"The Rochester Public Library"
"The History of the Rochester Public
One hundred and one years before the start of the first Free Public Library, a Social Library was founded on the 12th of March, 1792. A small number of citizens gathered at the house of Col. John Goodwin and subscribed a paper in which they declared that "learning tended to enlarge the views and soften the tempers of humankind." They all agreed to a form a social library. Each member paid eighteen shillings (about $2.50) toward the first purchase of books. Some members, in lieu of money, contributed an equal value in books. There were twenty three paid members by the end of 1792.
Franklin McDuffee, in his book The History of Rochester stated, "Next to churches and schools, libraries are the most important factor in the education of any community." At the time the "Rochester Social Library Company" was formed, libraries were even more of a necessity than they are now. Books were scarce and costly. The great variety of daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals which we take for granted today were unknown in 1792. Family reading usually consisted on the Bible, the almanac, and a school book or two. Almost every family today has more books than could have been collected in the whole town of Rochester at that time. Only a few affluent men had personal libraries,
The first book was presented by the Reverend Joseph Haven entitled The Principles of Natural and Political Law, a highly respected work at that time. During the summer of 1792, more books were ordered and the Rev. Haven was invited to deliver an oration before the society on the first of October. In his introduction he said, "We are now assembled in order to open a Social Library in this town, and though it may be looked upon as a day of small things, our hopes are raised and we expect within reason that from a small beginning happy effects will follow. That our society will increase, our library multiply and literature so prevail that this town will rise in honor and usefulness, have better knowledge of mankind and the important doctrines of Christianity; that religious virtue and morality, and the arts and sciences will flourish."
In the following years membership grew and included the most eminent citizens of the day. It became evident that what was founded was an institution not merely for themselves, but for posterity. In 1794 the association was incorporated by the legislature and continued to maintain some degree of life and interest until 1823. At that time there were about 400 volumes in the library, however for the next eleven years it was sadly neglected. No records were kept and the books were scattered throughout the town. Interest in the library was renewed in 1834. Through the efforts of Charles Dennett and others, an act was passed giving the society a new charter.
With a new charter, new by-laws, and an active librarian the society prospered with an increasing membership and respectable yearly additions to its library. In 1892, the one hundredth year of operation, the fee for membership was $5.00 with an annual tax of $1.00. Non members could use the library for a fee of $1.50 per year. The number of volumes in 1892 was about 2200 and approximately 60 regularly used the library.
In January of 1893, a movement to establish a Free Public Library for Rochester was started by the Grange. With determination the members passed a petition throughout the city and presented it to the City Council. The Rochester Courier was also an earnest advocate for this much needed public institution.
The plan outlined was for the existing Social Library to be converted into a free public library using its 2000 or so books as a nucleus, and the city to appropriate annually a sum of money for maintenance and improvements. There would be no problem convincing the stockholders of the Social Library to surrender their shares to the city. With the acquisition of the books of the 101 year old Social Library, the city could boast of having a library as old and with as interesting a history as any in New Hampshire. Rochester had been behind the times in not having a free public library. Many neighboring towns, such as Dover, Exeter, Newmarket, and others, had already established libraries.
Within six months after presenting the petition, the city council, on June 23, 1893, adopted an ordinance providing for the establishment of a Free Public Library for the city of Rochester. They appropriated the sum of $2,000 from an unexpended balance in the city treasury. This was used to rent space and purchase books and supplies for the operation of the library.
The Hon. Orrin A. Hoyt, the new city of Rochester’s second mayor, became chairman ex-officio of the library’s newly elected Board of Trustees. These six men would manage the library’s affairs and make all decisions necessary. They would come from each of Rochester’s six wards:
Ward 2 – William W. Allen
Ward 3 – Hon. Charles S. Whitehouse of Gonic
Ward 4 – John Young
Ward 5 – Dr. James Farrington
Ward 6 – J. Edgar McDuffee
Mr. McDuffee was the first secretary of the board and chairman of the book committee. His interest and devoted labor played a large part in the success of the new project.
Dr. Farrington was a successful physician and ex-member of the Governor’s Council.
John Young succeeded McDuffee as secretary and held that position as long as he lived.
Hon. Charles S. Whitehouse, who was the city’s first mayor in 1891, never qualified as a library trustee due to his previous position as mayor. For some time Ward 3 was not represented.
William W. Allen was the principal of the high school and a respected educator.
Josiah H. Whittier was a bookkeeper in the Cocheco Mills in East Rochester, secretary of the state library commission, and an enthusiast of free public libraries. Mr. Whittier had made a study of library methods and endeavored to have a uniform system of classification and circulation for the libraries of New Hampshire. He was actively involved in promoting the use of the Dewey Decimal system in our library. This system was later adopted in many of the public libraries as well as colleges throughout the country.
After some early deliberations, the board decided to rent to second store from the north end of the Barker Block at 42 South Main St. The annual rent was $400. It would be heated by steam and lit by electricity.
The next decision of the trustees was the selection of a librarian. Twenty three applicants has applied from which they could choose, but they did a rather amazing thing. They sought out one who was not on the list of twenty three, one whose business training had fitted her for a position of responsibility, and asked her if she would accept the position. While she was considering the offer, the trustees met and elected her to the office. Again, their wisdom and vision was proven, in that this first librarian, Miss Lillian E. Parshley, continued in that capacity for the next 52 years.
