The Aldrich Public Library is a historic site!
Excerpt from "Where The Books Are"
By Patricia W. Belding, Potash Book Publishing
The Aldrich Public Library is located on a well-chosen lot across from City Park on Washington Street (US Route 302). Dedicated on September 22, 1908, it is part of an unusual historic district composed of five churches and city hall with its recently-restored opera house. Each of these buildings is at least a decade older than the library which was built with money from the estate of Leonard Frost Aldrich.
Barre's early libraries began about 1855 with small book collections in two stores on North Main Street: Dr. A.E. Bigelow's drug store and Nathan Morse`s shoemaker shop. A library history recalls that a customer could take Robinson Crusoe (or some other book popular at the time) from a bookshelf behind the woodstove and read a few pages while waiting to be measured for a pair of shoes. An agricultural library in Stillman Wood's drug store operated from about 1860 to 1865.
On December 8, 1873, Rev. A. Chandler, a Congregational minister, helped establish the Barre Library Association with 80 members paying membership fees of $2.50 each. After 1887, the books were housed in the Wheelock law office, a historic building on North Main Street (now a center for the Barre Senior Citizen group.) In 1889, a $2,500 bequest from Ephraim E. French provided for the purchase of reference, history, science, and biography books, but no fiction. Called the Barre French Library, it was fortunate to share space as well as the librarian with the association.
Starting in 1890, the libraries occupied the Henry Wood building on Elm Street, the last location before the move to the Aldrich library. In 1895, the year the village became a city, an innovative idea was written into the charter: the city would give a portion of the dog tax--about $500 annually--to the library's book fund. This practice survived for nearly a century.
That same year, in spite of ill health, Aldrich made plans to build the library. A native of Barre, he was a successful businessman known for his good works. Especially interested in education, he had served as a trustee of Barre Academy and had helped oversee the construction of Goddard Seminary in 1869. He felt that the best thing he could do for Barre was to build a library. Unfortunately, he died in 1898, ten years before the two-story building was erected.
Penn Varney of Lynn, Massachusetts was the architect and William E. Jackson of Montpelier was the contractor for the $39,000 Classical Revival building of gray brick. Barre granite, originally planned as the exterior stone, proved too costly, but the foundation is of granite as is the entrance with its two huge polished columns, steps, and a delicately-carved frieze depicting "The Passing of the Torch of Learning."
An elaborate entryway leads to the main floor with its original oak furniture and woodwork, classical columns, and two skillfully-finished fireplaces. Above the rear book stacks is an opaque glass floor that intrigues and delights young patrons. The first floor looks much the same as when the library was built, except for the electric lights that replaced gas fixtures, and the open stacks, originally closed off by wooden gates connected to the imposing circulation desk.
The remodeled basement contains a children's room and space for processing, storage, and kitchen purposes. In 1984, empty space was converted into a gallery on the second floor. Named in honor of George E. Milne, longtime library trustee now deceased, the room is used for meetings as well as exhibits. The upstairs also contains a museum of Barre history, and archives which include an excellent ethnic-heritage collection, considered one of the finest in Vermont.
Want to learn more about the history of Barre and Vermont?
View our collection of copy photos from Barre's history, city directories, Spaulding High School yearbooks, and volumes of Barre's history in our Vermont Room
Check out a museum pass to the Vermont Historical Society, where many of the items previously held in our historical collection have been relocated.
View issues of local newspapers dating back to the 1800s in our Vermont Room