Bristol First Connecticut Town to
Provide Free Public Library

From: Charles W. Burpee
Publishes in the History of Hartford County,
S.J. Clark Publishing Co., Hartford, 1928

Submitted By: Ray Brown

"The boast of the Bristol Library and Reading Room is that is represents the general interest and effort of the whole community. Long before 1800 there was a library With bookplate reading "the reformed Library of New Cambridge.’ (That was in the days when there was an uprising against the kind of literature pouring into America from overseas.) A ‘Philosophical Library’ was in existence in the First Society in 1792 and was revived in 1803. The third was the ‘Mechanics Library.’ The modern library was inspired by the women of the Congregational Church who met to sew and for socialization. In 1868, men forming a Young Men’s Christian Association got together books for a circulating library. Mrs. Augustus Norton, who had removed from Bristol, made a bequest for $5,000 for a public library in 1891 and gave her own collection of books. By voting a special tax, the town has the high honor of being the first in the state to take steps for putting good literature freely before the public. In 1893 Mrs. Julia M. Tompkins of Chicago left $5,000 for the institution and Mary P. Root made a bequest.

"The library was opened in the second story of Ebers Block in January, 1892, T. H. Patterson in charge. He was succeeded by the present (1928) librarian, Charles L. Wooding. The lot on No. 51 High Street and the dwelling on it were bought in 1896 and the building served the purpose till replaced by the present handsome structure at No. 5 High Street, designed by William Potter of Bristol and New York, in 1906. By subscriptions and by bequest of C. S. Treadway the building fund had accumulated to $45,368. Mr. Treadway and Edward B. Dunbar, who also gave liberally, had been earnest workers on the committies but did not live to see their hopes realized. To Judge Epaphroditus Peck fell the honor of making the report that the public subscriptions had completed the fund required. Features of the institution are a valuable historical collection and one of the finest exhibitions of Indian and prehistoric relics in the country, given by the collector, Dr. Frederick H. Williams. Accessible here is the town’s history compiled by S.P. Newell, Judge Peck and Prof. Tracy Peck of Yale, a son of Bristol, on the occasion of the centennial anniversary in 1885."

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