A History of the Sheldon Library 1869 to 2018
During the period from the original charter of Sheldon in 1792 until the establishment of the Sheldon Public Library in 1895, the pioneers of Sheldon employed a variety means by which to provide reading materials and educational opportunities to at least some of its citizens. Education and literacy appear to be sought after attributes for most of the early settlers. Prominent members among the first residents brought “private libraries” from their south New England homes with some sharing among other residents. Accounts of items toted to the frontier included “barrels of books” stored and sealed to avoid water damage from the long trip.
A local resident and historian reports that before the Sheldon Library organized in 1869, public literacy was supported by the Grace Church library: a modest collection of something close to 100 volumes of “instructive moral fiction“(for want of a better term) geared largely to young readers. Most of the books (from the 1840’s and 50’s) remain in the church collection, although this type of reading fell out of favor a hundred years ago. All the stories have to do with why a child mustn’t be naughty, and the dreadful fate that awaits those who fall off the narrow path of goodness.
Below is a Certificate of Stock issued to J. J. Towle in 186? One Share cost $5. Mr. Towle was a well know citizen.
According to “History of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties Vermont, Lewis Cass Aldrich, 1891 “The Sheldon Agricultural Library Association was formed about 1869, and was kept up for several years. It finally ceased to exist as a society, and about 10 years since (1881) a private library bequest was made to the society by which some additional books were purchased make quite an addition to the books they previously had. The library at present has a fair patronage.”
“In 1895 the Sheldon Public Library was founded with: E.M. Brown, Wm. S. Green and J. H. Riley as trustees.” Ashton (1979). Miss Trudeau, who kept the books in her home, earned a yearly salary of $10. She apparently continued as librarian for six years until 1901. The Sheldon Library known variously as The Sheldon Free Library, The Sheldon Public Library, The Sheldon Town Library and The Sheldon Municipal Library has provided continuous service to the resident of Sheldon for over 120 years with a variety of librarians and in a number of diverse locations. Since 1899 the Board of Library Trustees has provided governance to the library with annual reports to the citizens of Sheldon through the annual Town Report. Many citizens, too numerous to mention here, served on the board over those 120 years providing leadership and insight into the needs of the community. We remain eternally grateful to those individuals who maintained an avenue into community literacy.
Jonathan Northrop (6/6/1822-11/1/1907) and Deborah Mitchell Northrup were prominent citizens of Sheldon. They purchased land and established “The Northrop Homestead” situation on 257 acres of land on the Fairfield-Sheldon town line on May 13, 1863. In 1899 Jonathan Northrop presented an endowment to the Sheldon Library. According to the “Biennial Report of the Vermont Board of Library Commissioners (1905)” page 30 the endowment was $3,000. Known as the Northrop Fund it was invested with a 4% annual interest return with those proceeds to be used to maintain the library. Under the directive of Mr. Northrop, the library was incorporated.
Another early supporter of the Sheldon Public Library, Harold E Marvin made gifts to both the library and the Sheldon Cemetery Association. He was born on March 3, 1867 in Sheldon to Julius and Charlotte Trudeau Marvin. He moved from New England and eventually passed away in Denver, Colorado on March 25, 1964.
In 1901 the library moved to the Lester Royce house where Mrs. Royce functioned as the librarian until 1903 when a move was made to the millinery shop of Mrs. Trudeau. She acted as librarian with an increased salary of $25 per year and kept 778 books plus an encyclopedia. Again in 1905 the library moved this time into the post office building with 1,256 books where Mr. Frank Curtis was librarian at an annual salary of $40. According to the aforementioned “Commissioners Report” one Mr. W. B. Curtis acted as librarian from April 1, 1906 until Sept. 14, 1911. The library remained here until 1911.
On September 14, 1911 the library moved to the home of Mrs. Lena Stephenson where she acted as librarian until 1916. The library remained in her home until 1939 During this interim period branch libraries were opened in East Sheldon, Rice Hill and Sheldon Springs. The “Springs” branch would be the last to close. They were closely affiliated with the schools in those districts.
