Celebrating Bethel Library’s History

The history of the Bethel Public Library has been characterized by growth to meet the expanding needs of the community it serves. The Library had a humble beginning when in 1909, an ordinance established the Bethel Public Library. In 1910 it opened in one room over what was then A.J. Lynch’s store on Greenwood Avenue.

Women played an important role in the founding of the Bethel Library. After the Library was established, Miss Maria Parloa, a local author and community servant, bequeathed in 1909 her books and other property as well as $2,000 to get the Library off the ground. Miss Marie Macbeth was appointed the first librarian. Also in December 1909, the Ladies Library Auxiliary, presided over by Mrs. Jennie A. Keeler, was formed, and a drive was immediately started to secure books from the people of Bethel. Much credit has been given to the Ladies Auxiliary for the organization and development of Bethel’s Library.

In 1914 Hannah Seelye bequeathed the Seelye family homestead to the town. It is the current location of the Library on Greenwood Avenue. The town was to hold the house and surrounding land in perpetuity for library purposes and as a perpetual memorial to the late Seth and Abigail Seelye. The home was built in 1842 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1954 the old house was renovated and by 1962, the Library had grown to 14,000 volumes. In 1967 a two-story addition was put onto the original Seelye House. Each floor of the addition had approximately 3,000 square feet of usable space. During 1983-1984, the building was again renovated primarily to correct fire code violations.

The Seelye Homestead was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The fine Greek Revival architecture had always marked the Library as a focal point in the town. It also helped to retain and preserve the old New England small town character of the Town of Bethel.

The 1967 addition was demolished in 2004 and a new 22,000 square foot addition was added to the Seelye House. The newly renovated Library opened for business in July 2005.

The Library as it stands today is approximately 28,600 square feet. However, due to delays with getting the construction underway, construction costs increased and the second floor could not be finished with the appropriated funds. Usable space is only about 18,030 square feet. Nevertheless, the library continues to serve everyone in the community and the services are free to all.