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Calef Memorial Library

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

The Calef memorial Library, a Colonial Revival building located on VT Route 110 in Washington, is built of red brick on a cement foundation. When Ira C. Calef, who died in 1917, wrote in his will that he would give the town $12,000 to build a library, he added an interesting proviso: if granite--preferably building blocks--was used on the outside, he would give $3,000 more. The only granite on the building is the plaque over the entrance, "CALEF library 1919," the year construction began. One wonders if the additional money was forthcoming.

In 1896, nearly 25 years before, the Washington Town library was established with C.H. Johannessen as librarian. The fact that the hours were every weekday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. indicates the books were probably kept in a private home or in a store. Calef was born and died in this small community about 9 miles south of Barre, but he spent most of his life elsewhere.

One of 12 children, he left Washington at age 16, eventually making his fortune in the meat-packing industry in Iowa and Chicago. He kept ties with his boyhood town, returning often during the summer. His obituary noted, "Mr. Calef's biography is the story of a New England boy who overcame many obstacles in reaching a position of affluence among the business men of two generations."

Before contractor A.B. Lane of Barre built the new library with its columned porch and hip roof, Mrs. Calef was librarian in her home. Mrs. J.P. Lawler took over on July 19, 1920, the night the new building was dedicated. One of the speakers on that occasion was Mayor John H. Gordon of Barre who commented on the popularity of novel-reading in that city. After noting that in 89% of the cases, fiction was the choice, he concluded that socialists and women's club members were the only persons reading worthwhile literature.

The inside of the compact, one-room library must have looked much the same that night as it does today. The birch interior includes ornate columns and panels, cabinets, tables, and the librarian's desk. Other features are a pressed-tin ceiling and several tall windows topped by diamond-shaped stained glass. A basement room with the same type ceiling is used for book storage, meetings, and programing.

Two life-size statues--one a young boy, the other a girl--look down from their pedestals on either side of the circulation desk. P. Barranti, a Florentine sculptor, carved the pair from Italian white marble and Calef brought them back from Italy many years before the library was built.


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