Mrs. Stephenson* would again act as librarian temporarily in the 1960s.
According to “The Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of Library Commissioners of Vermont 1916”, Ruth Leach served the then Sheldon Free Library, established in 1895, as the librarian. Mrs. Leach served Sheldon as librarian from 1916 until her death in February 1939 a period of 34 years providing some stability. Her annual salary began at $66 and increased to $141. During the period from 1927 until 1935 Sheldon Town Reports indicate a second librarian on staff named Mrs. George Rockwell. The library continued to be house in the Stephenson home. In the Town Report of 1920, while Mrs. Leach served as librarian, the Library Trustees issued one of their few thorough reports. “During the past year the library has been overhauled by Miss Brown of Montpelier, and has been placed on a standard and more efficient basis. All books that were objectionable have been discarded and books that are badly worn are laid one side. The appropriate made last year proved insufficient to complete the remodeling of the library. The card system of charging should be installed and some of the badly worn books should be rebound as they are now out of print but are a valuable asset to the library as they are the kind of books that “never grow old” by reading. I would recommend that there be established an auxiliary fund for the purpose of meeting some of the library expenses, so the people in other towns who use the library, may be permitted to donate by voluntary subscriptions. By the extra money we may get this way we can increase the usefulness of the library and eventually establish a reading room that will be open to the public, certain afternoons and evenings of each week. The cost of running the library for the past year has been as follows: Librarian Salary – $84.00, Overhauling library – $96.23. I would recommend that the town appropriate the sum of $125.00 to run the library the ensuing year. W. B. Curtis, Chairman Board Library Trustees.” (Note Mr. Curtis served as library from 1906 to 1911)
The next thorough report comes 17 years later when in the 1937 Town Report we read the following: “At the present time there are about 5300 books in the Sheldon Library. During the year 1936, 122 new books were added and they were about equally divided between children’s books and adult books. The trustees purchased nearly all fiction because the greater number of readers call for that sort of book. During the year 1936 we also received a gift of a very fine collection of books from the Hon. Walter Husband of Washington, D. C. There were ninety books in all and about one-half of them were along educational lines, especially good for the school children. Some of the fiction were duplicates of books already in the library, so quite a number are to be placed in the library at the Springs for permanent use there. The trustees aim to spend the $120.00 allotment each year to accommodate the greatest number of readers, but suggestions and requests from townspeople are always very acceptable. A list handed to anyone of the Trustees, at any time, will be given fair and just attention. Sheldon is very fortunate in having this “Library Fund” and the Trustees would like to spend it to the satisfaction of townspeople. The number of books circulated from the library has increased quite appreciably the past two years and now an average of 125 books a week are in circulation from the Sheldon Library.”
The 1939 Sheldon Town Report indicates the one of the disruptions is library service throughout the history of the library. “Because of the death of Ruth Leach, who has been Librarian for a number of years, the library has been closed for several weeks; consequently there has not been so many books circulated as in some previous years. Due to circumstances over which the Trustees had no control books are not yet available to the public but it is hoped that within a very short time, arrangements can be made so that the library will be re-opened.”
In 1940 the library reopened under the direction of Myra Tillotson and remained in her home until a new Town Hall was built in 1952. The 1940 Town Report states: In February the library was moved to the home of Mrs. Myra Tillotson and reopened after being closed since December. During the year 100 books have been purchased, 30 of them being children’s books. The number of books circulated each week averages 140. A good number are used in school reports and extra reading. The Trustees would appreciate any suggestions from the public as to kind of books desired. There are approximately 5550 books now in the library
During the 1940s the library experienced space issues. With over 5,000 books to account for and kept in circulation, the librarian found it difficult to both shelve the books and provide space for patrons to use the facility. Various committees explored possibilities for a new library building independent of anyone’s residence. Several attempts to discover funding for such an endeavor provided little encouragement to residents hopeful for a new location. Finally the town answered the pleas of both the Town Clerk Grace Winchester and the library trustees and approved the construction of a new town hall and library.
