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The Chain of Libraries

by Margaret Beck McCallum

from Hanover: A Bicentennial Book, 1761-1961

If Eleazar Wheelock brought to Hanover somewhat less than the fabled five-hundred gallons of New England rum, he brought also much more than a gradus ad Parnassum. In his baggage train there came north from Connecticut the nucleus of the Dartmouth College library and though its history belongs more to the story of the College than to the history of Hanover, the presence of a college library has from the beginning been a stimulus to the intellectual life of the community. Most of Dr. Wheelock's books, scattered through the years, have found their way back to the College and may be seen in Baker Library, gathered in a room furnished with eighteenth century pieces, a small museum of the seeds of learning in Hanover.

This original library was housed first in the home of Bezaleel Woodward, on the site of what is now the College Street entrance to the Dartmouth library, and was described, in 1774 as "not large, but there are some very good books in it." From 1783 to 1791 it was kept in the "President's Mansion," built by Eleazar Wheelock and then occupied by his son, John Wheelock, second president of Dartmouth. After the lapse of over a century the President's Mansion was destined to house a library again, this time to serve the whole Hanover community.

The early college library was in no sense a "town" facility. Even for Dartmouth students and faculty its use was prudently limited to an hour a week until 1864 when it was kept open for undergraduates an hour a day. It was not until 1928, when the new Baker Library hospitably opened its doors to readers in and out of the Dartmouth family, that the college library began to serve more than a closely defined part of Hanover.

"The College District" was still "at one corner of the town and remote from the main body of the inhabitants" when the first town library was incorporated in Mill Village or Etna. On June 12, 1801 there was established by special state charter "The Proprietors of the First Social Library of Hanover," incorporated by Joseph Curtis, Zenas Coleman, Leonard Dow, John Durkee, Otis Freeman, Isaac Houston, Samuel Kendrick and Silas Tenney. Little is known of it, but by inference membership was through subscription and the book collection moved from house to house as different members took charge. From the evidence of volume 143, still existent in 1926, the collection was reasonably large.

Contemporaneous, and with even more phantom records, was what Prof. John K. Lord in his History of Hanover intriguingly calls "an infidel library" at Mill Village which spread the views of an incorporated society of "deists, Universalists and Democrats." The leading spirits seem to have been Benjamin Miller, Eleazar Wright and that John Durkee who was also active in organizing the First Social Library. It is speculative to wonder if these two libraries, the "infidel" and the First Social, were ever merged, but it is a fact that something developed that was referred to as the "first union Library so called" and members who owned a share in this were considered to have paid the first dollar assessment for membership in The Second Social Library Association in Hanover, which was chartered June 29, 1819.

The incorporators of this library which was to serve readers for fifty-five years were Henry D. Chandler, Silas T. Vaughan and Harvey Chase. As the minutes of its first meeting, September 13, 1819 noted, it was "calculated to facilitate intellectual improvement in useful knowledge, enlarge the understanding, and particularly to promote and cultivate the principles of Morality, Harmony, Benevolence, Charity, and Liberality toward each other in all matters of speculative opinion." A catalogue published in 1835 by L. Wyman Jr. of Hanover shows 183 books on the shelves and at its peak the library contained over 700 volumes.

M. L. Peabody, its one-time librarian, wrote in 1887 that books were drawn the last Saturday each month and that "from 1840 until 1874 the Library was kept in the north end of the hall occupied by the Town of Hanover for town purposes." This was Hayes Hall or Barrows Hall, depending on the current ownership of the store beneath it, and Town Meetings were held there until it burned down in 1922.

Nine years after the Second Social Library disbanded in 1874 another effort was mad to establish a library and cultural center when The Etna Library and Debating Society was formed in December 1883. This was a seasonal organization, meeting weekly from Christmas to Mud Season, and at the height of its popularity numbered seventy-seven members. Approximately three hundred books were purchased through two-dollar membership fees and book fines and were kept at the house of a member who acted as librarian and was eventually paid five dollars a year for this service. The meetings included debates on highly academic subjects, dialogues, "readings" and songs presented by some of the youngest members, and also, for a time, the reading of "The Etna Enterprise," a hand-written paper edited by a member. The Society perhaps demanded too much of its members and during its closing decade only four meetings were held. Its books were given to the Hanover Free Library which was opened to the public in 1899 in Etna Village.

In establishing the new library Hanover took advantage of the New Hampshire Library Act of 1891 which granted up to $100 to any town which to the satisfaction of the State Library Commission provided for "the care, custody and distribution of books furnished" by the grant, and itself appropriated not less than $50 if the town's last assessed valuation exceeded a million.

