The Stowe Free Library, occupying the first floor of a former school built in 1861, is located a block east of Main Street (VT Route 100). It shares the tastefully-restored Helen Day memorial library and art Center building. The original architecture of the $5,000 Late Greek Revival school has been retained in the wide verandah with fluted Doric columns, the handsome balcony, the large windows, and the elaborate belfry.
In 1828, over 150 years before the book collection was moved to its present location, Stowe's literary history began with a subscription library, followed in 1863 by an agricultural one. In May 1866, still another library was started when summer visitors donated 51 books and townspeople voted $100 to increase the collection.
Warren I. Atkins, who kept the books in his grocery store, may have been the first librarian. George W. Jenney and his wife took over in 1870, operating the library out of their store until 1904 when the books were moved into the Akeley memorial building, still standing on Main Street. Colonial Revival in style and built of red brick with Barre granite trim, the latter is interesting as an ex-library. Dedicated to Stowe soldiers on August 19, 1903, it was the gift of Healey Cady Akeley, a native of Stowe who prospered in the lumber business out West. The library, sharing the building at first with the post office, two lock-up cells, and town offices, remained there until 1981.
Phoebe Sakash, longtime library trustee and volunteer, wrote in the 1980-1981 town report: "After 75 years in the Akeley memorial Building, the library moved to the renovated old high school. As any householder can testify, 75 years in one place accounts for massive accumulation and the same was true of the library."40 Town residents helped move the books and the library was opened to the public on April 1. The circulation increased dramatically, for many residents who came in to see where they used to sit when they attended the school, went out with books in hand.
In 1994, the library's area doubled when an addition was built on the rear that provided more space for the children's books and the Vermont collection, as well as for meetings and periodical-browsing. In the original section, 12-over-12 windows are framed by white open shutters on the inside. These windows are replicated in the addition (the shutters will come later). A chandelier at the entrance and four white columns add to the bright atmosphere of this tastefully-restored library in one of Vermont's most popular tourist towns.
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