History of the Chicopee Public Library

[Excerpted from the Municipal Register, 1913]

The First Books

In 1853, the Town of Chicopee accepted a nine hundred book collection from the Cabot Institute a literary and social organization in Chicopee, and opened the first free public library west of Boston.

It was not until 1851 that Massachusetts towns and cities were authorized by law to designate funds for libraries until 1851. At a Chicopee Town Meeting on March 11, 1853, an article was issued that read:

“ To see if the town will take measures to establish and maintain a public library for the use of the inhabitants of the town and appropriate money therefore, as petitioned for by John Wells and others. ”

The First Public Library Established

Positive action was taken on the article and in turn, Chicopee established the first library in the Western part of the state which was supported by public funds. Other area libraries were founded and publicly supported in:

Until 1863, the libraries duties were performed by the town clerks: J.R. Childs, William L. Bemis and Lester Dickinson. In 1864, the town voted to “ put it [the duties of the library] in the hands of a library committee and such remained the official designation of the officers until acceptance of the present charter. ” The current charter puts the Trustees of the Public Library as the managers of the library.

The first committee of the library included: John Wells(1864-1875), Edwin O. Carter (1864-1800) and Simon G. Southworth. The committee elected George V. Wheelock librarian of the Chicopee Public Library and he served from 1857-1864. It is written about George V. Wheelock, “ he was a lover of books and his judgment was very reliable. ”

The Early Years: 1859-1878

The first library catalogue was printed in 1859 and a supplement was added later in 1866. Another catalog was printed in 1875.

Until the completion of the town hall, the library was contained in a room in the building then called Cabot Hall and in 1872, the library moved to City Hall.

The First Branch: Chicopee Falls

In 1879, the library committee began to send books to Chicopee Falls. At first they were sent to a room in the building known as Union Hall where Miss Gorton acted a librarian for the salary of twenty cents per week.

Within two years of books being sent to Chicopee Falls, the committee requested for additional money for better facilities. In 1884, $500 was given to the library and a room in Bray's building was used for this purpose. To the Chicopee Falls collection, approximately 300 books were given by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Additional books were donated to the library by residents of Chicopee Falls included Bilad B. Belcher.

The Chicopee Falls Branch continued to grow until it occupied a room in the Wildes Hotel, a store at the corner of Market and Church Streets, and then in the basement of the George S. Taylor School.

The Library Continues to Grow

In 1879 a reading room was opened evenings and used in connection with the library. This was maintained for two years by private subscription. J.W. Cumnock, Rev. I. F. Porter, George A. Denison, A. F. Gaylord and William W. McClench ran the reading room in, what is now, the Aldermanic Chamber.

In May 1884, the library was made free by a vote of the town, before that time the patrons were charged an annual fee of fifty cents because “ theoretically people are more appreciative of privileges if it costs something. ”

By 1888, the subject of a separate building for the library increased in fervor. A report from that year stated: “ We feel justified in calling upon our public spirited citizens to unite and erect a public library building from private funds. ”

In 1890, Chicopee became a city and the rooms occupied by the library were needed for meetings of the city council. As a consequence, the building next to the library, formally the home of Jerome Wells, the first president of Chicopee Savings Bank (then Cabot Bank), was purchased and the library housed within.

In 1899, an addition was made to the building which greatly enlarged the storage capacity. In 1896, Reverend Charles Pease made another attempt to secure money for a library building with no result.

A Second and Third Branch Opens: Willimansett & Fairview

In 1898, a branch was opened in Willimansett. The use of this branch, however, was not as extensive as the Chicopee Falls branch and the Trustees report of 1913 reflects the low usage

In 1906, the Trustees were able to transfer one thousand books to the Chicopee Falls branch and 500 to the Willimansett branch. Additionally a card catalog was completed.

In 1910 a branch was established at Fairview.

A New Library Building: Market Square

In 1907, Mrs. Spaulding, wife to Justin Spaulding, died and in her will left $20,000 to the city for the construction of a new library on the Wells lot. Additionally, Emerson Gaylord donated $20,000 and James Pease donated $5,000 as well. The plans for the Market Square building were drawn up by Kirkham & Parlet and the erection of the building was completed by Denis Murphy and Patrick Rourke. It was written about Murphy and Rourke:

“ They executed the work in a skillful and substantial manner. The architects, contractors and workmen all took pride in the work and did it thoroughly and well. Consequently we have a beautiful structure, a credit to the city, substantial and commodious. ”

On May 13, 1913 a new library was dedicated on the Market Square site.

The trustees closed their 1913 Report saying, “ the trustees hope in the near future to enlarge the usefulness of the library by keeping the main building open every day from nine o'clock in the forenoon to nine o'clock in the evening and a part of a Sunday afternoon. ”

Today the library is open 9am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 9-5pm Friday, and is only closed weekends during the summer.

For information about the new library building on Front Street, turn the page