Holyoke library effort started small in 1870

Published Wednesday, June 27, 2007 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican. Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

In 1870, the Holyoke Public Library was organized by some of the city’s most respected men including the Rev. J.L. Trask, Moses Newton, Henry A. Chase, George W. Prentiss, J. S. Webber, Charles H. Lyman, Oscar Ely, W.B. Pearsons, Timothy Merrick, C.B. Prescott, Chalmers Chapin, William S. Loomis, C.P. Chase; J.S. McElwain, J.P. Buckland, John E. Chase, R.B. Johnson and the honorable William Whiting.

J.C. Parsons, treasurer of Parsons Paper Co, donated a site and the funds to build a $20,000 structure provided an equal amount could be raised for books and other equipment. It soon became apparent to the committee that $20,000 was too large of a sum for a town of only 10,000 people to augment. Not to be deterred, the committee secured a charter from the Commonwealth for the foundation of a library, raised more than $3,000 and petitioned the town government for use of a municipal building coupled with financial support.

The Lyman Mills, Hadley Co., Hampden Mills and the Y.M.C.A helped with a book collection and the Parsons Paper Co. generously donated $500. The collection was placed in the Appleton Street School for six years. By 1876, it was moved to a larger space on main floor of the City Hall. By 1886, the book circulation increased from 18,835 to 44,655 and the number of patrons increased from 441 to 2,075.

The library’s success was largely due to Miss Sarah Ely’s, capable administrative abilities as the librarian. She was gracious, sympathetic and intelligent, always knowing what her patrons needed. Assisting her were Mrs. E.A. Whiting and Miss Elizabeth Perry.

In 1897, members of the library board were elated to hear that the Holyoke Water Power Co. had offered a city block encompassing the streets Maple, Essex, Chestnut and Cabot streets where they could finally build a library The stipulation was that they raise funds within three years, for an appropriate municipal building in which to store their growing collection of books.

A committee was soon appointed that included Chairman William S. Loomis and Henry A. Chase. They raised more than $95,000. William Whiting and William Skinner generosity donated $10,000 each; other individuals also contributed and the school children helped. Fortunately, the New York financier, J.P. Morgan graciously contributed another $10,000 to the fund, according to records at the Holyoke Public Library.

Architect, James A. Clough designed one of the most beautiful buildings in Holyoke free of charge. The library is a Greek neo-classical style. Six massive Ionic columns, magnificently sculptured Indian limestone and a charming red-tiled roof greet you as you climb the granite steps. The interior of the building is also stunning with its rich oak woodwork, open design with intricate detail and interesting murals depicting Holyoke’s impressive history.

The building was officially dedicated in February 1902. At the dedication ceremony William Whiting, who was library president at the time, referred to the library as the "people's college," and added that, "A library is as much a part of the intellectual life of a community as its schools, and should be supported generously as part of our educational system. Within these walls you will find authors devoted to literature, arts and science, and they are free to any who will ask. We can say to the citizens of Holyoke you have only to ask her and you will find knowledge to make your life useful and happy."

For one 105 years, the Holyoke Public Library has made available an endless supply of books for its patrons.

The library offers a children’s summer reading program, a user-friendly database and adult programs that support the GED and ESL programs. Computer access and a free wireless connection allow access to the Internet site LearningExpressLibrary.com site. Test support includes Civil Service Careers, U.S. Citizenship, and a Grammar for Writing course and much, much more.

In1983, Friends of the Library, a group of devoted volunteers were formed to raise funds and serve as the library’s liaison to the community. Today, the building needs a major renovation due to mold and water damage and is not fully handicap accessible. The Massachusetts state budget has three line items that are up for increases, including State Aid to Libraries, State Aid to Regional Systems, and the Public Library Fund.

Maria G. Pagan, Director, director of the library, said, " Please contact your local legislator or go to http://capwiz.com/masslib to encourage them to vote for these increases as a state level approval would be enormously helpful."

The Holyoke Public Library holds within its mighty halls volumes of remarkable stories, past and present. Stories of our lives, the classics and of far away places that should be cherished and protected.

© 2007 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission