Stockbridge Library celebrates 150 years with a 'Stroll Back in Time'


Photo Gallery | Stockbridge Library prepares for renovations

STOCKBRIDGE -- To celebrate its 150th anniversary and the imminent start of a long-awaited $3 million renovation project, the Stockbridge Library will stage a "rewind to the 1860s" special event Friday.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the "Stroll Back in Time" celebration will transform many of the yards, lawns, stores and churches of Main Street into a bustling old New England village with historically authentic activities, debate and chores of yore. The thoroughfare will remain open to traffic.

The library will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, Aug. 15, at 10 a.m. to launch the renovation, dubbed "A Stockbridge Library for Our Time." With live music and refreshments, the event will include appearances by state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Actual construction will begin during the first week of September, said Katie O'Neil, the library's executive director.

During the yearlong project, the library, now closed, will offer services at the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Stockbridge Station, starting at 9 a.m. Friday. An ice cream social will be held there from 2 to 4 p.m. to conclude the "rewind" festivities.

The temporary site will offer the library's newest materials received during the past six months, O'Neil said, as well as children's classics, the majority of the DVDs and audio material, high-speed public Internet access and the usual newspaper and magazine subscriptions. New books will be arriving, and interlibrary loans through the C/W Mars system will be available.

The free celebration marks the anniversary of the library's birth in August 1864, said Museum and Archives Curator Barbara Allen, who's organizing the event.

"It will be a fun day of activities, to see what life was like in the 1860s," O'Neil said. "It's a nice way to mark being open to the public 150 years and embarking on new chapter of our history."

As Allen explained, "It's somewhat ironic. We're celebrating original opening of the doors and yet at the same time. those doors are closed because of the project. It's also the day the temporary location is opening its doors, so we can consider that a re-enactment of 150 years ago."

Spare Parts, a three-piece Civil War band, will perform in front of the Main Street library building as costumed villagers demonstrate blacksmithing, daguerreotype photography, sewing, fashion, croquet and old-style banking.

Impromptu "debates" may be staged over President Abraham Lincoln's re-election campaign, his Gettysburg Address, and the pros and cons of investing in a new library.

At landmark sites around town -- including the Red Lion Inn, Merwin House, the Old Corner House, Williams Country Store, St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the First Congregational Church, the library lawn and Berkshire Bank -- visitors can observe close-up slices of life during the Civil War era.

"Hopefully people will walk up and down Main Street and participate in life as it was 150 years ago," said Allen. "They'll consider where we came from, where we are now, and where we're going to be."

At least 32 local volunteers will appear in period costumes depicting actual Stockbridge residents of the 1860s.

The Main Street information booth will be transformed into a Lincoln re-election campaign center. Children's games will be offered at the old Town Hall on West Main Street, while several private homes in the heart of downtown will host authentic period activities.

"It's much more involved than anything we've tried," Allen acknowledged, "but we did want to celebrate this anniversary."

"I like to think of our library's origins as a challenge grant," she added. In 1864, resident Nathan Jackson offered to pony up $2,000 to purchase all the books if townspeople would raise $1,000 for construction of the building. As it turned out, $2,000 was raised by the locals, the land was donated by its owner for $1, and builder J.Z. Goodrich constructed the library at his own expense.

Allen's research has revealed that while townspeople were keen on opening a library, there was discussion over whether it should be town-owned or run privately. "The people of the town decided it was better to have it as an independent association rather than under town government," she said.

During the project, the museum and archives have taken up temporary residence at the Merwin House, 14 Main St., open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment at (413) 298-4703.

The library's capital campaign has received $1.5 million in donations and pledges so far toward its $3 million goal, O'Neil said. The last major renovation was completed nearly 80 years ago. When completed, the exterior look of the library will be unaltered, but building code deficiencies will be corrected and interior space will be expanded by 20 percent by reconfiguring existing space.

Technological and mechanical system upgrades are included, as well as expanded display and storage for the museum, private study and activity spaces, a multipurpose room, additional bathrooms, an atrium connecting the main and lower floor, and a revamped rear-entrance.

After completion, the library plans to launch film screenings, writing workshops, financial seminars, educational programming, distance learning and book groups.

Honorary co-chairwomen of the campaign are Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner and president of The Red Lion Inn, and Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, owner of Blantyre.

Former Stockbridge Police Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox and Lenore Sundberg, a former library association president, are the co-chairs of the capital campaign.

Online information:

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

At a glance ...

The Stockbridge Library's one-year, $3 million renovation and revitalization project includes the following goals:

- Convert underused space into more functional areas for ongoing activities

- Expand the display and storage space for the museum and archives

- Create a multipurpose space on the museum level for community programs and activities

- Create new study, reading and activity areas on the upper level to provide additional space for children and adults to work on project;

- Provide 21st Century technology capabilities in an energy-efficient building

- Provide fully accessible facilities, from bathrooms to an elevator to bookstacks, for all patrons

- Relocate the director's office to the main level to allow interaction with visitors and staff


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