Prof. Charles F. Richardson of Dartmouth, Asa W. Fellows and Horace F. Hoyt were elected the first library trustees at the Town Meeting in March 1898 and noted in their first report: "The Hanover Free Library was opened to the public Feb. 4, 1899. More than fifty people were present on the opening day and the library has been well patronized. The books belonging to the Etna Library were consolidated with the books furnished by the the town and state, making a total of about 400 volumes, with Thomas W. Praddex as librarian. The state donation consisted of one hundred dollars: about fifty volumes, including the latest and most useful cyclopaedia, were purchased from the twon appropriation; and Mr. Edward P. Storrs generously donated books to the amount of ten dollars, besides enabling the trustees to purchase other works on very advantageous terms." Mr. Storrs was owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover.

The Town assessment for the library that year was $151.50 and the total library budget came to $110.11.

Housed in Hayes Hall over "Charley's" Store, the library was the recipient of many gifts of books and magazines and also purchased books from its funds allocated by the Town. Mr. Praddex noted in 1900 "continued interest in the success of the Library" and that a catalogue of books had been made. "We very much need," he wrote, "a more convenient room for the better accommodation of the library and the patrons, but at present no such room seems to be obtainable."

The Selectmen were not unaware of the library's housing problem and by December 1902 an appropriation of $1,500 for a new building had been turned over to Mr. Hoyt, treasurer of the Building and Permanent Improvement Fund. This, with $500 for a book fund, was a generous contribution and seems to have been invested with or through Dartmouth College at four percent interest. "The plan for the library building has been accepted by the trustees and materials are being purchased with the intention of having the building completed and ready by September 1, 1994," Mr. Hoyt reported in Town Meeting. Things did not move quite so fast, however, and in 1905 the town was asked "to raise a sum not exceeding six hundred dollars (in addition to the present building fund) for the purpose of enabling the trustees... to erect a brick library building."

The lot for the new library had been purchased in 1903 from A.N. Merrill for fifty dollars (with a slight return when he paid the trustees a dollar in 1904 for grass cut on the still empty land). Felicitously, Robert Fletcher, professor of engineering at the Thayer School, happened to be a member of the board of trustees and drew up plans for the new building for the nominal sum of nine dollars. The library was completed in 1905 and the full account of its construction may be found in the report of the trustees, Mr. Hoyt, Prof. Fletcher and Chandler P. Smith, to the Town Meeting of 1906.

They observe that after the decision to build with brick there was $2,100 available, with interest accrued. An architect's fee and a contractor's profit would have taken "too large a share of the amount, hence the trustees themselves made the plans and bought the materials and superintended the work. The best materials were procured, the workmanship is first-class throughout, and it is believed that there will be little or no need of repairs for years to come." Time has proved this prophecy to be right. 

The final cost of the building and its fireproof vault was $2,822.11 and the deficiency between this and the amount available was more than made up by donations and the sale of materials. "Loyal friends and citizens" furnished the twenty-five by thirty-five foot one-room interior which was finished throughout in varnished hazelwood. On a solid granite foundation, its double walls are brick "from an extra good lot at the Lebanon yard." Cut granite steps and portico were gifts from Henry C. Whipple in memory of John Wright Dodge who for years owned the store under the old Town Hall.

In accepting the library for the town, Mr. Storrs, chairman of the Selectmen, said when the cornerstone was laid: "It is only right that this institution should be located where it is for, as is well known, the western part of the town is amply provided through the College and the Howe Free Library for its Neighborhood, and here will be found a fitting close to the chain of Libraries of which Hanover can well be proud."

Four years later librarian Praddex reported that "interest in the library is maintaining... and notwithstanding the population in this vicinity is not materially increasing in numbers, the number of books loaned still holds good and is on the increase."

By 1959 loans had increased to 1,313 books and 194 magazines, with 126 card holders. Monthly visits of the State Bookmobile now augment the library's own stock of 3,633 volumes and fifteen magazines and approximately one hundred records and record albums.

Mr. Praddex completed his service in 1910 and was succeeded by his wife, Mrs. Julia Jeanette Waterman Praddex, who was followed by Mrs. Frank G. Emerson. Miss Kathryna E. Spencer, like Mr. Praddex, was librarian for eighteen years, 1935-1953, followed by Mrs. Corliss C. Greenwood, Mrs. Richard H. Abbott and, in 1960, Miss Faith Stanley.

McCallum, Margaret Beck. "The Chain of Libraries." Hanover, New Hampshire: A Bicentennial book: Essays in Celebration of the Town's 200th Anniversary, edited by Francis Lane Child, 1961, pp.249-253.

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