The people of Greensboro have been well served by an active Greensboro library for well over a century. The existence of a very early “library” is suggested by a quit claim of March 30, 1843, in which Henry Blake sold ” the old Greensboro town Library” to John L. Porter. Local historians have found no other reference to the library.
There is, however, ample evidence of a Greensboro Library Association that was organized in June of 1873. “It has at present 169 volumes and additions are constantly being made,” according to a newspaper fragment of the period found in the wall of an inn in Craftsbury Common. “Luke Eastman is president and L.E. Babbitt, secretary. N.M. Cuthbertson is librarian. No pains are being spared by the society to give the community good reading. A valuable book is to be always coveted and gives a healthy tone to a reading people.”
A $108.41 bill from a Boston publishing house that July is evidence that Greensboro wasted no time in acquiring solid reading material. There were biographies of Frederick the Great, Martin Luther, Joan of Arc, Bismarck, the Duke of Wellington, and Galileo, and in a slightly lighter vein, Gulliver’s Travels, Don Quixote, The House of the Seven Gables, and Bits of Talk about Home Matters.
A treasurer’s account book of 1874 names Joshua O. Cutler as treasurer. Library funds were received from a Greensboro Dramatic Club benefit and an Olde Folke’s Concert. The following year, when Nathan Keniston was treasurer, $45.10 was spent on books. A “necktie festival” raised $7.20.
In 1878 Joshua O. Cutler started another account book, which includes a “Catalogue of Books” mostly classics by Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, James Lowell, Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters, and an item labeled “Child’s Books.” (Books were not written for children’s enjoyment in the nineteenth century, but to teach manners and Christian virtues.) A change in handwriting is explained by a poignant entry on page 50: “This record was kept by Hattie to Aug. 23, 1882. She died. J.O. Cutler.”
By 1883 John Bray Cook was president of the Library Association. W.W. Goss was secretary, and Cutler again treasurer. By January 1888 the library contained 415 volumes.
At a special town meeting meeting on December 4, 1900, “the Hon. Henry Stanley Tolman proposed to give the town a deed of building now known as the Library Building,” which Judge Tolman had constructed earlier between the Pinney house (now Lauredon Apartments) and Cuthbertson’s Store (now Willey’s Store). Judge Tolman, a successful farmer and lumberman, had held almost every elective office in town and served as representative and senator in the Vermont legislature. The town elected a board of library trustees and appropriated the sum of one hundred dollars for the maintenance of the library.
By 1901 the state library had forwarded ninety-four volumes of “choice reading material” to Greensboro. Miss Frances Babbitt was elected librarian to serve one-half day for fifty-two Saturdays at fifty cents a day. W. W. Gillis was treasurer. Expenses included $4.50 for firewood and one dollar for light. Summer residents gave a benefit concert and generous numbers of books.
Four summer youngsters, Whitney Landon, Donald Hardy, Paul Hardy, and Wolcott Sibley, contributed from the earnings of their “Greensboro Sand Company” to buy two books. The Sand Company contracted to lay paths between the cottages of the summer people, Whitney Landon explained in his Early Memories of Caspian Lake. “The sand from the beach was easy to get, and we sold that quite cheaply; but we had one or two customers who wanted the very best, and the very best was from the bottom of the lake, out about up to our necks. That sand was just like silk, and we charged quite a little for that, maybe five or ten cents for a pail.”
According to the 1903 Town Report, the librarian received forty dollars as annual salary. This was raised to forty-five dollars in 1904. Judge Tolman contributed the Greensboro Free Library sign and ten shares of International Paper Co. stock, the income to be used for the upkeep of library grounds. He also stipulated that twenty-five dollars be paid Miss Frances Babbitt in addition to her salary and requested that she, Mary C. Ingalls, and Mellie R. Simpson “remain” Trustees as long as they are able to perform the duties thereof.”
The faded lavender library catalogue of 1909 lists such popular authors as Horatio Alger and Louisa May Alcott. Lumped under “Miscellaneous” are Macaulay, Tennyson, and Shakespeare. Books by summer authors Frederick Dewhurst and Bliss Perry are included as is Sidney Gulick’s Evolution of the Japanese long before his son, Dr. Luther Gulick, “discovered” Greensboro.
By 1909 Mrs. L. S. Jackson had become librarian and rules were strict. Only one volume could be drawn at a time and no book retained longer than two weeks under a forfeiture of two cents a day. The 1910 Free Library registration book is a rundown of the town’s avid readers: Pardon N. Allen, Charles B. Cook, Will Ingalls, Willis Lumsden, Alden and Lester Perrin, Norman Dufur, Dorman Melvin, Iris Collier, Ed Collins, and Miss Hazel Pope of Greensboro Bend.
Mrs. Jackson was still librarian in 1915. A branch library was established in the Bend about that time and continued in various homes for seventy-five years. Up to 1989 Hazel Pope Gile’s living room library still welcomed Bend readers.
Norah Marshall had become librarian by 1922 and received a salary of seventy-five dollars. The library subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post, John Martin’s, a children’s magazine, and the National Geographic. (Mrs. Nellie Ingalls disapproved of the National Geographic’s photos of lightly clad Africans but failed to gather enough petition signatures to ban it from the library.) Entertainment that year for the benefit of the library featured summer residents Charles Johnson, a Boston organist; Helen Boynton, violinist; Katherine Boynton, cellist; and a lecture on Tammany Hall by Charles Stebbins.
Mrs. Marshall’s salary was raised to one hundred dollars in 1934. The library of her day is recalled as a solemn place, which children seldom entered. Mrs. Marshall had firm ideas on what was fit to read, and books like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Wallace Stegner’s Remembering Laughter were locked in her desk drawer.