Once the town approved the article the select board moved quickly to acquire the property currently used by the town on Main Street in Sheldon. On October 14, 1951 Mrs. Grace Winchester, Town Clerk, laid the official cornerstone for a new Town Hall and Library. The Burlington Free Press, The St Albans Messenger and the Enosburg Standard all carried article covering this event. Charles Dunton served as Master Of Ceremonies with dignitaries from various locations. With construction completed in 1952 the library moved into a permanent home after 57 years of moving from one location to another. The cornerstone contains among other items copies of two letters written by Jonathan Northrop in regards to money for the library.
An August 9, 1952 Burlington Free Press article states in part: “The town of Sheldon can well boast of one of the most modern town clerk’s office and library buildings in the state. For this community of 1,352 persons has a gleaming new $25,000 brick building which houses the town clerk’s office on one side and the town library on the other. Without doubt, it is one of the best buildings in any small community in Vermont.”
Interestingly in 1951 in preparation for the move to a new building, Mrs. Tillotson asked the trustees to act upon a number of books which were “too worn or too old as to print and style, or too obsolete to be serviceable.” In spite of a lack of space those books were placed in a “storage room”. Some were replaced due to their need by students. The 1952 Town report indicates that “The collection of books which were formerly in the Sheldon Springs Library have been added to the Library in Sheldon Village.” effectively closing all satellite libraries.
Mrs. Tillotson continued to serve as library until 1965, a period of 25 years and upon her retirement Lena Stephenson again became librarian. Mrs. Stephenson resigned on April 1, 1968 passing the position on to Bertha Carpenter.
Bertha Carpenter continued as librarian from April 1, 1968 until her resignation on October 1, 1971.
The 1968 Town Report carries the following comments: “During the past year much progress has been made in making our Library a better one. Our Librarian, Mrs. Lena Stephenson, asked for a leave of absence owning to the illness of Mr. Stephenson. On April 1st Mrs. Stephenson presented her resignation, and Miss Bertha Carpenter was hired to serve as librarian. Owing to the extremely high cost of books only 57 were purchased this year with the $120.00 interest from the Northrop Fund. Several fine books and magazines were given by Rev. Raymond Provost, Mrs. Herman Gareis of Enosburg Falls, Mrs. Roland Herman and Miss Isabel Tubbs of Saugerties, N.Y., Mrs. William Forges of New Bedford, Mass, Mrs. Walter Peno, Mrs. Elwyn Davies, Miss Bertha Carpenter, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Lumhan and Mrs Joseph Brier. Haswell Lodge No. 39, F. & A. M. has presented “Vermont Life Book of Nature in memory of Harold P. Maresh, Carlisle Chapter Order Eastern Star, also presented a book “Vermont Year Round Cook Book” in memory of Harold P and Mildred F Marsh. A framed picture of Johathan and Deborah Northrop has been presented to the Library by Mrs. Consuelo Northrop Bailey. During the past year 3,381 books were circulated. Much work has been done in cataloguing the books, sorting out those old and beyond repair, this making more room for the new books. Because of the increased cost of books the Library Trustees feel that we need to ask the taxpayers for a slight increase in money for purchase of books. Teresa Soule, Secretary”
The year 1970 marked the 75th year the library provided services to the community. News articles in both the Burlington Free Press and the St. Albans Messenger noted this with articles.
“The Sheldon Public Library is observing its 75th anniversary this year. The librarian, Miss Bertha Carpenter, has arranged a display of books which were given to the library in memory of the following: R Clark Gross, Blanche Columb, Nettie Keith, Alice S. Kittell, Harold P. Marsh, Leo J Potter, and Mark Stephenson. Miss Carpenter reports a circulation of 600 volumes per month. The library trustees are Mrs. Grant Gorton, Mrs A J Soule, Mrs James McFeeters, and Mr.s Russell Dodd
Citizen involvement in the library became even more evident in 1983 when a group sponsored the 1stAnnual Sheldon Flea Market and Crafts Fair at the Sheldon Elementary School. That tradition continues now in its 34th year with profits be applied to various library needs. Town records show patron numbers of 220 with around 5,000 books. The 1986 town report states in part:
“During this past year 234 patrons borrowed 3,000 books, magazines, tapes and records. The library expanded its schedule. On Sunday Oct 26, the library sponsored the 3rd Annual Sheldon Flea Market and Crafts Fair…. On July 21, Mrs. Yvette Severance became out new librarian replacing Mrs. Gwendolyn Davies.”
