Located in the heart of Chelsea village on VT Route 110, the Chelsea Public library shares a red-brick building with the town hall. Alden Speare, born in town, was a resident of Newton, Massachusetts when he helped pay for the Romanesque Revival building in the mid-1890s.
Successful in Boston's oil and starch business, Speare responded to a fund-drive appeal sent in 1892 to former residents of Chelsea in the wake of a fire that wiped out the library. He offered $5,000 for a library if residents would match the amount to build a town hall that would house the library. The voters agreed and when the building was dedicated on October 25, 1894, Speare's actual expense was $6,650.
Several decades before the building was erected, a group called the Chelsea Literary Friends was established. Later, in 1841, 21 men and one woman bought shares to start the Chelsea library Association, using books from the earlier library and buying new ones. Locations included the Union store block, Amos Hatch's harness shop, and from 1869 to 1888, the Dana Mansion.
The Ladies' library appeared on the scene in 1865 and offered lighter, more popular reading material, including fiction, essays and modern literature. This collection, first housed in the Aaron Davis home, was later moved to the Hira Bixby studio.
In 1888, when the shareholders of the latter two groups joined forces to become the Chelsea library Association and Ladies' Library, fees were still being charged. The books and furnishings of both were moved to George L. Stow's law office in the Union block.
After the early morning fire on February l0, 1892 destroyed this building and all its contents, a group of townspeople wasted no time. They met that evening to discuss replacing the 1,700-volume subscription library with one that would be free to all. Not long after, the fund-appeal letters brought money, books, and Speare's generous offer. At March meeting that year, voters appropriated $200 to replace the collection if the existing libraries would disband and give up the books that had escaped the fire.
B.B. Sherman was entrusted with the money and was sent to Boston to select and buy books. Hilas E. Roberts, a non-resident born in Chelsea, donated to the collection, eventually adding 10,000 volumes. When he died in 1914, he left $10,000 to the library.
Other donors were the children of Harvey Hood, who purchased the site for the new building; the women of the Ten Pin Club who gave a library table and four chairs of oak; and Perley Chandler of Barre who presented a clock to the library.
The library occupies the right side of the Victorian-era building that features two low round towers with finials, an arched entrance, side windows, and marble steps added in 1903.
Inside, a plaque honoring Speare and stating his goal for a perpetual free library, is installed over an elaborate fireplace.
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