When Mrs. Marshall resigned after a quarter of a century, treasurer George Colby sought advice about a replacement from Mrs. Blanche Pleasants, one of the town’s most literate summer residents. Mrs. Pleasants stated that Esther Kesselman knew more about books than anyone else in town. Esther probably agreed, but pointed out politely that the minister’s wife had library training. Mr. Colby replied that there would be nothing but religious books if the minister’s wife took over. There was no danger of that, Esther Kesselman promised, if she became librarian.
Esther considered being librarian the perfect job. She had no use for censorship. For years she reviewed controversial books for the Women’s Union of the United Church of Christ, believing that people should be exposed to differing points of view.
Esther retired briefly in 1943 when she became critically ill. “They thought I was going to die,” she said years later at age ninety-two. “Obviously, I didn’t.” Madeline Gebbie, raising a young family across the street, “had sort of thought of becoming a librarian,” and stepped right into the job. Madeline had learned the Dewey decimal classification and organized the books, which had previously been stacked haphazardly on the shelves.
Ina Ladd then became librarian for a few years, but found meeting trains and conveying summer people to their camps more remunerative. Esther Kesselman took over again. When she resigned in 1961, Leona Collier become librarian.
Helen (Cappy) Maier, neighbor and benefactor to the library, served as chairman of the board for fifteen years and worked closely with both Mrs. Collier and her successor, Jacqueline Molleur. Cappy presided at the annual library teas, and when Greensboro schoolchildren trudged each week to the library, it was Cappy who unlocked the door and helped them select books. When Cappy died in 1982, she and her husband Bill, bequeathed five thousand dollars to the library.
Jackie Molleur’s youthful zest made the library a friendly gathering place, and during her tenure the former woodshed became the children’s room. Leona Collier became librarian again in 1976 and not only turned out whimsical newsletters but, after publishing two novels, joined the ever-increasing group of Greensboro authors. When she resigned in 1988, Daniel Cohen became librarian.
The financial situation of the library improved steadily throughout the twentieth century. In addition to the annual appropriation made at town meeting, the Greensboro Association made annual donations, and private citizens have given generously to fund drives. A regular summer book sale has also added to the coffers. In 1980 the library received a grant of ten thousand dollars from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation to start a fund in memory of John Sydney Stone, a longtime summer resident. (Stone’s father authored some forty math textbooks at his Caspian Lake camp.) Generous bequests, from Delia Rutledge and others, have provided much needed funding.
The election of library trustees at town meeting is apt to involve a lively contest, necessitating a written ballot when several people desire the position. The trustees hire the librarian, establish the policies, administer the budget, oversee the library building, and work closely with the librarian and volunteers. The volunteers have helped make the library a lively community center. They donate time to keep the building open six days a week in the summer, much longer than the minimum twelve hours each week required for certification by the Vermont Department of Libraries. Every summer for many years Arthur Perry read aloud Winnie the Pooh, enchanting hundreds of children and adults. Other volunteers painted bookshelves, made curtains, and organized summer events for children, including preschool reading hours, craft projects, and live entertainment, such as Rob Mermin’s mime shows. In the early 1980’s, the library sponsored a winter series of evening programs on such diverse topics as health and investing and displayed books at town meeting.
In 1973 the library trustees, conscious of the extraordinary number of writers in Greensboro’s year-round and summer communities, established a “Greensboro Authors Corner” in the library. At that time eighty-six authors, both living and deceased, were identified, and the number has steadily increased. The Pleasants Fund awarded a grant of $850.00 to help expand the list of authors, acquire their works, and develop biographic and bibliographic information. The professors and preachers who found their Caspian camps conducive to writing in the early 1900s published an impressive number of autobiographies, classical studies, scholarly essays, literary criticisms, sermons, textbooks, and nostalgic descriptions of Greensboro.
The town’s contemporary writers, some of them year-around residents, are every bit as productive. In the 1980’s Greensboro authors included a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, a prolific producer of romances, a batch of children’s book writers, a sprinkling of poets, and so many historians that an editor recently asked whether all historians go to Greensboro, Vermont, for the summer. Other authors specialize in such diverse subjects as Russian art, anthropology, architecture, Arctic travel, Tudor literature, Chinese philosophy, dowsing, how-to-cook, how-to-build, how-to-garden, westerns, suspense stories, geographies, and Vermontiana.
The urge to express the beauty of Caspian and surrounding woodland has not been limited to pen or word processor. Greensboro artists have been depicting favorite camps, farms, and pastures since the turn of the century. Lukens watercolors, Condit etchings, or Eisner oils are among the many works of early artists that still brighten local cottages, as do recent Sowles photographs, Dales quilts, and watercolors by Olmsted, Brown, Kolb-Fisher, Schleifer, and many others.
Today’s artists create in many media: sculpture, jewelry, graphics, pen and ink, wood, pottery, photographs, quilts, fabrics, needlepoint, weaving, book illustrations, acrylic, collage, and then some.
For almost one hundred years summer and winter residents have recorded in words and watercolor their feelings about Greensboro and a wide variety of other subjects. Even earlier, in 1873, the fledgling Greensboro Library Association promised the community good reading. The popularity of the Greensboro Free Library programs for children as well as its teas and book sales confirms that we continue to be a “reading people,” while the over two hundred writers and more than seventy artists attest to the value Greensboroites put on creativity.
From: “A History of Greensboro The First Two Hundred Years” by the Greensboro Historical Society, Greensboro VT 1990