplace and modern conveniences.   An ample storage closet is connected, and also a toilet room.  In all the rooms described, as well as the corridor, is delicate colored cork matting from O'Callaghan & Co's. Boston [sic].

    In the rear of the librarian's desk is the stack room, where the most of the 10,000 volumes which the library contains are seen.  They are arranged in steel racks furnished by the Art Metal Construction Co. of Jamestown N.Y. and are of the latest approved pattern.  They have a capacity of more than double the above number of volumes.  In this apartment the floor is of maple, and every door leading from the room is of steel -- that behind the librarian's desk being very wide and heavy, and made to lift up when open.  Every part of the room is strictly fire proof and the brick walls on all sides are with white porcelain finish.  These walls in fact, within the same compass extend to the basement floor, and make the store room and the room for public documents (located directly below) also fireproof.

    The basement has a cement floor and besides the rooms referred to, which have every convenience, there is located the general work room ,toilet apartments and furnace room.  In the latter is a Mercer boiler for heating the building, furnished by the Cleghorn Co. of Boston.

    A spacious door leads to the driveway in the rear of the basement, through which all new books will first find their way.

    The interior finish is entirely of English Oak -- a wood of very rich color and the desk and table furnishings are of the same color.

    The building is lighted by electricity throughout and the furnishings in connection with this department are also handsome, and attractively as well as advantageously arranged.  The screens for windows and doors were furnished by the Burroughs Screen Co., Portland, Me.  Nine of the windows have awnings.  The ventilating throughout the building is by the most approved method and is as perfect as it can be.

    In the distribution of books, Brown's charging system will be used.

    On Wednesday evening at 7:45, the building committee transferred the care of the building to the trustees.

    Miss Margaret Tyacke, the very efficient and popular librarian, has been ill for several days, but hopes to be able to attend to the distribution of books next week.

    The dedicatory exercises took place in town hall at 3 o'clock p.m. on Thursday, May 14th, before an audience of several hundred people, every seat in the house being filled.

    The widely known Hoffman String Quartet of the Symphony Orchestra, Boston furnished some of the finest music ever listened to in the hall.

    Upon the platform were seated officials, pastors and other prominent men of the town, also Mrs. Martha M. Allen, Mrs. J. Ella Boyden and Mrs. Marian E. Child of the trustees and Geo. A. Plimpton of New York city, donor of the beautiful drinking fountain to the town and also the handsome programs for this occasion, in book form, containing nearly 20 pages, including a fine half-tone engraving of the library, a portrait of Lord Walpole (for whom the town was named), short sketch of his life; a history of the Walpole public library, list of its past and present officers from 1876; and also of its librarians; resent trustees of the library; building committee; dedication committee marshal and aids.

The trustees of the library consist of Mrs. Martha M. Allen, Mrs. J. Ella Boyden, Miss Marian E. Child, Horace C. Metcalf, Willard I. Lewis and William Moore.   Building Committee, Mr. Moore, Mr. Piper, Mr. Gray.  The Dedication committee,   consisted of Mrs. Boyden, Miss Child, Mr. Lewis.  Marshal, Mr. Metcalf.   Aids, J. Merrick Gray, Arthur L. Lewis, William R. McNeil, Arthur H. Metcalf.

    The exercises of the afternoon were presided over by Mr. William Moore, chairman of the Board of Trustees, who made the opening address.   The other addresses were by Mr. Charles S. Bird of this town, and Mr. Sidney Lee of London, Eng.  Benediction was pronounced by Rev. A.E. George of Epiphany church.

    The audience then proceeded to the library, and before the building was open for general inspection, a tree was planted on the grounds by Mr. Lee with appropriate ceremonies.

    The library was open to the public afternoon and evening.

"The Walpole Public Library"                                                   Top of Page
by Eleanor M. Harding

    It was almost 160 years ago that a group of Walpole women began meeting every second Thursday as "The Ladies' Literary, Moral Society," taking turns reading aloud such books as would "afford useful information to the mind and improvement to the heart.  During the five-hour long meetings, at which no unnecessary conversation was permitted, the women braided straw in order to earn money for new books.  When, in a few years, a goodly number of books had been accumulated, they were made available to non-members who paid $1.00 a year for the privilege.

     In 1872, through the efforts of Miss Mary R. Bird, a Library Association was started in East Walpole, housed in Bird Hall.  Four years later, at a town meeting, it was voted on petition of George A. Kendall, Francis W., Bird and others, "to establish and maintain a free public library."  At the same meeting a board of six trustees was chosen, and $485.00 was appropriated for support of the library.  The seven hundred volumes owned by the East Walpole group were given to the library, which was opened to the public in July 1876, in Frank O. Pilsbury's drugstore.  Later, in 1881, the library was moved "to commodious and beautiful rooms in the Town Hall.

    Because in less than twenty years the library had out-grown the Town Hall, the Trustees wrote to Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist, requesting his help in obtaining a library building.  Mr. Carnegie answered that, if the town would furnish a suitable site, and would pledge not less than $1500.00 a year for support, he would be glad to give $15,000.00 for this purpose.  Charles S. Bird provided the land at the corner of Common Street and Lewis Avenue, many citizens added money to the Carnegie grant, and the Public Library was erected for the sum of $25,000.00   The dedication of the building took place on May 14, 1903.

