Peacham Library

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

The Peacham Library, a modern Ranch building located in the village, can be reached either by US Route 2 in Danville or by US Route 302 in Groton. Of white clapboard, the building has a simple portico and two bow windows; inside consists of a large open room with work-space in the rear.

In 1937, Vermont: A Guide to the Green Mountain State described Peacham: "Smooth-flowing hills, darkened by woodland patches surrounding the village with quiet seclusion, which increases its favor as a summer home for college professors and others seeking rest, quiet, and comfort."

In 1795, over 130 years before the above write-up, one of the state's earliest academies, the Caledonia County Grammar School, was established in Peacham. In 1799, the Federal Library, the town's first, was chartered but was short-lived.

Debating societies, also known as lyceums, were popular in the early 1800s and the male academy students in Peacham started the Juvenile library Society on August 9, 1810. Since they needed books to prepare papers and arguments, they organized the Juvenile library Association a short time later.

In 1816, one member wrote of the weekly meetings: "On the night of the debate--usually Friday--the room was crowded--old people of the town came in and the girls were always there to encourage us."15 Two of the myriad questions argued were: "Ought ladies to speak in public?" and "Are newspapers beneficial to the United States?"

In the 1850s, Thaddeus Stevens, the well-known Abolitionist who had attended the school, donated $250 to the library. Born in Danville, Stevens spent his boyhood in Peacham and graduated from Dartmouth College. In 1872, four years after his death, the library received another $1,000 from his estate. There has been confusion as to Stevens's role in this library. He was not a founder, as Stone's Vermont of Today makes clear: "To him [Stevens] belongs the credit, not of course of founding the library, but clearly of rejuvenating it."

Supported at first by subscriptions and quarterly dues, the library was not free. Chartered by the state in 1855, it was probably housed at first in Amos Gould's store, eventually spending 99 years in rented rooms in three more stores--Cowles's, Sargent's and Renfrew's--before Kate Hutchinson's store was bought for $500 in 1909. When Hutchinson retired in 1934, Howard Hebblethwaite took over and served for 28 years.

He was librarian in late January 1959 when a fire whichstarted in an adjoining academy dormitory destroyed the store. Historical items and 3,600 books were lost, ending this unique library/variety-store combination, the town's social center.

The year the library's name was changed is uncertain, but the books surviving the fire were housed for 1-1/2 years in Richter's store until the current building, dedicated on August 10, 1960, was ready. This date was significant, since it marked almost to the day, the 150th anniversary of the founding of one of Vermont's oldest libraries.


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