Library History

The Canton Public Library: A Short History

The village of Collinsville had a circulating library as early as 1838.  It was known as the Collinsville Library Association and was a mutual organization formed to buy books and to pass them around among the members.  There were 94 names signed to the roll, and the first minutes of a meeting show that it was held February 11, 1838.  The officers elected were:  president, Reuben Hills; librarian, Chester Weed; committee to select books, Chester Weed, Samuel Weed, Giles Brainard and Thomas H. Welles.  A committee on damage to books was named and the names were: David B. Hale, Benjamin T. Wingate and Simeon Woodruff.  Members contributed one and two dollars each.  It is not known where this library was located, but it is presumed to be in the first Collins Company office building which is now a residence at the corner of River and North Streets having been moved there to make way for the present office building.  It was one of the first buildings built by Sam Collins after he started the Collins Company in 1826.  After the official office building was built in 1867, it also housed a library, school rooms, a post office, as well as Collins Hall which was available to the public for church services, meetings and the like.  At some point the Collinsville Library Association became the Canton Public Library Association, Inc.

In the spring of 1913 there was a movement by the Canton Public Library Association, Inc.  “to create and maintain a free circulating library in the town of Canton and the village of Collinsville and to have and to hold all property that may be necessary to conduct the same and to receive bequests and to do all other things that such an incorporated body might be expected to do.”  Three hundred books were bought and Miss Lucia Derrin, a graduate of Collinsville High School, was secured as librarian.  During July she took a course in library training in Hartford.  The books were catalogued under the direction of a state inspector of libraries.  The library was located in rooms on Main Street in the Collins Company office building and they were decorated during the summer.  The library was opened for inspection and the circulation of books on Saturday, November 8, 1913 and thereafter on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2 to 5 and 6:30 to 8:30.  A reading room was provided and supplied with magazines and newspapers.

On August 7, 1919, a special meeting of the Canton Memorial Association was held in Collins Hall at which it was announced that Mrs. Howard S. Collins of Hartford had made an offer to the town to build a library to be given in memory of her late husband, the son of Samuel Collins, founder of the Collins Company. Mrs. Collins had come to Collinsville with her architect to inspect the site on Center Street which had previously been given to the Memorial Association by the late Jasper Bidwell for the purpose of a library in memory of the soldiers and sailors of Canton.  A difficulty arose in that Mrs. Collins wished the building to be a memorial to her husband, but the land was given for a library as a memorial to the soldiers and sailors.  This problem was eventually solved by the Canton Memorial Association accepting Mrs. Collins gift. Work soon began on the library building on the site at the corner of Main and Center Streets where there was nothing but a big hole.  Previously on this site was a Methodist Church which failed because of lack of attendance.  It was taken over by a group and used for entertainment and was called the Opera House, and it also served as the Town Hall until the present Town Hall was built.  The building was then demolished as being unsafe.

When the library was finished, two bronze tablets were installed on either side of the librarian’s desk.  One was inscribed:  In loving Memory of her Husband, Howard S. Collins, son of the Founder of the Village, this Building is respectfully dedicated by Helen Raymond Collins upon the land of the Canton Soldiers Memorial Association MCMXX.  The other bronze tablet was inscribed:  In Memory of the Men of this Town who have served our Country in her various wars for freedom and in grateful recognition of their services and the sacrifices that they made, this tablet is erected by the Canton Soldiers Memorial Association.  

Mrs. Collins paid for the library building, but there was no endowment with the gift, so there was a well-organized fund-raising campaign for future support of the library.  The goal was $5,000 and with a door-to-door campaign over $5,500 was contributed by townspeople.  The board of directors of the Canton Public Library met in November, 1920, and voted to use $1,500 for the purchase of new books, and donated $1,000 to the committee in charge of decorating the interior of the building. The dedication of the Collins Memorial Library took place on Armistice Day, November 1920, and it was attended by Mrs. Collins who was very pleased with the outcome.  Comments were “that it was as pretty a library as any in the State.”  It served the town for 80 years until the year 2000 when the present Library and Community Center was constructed by renovating the former elementary school on Dyer Avenue.  It has been there for nearly10 years and due to the rapid growth rate of the town, it is already cramped for space.

Meanwhile In North Canton in 1783 a meeting house was built one-half mile north of the present Methodist Church called the Independent Meeting House and it was used by all denominations.  On February 28, 1839, a meeting of the Independent Society was called, and they voted to sell the meeting house at auction on the 14th of March applying the proceeds for the establishment of a public library.  It was called the North Canton Independent Library.  The little red schoolhouse at the junction of Case Street and Cherry Brook Road was vacant at the time and served as the library until it was dissolved.  The books were sold for $20, and the proceeds used to put an iron fence along the North Canton cemetery.

Earlier in North Canton, another library, called the Friendship Library, was started March 4, 1793.  The articles of agreement were as follows:  “This library shall never be dissolved or broken up but shall remain forever in joint partnership and shall be forever kept within three-quarters of a mile of the dwelling house of David Adams, Jr.”  There were many such libraries, book clubs or associations in the early years of our country fueled by the desire for knowledge.  They were usually run by ministers or churches. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that free public libraries became the norm in small towns. Notable is Andrew Carnegie who funded many libraries, one of which is in Unionville, now the Unionville Museum.

researched and written by Kathleen Woolam
Curator, Canton Historical Museum

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Canton Public Library • 40 Dyer Avenue • Canton, CT 06019 • 860-693-5800 • Fax 860-693-5804