    For several years branch libraries, open one afternoon a week, were staffed in East "Walpole at Bird and Sons, at South Walpole in the Fire House, and at North Walpole in a room in the old Fisher School.  collections of books, changed frequently, were sent to all classrooms in the town, until the middle 1960's.  Now every school has its own library.

    In 1930 the Charles Sumner Bird Children's Room opened on the lower floor of the main library, financed from Mr. Bird's bequest of $25,000.00.   Money from this fund was also used to furnish and equip the East Walpole Branch Library in 1934, the former Church and Wednesday Club at the corner of Walcott Avenue and Union Street, having been purchased by the town.  Twenty-three years later, and attractive Children, room was opened in the basement.  There is no more opportunity for expansion at the East Branch which is now, in the '70's, greatly cramped for space.

    In 1959, the School Committee permitted the North Walpole Branch to occupy most of the basement in the old Fisher School - not the most desirable quarters for a library but, so far, the only place available in that part of town.

    As the town grew in size from 3572 people in 1903 to over 16,000 in the 1960's, the Main Library became more and more inadequate to serve the townspeople.  A mezzanine adding 600 square feet of stack space was only a stopgap.   Several surveys by the State Library Commissioners emphasized the imperative, and immediate, need for expansion, and in 1963 a committee was appointed by the town for this study.  After two years of intensive and consideration of the space problem, the committee, under the chairmanship of William Petrie, requested and received of the town $20,000.00 for final plans and specifications.

    Judging from records of the past hundred years, the people of Walpole have always been great readers and users of the Public Library.   The percentage of books borrowed per capita is, for towns of comparable size, one of the highest in the county.

    And so, at the town meeting in 1967, the townspeople voted unanimously to appropriate the sum of $402,120.00 to be reduced by a $99,000.00 Federal Grant, for an addition to, and remodeling of, the Carnegie Building.   Work was begun at once, and through the maximum efforts of the Head Librarian, Miss Mary E. Locke, and all members of the staff, inconvenience to the patrons of the library was held to a minimum.

    The building, finished in 1969, is spacious and attractive.  In addition to good lighting, carpeting to reduce noise, and bright-colored furniture, there is an adult reading room, a music room with turntables and earphones, and a meeting room for seventy people.  The library needs of the community will be served adequately for many years to come.

"Grass Roots for Library System Established in 1816"             Top of Page
[Walpole Times, April 2, 1964]

    The grass roots of our public library system was established in 1816 when the Ladies Literary, Moral Society was founded.  Meeting every second Thursday for five hours to read books affording "useful information to the mind and improvement to the hear," the women of Walpole braided straw while the reading was in progress.  The end result of their labor was sold for profit and the money used to purchase new books.  Within a few years they had accumulated a sizeable number of books for circulation among the members ans these were also made available to non-members for a fee of one dollar a year.

    Undoubtedly inspired by the ladies, a group of men, about 60 in number, formed the Walpole Social Library, circa 1826.  The men purchased shares in the library which entitled them to two books per share, and although the endeavor initially was successful, it was not long lived.  A number of the volumes once owned by the group were presented to the Walpole Library some years ago by Isaac Newton Lewis.

    Following a lapse of about 50 years, Miss Mary R. Bird was instrumental in starting a library in East Walpole in 1872.  Housed in Bird Hall (the old Morse Tavern) it, the library, was removed to Walpole center when through the efforts of Miss bird, her father, Francis W. Bird, James D. Dupee and George D. Kendall, the library became a town institution.  In 1876 it was located on Main street near the Common in the store of F.O. Pillsbury and in ensuing years maintained in the Town Hall.

    Walpole is indebted for its present building to F. W. Bird and his son, Charles S. Bird and the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.  The thoughtfulness and generosity of the Birds provided the impetus, money and site while Carnegie endowed the building, thereby providing the town with a source of education and pleasure since the structure was dedicated in 1903.  Originally built at a cost of $25,000, the library has grown and expanded in volume and circulation during the past 60 years and today is sorely in need of larger quarters.

    As the population grew and public demand widened, the Walpole Library Trustees acquired space first in the Bird School in 1933 and later in 1934 the building at the corner of Wolcott avenue and Union street in East Walpole for a branch library.  It is interesting to note that the charming old building originally was the home of the First Church and later the Wednesday Club held its meetings there.  In time a branch library was required in North Walpole and in May 1959 a portion of the Old Fisher School on Main street was obtained for the purpose of circulation of books to adults in the area, in addition to the children who had enjoyed borrowing privileges through the school for a number of years.

    The Walpole Historical Society in sponsoring National Library Week (April 12-18), together with the Walpole Library Trustees and Staff, anticipates a more active interest and participation in our local libraries as a means of greater knowledge and source of pleasure.  The late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, while President, once aptly stated, "Books and libraries and the will to use them are the most important tools our nation has to diffuse knowledge and develop our creative powers.   The community public library is one of the richest and more enduring assets of our historical heritage."