On Saturday, October 21, 1893, Rochester witnessed the end of the Social Library. All volumes were returned and no more would be issued. As the new public library, the institution had entered upon a much wider and more useful career. The books were brought into the Public Library’s new quarters. These books were anywhere from one to one hundred years old. Many contributions of books, magazines and other periodicals began coming in from individuals. These all had to be sorted, cataloged and shelved. This long and tedious task was completed in January 1894. On Monday, January 22, 1894, the first free public library in Rochester opened its door to the public. It was open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. Forty cards were issued on the first day. The rush of patronage on the part of the people exceeded the anticipation of all concerned with this new enterprise. Two things were at once apparent, namely that there had been a crying need for such an institution and there was a need of sufficient funding to keep it growing and improving.
At the end of 1894, there were 3,240 volumes in the library and it remained and grew at that location for the next three years. On August 4, 1896, the city passed a resolution to purchase the John McDuffee lot on Wakefield Street for $12,000, which included a residence and other buildings. It was purchased on the condition that no city hall building would be built on the lot for a period of ten years. Sixteen hundred dollars was then appropriated to make the old McDuffee house suitable for city offices and a library. In January of 1897, the library moved into its new quarters on the second floor of the city buildings. The library continued to grow at this location for a little over eight and a half years until it closed on September 9, 1905.
Mr. O. B. Warren, Rochester’s postmaster, in 1902 or 1903, started a correspondence with Andrew Carnegie of New York, in an effort to interest him in building a library building for Rochester. Mr. Warren mentioned that our town was settled in part by Scottish immigrants. On December 25, 1903, an announcement was made on the front page of the Rochester Courier that a check for $17,500 (later changed to $20,000) would be sent to Rochester from Mr. Carnegie. The city was required was required to provide a lot and at least $2,000 for maintenance annually. The efforts of Postmaster Warren were responsible for the splendid Christmas present received by the city. The lot provided was already city owned. It was on South Main Street and formally the location of the first Rochester High School built in 1857, which had become obsolete. After completion of the new library in the spring of 1905, money was appropriated for the furnishings and the grading of the surrounding grounds as well as new sidewalks. The building was a beautiful Georgian Revival style structure that became an asset to the city and still remains a landmark in Rochester. It was built of red brick with a granite base and white brick trimming, copper cornices, copper finials and a slate roof. The first floor contained a general as well as a children’s reading room, the librarian’s room, a stack room, a reference room and a delivery room. On the second floor were a lecture room (Carnegie Hall) with a seating capacity of one hundred, a historical room, a trustee’s room and an art gallery. In the basement, there was a newspaper room, a janitor’s room, an unpacking room, a stack room and two bathrooms. The first floor was finished in oak and the second floor and basement in cypress. Birch floors were installed throughout. The building was equipped with electric lights and steam heat. There were fireplaces in both reading rooms.
The building was completed within the specified sum of $20,000, leaving an unexpected balance of $22.92 to its credit. The architects were Randlett and Griffin of Concord, N.H. and the contractor was Kelly Brothers of Haverhill, Massachusetts. It was turned over to the Library Board of Trustees on October 2, 1905by Mayor C. W. Bickford and opened to the public.
Main Desk – 1905
Lillian Parshley, principal executive officer, then spent forty more years at this library. She was an exceptionally able and dedicated librarian who operated and improved the services and facilities throughout the years. Under her direction, the library grew from a mere dispenser of books into a diverse, living institution, adequately meeting the needs of the community. Miss Parshley was instrumental in proving that the existing building had to be expanded. In 1941, an addition was added to the rear of the building. This included a second floor museum, a first floor stack room and a basement room for additional newspapers and periodicals. This room was named the "Courier Room" as the Rochester Courier played an important part in the founding and development of the library.
Entrance Hall – 1905
Lillian Parshley served as Librarian from its founding until her death on January 15, 1945. She was deservedly honored by the city for guiding the library from one of 2400 books to one of over 40,000 books, making it one of the finest in the state.
Lillian E. Parshley
Under the capable leadership of the following librarians, Rochester’s public library has continued to improve and grow:
(at the time this document was published in 1993)
Many residents visit the library daily to read a large variety if newspapers and magazines. Children are introduced to library facilities through their own attractively decorated reading room and children’s story hours. Video tapes, records, and audio cassettes, etc. are also available as a library privilege to those who wish to borrow them. The New Hampshire Room, McDuffee Room, and the reference and reading rooms are widely used by students, historians and genealogists.
Today, in its 100th year, the Rochester Public Library can boast more than 55,000 books, over 11,000 members, and it is still growing. In 1905, there were 10,000 books and 876 members. That’s a 450% increase in books and a whopping 1150% increase in membership since this library building opened.
Congratulations to Rochester on the one hundredth birthday of its public library, and may it grow and prosper for the next hundred.
Taken from Bud Scheffer’s History of the Rochester Public Library as celebrated on the one hundredth anniversary of its opening on January 22, 1994.
Rochester Public Library List of Directors:
2012-Present - Brian Sylvester
COLLECTION JUNE 2011
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