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Brookfield Free Public Library

From the book "Where The Books Are"
Written by Patricia W. Belding, Potash Book Publishing

The Brookfield Free Public Library, reached via VT Routes 14 and 65, is the oldest continually operating library in Vermont.

Established as the Brookfield library Association in 1791, about 16 years after the town's settlement--it now shares a converted private home with the town clerk's office. This Classic Cottage with simple doorway and sidelights is located in Pond Village just above the famous floating bridge, a tourist attraction and an institution in its own right. Historical note: The present bridge is one of several built in the same spot starting in 1812, a few decades after the library began.

The first library was started on June 7, 1791 when 48 men, each paying 16 shillings ($2.67), became shareholders by signing the association's constitution whose purpose was to promote knowledge and piety. The books were "bid off" at quarterly book auctions held at first at a tavern in Brookfield Center where an old chest was kept. This was described as "a plain wood-colored affair, four or five feet long, about two feet high and as many wide, tightly padlocked, which is supposed to have held the first precious volumes of the library."

About 1850, when the question of women's membership arose, Howard Griswold, a library officer at the time, made a motion to allow the "fairer sex" to bid for books. His daughter Selinda had been attending the meetings to help him check out books. The motion was passed "more through fear of discourtesy than otherwise.... Miss Griswold braved alone the criticism of a woman who was so unladylike as to appear in public, for two meetings before her younger sister, and then two other women, joined her."43

The library, which operated out of the tavern until 1867, occupied the vestry of the Second Congregational Church at Pond Village until 1881. It was then moved to the Masonic hall where it stayed until 1902, the year membership became free to all persons of legal age. After this change was made on June 7 (the 111th anniversary of the first library's founding), the books were moved to the town hall.

At the March 1908 town meeting, a free public library with town support was established. In 1916, the auction practice was discontinued and the library was open one day a week for the exchange of books without charge.

In September 1940, Anna Clark Jones willed the present building housing the library to Brookfield. She stipulated that if the library ever left the premises, the property would go to the University of Vermont. After renovations were completed, the books were moved from the town hall to one large room in the present white-clapboard building.

In 1992, memorabilia, including a photograph of a gentleman with a wooden book box, were on display in the entrance hall. An actual box and seven leather-covered volumes are other cherished relics of the early days.


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