History of The Cornwall Library

The Cornwall Library Association was organized in the study of the Rev. E.C. Sanford, October 2, 1869. Minutes of that meeting record the adoption of a constitution and twenty-two articles, establishing both the purpose for the library and the rules by which it would operate.

“The Subscribers, believing that a well selected Library in this Town, would promote a desire for useful Knowledge and Mental and Moral Cultivation, tend to form right tastes and habits in the young, and secure substantial improvement to all who properly avail themselves of its privileges, do unite in an association to be called the Cornwall Library Association, and do agree to pay the sums set opposite their names, for the purpose of obtaining such a Library, and permanently securing its advantages.”

An Executive Committee and the Librarian were “to select and purchase all Books for the Library. . . No book shall be admitted into the Library, of an immoral tendency, or teaching any religious doctrine contrary to Christian principles. And any book purchased which shall be found of a character inconsistent with this article, shall at once be taken from the Library and destroyed; and no book shall be purchased which shall not receive the approval of a majority of the Executive Committee.”

The Library was to be open the first and third Saturday afternoons of each month. Memberships cost $3.00; annual dues, $1.00. The Librarian’s salary from 1875 to 1909 had been $25.00; then it increased to $75, and later $100.

At first the library was in a private house. Then in 1874 it moved to the office of Frederick Kellogg, Esq., which was enlarged for the purpose and stood on the south side of the Town Green. The statistics recorded in the annual meetings report a steady growth in numbers of books acquired and borrowed. Then, without previous mention of the plans or construction, on October 6, 1908, members voted to approve a resolution: “The Cornwall Library Association herewith records its grateful appreciation of the provision made by Mr. John E. Calhoun for its housing in the Cornwall Library and directs the President of the Association to convey to him our thanks for his interest in its welfare.”

TownHallThis modest statement thanked Mr. Calhoun for the elegant stone building (built for $25,000), which served as the Library’s home until 2002. The minutes stated that the “Books [now numbering 3626] moved into new library building beginning Tuesday, December 15, 1908. Were placed and given out as usual the Saturday following. . . There was a reception to which nearly the whole town were invited on Friday evening January 29 from 7 – 11 o’clock.”The Library collection grew by about 100 volumes a year during the first half of the 20th century. From 7 – 9 on Saturdays members in good standing ($1 dues paid) could borrow “one book of fiction and one of any other class for five cents per week.” In later years the open hours increased and many more books were acquired.

As the collection grew, the publication of a list of the books was not practical and a catalog was established with cards for each book. Books were loaned to the school, and collections of books were sent to the soldiers during World War II. While members continued to pay dues to the Association until 1954, the rules for borrowing were changed in 1945: “Books may be drawn free from this library by all residents of the Town of Cornwall, and by all members of this association.” The Association Secretary was directed to post notices that “the Library is now a free library” in the three post offices and in the newspaper. A sign, “Cornwall Free Library,” was to be placed at the front of the building.

During this time Miss Emily Marsh was the librarian; she directed much of the growth of the collection, overseeing everything from the addition of new shelving, lighting and furnace, to the establishment of a children’s room, eventually retiring in 1962 after forty-two years of service.The rate of growth, which had been steady for decades, increased. Additional materials were added: records, puzzles, then books on tape, and video recordings. Bookshelves spread into the town hall meeting room and lined those walls.

The need for more space for both town and library use became obvious, and many suggestions for expansion were examined. Finally, in 1998, the Library Trustees voted to construct a new building. Land next door was purchased, a state grant was received, and many generous donors contributed to the project. The new Library opened on May 22, 2002. The collection, now numbering over 28,000 items, is catalogued by computer. People can search the Cornwall catalog, and that of most other libraries, on the Internet, and anyone with a bar-coded card can borrow from any library in the state.

1997 Was a Critical Year

The trustees concluded that it was necessary to explore options for how to make room for more books. Committees were formed, architects were interviewed, mission statements and strategic plans were drafted, space needs were estimated, and grant applications were written. A capital fundraising committee and a program committee began work in earnest.

Because this is an association library, the town did not have to vote on the project, but since the town was gaining the space the library would vacate in Town Hall, the town did vote to give the library $250,000. With events, parties, and appeals, the fundraising campaign collected $1,138,000.

Groundbreaking took place on Memorial Day, 2001. Moving day was May 12, 2002, and on May 22, the first users borrowed books from the new library – a big white colonial that has the look of a barn, a functional space with a distinct Cornwall character. The north and south wings house the children’s room and the stacks. A wing to the east houses the meeting room with its own entrance off the rear parking lot. The main area features an open post-and-beam construction and allows light to come in through high windows.

Where the History of the Town and the Library Meet

There are only a few people who have the book History of Cornwall – A Typical New England Town in their personal library. It is a leather-bound volume published for private subscribers in 1926 by the Reverend Edward Comfort Starr, who for twenty four years had served a pastor of the Cornwall Congregational Church and was a graduate of Yale College and its theological seminary. Born January 12, 1844, in Guilford, Connecticut, he lived a long life and died on January 16, 1941, in Cornwall.

Among many of his activities he was a treasurer and member of the executive committee of the Cornwall Library from 1888 to 1913, a member of Cornwall Library Association from and 1888 to 1935 and served as their president from 1913 to 1935. Those were the days when the town was home to organizations like the Cornwall University Club and Cornwall Law and Order League, which he also was involved in.

His alma mater became home of the Edward Comfort Starr papers, which cover the years from 1854 to 1916 and include over 400 pieces of correspondence of family members and associates sent to Edward C. Starr from Connecticut and China, including items relating to the Congregational Church.

For more on the history of the town of Cornwall, go the website of the Cornwall Historical Society.