By Scott Yeomans
Copyright Scott Yeomans, 1998
Andover Library Association (1882)
Tradition tells us that the present town library had its beginnings in the 1860's or early 1870's when a small collection of books was brought together for the use of the townspeople. This collection began to grow substantially in the late 1870's when Judge Henry Robinson gave to Myron Yeomans a 17 volume set of the New American Encyclopedia to be kept for the benefit of the town. Not long after, Judge Loren Waldo presented Harper's Family Library to the town. This was a set of small books on many different subjects in history, biography and travel. By 1882, a new organization, the Andover Library Association, had been formed to oversee the growing collection. A one dollar per year membership fee was charged and a catalogue of books could be had for ten cents. The first catalogue listed 566 volumes. Non-members could borrow any book or magazine upon prepayment of five cents, unless the librarian, Henry Dorrance, considered the person unlikely to return the book. Even then the non-member could borrow the book by leaving a deposit equal to the cost of the book. This library utilized the Conference House at the Congregational Church and was open Saturdays from 7pm to 8pm.
During the new library associations first year (1882-1883), Thomas Ely Porter of Coventry took the organization under his wing. He donated books, a large bookcase with glass doors, and money. The bookcase allowed the library to emerge from the conference house closet and take up a more stately position in the main room. So great were his contributions that the subscribers renamed their Association and library in his honor in 1883. The Library's first year saw the number of volumes in its possession increase from 566 to 925. At this time fiction was the dominant classification; religious books were present but declining in volume and popularity. Poetry, history and biography were increasingly popular.
Another significant contribution came in 1891 from Chester Norton. By his will, he created four trust funds. One of these funds was to be used by the Porter Library Association for the "care and increase of the books in said library."
In 1895 the State of Connecticut enacted a law to encourage free public libraries. The state would donate $200 worth of books to any town that would appropriate a similar amount to provide facilities and maintenance for a free library. Andover chose to comply with the law at its annual town meeting held October 7, 1895. Also at this time, the meeting voted to establish a committee of three to oversee the project. The committee did its work quickly, for in January 1896, the new Andover Public Library was opened. The new library was housed in the Conference House, just as the Porter Library had been. Infact, the Porter Library agreed to loan its entire collection, and all of its furnishings to the new library. Miss Grace Stanley, the teacher at the time in this one room consolidated school, not only taught all eight grades but also served as the librarian during the school term. In 1903, after the town opened its new two room school, the library was able to make use of the entire building. Several more book cases were added, as was a reading table.
Burnap - Skinner Memorial Building
In 1919, Elliot P. Skinner, a son-in-law of Daniel Burnap, added a codicil to his will which laid the financial ground work for a new home for the library:
"I give to William B. Sprague and Erskine B. Hyde in trust, the sum of Five Thousand - 5000 dollars from my estate, and hereby appoint said William B. Sprague and Erskine B. Hyde trustees to use and expend said sum of money for the erection and equipment of a suitable building for the use of the Andover Library Association, said building to be known as the Burnap - Skinner Memorial building -
When said building is fully complete it shall be turned over to the Town of Andover and become the property of said Town of Andover."
Though requests to proceed with the erection of a building were received by the trustees earlier, it was 1927 before they agreed with the library board that the time was right to begin construction. The new building was dedicated and opened to the public on November 12, 1927.
Throughout the years, the library has continuously adapted to meet the needs of the townspeople. Always on the lookout for ways to improve its situation, the library was presented a wonderful opportunity in 1991. That year the Connecticut State Library had developed a plan to pick one small, older library within the state and provide expertise and funding for a makeover. The idea was to model a project after the public television show "This Old House." The program, "This Old Library," was offered as a competitive grant available to a library in a community with less than 5,000 people. Twelve libraries applied for the grant which would bring $20,000 worth of library services and construction funds to the winning applicant. In late September, the Andover Public Library was awarded this one-of-a-kind grant.
Much more can be learned about the libraries that have served Andover by reading the booklet "History of Andover's Libraries" by Scott Yeomans which is available from the Historical Society.
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