During this period of time from 1986 to 2000 the library experienced growth and rapid changes occurred. The 1986 report already indicates library items other than books including magazines, tapes and records. The 1988 report indicates a circulation of over 3,000 items. By 1995 visitors numbered over 1900 with over 5,000 items in circulation. Prior to the turn of the century the library entered the “Information Age” with computers for patron use but without access to the Internet. The addition of a “Govnet” dial up modem internet connection in 2002 allowed patrons to access the “Information Highway” and the library took on a totally new approach to providing literacy to the community. Now patrons could access various forms of “Media” in their pursuit of knowledge. In 2008 new computers entered an already crowded space.
Growing pains for both the library and the town clerk during the beginning of the century as a result of space limitations lead the town fathers to a solution through the replacement of the town office with a new structure affording ample space to both the Town Clerk and The Library. The Town Meeting warning from 2012 reads in part:
” Article 9 – Will the voters of the Town of Sheldon vote the sum not to exceed $400,000 for the purpose of designing, engineering, permitting and construction of the Town Office and Town Library in conformance with the existing architecture, money to be borrowed by the town and paid back over 15 years”….At the end of the day 257 ballots were cast. Of these yes votes were 156, no votes were 100 with one blank.”
To accommodate the construction the town clerk moved to the fire station in Sheldon Springs while the library resources remained in storage and the library remained closed. In the Town Report of 2013 the trustees indicated that “ The new library opened in April and has been busy with many new exciting events and programs. Our library has free Wi-Fi access and computers available to anyone. We have regular story hours, monthly adult book discussions, and knitting on two Saturdays each month. Other programs offered have been after school programs, maker events, summer programs, an author visit and holiday parties” The new library space nearly doubled the former space. Programming developed to make this a “true community service center”. Pleasing aesthetics including new furniture and shelving, computer area, open spaces, a children’s area, along with greatly improved lighting created an inviting space to visit and read.
The library became completely automated during the winter and spring of 2013 with volunteers entering every volume into a new “Library World” database. Patrons have online access to the collection of books and can communicate to the library online through this channel. Visit the Library website.
We will soon approach the 125th anniversary (2020) of our dedication to community literacy through the efforts of both librarians and citizens to establish, maintain, and upgrade community space for the purpose of multiple means of learning. We undoubtedly may feel that we have reached the apex of “Community Library” development but I wonder how our decedents in 2050 will recall and cherish our feeble efforts?
Sheldon Librarians 1895 to 2018
Mrs. Lester Royce
Mr. Frank Curtis
Mr. W. B Curtis
Mrs. Lena Stephenson
Mrs. Ruth Leach
Mrs. Lena Stephenson
Miss Carolyn Dodd (Kittell)
Mrs. Carolyn Kittell
Gwendolyn C Davis
Mrs. Yvette Severance
Mrs. Kristina Bolduc
1895 to 1901
1901 to 1902
1903 to 1905
1905 to 1906
1906 to 1911
1911 to 1916
1916 to 1939
1940 to 1965
1965 to 1968
1968 to 1971
1971 to 1972
1973 to 1974
1974 to 1977
1977 to 1979
1979 to 1986
1986 to 2017
“The History of Sheldon, VT by H. R. Whitney and others, Miss Hemenway’s Vermont Historical Gazette, Vol. II 1872
“History of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties Vermont , Lewis Cass Aldrich, 1891
“Sheldon, Vermont” by Dorothy Hemenway Ashton, Second Edition, 1991 P102-103
Various Town Report, Town of Sheldon 1901 to 2017
Burlington Free Press 10/19/1951
Burlington Free Press 8/9/1952
St Albans Messenger 10/28/51
St Albans Messenger August 1982
Enosburg Standard 10/18/51
Journal Gazette Richford August 1971