Founding the Bethel Public Library

A meeting held November 8, 1909, established the Library. William P. Bailey was elected chairman and William A. Gilbert clerk.

It was voted to adapt by-laws for the operation of the Library, and that two hundred dollars annually be paid by the town toward its expense. That there be twelve directors and that suitable rooms be provided to house it.

It was also voted that the directors be authorized to receive from the Borough of Bethel, the books and other property bequeathed to said Borough by Miss Maria Parloa to be used as a part of the free public library.

The following directors were elected for one year: H.H. Woodman, C.R. Morse, H.A. Gilbert and Rev. W.I. Bowman; for two years, Rev. Henry Macbeth, Rev. William Kiernan, Horace L. Shepard and Rev. H.Q. Judd; for three years Rev. A.T. Steele, William P. Bailey, W.E. Andrews and John Melvin.

It was also voted to instruct the directors to take steps for the organization of a ladies auxiliary of the library.

On November 13, 1909, the Board of Directors elected officers as follows: Cady R. Morse, Chairman, Horace L. Shepard, Secretary and Howard H. Woodman, Treasurer. A committee on by-laws was also elected, and a temporary building committee appointed. By-Laws were adopted and the report of the building committee accepted on November 20, and on November 29 the executive committee was instructed to hire rooms for the library from F.E. Tomilinson, commencing December 1, at a rental of three dollars per month.

The library was to be kept open two hours in the afternoon and two in the evening on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Miss Marie Macbeth was appointed librarian.

In February 1910, it was voted to seek larger quarters, and on March 15th, four rooms were rented at 19 Fountain Place (now P.T. Barnum Square) from a Mr. Kroff for six dollars a month, where the library was moved April 28, 1910.

An appropriation was made in May of one hundred dollars for new books. Three hundred dollars received from the Ladies Auxiliary was deposited in a building fund.

Plans for acquiring property on Center Street (now Greenwood Avenue) from Ursula Benedict were started in August, 1912. Price of the property to be six thousand dollars, of which two thousand would be donated to the library by the Benedict family. It was decided to form an incorporated association to acquire the property.

A resolution was adopted “That the Directors of the Bethel Public Library place on record their sincere and grateful appreciation of this generous action and direct that copies of this resolution be sent to Miss Ursula E. Benedict, Rev. Arthur Benedict, and Dr. Frank A. Benedict individually by the secretary”.

On June 24, 1914, the following preamble and resolution was unanimously adopted. “WHEREAS” The Rev. L. Clark Seelye, D.D., Thomas Seelye and all the other legatees under the will of the late Hannah H. Seelye, have most generously offered to present to the town of Bethel, the homestead and all the land connected therewith of the late Hannah H. Seelye under conditions that the house thereon or any building erected in its place with enough land surrounding the same to meet the approval of the donors, shall be held in perpetuity for library purposes and a perpetual memorial of the late Seth and Abigil Seelye, the parents and grandparents of said legatees, shall be placed in said building or any future library building erected on said premises. It is therefore resolved:

“That the Directors of the Bethel Free Public Library approve of the acceptance of the gift and request the Selectman of the Town of Bethel to call a special meeting for the purpose of legally accepting a deed of said property to the Town of Bethel from the Executors of the will of Hannah H. Seelye.

And be it further resolved: That we, directors of the Bethel Free Library, hereby express to Dr. Seelye and through him to the other donors, our sincere appreciation of their munificent gift to our town, and pledge our best efforts to so conduct its affairs, that it will be a credit to the donors, a fitting memorial to their ancestors and a blessing to the people of their native town”.

On July 14th, the deed of the property given the town of Bethel was read. It was voted to accept the deed of the executors of the will of Hannah Seelye, together with a map of the property as prepared by the surveyors, and the deed be recorded and the map placed on file in the Town Clerk’s office.

The following resolution was presented to the Board, “Resolved that the Board of Directors hereby express to the Rev. Clark Seelye D.D., their grateful appreciation of his generous offer of a cash gift toward putting the Seelye Homestead in proper condition for library purposes”.

The following improvements were suggested by Dr. Seelye:

The stone steps in front to be put in proper shape.
A steam heating plant for the building.
Fire places to be remodeled, changed to brick.
Chimneys to be fixed. Arches cut through downstairs.
Papering and painting and ceilings repaired.
Building to be painted outside.
Grounds to be cleaned and barns and sheds to be sold and removed.

The Board of Directors also suggested proper sewage for the property and an electric lighting system installed for the building. The contract for lighting was given to the Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Light Co., with the provision that a Bethel electrician should be employed.

In 1926, the first women to be appointed to the Board of Directors were Mrs. Katherine Hodgson and Mrs. Robert Keeler

The story of the development of the library is one unflagging devotion of many workers. From 1910 until 1948 there were only two chairmen of the Board of Directors. They were Cady R. Morse and Frank A. Berry. Only one secretary served during those same years, Mr. Horace Shepard.

Upon the death of Mr. Berry in 1950, Mrs. M.A. Ledan became chairman, and when she resigned, Hebert I. Terry was elected. When Mr. Terry moved from Bethel, Edward J. Gallagher became chairman. Mr. Gallagher was appointed Administrator of the Library and Erwin Rankin chairman of the Board.

The following persons have served as librarians since 1909:

  • Miss Marie Macbeth
  • Mrs. P.J. Garvin
  • Mr. Harold Patchen
  • Miss Alice Serre
  • Mrs. Frances Coulter
  • Miss Catherine McLachlan
  • Mrs. Robert Keeler
  • Mrs. Katherine LaValla
  • Mrs. Albert Carey
  • Mrs. Katherine Hodgson
  • Mrs. Marsden Shaw
  • Mrs. John Gallagher
  • Mrs. Anna Marie Costello Carey
  • Mr. Edward J. Gallager
  • Ms. Kathryn Scarish Porter
  • Ms. Nancy S. Rogers
  • Ms. Alice S. Knapp
  • Ms. Lynn M. Rosato
  • Ms. Megan Dean

In 1967, a new wing was added to the library. The quarters provided by the old building had become cramped. It was estimated that there were at least 4,000 book borrowers, due to the increase in Bethel’s population. Under the direction of Edward J. Gallagher, who had served for 15 years on the Library Board, and due to his persistence, the town’s fathers agreed to the addition. The Board of Finance allotted $148,000 for its construction. The final cost was $186,000 of which $53,000 was received from federal funds, $38,000 from the Library’s endowment funds and $95,000 from the Town of Bethel.

Mention should be made of the Huntington Sculpture standing at the entrance of the new wing. It is a statue of Abraham Lincoln reading a book on horseback. It was a gift of Mrs. Anna Hyatt Huntington, famous sculptor of Redding, Connecticut and was publicly dedicated April 2, 1967.

According to the records, the following bequests were made to the Library:

  • 1909 Maria Parloa        $2,000.00
  • 1911 Frances Seeley    $25.00
  • 1914 Sally Cole           $100.00
  • 1917 Frances Gilbert    $800.00
  • 1925 Carrie Sherman   $45.97
  • 1925 J.L. Shepard        $217.12
  • 1931 Sidney Smith       $9,120.00
  • 1950 Flora Young         $100.00
  • 1950 William Gilbert     $500.00
  • 1950 Alfred C. Howell   $1,000.00

Other gifts include $1,000.00 from the Bethel Lions Club. Gift in memory of Mrs. Florence Hunt Howell. Gift in memory of Mrs. Katherine Hodgson. Gift of art books by Alfred C. Howell